Best Shots Reviews: BATWOMAN #12, CAPTAIN MARVEL #2, More

'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered with a ton of new reviews! So let's take a look at the latest issue of Batwoman, which Jake Baumgart gave very high marks…

 

Batwoman #12

Written by W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III

Art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Review: 10 out of 10

It’s rare that a creator leaves such a profound visual mark on a character such as J.H. Williams III and Batwoman. Although Kate Kane’s superheroine persona may be different from the other members of the Bat-family, W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III's comic is still one of the best books being published anywhere. Batwoman #12 is a great place for new readers to jump into the story with Williams returning to art duties and the introduction of Wonder Woman to the crazy, paranormal world of Kate Kane.

Batwoman is drastically different from other Gotham vigilantes like Batman and Batgirl; she (reluctantly) works for the DEO instead of Batman, she tangles with the paranormal instead of costumed villains and her training is more military than rich ninja. Basically, she is very different while still being very much the same. This might be off putting for new readers or fans of the Bat just now joining the New 52. Issue #12 does an excellent job of bringing readers up to speed without a lengthy recap. The first couple pages may seem a bit wordy but are complimented by the hunt for Bloody Mary and the Wonder Woman monologue. However, longtime readers won’t be bored. The story picks up right where #11 left off and doesn’t dumb things down for newbies. If tepid readers were on the fence they should definitely pick up this issue.

Although fill-in artists Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy did exemplarily jobs, it still felt as though they were aping Williams’ layouts and visual ques. They were a fine substitute, but felt wrong knowing that Williams was still heavily involved in the book and not providing the amazing pages that have become one with the character. With Issue #12, Williams hasn’t missed a beat from when he left art duties. His stunning layouts are still there. The second and third page of the issue pops with the angled lines making up a conglomeration of Batwoman’s symbol and Wonder Woman’s star. Not to mention the amazing two-page spread of Kate Kane and Abbot walking in a circle with the center creating a panel for Diana’s story. William’s layout’s not only give a fair amount of page space to each story line but melds them together to create a whole.

One of the great things about Williams take on Batwoman is the different visual approach to each character. Batwoman, in costume, is always hyper-realistic with a lot of strong rendering. However, when Kate is mixing with her family or girlfriend Maggie, the pencils are bolder and the world is colored in a muted palette (thanks to amazing coloring by Dave Stewart). With the introduction of Wonder Woman, William’s approach to the character is different as well. Her pages pop with a larger than life boldness that represent the heroin a figure from a pulpy Greco-Roman comic book. Even without comparison to Batwoman’s world, Diana’s pages are bright and colorful. The ocean sways with a magical cerulean and the pages are framed in weathered stone and Grecian etchings. Her presence feels huge.

At first, the pairing of Batwoman and Wonder Woman may seem like a strange choice. Why not pick Batman, Nightwing or Batgirl? Both characters seem to come from such drastically different worlds that it’s hard to imagine the adventure they could share. Yet, after reading this issue, it makes perfect sense. First, Kate’s stories are far more ‘strange’ and ‘unusual’ when compared to the rest of the Gotham heroes. Hell, she works for a smoking skeleton in a Hawaiian shirt! The sort of monsters and ghouls she has been involved with meld right into Diana’s world.

Second, there are no stronger feminist characters at DC, maybe even all of comics, as Batwoman and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has been a symbol of strong, fearless, females in comics for close to sixty years and no new character has come closer to this in recent history than Batwoman. This is important considering that it’s 2012 and girls in comics are still in crotch-hugging thongs or are often analogs of established male characters. Both women are strong enough on their own and are driven by their own agenda and quest for balance. Kate and Diana just fit together.

It’s more than refreshing to have Williams back on art forBatwoman #12 and judging by the unique pairing between the titular character and Wonder Woman, this next arc is gearing up to be amazing.

 

Captain Marvel #2

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Dexter Soy

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

There's just something about Carol.

It's just two issues in for Captain Marvel, and already Kelly Sue DeConnick's vision for the character seems like a no-brainer. Brash, pulls-no-punches jet pilot with the powers of a Kree warrior? That's gold, and doubly important when you realize that Carol is also so effortlessly representing a crucially underserved demographic — women. It's that kind of strong characterization that makes Captain Marvel soar despite one gigantic albatross around its neck: the art.

But let's get to the good stuff first. Carol Danvers has had more direction in her character in two issues than I can remember seeing in years of Avengers stories. She's naturally a daredevil, compulsive against backing down from any challenge, be it an impossible aviation record or a giant metal death machine.

That's the sort of drive that will propel a character through any sort of story — including the quirky concept that DeConnick comes up with here. It's got a healthy dose of girl power, but not self-consciously. If anything, it's DeConnick building a dynasty in reverse, building up the Marvel Universe in ways that we haven't really seen before.

With the G.I. combat vibe of DeConnick's story, artist Dexter Soy's work is a slightly better fit than last issue... but not by much. Soy's anatomies are way too sharp, really making the pages less than inviting to look at. Soy does excel in the intense beats, particularly when Carol is about to crash-land, focusing in tight on the determination and downright anger our hero feels day-in and day-out. But Soy's colors are downright dingy, which works well in the combat zone of the second half of the book, but overall runs way counter to the breezy brashness of DeConnick's writing.

Soy's artwork may prove to be a handicap for many readers, which is a shame, because DeConnick has some here with Captain Marvel. It's a testament to how well this character works that she could be thrown into a truly goofy situation, and we still take her seriously enough to want to see how she sees things through. If there was a different artist on board, there's no telling the kinds of heights Captain Marvel could attain.

 

Thoughts on a Winter Morning

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Steve Lieber

Lettering by Steve Lieber

Published by Monkeybrain Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Childhood is a strange time. Looking back on it, we all were so small and the world was so large. Inches were feet, feet were miles and miles were the distance of a lifetime. Like Kurt Busiek and Steve Lieber's Thoughts On a Winter Morning, most of us have those childhood memories of hills that seemed like mountains. For Busiek, that memory surfaces on Christmas morning,1998, as he walks the dog just 10 days after the birth of his first daughter. His "mountain" was actually a snow-covered rock on the front lawn of his parent's house that seemed like the most dangerously daring thing to Busiek when he was young. He wonders what his daughter's memories will be someday as he watches kids sled in a small Pacific Northwest park.

Maybe it was all of his practice on Whiteout but Steve Lieber brings that holiday morning and all of Busiek's days of snow and sledding to life with the nostalgia and uncertainty that Busiek is contemplating. Lieber is an artist who doesn't need those big battles or melodramatic scenes to show off. He captures the life and joy that kids find with a bit of snow and a sled. The blue tint to everything just increases that tinge of cold in Busiek and Lieber’s Pacific Northwest. The exact setting isn’t important but the way that Lieber translates it into a universal image of childhood memories recreates Busiek’s tension of our memories versus our reality. The small subdivision that Busiek walks around in this story is tempered by Lieber’s interpretation of it just like Busiek’s memories are tempered by time.

Busiek's story works the same way his Marvels and Astro City works; he finds these authentic and heartfelt moments amid the action of his stories. Usually it happens during an invasion of New York City or a multi-universal crisis that Busiek finds something to explore about what it means to be the people we are. Thoughts On a Winter Morning shares more than just a little bit with Busiek and Alex Ross's scene in Marvels where Phil Sheldon and Gwen Stacy are walking down a street when the Submariner's armies attack the city. Even in the midst of battle, Gwen finds something to reflect on as sea water rains down on her. Maybe mistakenly in 1994 we all just assumed that Busiek was writing about what it would be like if what we read in comic books existed in the real world. Instead, maybe we should look at Busiek’s writing as what it would be like if our real world concerns existed in the world of comic books.

Thoughts On a Winter Morning is all about our concerns and our hopes. Instead of showing them amid an attack by Namor or Galactus, Busiek writes about them during a morning when he’s walking the dog. For the characters (in this case, Busiek himself) there is really no difference in the situations. It's all about how we react to it. On a Christmas morning, the new father reflects a bit on his own childhood while wondering what life will be like for his daughter. It's a moment most parents have but Busiek is able to create a bit of drama in it. The world is simultaneously huge and small; it all depends on our perspective.

For the boy that Busiek used to be, that rock on the front lawn of his parent’s house may have just as well been Mt. Everest. That’s the way it seemed to him whenever he climbed it and shoved off of it with his sled. Today, even with his dimmed memory, it was just a rock. He realizes that in hindsight even as he wonders what his newborn daughter will remember from her own childhood. Will she have her own version of Busiek’s rock and will she someday be able to separate the fantasy from the reality? Or, like her father, will there be parts of his dreams of his childhood that she’ll want to hold onto forever?

 

Uncanny X-Force #29

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Julian Totino Tedesco, John Lucas and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

Escaping from their present where they’re being hunted by a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Wolverine and his X-Force team escape into the future. Usually when this happens, they find a future or alternate world where they’re being hunted down even worse than they are in their own reality.

This time? They jump into a future where they won; X-Force saved the day and created a world where they benevolently rule with an iron fist.  At the top of this future mutant police state sits Betsy Braddock, a woman who has had to make so many choices in her own time that she barely even recognizes herself anymore, while the time-traveling Betsy wonders how many more choices she'll have to make and how many more people she will need to kill to achieve this mutant haven.

Rick Remender's book is titled Uncanny X-Force #29 but, as with the whole series, he's really telling the story of the one-time proper British girl trapped in the body of a Japanese killer. Worn down by everything that has happened to her, this future state where Betsy is the mutant matriarch is too much for her and she tries to kill herself but the future Betsy can't/won't let that happen, sending Frank Castle to find the time-traveler. While Wolverine and the rest of X-Force probably sees this as justification for their actions, Betsy sees it as the curse of her choices, which included killing her lover Archangel.

In this issue, she faces her own decisions in the form of her future self and the world she's created. Remender places Betsy in a position where she sees the results of her actions as a member of X-Force. The future isn't so bad as X-Men futures go but Betsy refuses to believe in the cost. Remender has had the character struggling since the beginning, trying to find justification for her team's existence and actions. In this issue and in this future, Remender gives it to her; she sees the results of everything she has sacrificed. It's justification and condemnation all rolled into one.

With a third artist working on his second issue in the fifth part of this storyline, Uncanny X-Force runs the risk of being an artistic hodgepodge of storytelling. Julian Totino Tedesco follows from the clean art of Phil Noto and Mike McKone with a sketchier depiction of the future. His X-Force lives in the shadows and operates in the darkness, which is something that we havent seen much from the X-Men's black-ops teams. His stylish, long and languid figures move gracefully across the page. Even Betsy, who's been cut through with a knife, flows quickly across the page to steal Deadpool's gun to try and kill herself. Even if his style doesn't fit in with what's come before, Dean White provides the visual continuity, giving this issue a Blade Runner-ish glow of a dingy neon future.

It’s a cliche that actions have consequences but that’s just what Rick Remender and Julian Totino Tedesco are exploring in Uncanny X-Force #29, the actions of the team, stretching back to the killing of Apocalypse. In this issue, we see the future and the mutants win. They’re the heroes that saved the world. But it required killing Betsy has been forced to kill too much. She’s losing herself in her actions and Remender, in this issue, is showing us a glimpse of hope that Betsy may be able to pull out of the cruel path that she’s been on.

 

Supergirl #12

Written by Michael Green and Michael Johnson

Art by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Mike Green and Mike Johnson established Supergirl as a true heroine in the first four issues of the series, but lately, the comic has fallen short of the initial heights it set for itself. Issue #12 isn’t bad, but isn’t not great either. Where I found so much promise in earlier issues of Supergirl, lately I find myself losing interest in Kara Zor-El.

Where the previous issue of Supergirl teased a rematch between Kara and Kal-El, their fight is a war of words rather than a genuine throw down. Kal is definitely a focal point of Kara’s life, and he provides sage guidance in only the way that Superman can, but the excitement is gone, and when our heroine is being attacked by a horde of eels at the bottom of the ocean, I could only feel apathy because the fight lacked the intensity found in earlier issues.

Additionally, this issue raises more questions than it answers, and if Green and Johnson expect readers to stay on board, they have to offer them something more than a series of unanswered queries that involve obscure mysteries.

Mahmud Asar’s character designs are the best part of the issue, even if character faces look misshapen at times. Kara’s body is more athletic than sensual and visually she looks tough and powerful (this is a compliment). Her design, however, is counter to what occurs in the book, and while she looks tough, her demise is in opposition to her abilities. While she can go toe-to-toe with Superman, she's defeated by sea creatures, and while her thought process expresses her terror, I couldn’t really care because I knew she would survive. She’s Supergirl, after all. Eels shouldn’t pose a threat.

Wile Superman has a slew of creative issues — like how to write a story for a God on earth — Supergirl has avoided those. She’s shown to be vulnerable and human, two traits which Green and Johnson exploit with aplomb. But the series has devolved into mediocrity and when you have your heroine battling toothy monsters at the ocean bed, you can’t expect readers to stick around much longer.

 

Avengers #29

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Walt Simonson, Scott Hanna and Jason Keith

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Click here for preview

The perils of crossovers in today's market is accessibility versus repetition. If you've been following Wolverine and the X-Men, you've got a good sense of what happened in Avengers #29, even as this issue adds on more context to the warring sides. That said, repetition saps this issue's fight of much of its vigor, while the new wrinkles Brian Michael Bendis bring to the table don't quite add up.

For my money, the big disappointment with this issue is that it covered a lot of ground I had already seen before — and seen done with much more energy and panache. The battle of Wolverine versus Rachel Grey (along with their respective teams) was a fun bit by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, but it didn't really need the tactical explanation Brian Michael Bendis gives here. The rationale of taking out the X-Men's psychics rings hollow when you've got a Phoenix-powered Emma Frost anyway, so we're instead treated to a repeat.

Well, perhaps not entirely. Walt Simonson fans will be happy to see him portray the different combatants here, with a style that's much more open with his lines than Bachalo. That said, for me it looked a lot more sketchy in Simonson's hands than in Bachalo's meticulous cartooniness, and so seeing certain panels get repeated (like Logan kicking Rachel through a table) is a losing battle of compare-and-contrast.

Bendis does add one new complication to the Avengers/X-Men battle, and it does add some poignancy to the book. While that is easily the best part of this chapter, Bendis seems to get flat-tired by either page counts or characterization, because no sooner does this guest make an appearance than he makes a quick vanishing act, ending the fight even more abruptly than Aaron did in Wolverine and the X-Men. It's a shame, because there's a lot of potential for drama here, but not enough time to really give it its due.

Had Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo not done such a superior job with much of the same content, I think I would have liked Avengers #29 much more than I did. Coming so much later than Aaron, however, this comic comes off as a case of too little, too late.

 

Green Lantern #12

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Renato Guedes, Jim Calafiore and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Tell us something we don’t know, Geoff.

In my world, Green Lantern is a safe pick every month due to the fact that some of the best crossover stories have started in a Green Lantern book and then been spread across the DCU (the Sinestro Corps. War, for example). But as Geoff Johns builds towards the new epic entitled “The Third Army,” Issue #12 of Green Lantern doesn’t add anything new to the mix, and instead rehashes old plot line in a failed attempt to create tension.

From the moment I opened this book, I guessed its ending. Geoff Johns practically throws it in the faces of the readers, and at no point does the story deviate from the predictable conclusion. Whereas previous issues played with the dynamic of Hal and Thaal Sinestro, this issue focuses on elucidating all the major plot points for the future of the series. It’s like Johns doesn’t trust his readers to connect the dots themselves, and when the mot juste occurs, it lacks all the intensity of the previous cliffhangers. Instead, readers will think “Yeah, so?”

Everything we see Hal and Sinestro do in this issue is something they’ve done before, and now that Hal is untethered to Sinestro’s ring, why he even stays with Sinestro is baffling. Especially given how quickly Sinestro is willing to toss aside his green ring to forge another yellow one.

Additionally, this issue lacks the usual visual grace bestowed by other artists. Images are not as clear or as clean under Renato Guedes. The focus of the panels is fine, but the imagery fails to use the same smooth and pristine inks that Green Lantern readers have come to associate with the comic. The clarity is gone and instead, the images are coarser, visually, and even when Jim Calafiore takes over, his style fails to live up to the standard. Because of this, the comic loses some of its luster.

I understand the need for an issue like this, one that slows down the story and focuses itself for the future, but where the series had been gaining momentum, here it takes a step back and loses some of that energy. I get that readers need an occasional refresher, but these kinds of reminders can be executed on a single page. But Green Lantern #12 is an issue focused solely on exposition, and after a year of the new DCU, I think readers can be trusted to flow the threads of a story, regardless of how detailed it is.

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