Best Shots: Ex Machina, Deadpool, and More.

Best Shots: Ex Mach, Deadpool, & More.

Greetings folks! Your substitute teacher is here, but please don’t think that means you can start with the spitballs and the note passing. Troy Brownfield was attacked by alligators, escaped, had a hive of killer bees dropped on his head, somehow made it into a pool, the pool was gasoline and lit on fire, but it just launched him clear with barely any injuries to speak of. So, my takeover plot was foiled*, however, he thought he’d take the week off. First the Marvel-centric BSEs for the week:

The Stand: Captain Trips #1

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: Treachery #1

Secret Invasion #6

Dragon Prince #1

Now, Ready? FIGHT!

Ultimate Origins #4 of 5

Writer: Brian Bendis

Artist: Butch Guice

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Under normal conditions, stories that take place in the past fall into the trap of providing minimal impact story wise due to the knowledge the reader has of the present and in the world of comics sometimes that includes the most minute details of their favorite character(s). Thanks in large part to the still untold history of the Ultimate Universe that trapping is avoided as Brian Bendis continues to lay the foundation of the beginnings of the Ultimate Universe assisted by the talented Butch Guice who provides some well rendered characters and settings.

In this issue Bendis continues to provide interesting revelations about the relationship between key characters in the Ultimate Universe as he spends the majority of the issue detailing the past while only briefly touching upon the present. Fortunately, it is these revealing moments from the past that readers of a title suitably named Ultimate Origins expect as Bendis once again reveals another sin of the past as the Hulk’s true origin is revealed.

Throughout the issue Bendis chooses to mainly focus on Nick Fury as he comes to grips with his role in the world as a result of being the first super soldier. Fury has seen a lot in the world and he is ready to make a difference. By being the point man for Project Rebirth Fury is tasked with protecting America by duplicating the super soldier serum. With the smartest men, an unlimited budget and a motivation based on his new found understanding of the world, Fury sets out for redemption as he begins his quest to defend America.

From the first moment we meet the scientists their egos come immediately into play, especially those of Bruce Banner and Hank Pym (who plays an almost Rick Jones type role to Banner). as the issue progresses the story shifts focus to Richard Parker, Pym and Banner as they seemingly manage to duplicate the serum. Rather than report their finds Pym and Banner decide to test the serum, on themselves. It is this ego that leads to the true tragic first meeting between the Hulk and an all too young Peter Parker. Bendis expertly builds up to this moment throughout the latter half of the issue and when the moment happens the tragedy is all the more palatable.

In the present day the Watchers continue to observe as the heroes manage to make first contact and are greeted with a message of impending catastrophe. The hive mind nature of the Watchers is a nice touch that perfectly compliments the nature of Ultimate Galactus and ties the two entities together in a subtle manner. The ominous nature of the Watchers is skillfully captured by the natural style of Butch Guice’s expertly rendered art.

Emotive and moody Guice utilizes an interesting mix of panel layouts to move the story forward while keeping the reader engaged. There is a scene this issue where Fury is talking to the president about the status of “Project: Rebirth Two” that particularly stands out as Guice utilizes an interesting mix panels on a single page to effectively portray the subtext of Fury’s answers to the president’s questions. During every scene Guice utilizes shadows when necessary to create a somber atmosphere that is enhanced by Justin Ponsors subdued colors. Guice’s rendering of the Hulk’s first appearance is captured skillfully and given the immensity required with a well-done two-page spread.

As a prelude to Ultimatum, Ultimate Origins continues to be an interesting read but the lack of forward movement on the present day seemed to take away from the overall impact.

Deadpool #1

Writer: Daniel Way

Art: Paco Medina with Juan Vlasco and Marte Gracia

From: Marvel Comics

Review by: Lucas Siegel

Hey! Deadpool’s back! Suh-weet! Well, pretty much anyway. This was a strong first showing, but not quite flawless.

First, let’s start with the flawless part- the art. This is without a doubt the best art I’ve ever seen from Paco Medina. His Deadpool is perfect, strong, and carries himself like an assassin even though he’s goofing off. His Skrulls are perfect: menacing warriors ready, even aching for a fight. The art team is all firing on all cylinders, and I struggled to find even a single panel that I had a problem with.

The book is funny, without a doubt. Deadpool keeps a running conversation with a distinct other personality in his head the entire issue, and there are some really funny moments with the Skrulls. The humor is not quite up to Nicieza, Simone, or Kelly yet. With a strong start like this, though, it’s clear that Way has been reading those three Deadpool greats quite a bit. What we’re seeing here is more of the driven mercenary rather than the wacky pal that we’ve been used to in Deadpool’s last ongoing, where he shared the spotlight with Cable.

The story itself was classic Deadpool all the way. The choices he makes, and the way he goes about executing his ultimate decision just bled Deadpool. It’ll be great to see where he goes from here, and this issue certainly shows that his old unpredictability is back in full effect. The Secret Invasion tie-in of the story actually makes sense for Deadpool, and doesn’t feel shoe-horned in at all. Hopefully it will start some high-sales momentum for the man in red and black.

Daniel Way and Paco Medina are ready to take the reins of the Merc-With-A-Mouth. They clearly showed up to play with this first issue, and at a good start, they have a good chance of going straight to the top, joining the aforementioned creators in the best Deadpool stories.

Ex Machina #38

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Art: Tony Harris with Jim Clark and JD Mettler

From: DC/Wildstorm

Review by: Lucas Siegel

Well, better late than never. Ex Machina fans have been waiting a while for this third chapter of “Dirty Tricks,” and I had forgotten how tense this book makes me sometimes.

Now, I say “tense” but I don’t mean it to carry its usual negative connotation. The way things are playing out right now, Mitch is in danger from at least two completely different sides. The hinted eventual move that our hero wants to make was finally outright said in this issue, and will cast an interesting pall on what is likely the last year worth of issues (Vaughan has said this series will last about 50).

This issue raised the aforementioned tension quite a bit. Vaughan’s trademark cliffhanger is in full effect here, with several issues-long threads threatening to come to a head. There are no less than five completely different spokes coming from the Mitchell Hundred wheel that are at a breaking point, and every issue that comes out effectively teases these, keeping readers interested in each aspect of Hundred’s life. This kind of juggling act is not easy, and rarely done well. Vaughan makes it look easy in this issue; I don’t feel strung along, I just feel like I want more of this book- now.

I’m not certain if the reason for the delay was Harris’s pursuit of some other projects this year, but regardless he’s putting out some of the best art he’s ever done on this book. With now having drawn these characters for over 3 years, he just looks like he’s having fun with them. The faces are more expressive, and the action is more visceral. The moody inks and colors fit the tone Vaughan’s working for, probably making his job much easier.

I’ve never made it a secret that I love Vaughan’s writing. This book is definitely not an exception, it’s the rule. What started as a relatively simple premise, with a slight twist, now has more twists than an order of Hardees curly fries. This issue was absolutely worth the wait (though I hope we don’t have to wait quite so long for the next one), and now going into the final year of Ex Machina, I honestly have no idea how this one’s going to end.

American Widow

Written by Alissa Torres

Illustrated by Choi

Published by Villard

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

September 11, 2001 was Eddie Torres’ second day at his new job, as a currency broker at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. His widow Alissa Torres, seven months pregnant at the time, has written for magazines and papers about the struggles of 9/11 widows and families. Now she’s set down her story in this graphic novel.

Given the emotional nature of the subject matter, American Widow is difficult to read without grafting humane, political and social ideologies onto it, but Torres’ focus is strictly on the particulars of her situation and the ongoing trials she faced while trying to re-establish a semblance of normalcy in her life. For example, the government’s contentious War on Terror is not a factor in Torres’ story. Sometimes, that personal focus does not work to the book’s advantage, and sometimes it does.

The opening, a chaotic outburst of television exclamations and snapshots of the world reacting to and coping with previously unimaginable tragedy, immediately knocks the reader back on their heels, taking them back into the turmoil of a terrifying September morning. From there, the script does a good job establishing Alissa and Eddie’s relationship, setting up the feelings of loss and confusion that follow. Torres does an excellent job capturing the disappointments and frustrations she faced in the months following 9/11, notably revisiting the solitude and moments of overwhelming heartbreak that plagued her. Much of the book focuses on the struggles to simply survive, as charities set up to assist her changed personnel so frequently that she had to re-start processes innumerable times. Her frustration and disappointment is palpable throughout, and the personable quality of her narration engages the reader consistently.

Her writing doesn’t hit as hard as it could, however, in a few places. After going through the process of birthing her son, the infant disappears into the background, lost amid the shuffle of dealing with charities, well-wishers and critics. Torres’s spotlight on her troubles getting financial assistance earmarked for her takes up too much page time, even to the point that she fails to communicate the need for the cash. With a little more time given to staging and enforcing her life circumstances, including the time spent raising a newborn son, Torres could’ve engaged readers’ emotions more effectively, but the script’s focus on her monetary problems or criticisms unfairly leveled at 9/11 widows allows readers to overlook the complications she faced.

The art, by single-named Choi, has a delicate manga-esque feel, with a direct and clear layout that captures the nuances of Torres’ emotional state and the concrete reality of each moment. His character designs and acting are strong, and the occasional use of actual documents from the time slaps readers with the truth of the moment.

Despite some failures of focus, Torres’ American Widow is an important document of the human beings still here, struggling in the wake of national tragedy. With a distinct narrative voice and quality visual storytelling, Alissa Torres and Choi’s book should become one of the most valuable documents of its era. For comic fans, it’s an exciting moment to see this graphic memoir join the historical record.

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindberg Child

Written & Illustrated by Rick Geary

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Replete with maps and floor layouts, Rick Geary’s latest historical crime reconstruction continues to set an amazingly high standard for nonfiction comic book storytelling. The latest volume, the first to come under the A Treasury of XXth Century Murder banner, focuses on the abduction and murder of Charles Lindberg, Jr., the infant son of transatlantic hero and pilot Charles Lindberg.

Geary lays out the facts and figures clearly and forcefully, introducing the players with sufficient weight and back story to cement their place in the narrative, while continually moving the story ahead. Going through the events chronologically, he touches on small, yet important, details such as the wire thumb guards placed on the infant’s thumbs to prevent thumb sucking, while building up to the “Trial of the Century” and the eventual execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the crime. After laying out everything that we know for certain, Geary indulges the reader with several conspiracies and inconsistencies that have built up around the case in the decades since.

Taking time to poke into the known corridors of each person’s history, Geary does an admirable job reconstructing timelines and uncovering potential motivations. He’s not afraid to expose possible flaws in the accepted history and, ultimately, leaves any conclusions up to the readers.

Likenesses remain one of Geary’s strengths. People and locations are both rendered with care, each full of specific details that keep readers in the reality of the moment. The art works mostly as a complement to the text, with few word balloons and fewer extended scenes. As such, the book works nearly as a textbook, but with the entire length devoted to a single sequence of events, you get far more care and detail than most other visual representations could hope to muster. Pages are laid out creatively to spotlight details or to capture specific emotions. Hauptmann’s history includes panels showing his breaking into a home through a second-story window (as was done in the case of the Lindberg kidnapping), Hauptmann in a jail cell while still residing in Germany, and his eyes peering through a porthole enforcing his voyage to America.

Rick Geary’s A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindberg Child continues to establish a high standard in true-crime storytelling. The detailed artwork, pristine visual storytelling, and careful eye for the subtleties of the crime provide several angles for readers to ponder over, yet enforce all the known and proven facts of the case. Any reader who enjoys history or examining true crimes will love diving into this or any of Geary’s other amazing books.

LATE SHOT!

El Diablo #1

From: DC Comics

Writer: Jai Nitz

Art: Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Review By: Brendan McGuirk

In a world where super hero films grossed almost a cool $1 billion in the last year, we, as comicbook fans, may have lost sight of what was once the staple of a cool comic; the cool origin story. Origins in film have become like an unwanted cover charge. Spend twenty-five to forty minutes explaining exactly how the person acquired their extraordinarily garish, flamboyant sense of style, then get to the cool action sequences. In comics, though, when the characters are being explored and explained, the origin should be a joyous discovery of something new. Most readers fell in love with comics through superheroes, and the origin is a linchpin of what makes them so compelling. And while new superheroes hit the stands every week, many readers forgo the unknown heroes from unknown publishers for the familiar heroes of their favorite brands. So when readers are introduced to a new character from an old company, it is worthy of note.

El Diablo is the latest character revamp from DC Comics. Charo Santana is an American-Mexican-American arms smuggler who gets taken down by the cops. When he meets Lazarus Lane, the original Diablo, he is given an offer of vengeance he cannot refuse.

This new mini-series has a few things going for it. First is the obvious and incomparable art team of Phil Hester and Ande Parks. At first bluff, they are the sole reason to check out this book, and frankly, DC is counting on that. Second, the striking imagery of Mexican calacas (Day of the Dead- looking skulls), mixed with luchador costuming, looked legitimately different. A solid visual hook and an art team that can carry it are all I need to check out a new comic.

Writing is relative unknown Jai Nitz. Nitz is not a big name Hollywood creator pulled in to solicit newspaper headlines, he is a scribe who has paid his dues through comics. His first work was a self published venture, Novavolo, that garnered critical success. Since then, his career has echoed that of a journeyman pitcher- anthology piece here, an all-ages book there. In an industry where all too often it seems “big names,” get big gigs over creators who pay their dues, and better understand the fundamentals of the medium, it is always worth noting when someone is awarded a comic series because they prove they can make good comics.

We've got great art, a writer who at least knows what he's doing, and a cool looking comic lead. All signs are looking good. The story packs an edge- Charo is no hero, and it isn't clear he will become one. This book seems to be trying to capture an HBO like quality with true-crime and coarse language. And while it is not short of movement of plot, there is a lack of density and complexity that prevent it from feeling quite so adult as it strives to be. Charo, at least as we meet him, is not a particularly compelling character. While pursuit of some gritty authenticity can sometimes come dangerously close to stereotypical simplicity, Nitz's characterization shows just enough to imply Charo is ready for some growth. Nitz also proves his comic savvy by subtly interweaving the origin of El Diablo's arch villain in with his own.

There is some brutality to this book, and there are signs that it should be a fun ride. If nothing else, is cool to see some Mexican wrestling costumes on a DC character other than Bane.

If this series had the exact same creative team on it, and title, but were creator owned, it may be held to some lesser or different standard. It may have felt more “fresh,” or somehow more of a surprise. However, since it is a DC character, there is an argument to be made that it should feel somehow especially like a DC character. There should be some fundamental ingredient that ties it to DC lore, and gives it a shared relevance. While there is a legacy aspect to this book, DC characters are generally best served by fictional city backdrops, that act as metaphors or reflections for the protagonists. Introducing a new, Hispanic character, could have provided an opportunity to create a new, relevant southern American city with which to explore the issues relevant to the character, (think San Andreas). This, it seems, could have been a more subtle and layered way to explore American politics than “Will Superman vote Red or Blue.”

El Diablo has the potential to be an exciting addition to the DCU. If this story continues to grow, and the character, along with his conflict, grows more and more complexly intriguing with it, it holds real promise. If, though, it reverts to convention, and the cast and choices ring more familiar than innovative, it will be a lost opportunity for something truly new. Here's hoping.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Booster Gold #12 (DC; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): The last time we saw our heroes, the Gold siblings and Rip Hunter had broken into the Bat Cave. A choice that had a worse result than you'd think. As Alfred shot Rip with a shotgun, Rip was blown back into the timesphere which then went into default mode and transported him elsewhen, leaving Booster and Michelle to deal with a pissed off, well armed butler. The team of Dixon, Jurgens and Rapmund kept the manic energy of this book up without sacrificing story, art or characterization. At no point does the image of Booster Gold, dressed as Elvis, driving the 1960's TV Batmobile, seem out of place in this book. Throw in an angry Jim Gordon, heroes robbing a museum, and Booster punching himself in the face, and you've got a great book. If you haven't been keeping up with Booster Gold, do yourself a favor and pick up issues 11 & 12. They're a great jumping-on point to a terrific series. Oh, and Rip Hunter is millions of years in the past, and a familiar face shows up to make things even worse for the time travelers.

House of M: Civil War #1 (Marvel; by Lucas): *enter Marvel meeting* House of M is still popular, even though it’s been three years. According to Millar, Civil War sold 80 katrillion copies and defeated world hunger. Now, I’m about to blow your mind: PUT THEM TOGETHER! /Marvel Meeting. Now, despite the title, that’s not quite how this is looking to play out. This is actually the rise of Magneto to power, more similar to the Age of Apocalypse story told in X-Men Chronicles, although that was DURING the event. The good news is, this is a fantastic read. Christos N. Gage should officially be allowed to write anything he wants in the entire comic industry. The art is gorgeous, and shows off the best of 90s and today’s art styles combined; it’s quintessential super-hero art. Guest stars abound, secrets are revealed (Yes, answers that actually come in the FIRST ISSUE!), and this looks to be a fun story. You know, I’m almost convinced that House of M should just be an ongoing, side universe. There are definitely still interesting stories to tell there, and with Gage at the helm, they’re sure to continue to entertain.

X-Men: Magneto Testament #1 (Marvel; by Lucas): If the latest House of M mini doesn’t fill you up on Magneto origin-style stories, take heart! This has a decidedly different tone from the other story. In fact, this is an amazingly humanizing look at the most famous evil mutant. It’s Marvel Knights, so it straddles continuity in that maybe/maybe not way (so this may or may not have revealed Magneto’s real name for the first time in the character’s history). The story in issue one shows the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, and the vicious entitled brutality is captured perfectly in both Pak’s words and Giandomenico’s art. This one was a surprise to me, a book I wasn’t really looking forward to wound up being one of the best reads of the week. You don’t have to care about Magneto to start reading this; you’ll care enough at the end of even this first issue.

Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual (Marvel; by Richard): Although the story by Aron Coleite and Joe Pokaski is an interesting take on Days of Future Past the issue suffers from distracting art and some illogical storytelling. On the art, the shift from Dan Panosian’s more realistic pencils to Mark Brooks more cartoonish style worked against the story and effectively killed the tone established in the first few pages. The difference is style is distracting and detracted from the serious nature of the story as established in the well-rendered opening scenes. I usually enjoy Brook’s art, but the decision to match him up with Panosian seems ill-suited for this particular story. Speaking of story, the use of a Wolverine template for Sentinels was a clever twist, but the inability for them to kill Reed and the subsequent fall-out from that failure seemed strange and became another distraction. Coleite and Pokaski have a good story, but the execution falls a bit flat.

Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #3 (Marvel; by Lucas): This was a good end to a solid story. The book was clearly created and published with fans of either or both of these teams in mind. The story used similar partial flashback/partial current time sequences, and the backstory really helped make the now relevant and more powerful. Takeshi Miyazawa’s art really re-grew on me; I saw in this issue everything I loved about his stints on Runaways and Spidey <3’s MJ. Similarly, Chris Yost is THE name that should come up in every conversation about these two. He seems to “get” every single one of the characters, from how they are alone, to how they react with close friends, and how they act when people they don’t know as well around. Marvel, stop waiting for Heinberg, and let Yost launch a Young Avengers ongoing. As soon as Moore’s run on Runaways is over? Yup, give that to Yost, too. He clearly loves these characters, and used what came before this book as his basis for how he writes them. All in all, this book actually had some bearing on the main series, and was a great read all around.

Final Crisis: Revelations #2 (DC; by Lucas): Wow, this book is moving quickly. I felt like a lot happened in this book, though I guess it was basically one conversation. Rucka’s writing style with these two old partners coupled with kinetic art made this a quick read. I’m really glad I read the Crime Bible mini-series, as readers who didn’t are probably a little lost right now. Regardless, I think the story will prove to stand well on its own when all is said and done, and hopefully Crispus won’t be quite such a tool as the Spectre, too. This is yet another one of the tie-ins that I’m enjoying much better than the main series. It’s interesting that through this, we’ve basically had a Rucka-written Montoya/Question ongoing for quite some time now. If this book is any indication, I can’t wait for his upcoming Batwoman series.

*I have no intention to take over this column- it's a pain! Best Shots is brought to you by Newsarama, ShotgunReviews.com and Lucas’s Lost Sanity. Check out www.shotgunreviews.com, www.shotgunreviews.com/shots and www.myspace.com/shotgunreviews.com at your leisure.

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