Best Shots Reviews: ACTION COMICS, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday helping of reviews? Best Shots has your back with today's column! So let's go up, up and away with Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the #0 issue of Action Comics...

 

Action Comics #0

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Ben Oliver and Brian Reber

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With a story that hearkens back to the first days of Superman, Action Comics #0 is set just before Clark makes his famous debut as the new hero of Metropolis. Grant Morrison uses this issue to pad Superman's history, but unfortunately the story — which has several cool moments — fails to give those beats enough time to be effective, and the result is a tale that tells us what we already know about Superman.

While the title of the issue is "The Boy Who Stole Superman's Cape," the story barely revolves around this. A boy does steal his cape, but the after effects are given little room to breathe. Instead, Morrison uses the rest of the issue to remind people about Perry White’s hard-edged editorial style, Jimmy Olson’s innocent charm, and Lois Lane's tenacious reporting.

The boy of the title is also the victim of a clichéd circumstance. He comes from a broken home, and suddenly he finds the courage to stand up to his consistently drunken and consistently abusive father person. Morrison gives the man no other driving force than his insatiable alcoholism, and while the boy's moments with his dad are interesting (especially seeing what powers the cape gives him), the entire incident occurs on two pages, and then we're brought back into the same story we’d seen before (if you've been following Action Comics, that is).

Ben Oliver and Brian Reber provide art on the book. Oliver has a sepia toned style that has a fuzzy, almost chalky tone to it. Due to this, Reber's colors look muted and flat. This may been intentional, though, as every scene in which Superman appears, his blue shirt appears vibrant and eye-catching. For a guy in jeans and work boots, the colorization gives him an intimidation factor over the characters around him.

For Grant Morrison, Action Comics #0 is a much more streamlined story. It follows a cohesive thread throughout, and Morrison doesn't shift focus or scenes as jarringly as he has in the past. Still, the intense moments are not given enough time to settle in order to convey the emotion, particularly when Superman comes to the aid of the abused child. In the end, we have a comic that is more a "how the leopard got his spots" tale than a vital moment in Superman's history.

 

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

For a "Divided We Fall" tie-in, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man reads like a separate entity. While the rest of the Ultimate Marvel Universe is falling apart, Miles Morales is learning about having an identity, and he does that with the help of Captain America, Aunt May, and some authorial help from Brian Michael Bendis. While the issue is targeted at giving Morales web-shooters, and having him come to terms with his own self, it reads like a placeholder meant to get all the final pieces into place before the character can move on.

As a reader, I felt that the issue was a bit too contrived. All of the events that occur have the end goal of giving the new Spider-Man the final pieces of his puzzle. In previous issues, I liked how Miles had to cope with his own persona, as well as his own abilities — which included being severely limited due to his lack of web-shooters. Bendis must have been tired of finding ways for Miles to travel long distances and to deal with an inferiority complex because Bendis kills two birds with one stone this go-round.

The bright spot of the issue is David Marquez and Justin Ponsor's art. David Marquez is a talented artist and I love his character designs. He deftly illustrates action scenes, and while the panel construction is standard fare, he finds ways to make the action in the final pages of the comic be both intense and coherent. Ponsor, as well, brings the visuals to life. Most of his colorization is toned down due to the darkness of the settings, but he creates a sleekness to the character designs that makes them visually engaging. This is a more restrained story for both artists, but there’s no doubt about their skill.

By the end of the issue, Miles Morales is no longer constrained, and he’s now part of a bigger world. I like the inclusion of May, Gwen and MJ into Miles’ life (and after having spent so much time with Peter Parker’s family, selfishly I don’t want to see them go), but given their heartache, I doubt they would encourage someone to take on the Spider-Man mantle. Regardless, Bendis now has all his pieces in order and the doors that can be opened for the storytelling have multiplied by several hundred. I just wish it wasn’t in such an overt fashion.

 

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt

Written by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross

Art by Jonathan Lau and Vinicius Andrade

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Being fresh to the Charlton heroes line aside from the Ditko creations, I thought I'd dive into Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt and came out loving it. Dynamite has been very hit-or-miss with their superhero universe, but this one really takes the idea of deconstructing heroes and kept me engaged. All I really know about the character is that he is the inspiration for Ozymandias of Watchmen fame, so going in almost blindly was a good way to go about this.

The approach here is more realistic in the case that if somebody with superhuman abilities did just pop out of nowhere, the world would erupt with a mixed reaction of panic and hope. This world doesn't have superheroes, so when a dragon supposedly rises from a nuclear bomb testing, a masked man comes forth and defeats the dragon. This is Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. With an ashcan by his creator, Peter Morisi, that is essentially a printing of a story DC never got around to publish, you can see that it's more of a straightforward superhero story and what the character is about. I feel that writers Steve Darnell and Alex Ross are taking the more Ozymandias approach to the character, but still keeping him entertaining and not repetitive of things we've seen before.

Jonathan Lau's art is pitch-perfect for a series like this. Though the issue is dialogue heavy, there's still plenty of action and different ways to handle those scenes of just two characters interacting. I wasn't bored by it, and I felt sucked into this world and the larger than life hero. His rendering is really tight, but I feel some of the visuals come across as lackluster due to Vinicius Andrade's colors. Everything just seems half-done. There are maybe a handful of panels that really come across as well done, but the rest just have their potential held back by the pallet used here.

I'm always on the hunt for new books to whet my appetite and Dynamite hit the spot with this one. Darnell and Ross hopefully have great things in mind planned for Mr. Cannon, and let's see where they can take us from here.

 

Avengers Academy #36

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Andrea Di Vito and Chris Sotomayor

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Christos Gage is officially a man stuck between in a rock and a hard place. He's built up a diverse and naturalistic cohort with his criminally overlooked series Avengers Academy, and now the sales axe is ready to fall. But how do you cut the cord while still doing justice to your characters?

Compress, compress, compress.

No less than four characters get fairly substantial shakeups to their status quo in just 20 pages of this comic, which sacrifices execution and pacing but does deliver plenty of no-filler action. While occasionally a lack of setup hurts the impact of the Avengers Academy's last stand, you can't help but admire Gage's courage under fire.

With the Avengers Academy fighting back against the Young Masters of Evil — even without the use of their powers — Gage unfortunately has to move so fast that the danger isn't really emphasized. Striker, for example, is scarred for life within the first few pages, and besides some perfunctory gasps, the horror is quickly forgotten, dropped in favor of the next big reveal. That said, you can tell who are Gage's pet students, with Hazmat and Mettle getting a particularly heartbreaking scene as they decide whether to stay as ordinary human beings or go on to be tragic heroes.

For his second issue, Andrea Di Vito doesn't quite master Tom Grummett's smooth linework as well as he did last time. Part of it is the breakneck, pack-it-all-in nature of the script, but the big reveals aren't really given any weight by the page layouts or composition — the big group fight sequences in particular come off as perfunctory rather than a memorable set piece in their own right, and some of the establishing shots with the full team feel like missed opportunities to show power sets and personalities rather than off-kilter standing shots.

To rephrase another superhero epic, it's not what you do that defines a comic — it's how you do it. Gage should be hitting all the emotional high notes with his resolutions to these characters, who, like any good parent, he is giving enough interesting wrinkles to make them palatable to other writers, should the opportunity present itself. But in terms of this comic alone, it's a little too focused on hitting plot points, rather than fleshing out the character beats that make them special.

 

The Wheel of Time #29

Written by Chuck Dixon

Art by Francis Nuguit and Nicholas Chapuis

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamte Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Being a Wheel of Time fan, having patience is a prerequisite. And with the comic adaptation being so-so to very bad, I've almost run out of mine dealing with it. Which is sad as Robert Jordan was hailed as the American Tolkien, and I read these books as a pre-teen to, well, now, I grew up thinking what a great comic this would make. I just wish it could get some decent artists on it. Just for once.

Chuck Dixon does his best to adapt Jordan's hefty script and brings out the best dialogue from each scene. Each character is captured well enough, as it's almost verbatim. As a fan, I do like seeing certain scenes coming to the page as the first book (which we're still in) I remember the most of. He makes sure to represent each of the Emond Field boys as accurate as possible and I get a bit nostalgic. His mixture of using Jordan's narration with the bits of dialogue work well together, but I'd like to just see the book without the narration from the book and having the story told without them just to give it a better flow at times.

Now, here's the big problem. Francis Nuguit's art is fine but... well, boring. The thin linework reminds of me Joe Eisma, but without the flair or personality. Drawing these characters that are full of imagination, the visuals should be enchanting. Instead, we get stoic poses and mild facial expressions. I do like how he handled Mat from being sick with the dagger to still looking okay, but it's not perfect. I remember the transition in the book wasn't a complete success and that's conveyed here. The way how he draws Perrin and Loial should be commended, too, but that's about it. Nicholas Chapuis' colors are average at best, but does nothing to elevate the already mediocre art.

One has to wonder how things are going to get when the more battle-heavy issues come around. We still haven't made it to the Eye of the World yet, and I hope the art team is up to the challenge to do the story justice. Dixon is doing a bang-up job, let's see what happens when you pair him with a worthy visual storyteller.

 

Batwing #0

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Marcus To, Ryan Winn, Richard Zajac and Brian Reber

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Do we need a Batwing?

Simple question. What purpose does Batwing serve in the new DC universe? Is "the Batman of Africa" simply a placeholder, a placeholder bumping sales solely because of the Bat-symbol on his chest? Is he a symbol of diversity, trying to bring ethnic and geographic appeal to a pantheon forged in a more monochromatic era? Or is he something more?

I feel he could be. But with this latest #0 issue, I'm also done giving Batwing chances. Lacking in theme, characterization or any strong concepts to help define David Zavimbe, this "origin" comic is rough in execution and, even more importantly, fails to give you a reason to care about its protagonist.

David Mamet used to say "get into the scene late, get out of the scene early," and this story is a good example of why — following David Zavimbe's journey from rage-filled youth to disillusioned officer to tonfa-wielding masked man doesn't have the same sort of ninja coolness or character definition of, say, a Batman Begins. Writer Judd Winick is well-known for injecting topical issues into this storylines, but here he gets the worst of both worlds: by including metahuman combatants into Batwing's world, he not only takes the reader out of usual Batman milieu, but it also kind of minimizes the underlying themes of war and child soldiers. Isn't there enough real monsters in the Congo without giving them horns and energy blasts?

That said, I think we could let that go if we got an in-depth look at David's thought process here. While occasionally Winick does employ a first-person narration, there's a curious distance to this comic, where it feels like we're just watching things happen to Zavimbe, rather than feeling it happen to us. David's jump from officer to vigilante, for example, has little explanation (even as his adopted mother figure basically hits us over the head that of course that's his logical progression), and even the death of a loved one comes with barely enough humanizing to make us care. Is that really what we want in a comic about a war-torn African country: a character who is so paper-thin she becomes little more than a statistic?

The art is also surprisingly tough to swallow, even with Marcus To behind the wheel. Tonally, I think his cartoony style really blunts the sort of horrific threats that Batwing's world can provide, but the problems extend more to execution than what To usually brings to the table. The supervillains of the piece seem particularly rushed in terms of their designs, with Death Jack resembling some sort of tattooed sort-of-Minotaur who spontaneously gains and loses his horns between scenes. Zavimbe's costumed compatriots seem equally ill-defined, with no hints as to character or powers based on their yellow jumpsuits. The script solely moves from Point A to Point B, and To doesn't provide the emotional beats necessary to keep us focused on the page.

In many ways, I see DC's #0 issues as a second attempt to bring in new readers who might have been unconvinced by the initial rollout of the New 52. Batwing could have been a more commercially viable take on Joshua Dysart's fantastic Unknown Soldier, but instead is about as bland and generic as it comes. Just because the man has a bat on his chest doesn't mean this title should get a free pass.

 

Damsels #1

Written by Leah Moore and John Reppion

Art by Aneke and Ivan Nunes

Lettering by Scott Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

With fairy tales being this year's vampires, a lot of material is coming out with different variations to folklore and Brothers Grimm stories. Damsels, though, takes a unique approach, but it's so scattered, I'm not really sure what is going on.

From the beginning, we're automatically thrown into a wild chase scene with a girl that I'm guessing is our main character. Some hints of her origin are there, but still remain a mystery. She's not even named and simply referred to as "Outlander" and other things of the sort. And for some reason, the Sleeping Beauty analogue is none too pleased with her. It's a fantasy world where magic is seemingly forbidden and fairies are bought as pets.

Aneke's art is pretty good, though. The style has an old-school comic book flair to it, but still modern enough to be pleasing to the eye. The way some shots are used has a very cinematic take, but I'm still trying to sort out what is going on. The panel construction is a little nonsensical at times and makes the page even more claustrophobic. There is a scene at the end with a back-and-forth approach on two scenarios taking place at the same time. While it's clever to take that artistic route, the story itself doesn't make all that much sense in the end.

I really do love Ivan Nunes' coloring job on here. I think a weaker or less talented artist would have made a mess of the busier pages, but Nunes handles the situation with a certain amount of confidence that has to be admired. His palette really brightens things up and does a great job separating all the things on the page. Nothing is wasted and color just saturates each panel. It's pretty to look at even if you're trying to catch up to the story.

I'm keen to the idea of an action/fantasy story with a female perspective, more so if the idea is about the princess archetype being flipped on its head and calamity ensues from there. Yet Damsels leaves too many questions floating about and not enough intrigue for me to really invest more time in. Interesting concepts all around, but still, too much at once and nothing comes across as cohesive to really want to come back for more.

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