Best Shots: SUPERGIRL, ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN, More

'Rama readers, get ready for the big column! Best Shots has you covered today, so let's cut to the chase with Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the #0 issue of Supergirl... 

 

Supergirl #0

Written by: Michael Green and Mike Johnson

Art by: Mhmud Asrar and Dave McCaig

Lettering by: Asrar and McCaig

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Because it’s so ubiquitous, Superman’s origin can be recited by most anyone with even a slight familiarity with Big Blue. Distant planet, rocket ship to Earth, and Krytpon explodes. But what about Supergirl? Most people could probably equate a similar origin with Kal-El’s cousin, but what Michael Green and Mike Johnson have done is to distill that origin and give it a new telling, this time through Kara’s father, Zor-El. What they give readers is the story of a desperate man, willing to do anything to save the life of his child and in this vein, Green and Johnson craft a dramatic and emotional origin, even when every reader knows how the comic will end.

Because the focus is on Zor-El, Kara is nothing more than a secondary character in the story. What this does, however, is show her through the eyes of her father and it strips away the power we’ve seen in Green and Johnson’s 12-issue run. Zor-El’s actions are understandable but there’s a greater weight to them given the steps he takes to save his daughter. Basically, he ruins his own life in an attempt to save hers and if the city of Argo survives (which is unclear), Zor-El will have a lot to answer for.

But what makes the comic work so well is the way in which Kara is portrayed as a victim. One of the things that’s worked best with the series has been Kara’s naiveté. Where I took that to be a reaction to her circumstance, here Green and Johnson make it a personality trait and it makes Kara’s departure that much sadder, especially because she was basically tricked by the person whom she most trusted.

Mahmud Asrar’s art is especially impressive in this issue, given the colorization provided by Dave McCaig. McCaig uses a sickly yellow/orange color that pervades the imagery and acts as a constant reminder of a dying world. Asrar gives Zor-El many villainous facial features in the story, and McCaig complies by adding shadows that help enunciate this point. While we know Zor-El’s main goal is to save his daughter, we still see him as the bad guy, and this adds more emotional weight to the final moments when Kara is shot into the sky and sent away as Krypton explodes.

Green and Johnson add nothing new to the origin story, so there is no secret twist to Krypton’s end. But by shifting the narrative to Zor-El, Kara’s abandonment gains weight and makes her sadness palpable. Maybe it’s the softie in me, but I was genuinely moved when I closed the book, and when a writer affects his readers that way, he deserves the credit for his ability.

 

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #15

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Mile Morales is a charmer, no doubt about it, and when he's illustrated by David Marquez, there's an entire world behind this all-new Spider-Man's eyes. But you also have to take some bad with the good — and while Miles is a fun character to watch in action... it doesn't change the fact that almost nothing happens in this comic.

Well, okay, perhaps that's a slight overstatement. Writer Brian Michael Bendis does put his ducks in a row, exonerating Miles from the death of his uncle, the super-powered Prowler, for example. He (re)explains how Miles got Peter Parker's webshooters. But aside from an all-too-brief sequence of Miles putting those webshooters in action, this story moves at a glacial pace, with one extended conversation about catch-phrases really coming across as pure filler. Even the one action beat — Miles' poorly planned jaunt to the SHIELD Helicarrier — will lose its luster when you remember last issue's cliffhanger was Miles getting Captain America's OK for training.

But David Marquez. Man, David Marquez. Enjoy him here while he lasts, I'm sure Marvel will figure out how awesome he truly is and put him on a top-selling book soon enough. But Marquez makes this book look oh-so-smooth, especially with some strong colorwork by Justin Ponsor keeping everything energetic and bright. (I love Ponsor's subtle transition from sunset to evening in particular, which really sets up the tone of the "Divided We Fall" storyline without sapping the book's vigor.)

But back to Marquez. There's one panel in particular where we watch Miles twist in the sky in a way I don't think I've ever seen Spider-Man move before. That's the difference between the A-list and everybody else — Marquez is innovating with his choreography, he's adding to Spider-Man's visual vocabulary and coming out on top. He also makes Bendis's talkier scenes palatable, with a nice sense of varying up his shots and really playing up the likability factor in Miles' face. We can empathize with this kid, and that adds so much to this otherwise lightweight comic.

To be blunt, if you read last issue, you could probably skip this month and not miss a thing. That's ultimately to this book's detriment, because the visual execution is superb, even if the story is absolutely running in place. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #15 could have been a lot worse — but man, it could have been a lot better, too.

 

Revival #3

Written by Tim Seeley

Art by Mike Norton, Mark Engler

Lettering by Crank!

Published by Image Comics

Review by Jose Camacho

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Labelled as “A Rural Noir," Revival's subtitle may bring up puzzling images of The Big Sleep, but you will not find Humphrey Bogart stomping through the snow. Yet I find that the label “rural noir” actually minimizes the great amount of creativity and depth that has gone into this comic. There is a lot going on in this series. There is a paranormal angle as well as a thriller/mystery vibe that makes it a unique read on the stands.

For those unfamiliar with this series, Revival is about a small in Wisconsin where some of the inhabitants are coming back from the dead. The revived are normal humans, for the most part. The Center for Disease Control is called in, the town is quarantined and a joint task force is created to deal with the "revivers."

In the current issue, two members of this task force or R.C.A.T. (Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Team) meet, again. Also, Em is confronted by her sister, Dana, as well as her professor about being a “reviver” and a local reporter visits an old lady who harbors a secret.

Revival #3 is a busy issue. This issue somehow manages to add more questions to the list previously compiled from Revival #1 and #2. It does not really answer any questions. Also, it seems that we are still adding to the headcount of characters. The issue, much like the previous one, reveals the motivations and flaws drive the characters. We are shown Sheriff Cypress’ ability to forgive and Officer Dana’s firm dedication to her job.

There is a lot to say about the art in this issue. Mike Norton takes a very diverse cast and breathes life into them. His art is almost photographic in detail. You almost expect them to jump out of the page and start moving. The lines and wrinkles display even subtle emotions and hint at a character’s ethnic background or family ties. Also, Norton consistently knows where to place characters. The issue begins with two sisters conversing in a college dorm room. Norton uses the cramped space to his advantage and keeps the two sisters in the panels for the most part. This allows the reader to see their reactions.

Mark Englert’s colors are also noteworthy. He takes a subtle approach. Like I said, this is a diverse cast and Englert shows us race so that Seely does not go out of his way to list it out for us. The different shades of skin color are not cartoony and do not distract. Overall, the art is restrained yet excellent. It fits the noir themes of the plot.

Revival #3 brings in a lot of characters to the spotlight. Some of these are new, like the reporter, while other characters, like Mr. Abel, who graced the cover of Revival #2, are returning to some readers’ dismay. While it is interesting to see all these characters interact, this issue feels too busy and choppy at times. We keep jumping from once location to another. In four pages, we go from a college dorm to a police barricade to a café to a police station and back to a classroom in the same college as before.

In terms of script and art, Revival #3 really bolstered the authenticity of the overall story. It lifted the comic from just being a tale of odd occurrences in a generic, faceless “small town USA” and turned it into a story set in a living, breathing Midwestern town. In other words, it gave it an identity. The authenticity comes from the attention to detail: the accents, the dress and the Hmong.

Revival #3 also demonstrates an eye for detail that mimics the classic movie, Fargo. It does not go overboard or fall in to the trap of using stereotypes. Instead, Revival #3 sends the reader to a realistic ecosystem using actual small-town flavor. I cannot overstate the importance of this authenticity. This shows a vision that goes beyond average comic book writing. Seeley is not using a small out-of-the-way town just for the sake of it. He is showing us someone’s hometown; do not overlook it.

The label “rural noir” isn't big enough to adequately describe this series. We have big questions such as: why are some of the dead coming back? What is causing some of these revivers to be violent? What is that white creature? As well as small details that enriches the series. So far, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton have shown us that it will be your money’s worth to see where the quest for answers will take you. This rural noir is ready for the big screen.

 

Bandette #2

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Colleen Coover

Lettering by Colleen Coover

Published by Monkeybrain Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Get ready to fall in love with Bandette, the hero with the heart of a thief. Or maybe it's just the opposite, as Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover show us how Bandette can stop a bank robbery at the request of the police but maybe get herself a little something out of it, as well. She is a manic pixie girl in a cape, a girl who everyone in the comic loves just because of her bubbly spirit. She's just too dang cute as she uses her knockout gas to foil the bank robbery and gain the respect of the police.

Coover's art sets the light, cosmopolitan feel of the issue. Her artwork is really reminiscent of French cartoonists Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian and their bourgeois French character Monsieur Jean. Like them, Coover has this wonderful lightness to her artwork that keeps us from taking her adventures too seriously as it perfectly reflects the jaunty way that Bandette breezes through her adventure, calling on her network of friends to help her as needed.

While she captures the tone of Dupuy and Berberian to help establish the mood and setting of this book, she channels Alex Toth for the pacing and the adventure. Like Toth, she uses the immediacy of her marks on the page to convey everything the reader needs to know. With simple, cartoony, gestural mark-making, she sets the pace that the reader moves through this story, never making any image that completely stops or arrests the reader. She keeps the reader moving deftly though each page, following along with Bandette as she almost floats though the story. She glides through her adventures with a smile and an assurance that everything is going to come up in her favor, and Coover's easy style never betrays Bandette's sure confidence in herself.

Part of that confidence comes from Tobin's assured voice for the character. Even as she's called in to foil a bank robbery, she finds herself just outside of the vault with bags of money. The would-be thieves have done the hard part and she finds herself lightly conflicted. "Look at all this money! Kind of makes me want to be a criminal. More of a criminal, I mean." She's Robin Hood, robbing from the corrupt rich to give to... well, to give to herself. Her help comes with a price. She's on the side of the angels but just barely and she knows it. Tobin's playful dialogue shows us a girl who could just as easily pick your pocket as she would help you across the street. It depends on who's after you and where the real adventure is. She'll dry off a stray cat who's been drenched by a passing vehicle but she won't bring it home and care for it. Maybe like the cat, she doesn't need anyone protecting her.

If she's part Robin Hood, Tobin also makes her partly like Doc Savage, having a whole entourage of helpers and accomplices, ready and waiting for that phone call that she needs a bit of assistance. She even has kids, what at one time long ago would have been some kind of street gang, slowing up the band robbers by challenging the robbers to baseball. I honestly don't know who would have come out on the short end of that, the kids who look like they can play a mean game of baseball or the robbers and their guns. Luckily it never comes to that, as Tobin shows just how resourceful and cunning Bandette is. And as long as she has her handy dandy can of knockout spray (something so campy and yet perfectly at home with the character), she looks to always have the upper hand on whoever gets in her way.

 

Ghost #0

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Phil Noto

Lettering by Richard Starking and Comicraft

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

’Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The character Ghost has a long history with Dark Horse Comics, first appearing in 1993 and sporadically finding her way back into publication. While written mostly by Eric Luke, Ghost has an impressive list of artists, with people like Adam Hughes, Terry Dodson, Ivan Reis and John Cassaday all contributing at some point. So in what looks like an attempt to revive the character, Kelly Sue DeConnick has taken over the writing duties while Phil Noto is on the art. I know very little about Ghost so when I read the comic, I was looking to learn more about her. Unfortunately, DeConnick focuses most of her energy on side characters and readers who were hoping to learn just who Ghost is will leave this book with even less of an understanding.

The story opens with a Ghost Adventures-type broadcast where we meet “Phantom Finders” host Tommy Byers and his partner Vaughn Barnes. Byers are Barnes are hoping to capture the image of a woman known as “Resurrection Mary.” Enter Ghost. From here, DeConnick shifts her narrative to focus mostly on Barnes and while Ghost is in the comic, she doesn’t do much except float around and move the plot forward.

As a leading man, Barnes is a bit too cliched a character. He’s a fallen reporter who’s stooped to helping out his bumbling yet virtuous friend, Tommy. Barnes is also in the middle of a divorce but has yet to sign his divorce papers, so the interactions with his ex-wife (shown through narrative boxes) play a bit too much towards the stereotypical “divorced man who still loves his wife” angle. Meanwhile, Tommy, clearly based on Ghost Adventures’ Zac Baggins, is one-dimensional, and acts as little more than comic relief.

I liked Phil Noto’s character designs, but his backgrounds are pretty sparse and the flatness of the imagery is apparent by page 13. The art also shifts in style halfway through the book. Earlier in the comic, Noto’s character outlines are tight and thin. He does a great job on Vaughn’s face, especially when Ghost appears in his apartment. But the second half of the comic has a definite shift in its visuals, and the clarity of the imagery disappears. Excessive shadowing makes for messy facial features, and some of the background colors leak into character jawlines.

If anything, it looks like Noto was rushed to complete the art, and the final product is a visual mess. Given more time, I think Noto would have had better success especially because he finally starts using a mixture of colors in the second half, but even then the coloring is poorly done, leaving thin colorless gaps around people’s faces as if he didn’t have time to polish the picture.

Longtime fans of Ghost may be pleased with having their character back, but for new readers this isn’t a great introduction. The comic succeeds in setting up a mythos and a focus, but even Ghost’s display of ability is still shunted in favor of Barnes’ character development. But the title of the comic is Ghost, not Barnes. Ultimately, new readers will know less about the character than when they started.

 

Fatima: The Blood Spinners #4

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Gilbert Hernandez

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Set in an odd, 1960s inspired version of the future, Fatima: The Blood Spinners is a zombie horror as envisioned by the twisted mind of Gilbert Hernandez, co-creator of Love & Rockets.

A new drug called Spin has hit the streets and is taking the city by storm. It gives users the ultimate high, but has one small side effect - it turns those who take it into bloodthirsty zombies. Despite this fact, the drug has become so popular that human civilization is in danger of coming to an end. The only things standing between mankind and the brink is Fatima and the other agents of Operations. However, when rumours begin to arise that Operations may have actually created the deadly drug, Fatima is forced to question her mission and everything she believes in.

Over the course of the series, what started out as an inventive take on the classic zombie horror has become so much more. Trapped in a desolate future run by the mutated remnants of humanity, Fatima has witnessed some truly horrifying and disturbing events. Now, in the series finale, she must defeat the traitorous Chits and save what is left of humankind, by delivering the experimental anti-Spin drug.

This series has been a thrill ride from beginning to end, with plot twist upon plot twist making it hard to predict where the story is going next. The desolate post-apocalyptic future that Gilbert Hernandez has created here is bizarre, disturbing, and strangely sexy. This final issue is a perfect conclusion to the series - filled with blood, gore, and mutant-on-man forced impregnation (yes, you read that right). Hernandez provides readers with an ending that is highly mysterious and rather open-ended, playing on the allure of the unknown and leaving some things to the reader’s imagination.

His script for the issue is is top-notch, with brilliant dialogue interspersed with quirky and amusing narration from the protagonist. Hernandez is a brilliant crafter of characters, and this series is no exception, with a fully-formed and relatable protagonist that feels like a real flesh and blood person. Through his great character work the readers gets to know the protagonist incredibly well over the course of the series, and becomes embroiled in her adventures, and invested in her future.

Hernandez illustrates the series in his trademark black and white style, complete with ‘60s stylistic touches, and filled with handsome hunks and voluptuous ladies. His artwork has an intriguing, minimalistic look to it, with very clean lines brought to life with bold, tight brushwork. His characters always have the most emotive facial expressions, which really help convey the characters’ emotions to the reader and draw you into the story. In this issues he also gets to draw a great many monsters and mutants, and manages to make each one more disturbing and eerie than the last.

Fatima: The Blood Spinners #4 is a fitting conclusion to one of the most bizarre stories that Gilbert Hernandez has ever written. The series showcases the true depth of Hernandez’s imagination, and his imagination is very strange place indeed.

 

Godzilla #5

Written by Duane Swierczynski

Art by Simon Gane and Ronda Pattison

Letters by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Too many monster killers spoil the broth! A rogue businessman tries to take down Godzilla with a new take on an old theme and leaves Boxer and his crew to pick up the pieces as this great take on the Toho monsters continues.

Just when I think that Duane Swierczynski has set up all the pieces to the puzzle, he introduces something new. I’m a bit worried that this trend could topple the series under the weight of its own ideas, but so far, he’s juggling things quite well, providing little hints as to how they connect (with additional visual clues coming from Simon Gane’s background image work) while still making the main story about trying to take down Godzilla and the other creatures.

This time around, the big battle actually moves Boxer’s team to the sidelines, as we watch the revamped Mechagodzilla take on the star of the comic and work together to absolutely level San Diego and vicinity. Gane’s design for the metal giant is incredibly detailed, looking both menacing and fragile due to the vast number of smaller plates that make up its construction. We can see the lines of the metal sheeting, the rivets on the completely unnecessary spine fins, and each and every explosive device just ready to do battle, however futile we as the reader know it to be. I love the arrogant look on Mechagodzilla’s face in every shot, as though the iron thing can form its own emotions, reflecting those of its megalomaniacal creator.

The battle itself goes about as well as you would expect, with Boxer refusing to leave the scene of battle, even as he watches his team scattered to the winds after their own plans for Godzilla are smashed shortly after they begin. His obsession with the creature that has caused him so much pain is clear on every page, both in terms of his harsh dialogue with Claire and the others as well as his complete dismissal of Mechagodzilla. Gane once again is in complete harmony with Swierczynski, as the body language of Boxer shows he is moving from determination to dangerous obsession. Despite the fact that he is no better able to prevent Godzilla’s rampage, it’s clear that Boxer thinks he can do the job once and for all. He may give lip service to Claire, but secretly, it’s all about Boxer. As we see from the issue’s final pages, however, he may not be given the opportunity.

Swierczynski’s complex plotting only has one misstep this issue, which is revealing that Harrison is Boxer’s son. I don’t see how this adds much of anything to the story other than unneeded angst for Boxer. If he lets Harrison die at some point, which seems to be the only reason to make this connection, I think it’s enough that the young man trusted Boxer as part of a team and was killed due to Boxer’s obsession. Adding the relationship on top just feels like it’s a bit too convenient.

What would be extremely inconvenient is Gane ever leaving this title. His work here is as amazing as ever, starting from the third page, where four panels “hide” Mechagodzilla from the reader while he shows with hand and facial gestures everything we need to know about Daniel Malmon, the billionaire—namely, that he’s a complete jerk. The open shirt, cloying eyes and King Kong-like curtain trick all combine to give the reader a full picture, in just a page and a half. By the time we get to Godzilla, whose first appearance here is just a giant foot smashing cars that aren’t even as big as his toenails, Gane is already providing another issue that captures the feel of the Toho movies while still working within comic book rules.

The little things that Gane brings to the table, from including broken glass in Claire’s hair to debris littering the ruins of a mini-mall, work together with the higher concept ideas, like an homage to the (in)famous Godzilla flying through the air shot that we saw in so many movies. He’s simply an incredible talent and is perfect for this book. Godzilla is in great shape under the care of Swierczynski, Gane, and colorist Pattison—even if the world they’ve created looks like it’s still got a lot of punishment yet to take.

 

Red Hood and the Outlaws #0

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Paqual Ferry, Ig Guara, Brett Booth, Blond

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

In the History Channel documentary, Heroes Unmasked, Denny O’Neil made a profound remark on what it means to work with these classic characters. After the social backlash of killing Robin (Jason Todd) in the Death in the Family arc, O’Neil points out that people who work on these characters are more than just fiction writers but instead "custodians of folklore." People have an investment in these characters and although the times change and the characters grow, there is still that investment.

What DC Comics does with Jason Todd in Red Hood and the Outlaws #0 feels mostly careless when taken in the context of that quote. Although the point of the New 52 reboot seemed to be a streamlining of these characters, DC — with Scott Lobdell acting as executor for what are almost assuredly editorial decrees — has dropped the ball.

Fortunately, most of the book does the character’s new origin some justice. Gone is the orphanage and boosting tires off the Batmobile. Now Jason is the son of all-American white trash who gets wrapped up in street crime. Seems like a fitting origin for the troubled Robin, although a bit bland. Robins are traditionally exceptional prodigies. Yet Jason shows none of the charisma that brought him to Bruce’s attention. It doesn’t exactly humanize the character as it does water him down; it makes Jason just another face in the crowd. The story reads like a slideshow, with four long panels on each page, sparse with dialogue. However, these zero issues are meant to be origin stories and fill in the gaps, so it does meet those requirements. Yet the end of the story, which raises deep questions about how much the Joker really knows about Jason and, by extension, the Batman, feels far from organic. Some readers will find the questions to be enough of a hook, but purists may find themselves turned off by the last four pages alone.

Unfortunately, the art doesn’t save the story. Pasqual Ferry handles most of the penciling duties on the issue, with Ig Guara and Brett Booth handling the later half. Ferry’s thin and sparse visual does fit the narrative but does little to engage the reader visually.

Most of the detail work is placed on colorist Blond. Blond’s use of gradients to create to depth and texture doesn’t seem to pan out. Instead, it falls somewhere between hazy and pastel. The colors seem washed out and weak, which doesn’t compliment the troubled and violent history of the second Robin. The coloring does become much bolder in the second half. This might suggest a creative choice by the art team but unfortunately doesn’t pay off. The gentle palette at the beginning isn’t as engaging as it could be and sets a bad pace for the rest of the issue.

As far as creative choices go, the main story is told in a series of four long panels per page. Even though this mimics a cinematic look, it becomes overly repetitive and stale. This layout doesn’t keep the eyes moving or evoking emotions through movement. Instead, it just gets the information across and keeps the narrative rolling at a steady pace.

The Joker segment, penciled and inked by Brett Booth, seems overrendered. With so many spurts of lines aimed in every direction, the page looks messy. It could just be a poor pairing of penciler and colorist but the Joe Kubert-influenced style doesn’t seem to be working on these four pages. It's a shame because this might have been a better fit for the main story, but after 11 pages of Pasqual Ferry’s art, the change is jarring and uninviting to the eye.

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Twitter activity