Greetings, 'Rama readers! Fearless leader David Pepose here, shrugging off the condensed awesome that is Dragon*Con! But fear not, gentle fans, the mighty reviewers of the Best Shots team still have your back, with a heaping handful of last week's big releases! So let's take a peek at the Guardians' newest plans, as we take a look at Green Lantern Annual #1...
Green Lantern Annual #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan Van Sciver and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Forget Hal Jordan and Sinestro, the important team-up over in Green Lantern is Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, the dynamic duo that helped bring Hal Jordan back from the great beyond all those years ago. There's some magic in their teamwork that deserves some attention, even as this book waffles between being a decent character piece and an unfeeling expansion of an already bloated mythology.
With this issue jumping between Hal and Sinestro battling the undead Black Hand and the Guardians employing some dark — even insane — methods to instill order in the universe, it's really the right place to see Ethan Van Sciver strut his stuff. Hal's swollen black eye adds a nice counterpoint to Black Hand's rotting flesh, with all that shadow just playing up how claustrophobic everything is. Van Sciver also lends some surprising teeth to the Guardians, particularly when the little blue guys engage in an actual knife fight to begin their Third Army.
There's also some nice beats to this story — that is, when it focuses on Hal Jordan. Geoff Johns brings some focus to two of Hal's prime characteristics and pits them against each other: his iron-willed heroism and his undying devotion to his father. While even this expanded page count isn't enough for Hal to really agonize, the dilemma between saving Sinestro and seeing his dead father is a good enough one in concept to hook us in.
That said, there are some storytelling issues — namely, a lack of tension or drama when Hal literally claws himself out of a shallow grave — and that can be attributed to both Van Sciver and Johns. While the Earth-bound stuff reads well, you can tell that Johns is really itching to tell the space stories, about the First Lantern and the increasingly crazy Guardians and how they tie into the Green Lantern Corps and the Manhunters and everybody else. That stuff... is kind of a chore to read, with the added "mystery" kind of robbing this new Lantern of anything else interesting. We've already got so many different teams and groups in this particular mythos that the constant expansion makes it tough to suspend your disbelief. What good are rules if you can just write yourself out of them later?
That said, with the book looking this good, you're more inclined to dig the character moments — in particular, the cliffhanger that seems to lead to the next Green Lantern, an Arab-American character named Baz — that you'll tolerate the more self-indulgent overarching story with the First Lantern and the Third Army. More pages means something for everyone, and that breathing room makes Green Lantern Annual #1 a solid read.
Avenging Spider-Man #11
Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin Jr.
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Zeb Wells returns to the writing duties of Avenging Spider-Man with this month’s issue #11. I expected a funny, upbeat story, as per Wells’ usual style. The comic, however, is heavy on emotion as Peter and his aunt May discuss Ben Parker, and how they’ve struggled to move on after his death.The usual Wells’ humor is present, but only in the beginning. Spider-Man’s fight with Copperhead is short-lived, but amusing. The story changes its tone immediately afterwards when Peter meets May at Ben Parker’s gravesite and the rest of the comic is a spiritual conversation about life and death, and moving on after someone has passed.
Wells does a nice job of bringing up some real emotions, and I had an easy time relating to the heavy absent feeling Peter and May talk about in the wake of Ben’s death. While the conversation is relatable, it’s also one which they’ve probably had before, and reminding readers of Peter’s constant guilt is like reminding readers that Daredevil is blind.Artist Steve Dillon illustrates this issue of Avenging Spider-Man, making for a change of pace as readers go from the bubbly imagery of Terry Dodson to the Dillon’s simple, unadorned art. The change, however, works against what the comic is trying to achieve. Aunt May suffers the most due to her grotesque, harpy-like face as Dillon goes heavy on the wrinkles and shadows, giving May a hushed violence about her. In one panel, for example, she looks like she’s preparing to murder Peter. Dillon is also a fan of the same angles, and I counted the same point of view about five or six times in the comic. Rarely do the visuals deviate from standard focal points. The muted colors don’t help and the imagery just ends up looking flat. For a comic that’s meant to be emotionally heavy, I found myself wholly distracted by what I was seeing, and therefore not able to fully engage with the story. Some of Zeb Well’s humor exists in this comic, but for the most part it’s an extension of Spider-Man’s fifty-year anniversary, and a reminder of why he got into being Spider-Man in the first place. Wells hits on some tender points and I did think about loved ones I had lost, and how sad it was never to see them again. Because most of the comic is spent on May and Peter talking about the repercussion of Ben’s death (rather than showing how their lives have changed), the story doesn’t hit all the emotional notes it’s going for. Still, it’s a nice reminder to readers that without Ben Parker, we wouldn’t have had 50 years of web-swinging fun.
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Simon Gane and Rhonda Pattison
Letters by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Boxer and his team are (a-hem) boxed in by a pair of creatures, as Rodan threatens to end what he began and others line up to deal with the new reality facing humanity. A monster in the hand is worth quite a bit to the right parties as plans are revealed (and more cities are smashed) in the latest issue of Godzilla.
To some degree, this comic has settled into a bit of a pattern, albeit a very good one that I look forward to every month. Boxer and his crew chase down a monster and find a way to stop it, with the thrill coming from the nature of the challenge and how they manage to avoid dying when so many fall prey to these destructive forces of nature. It’s a bit formulaic at times, but so are the Toho movies that provide the backdrop for the series.
This time around, Swierczynski ramps up the action by having Rodan and a second monster, Titanosaurus, face Boxer’s team at the same time. The adventure shows that despite his anger towards these creatures, Boxer is able to keep his head and find a way to bring them down. I’ll be curious to see how long that ability lasts, especially when we finally get to Godzilla himself. (For those curious, the main man makes yet another cameo, this time taking out San Diego. I guess he was mad because he didn’t get a pro badge.)
If that were the extent of things, I would have been happy and recommended the comic with a slightly lower rating. It gets a 10/10 from me, however, by destroying my expectations (just as easily as these cities are being leveled) towards the end of the issue. A dangling question was left open last issue, when Boxer waved off the idea of “what’s happening to the monsters?” In an incredibly ingenious move that brings a classic location back into play in a big way, Swierczynski gives the reader an answer. Taking the original inspiration for Godzilla, blending it with topical ideas, and providing a solution that only Halliburton could love, we have a new ticking time bomb that Swierczynski can explode at will, adding another dimension to the overall plot.
That’s not the only reveal in the final pages, as Boxer shows that while the others all have a stake in revenge, this has always been about one monster and one monster alone: Godzilla. Everything else is a means to an end, which makes sense for him, but I’m curious how the others feel. Meanwhile, in a third dramatic plot twist, Boxer himself is the monster in the mind of an angry parent.
There’s a lot going on by the end of this issue, showing that Godzilla won’t just be a “fight a monster of the month” book, but even if it was, Simon Gane would still draw the heck out of it. Gane’s panel work and realistic city portrayals make the action sing, especially in how he shows the scale and devastation. Once again, each location looks unique, giving a personal edge to the devastation. It’s all too easy to forget in these big battles that there are people living in those apartments and working in the office towers that fall beneath their wings, arms, and tails. Because Gane varies their look and style to match the city, I’m always thinking of how many people are dead in this war between two species vying for dominance. Someone has to answer for it, as I cannot believe Godzilla and company are doing this unprompted.
Though Gane’s major strength is in his portrayal of the action, he’s still very good at giving us little touches that set off the major fighting. There’s a sense of fear mixed with hatred on the faces of Boxer, Claire, and the rest of the monster hunters that varies depending on the situation. Sweat drips off the odious man wearing a ridiculous shirt who is trying to profit from all the woe brought on by the creatures. In certain cases, a lack of emotion tells us more than anything else. Covering it all with dust and grime, Gane makes this world of death come alive in every panel. Godzilla is a must-read for the giant monster fan and lovers of action.Superman Annual #1
Written by Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza
Art by Pascal Alixe, Marco Rudy, Tom Raney, Elizabeth Torque, Mico Suayan and Blond
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
It’s annual time over at DC. As the first year of DC’s new 52 comes to a close, its annuals started hitting shelves this past month. In September, DC is going to release a wave of #0’s meant to fill in the story or character gaps, or reveal new origins. Scott Lobdell doesn’t officially take over Superman until next then, but as a preview, readers get Superman Annual #1. If this is a taste of what’s to come, however, readers have a lot to be worried about.Due to a mixture of inconsistent art and erratic storytelling, Superman Annual #1 is a cumbersome and frustrating read. Scott Lobdell plots a universe spanning tale, pulling in threads from Superman, Grifter, Hawkman and Stormwatch. It’s ambitious in its scope, but the quick cuts from scene to scene hurt the coherence of the story. The beginning of the comic is pretty straightforward, and I thought we were in for a simple story about Clark being Clark (which was immediately intriguing), but when Hellspont shows up, sequential storytelling goes out the window and chaos takes over. Some pages leave the action hanging while switching locations completely (like having Superman being attached, then switching scenes on the next page to a beach with Starfire). And while some pages are packed with images and words, others are devoid of almost anything. In order to make the comic easier to read, maybe the creative team should have looked harder at its pacing and consistency before sending this to the printer. Visually, the comic is no better. The art team does a lot of layering in the panels and sometimes, images are not correctly aligned, or are creeping into other frames. At times it’s hard to tell where characters are actually located. Several times, a character’s face appears in the same frame as his fully body. I’m not sure what effect the artists are going for, but the results create an unsettled visual. Faces are heavily inked and shadowed, and a lot of cross hatching makes the imagery look flat and uneven. There is almost no attention to focus and composition in this comic making it difficult to read and look at. I wanted to like this comic. I really had high hopes for a new creative team on a Superman because the previous stories have been nothing short of banal. But whereas previous Superman writers didn’t do enough to make the character interesting, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza do too much. There’s no room for establishing some unifying theme, nor do readers get to see Superman do anything except get beat up by a bunch of aliens. For an introduction to a new creative team, the annual isn’t a good harbinger of what’s to come. There’s some quirky character moments here, and ones that could make for engaging stories, but they’re buried under dense plotting, excessive dialogue, and poor visuals. The first year of the New 52 was not kind to Superman. Unfortunately, it looks like the second year is no better.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries: April #7
Written by Barbara Randall Kesel
Art by Marley Zarcone and Heather Breckel
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in the top echelon of much-beloved franchises, with a fanbase that stretches over generations. With this large of a lifespan, they are sure to gather many memorable supporting characters, and none are more memorable than the feisty redhead, April O’Neil.
With the heroes in a halfshell's new series, the Turtles are redone in a less Saturday-morning cartoon way with an aesthetic that feels more indie than big-budget. Unfortunately, that's not exactly a good thing here. Although the highlight of this comic is the focus on the most human character in the Turtles' world, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries: April #7 falls short of actually feeling organic.
Perhaps an outsider to the Turtle’s world would think it’s a poor choice to follow the non-mutated April around for an issue. Kesel’s take on April is that she really is the heart of this gaggle of goofballs, and adds a much needed feminine touch to these teenage boy’s lives. She is almost like the unattainable older girl that the Turtles are constantly trying to impress or protect.
Kesel’s take on the character uses this and injects a little more into the character that isn’t “damsel in distress.” If anything, the book could have used a little more of this and less exposition and plot movements. Let’s spend a little more time with bright young woman who hangs with these mutant teens. Her best moments get sidelined for more secrets and monsters. Although the issue bears her name, it really isn’t as April-centric as it could be.
It’s still an excellent choice to focus on April, however. It speaks to the tone of the book — a version of the TMNT is a lot less “x-treme.” This new series isn’t trying to move action figures or impress ten-year-old boys. It’s more understated but not as graceful as it could be. Instead of the flashy previous incarnations, this series is more mature and feels like it’s geared towards adults who grew up with these characters.
However, an older TMNT doesn’t mean a more mature TMNT. The script feels a little flat at times, with the high points being April’s inner monologues. Some of the Turtle’s interjections felt forced and manufactured instead of what would organically come out of a teen’s mouth. Antagonists seem poorly defined and it’s hard to tell what exactly April is running from in Stockgen Labs. April’s tone and characterization isn’t felt anywhere else in the book and this excellently defined character is lost in the malaise. Maybe a little bit more time needs to be spent fleshing out the tone because most of it feels like it could just dissipate on the page.
The art doesn’t help the situation at all. Judging by the pencils in the back, Marley Zarcone’s inking strips the pencils down a little too much. Instead, the lines feel much more fine and thin. Even the Turtles, who have mostly been very curvy and solid figures, are blocky and flat. The penciled sample pages in the back of the book are more dynamic and busy. There are enough rough lines to give the pages a grittier feel, which suits the street-to-sewer-level Turtle-world. Even the penciled April sketches convey a warmth that is slightly turned down in the rest of the book. It’s still there, but there could be more added that would flesh out the character more. Here, less is certainly not more.
Yet it works for April; she looks like she could have popped out of an Adrian Tomine book. However, it doesn’t seem to suit the action beats and mutant characters. The color choice is not something seen on the TMNT books often (if ever), feeling very muted and soft with a lot of cool tones. The coloring feels more like Image’s Lil’ Depressed Boy which might contribute to the "slice-of-life" indie vibe going on here.
That said, more could have definitely been done here to make this book stand out. While I can understand the appeal to make this book seem more controlled and less garish, there is no need to lose the quality along with the in-your-face and over-the-top attitude. Sadly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries: April #7 suffers from exactly this.
Justice League International Annual #1
Written by Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio
Art by Jason Fabok and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Sometimes when you want to make an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs. In the case of DC Comics, that omelette is a greater shared universe — and the eggs are the Justice League International. This comic remains a very mixed bag with a very conflicted mission statement, but the one thing it does well is it heralds a dire new threat for the heroes of the DC universe.
Just not these heroes.
Since their reintroduction following the New 52, the Justice League International have been the diet League. The Justice League Lite. Twice the obscurity, none of the lasting power. With storylines that constantly harped upon Booster Gold's team fumbling the ball or not belonging together, you almost felt bad for these guys who can't even get Superman and Wonder Woman to take their calls. It's okay to be losers, but the problem this book has had from the beginning is that it drew out the Loser's Journey to painful extremes, making it impossible to root for this team.
Enter Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio, with only a modicum of warmth for this hapless band of second-stringers. DiDio has definitely had more affection for his other departed book, O.M.A.C., and uses the Kirby-infused battle cyborg as executioner of the JLI. In that regard, some life does come back to the team, as Johns and DiDio use the expanded page count to give some of the characters their moment in the sun. (Granted, for August General in Iron that moment is to get turned into a smoking husk, but he at least fights back first.) Blue Beetle in particular steals the show, with a real self-deprecation about his own technological problems that pops off the page.
In terms of tone, weight and the relative importance of these characters, artist Jason Fabok is definitely the right fit for this book. The JLI versus O.M.A.C. isn't a street fight, it's a slaughterhouse, and Fabok's Finch-inspired style gives just enough grunge to his otherwise clean, bulky characters. His use of shadow actually lends a nice deal of intensity to some of the smaller panels, particularly when you see O.M.A.C. glancing at his next target. That said, Fabok's art isn't anything that particularly sticks with you, but that's also because he isn't given much more than a by-the-numbers fight sequence.
With the JLI being the sacrificial lambs of Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio, you get the sense by the end of this expanded comic that this is just the beginning of something more. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold in particular have their status quos shaken up, and considering their cult appeal, that might help them better find their footing in the post-reboot world. Ultimately, the characters we couldn't be bothered to care for are becoming a gristly message for the ones we do, and that actually just might broaden this flailing book's appeal before the end. Those looking for a decent slugfest could do worse than Justice League International Annual #1; that said, those looking for an enthusiastic take on this team will probably still be upset. It's one thing for teams to bicker, be dysfunctional, to take their licks and come back for a win — but after months of self-abuse, it feels like the JLI never even stood a chance.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Kulan Gath is on top of the world he wishes to destroy, and not even the combined might of Red Sonja and her unlikely allies can do much about it. Time is running out for our protagonists as we move closer to the end in Ron Marz’s excellent timely take on a potential Mayan apocalypse.
It would have been almost impossible to top the work that Marz, Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas did in the previous issue, but they do come mighty close. I really like the way that Marz found to give each of the large cast a way to prove their need to be included in this miniseries by taking the battle to a world-wide stage. It was also nice to see that we’re not finished with Sherlock Holmes, either—or for adding more well-known characters to the mini-series, either.
A lot of this issue is taken up by the first round of the fight between Sonja’s crew and Gath’s demons, which gives the art team of Geovani and Lucas a great chance to shine. With vivid colors that are appropriately garish, Lucas compliments the evil illustrated by Geovani. Each monster looks unique and unstoppable, ripped straight from someone’s nightmare (and for all I know, that’s where Geovani and/or Marz got their inspiration for the designs). The action of battle flows all over the pages, refusing to be hemmed in by traditional panels and allowing the characters to strike at will, using their unique abilities.
On its face, the fight is very cool to look at, but within, you can see the nature of the “heroes” coming out as they struggle to stop Gath. Sonja’s bloodlust is clear, while Athena’s steely gaze shows her grim determination. Dracula becomes a monster to fight a monster, while Herbert West just tries to stay alive. It would have been easy to just draw a big battle, but that’s part of what makes Prophecy stand out against most other Dynamite books—it never takes the easy way out, which I attribute in large part to Marz’s involvement.
The battle scenes aren’t the only place where we get to see the blending of verbal and visual characterization, however. Once Marz moves the goalposts to an almost impossible level, we get to watch the team react to this news. The focus here moves cleverly to West and Athena, who don’t have their own comics and thus give Marz the most breathing room. I loved Athena’s female-centric view of the world, which is a perfect match to the goddess’ fiery independence. Meanwhile, West tries his best to keep up with these heavy hitters, and it looks like he may pay dearly for doing so.
Marz does so well with his handling of these diverse properties that his mishandling of Holmes and Watson almost feels intentional at this point, as if the exaggerated arrogance of Doyle’s detective is essential to the plot. He’s running unusually roughshod over his partner and that’s beginning to bother me. I was glad to see him back, but I hope there’s a good reason for this portrayal. I also feel like he’s the only one who is visually “off” in Geovani’s hands. Holmes just looks a bit too much like Bruce Wayne here, all tidy and neat, with no rough edges.
Other than my issues with their handling of the detective, the story around the action works well. It’s made very clear by the entire creative team that Sonja is the focal point of this narrative, as Gath is her arch-enemy and only she knows what he’s truly capable of. Her frustration at being stopped once again really shines through in Marz’s dialogue and Geovani’s facial features. She is the main actor in the battle sequences, and I have a feeling she’ll be the one to save the world—if it can indeed be saved. As in prior issues, Geovani gives us strong emotions on all of the characters (even the creatures) and keeps the reader’s eyes engaged even during the moments of discussion by varying body positions and panels.
There’s still plenty of time for this story to show signs of weakness, but right now Marz, Geovani, and Lucas are doing everything right, from huge stakes to gorgeous art and a sense that anything’s possible. Prophecy may be the best book you’re not reading right now. Don’t overlook it.