Best Shots Mega Column: RED SHE-HULK, LANTERN CORPS, More
Greetings, 'Rama readers! Burned out from Comic Con yet? Us neither! Which is why Best Shots has a full bevy of columns and pellets for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off today's column with some crimson critiques, as Rob McMonigal takes a look at Red She-Hulk…
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Wellinton Alves and Val Staples
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
If at first you can’t create a superhuman, try, try again — until a Hulk comes to stop you! Betty Ross, the Red She-Hulk, is on a mission to protect the U.S. government from itself in this new direction for the Hulk title that is off to an intriguing (if familiar) start.
Ever since Captain America, the U.S. government has been trying to make new superhumans, and it never seems to work. When John Walker is your best example, it’s probably time to put down the test tubes. Writer Jeff Parker picks up this old chestnut once more, with a new initiative headed by a military man who is determined to make superhumans that he can control.There’s no way this ends well, and no one knows this better than Betty Ross. Having watched her father become ever more desperate to stop the Bruce Banner Hulk, Betty knows that the only thing that can come of this advanced technology is more heartache and destruction, not to mention the potential for super villains. In his search for military power, Thunderbolt Ross turned himself, Banner, and Betty into monsters. Under Parker’s direction, Betty’s bound and determined to stop General Fortean before he makes the same mistakes that have cost her—and those she loves—so much.
All of this is shown and not told by Parker. We never hear Betty say outright that she’s trying to stop Fortean before he goes down the same road as General Ross. Instead, Parker has her rip through the prototype super-soldiers while making witty rejoinders that remind me of the Peter David years (but feel a bit out of place in Betty’s mouth). X-51 (a.k.a. Machine Man) helpfully fills in gaps for readers who have mostly stayed away from the Hulk titles over the past four years, as he is brought in to try and stop Betty before she ruins the latest pet project of Uncle Sam.
For better or worse, Parker is assuming that his readers will either be familiar with the complex past of Betty Ross or can pick it up from context. I think that’s the right call, as it allows us to revel in her righteous destruction rather than get bogged down in unnecessary speeches that other writers might have used to open this new direction. That allows Parker to move quickly from setting up the new superhumans to establishing they’re trouble to seeing what happens when the legitimate heroes, such as Captain America, are asked to toe the line and protect the assets of their new bosses. By the time we get to the inevitable confrontation (that appears lopsided on its face), Parker has given us everything we need to understand the new status quo.
While I was unfamiliar with the artists on this title, but I came away very pleased with the smooth, slick work of Carlo Pagulayan and Wellinton Alves, which looks a bit like Clayton Henry to me. As the two artists divide up the story, there’s no noticeable change in the quality or style as we move through the pages. While none of the panels are particularly notable or innovative, the pair do a solid job of showing a Hulk on a rampage. Betty-as-Hulk crunches the earth she stands on, leaps from place to place, and gets the needed speed lines to indicate movement.
The artists’ body design for Red She-Hulk is pretty much a clone of how Green She-Hulk has been portrayed, looking like an over-sized athletic woman. There’s no magical anatomy here or over-sexualized posing, as the artistic pair put Betty through her paces and show potential new readers what she can do. I absolutely love Val Staples’s color work, giving Red She-Hulk glowing eyes that burn with rages and providing awesome color contrasts between the red of Betty and the characters she faces off against. Staples also shines at providing visual effects like tinted viewscreens without feeling overprocessed.
Red She-Hulk #58 isn’t breaking any new ground in its introduction (anti-hero tries to stop unruly government project) here, but Parker’s dialogue and good artwork covers a pedestrian plot, making this comic one to pick up if you haven’t already.
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Cafu, Scott Hanna and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Amazing what an inker can do, huh?
Case in point: Cafu and Scott Hanna on Green Lantern Corps #13. I snagged this book based on the goodwill Cafu has built up with his work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Action Comics... but imagine my surprise when I opened this book, and could barely recognize him.
Let's step back a second. This issue, in many ways, is a jumping-on point only in the loosest possible definition. We're full steam ahead after the War of the Alpha Lanterns, as Peter Tomasi pits Guy Gardner against the secret machinations of his bosses, the Guardians of Oa. So in that regard, pairing inker Scott Hanna with Cafu might be seen as a logical choice: Cafu's edges are typically harder, with open characters unencumbered by shadow, but Hanna pulls him in the opposite direction, rounding out his characters and throwing on the depth. In a lot of ways, it's like Hanna is trying to take on Cafu's pencils the same way he would regular series artist Fernando Pasarin.
On the one hand, it's a smart move, scheduling-wise — you don't want to have a jarring shift in art, particularly not with the first issue of an arc, particularly not if you want to have a visually coherent trade collection. But on the other hand, I couldn't help but feel a little wistful — Cafu's a pro, and I can't help but think his streamlined style would have been better with his regular inker Bit, particularly with a sequence of Guy Gardner hurtling to Earth, or the Third Army taking another victim in a particularly gruesome way.
While the introduction to this story can be jarring for new readers, Peter Tomasi does get credit for packing in a lot of plot, with both Guy and John Stewart being set up for some major problems all in the span of a single issue. That said, the exposition is so naked on occasion that it feels more like recitation than any sort of tenseness, relying too much on gore and violence to get our hearts racing. In many ways, the Third Army are more like zombies than the undead Black Lantern Corps — they're mindless, shuffling, virulent beings, and the amount of damage they can do is pretty ruthless.
Ultimately, Green Lantern Corps does have a winning formula compared to some of the other books of the New 52, and in that regard I can understand trying to keep the chemistry and tone of this book intact. On the other hand, part of me feels like the book could use a kick in the pants to get more buzz, and Cafu is a criminally underrated artist in the DC stable as is. Put him on the right book — with the right inker — and he could become DC's version of Steve McNiven. Instead, Green Lantern Corps is keepin’ on keepin' on, a "good enough" rather than an ambitious high roller.
Written by Lee David Zlotoff and Tony Lee
Art by Will Sliney
Colors by Ciaran Lucas
Published by Image Comics
Review by Shag Matthews
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
MacGyver. It’s been 20 years since the television show ended, and for most people that word still conjures visions of a man who can solve any dilemma with simple household ingredients. The show is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that “MacGyver” is even listed as a verb in many online dictionaries. Image Comics and television series creator Lee David Zlotoff are counting on MacGyver’s lasting popularity to carry their new comic to success. MacGyver: Fugitive Gauntlet #1 is a solid introductory issue with enjoyable art that will hold some appeal for long-time fans, but may not capture the imagination of readers new to the character.
Pairing Lee David Zlotoff with Tony Lee makes for a smart writing combination. Zlotoff understands the necessary elements of a MacGyver story, while Tony Lee has a knack for successful media tie-in comics, such as IDW’s Doctor Who. In the first issue our hero travels to Kenya to assist an old college professor and quickly finds himself dodging assassins and uncovering industrial espionage. Where the story succeeds is in introducing MacGyver to the world of comics with a fast-paced, action-oriented adventure.
Where the story falls a little short, however, is in grabbing the reader’s curiosity. So much time is spent ensuring it’s a strong MacGyver story that the intrigue never manages to become incredibly compelling. I found myself caught up in the scenes establishing MacGyver's character, but I never developed much interest in the mystery behind the industrial espionage. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the espionage scenes, they just felt a bit stereotypical. They didn't add anything innovative to the espionage genre and therefore didn't grab my attention.
Long-time MacGyver fans will be pleased to find the essence of the character alive and well within these pages. MacGyver is a genuinely nice guy who wants to help, but finds himself in over his head. In addition to the spirit of the character, Zlotoff and Lee manage to capture MacGyver’s voice. For example, MacGyver’s first appearance in the book is accompanied by a caption box in first person (on television it would have been a voice over) of Mac recounting a story from his youth.
Many other usual MacGyver story elements are present, such as helping an old acquaintance, his disdain for firearms, pairing up with a beautiful woman (but not quite in a romantic way), Swiss Army knife action and his ability to combine everyday items into the exact combination needed to escape a dangerous situation. We get three such MacGyverisms in the first issue, one of which seems a little too complicated to have pulled off in the time given. While these tropes will have children of the '80s cheering, their significance will likely be lost on folks unfamiliar with the property.
Will Sliney’s art on this book is strong without being spectacular. Sliney’s got a good sense for figures and perspective, but his faces seem a bit generic. The character's expressions are believable, but they all look somewhat alike. One area Sliney excels is panel design; his choice of panels makes some of the talky-talk pages more interesting than you’d expect.
The story is set in modern day, yet features a MacGyver younger than we last saw on television. Sliney gives us a MacGyver who maintains certain physical characteristics from the television series, but his resemblance to Richard Dean Anderson is minor. Gone is the mullet, replaced with shaggy collar-length hair. The trademark brown leather jacket is present, but along with it comes previously unseen five o’clock shadow. These choices work perfectly for the story as the character has never been defined by his age, looks, or the era in which he lives. MacGyver now joins the ranks of James Bond and Batman as ageless characters that are not bound by an actor who previously played the role.
Lee David Zlotoff, Tony Lee and Will Sliney deliver an action-packed comic that succeeds in shifting the character to the modern era, but falls short of creating an innovative espionage story. While there are enough MacGyverisms to hook old fans, the story lacks a “wow factor” that may bring readers unfamiliar with the character back for the second issue.
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
It’s a Cimmerian after-school special as Conan’s past returns to haunt him. A former friend tries to destroy all the barbarian knows, possibly including his relationship with Belit the Sea Queen, in this extremely disappointing conclusion to the “Border Fury” story arc.
I’ve been a bit uncertain about Brian Wood’s handling of my favorite pulp-era character and with this issue, it’s clear that his vision for the character is very different from those who came before him, from Roy Thomas to Kurt Busiek to Howard himself. Conan is many things—a killer, a womanizer, a thief, a scourge of rigidity in all its forms. Yet even while he breaks the rules, he has an honor code that gives his actions legitimacy for the reader. Conan, like anti-heroes such as the Punisher, does the things we fantasize that we could do.
But in this issue, Wood makes it clear that Conan’s villain, while certainly evil, is evil because Conan made him that way. We get a lengthy flashback that shows Conan bullying a supposed friend, embarrassing him to the point that he must leave the village. All of the destruction caused by the imposter is ultimately laid at the feet of our title character, and there’s no way to deny that it is in fact his fault that hundreds of his distant kinsmen are dead. (Wood even adds an unnecessary caption to this effect.) That’s just too much for me to take as a fan of the Howard stories. I would have bought a man trying to get revenge on Conan for something he did unintentionally—there’s plenty of people out there who are collateral damage from Conan’s rampages—but to make it specifically tied to a deliberate act of malice is just too far out of character in my opinion.
While there is certainly less continuity attached to Belit, I feel like Wood has radically altered her character from the one he introduced us to just a few issues ago. It was good to see her show a bit more effort here, shouting defiantly at the wolves she could not see due to snow blindness and defying Conan’s imposter, but I still find it hard to believe that a woman who was portrayed as so self-sufficient at her introduction would go to pieces when taken north. Neither she nor Conan act like characters we want to read more of after their adventures in Cimmeria, which is an extremely odd choice.
Conan the Barbarian is not being helped by the rotating art cast, many of whom seem to be trying actively to keep from drawing Conan as a hulking, heroic figure in the John Buscema-Barry Windsor-Smith mold. Vasilis Lolos is now the fourth artist on the book, and is definitely my least-favorite so far. (Becky Cloonan’s return lasted all of one issue, apparently, which is odd given this was billed as being Wood and Cloonan’s Conan.)
All of his characters feature distorted faces that look like a poor mix of Western and Eastern art styles, neither capturing the exaggeration of manga nor the realistic yet individualized work of Cloonan. Too many times it’s almost impossible to identify Conan or Belit by sight due to this artistic choice, and readers have to use context clues from the text to figure out who is on the page. There is raw emotion aplenty in these faces, but because it shows up so many times, the impact is lost.
Lolos plays fast and loose with anatomy as well, which means that teen Conan and adult Conan look identical, putting a lot of pressure on colorist Dave Stewart to make distinguishing features between them. I did like Lolos’s action scene layouts, but his final work invokes not action but soap opera to my mind. It’s a style better suited to a relationship comic and fails here trying to capture a cruel, pulp-era world.
I realize that there is a trend in comics right now to modernize classic characters and give them more depth, but Wood takes it too far here. Making characters flawed is one thing, but between Belit’s inability to cope off-ship and Conan’s bullying past that makes him hard to like going forward, I don’t see why a reader would care enough to pick up issue #10.
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Menton3
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Transfusion is a new miniseries from the deranged minds of Steve Niles and Menton3. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where society has been overthrown by robots created to help mankind but turned against their human masters. Now bands of survivors fight for existence, always on the run from the evil robots, who actually run on human blood. However, the robots are not the only thing they need to fear, as another—far less mechanical—breed of blood-drinking creatures has begun to stalk the nights.
Concept-wise, this new miniseries is not all that different from another IDW series, Zombies vs. Robots, a series which Menton3 has worked on himself in the past. However, the future presented here is a lot bleaker, with civilization in a much worse state than the one presented there.
As first issues go, this one felt a bit more like a prologue than the first chapter of a story. We are introduced to a number of characters in the first few pages, many of whom don’t make it to the end of the issue. The protagonist of the story seems to be a man called William, who we find helping a small group of survivors to find food and join his much larger group. We soon find out that William is not everything he appears to be though, and is more of an anti-hero than anything else.
Most of the rest of the issue is spent setting the scene, and introducing us to this world overrun by blood-drinking robotic behemoths. The main narrative thread of the series doesn’t seem to have been established quite yet, but after setting the scene with pages full of action, Niles delivers a twist ending that leaves the issue with an interesting cliffhanger, and the promise of great things to come.
Steve Niles’ script for the issue is actually very light, limited to a few lines of dialogue and a bit of expository monologue on the part of William. Instead, he leaves much of the storytelling to Menton3’s artwork, which makes the issue move at a rapid pace and gives the events depicted a sense of urgency. Every line we do get is well delivered though, and works brilliantly to familiarize us with William and the desolate world in which he finds himself.
Menton3’s artwork on this first issue of the series is astonishingly gorgeous. He seems to use a number of drawing techniques here, changing his style slightly to fit what is going on in each part of the story. In some places he’s used very sketchy linework and loose inking to give the panels a sense of urgency and motion. In other places, he’s used very tight linework to illustrate objects in painstaking detail. In other places still, he’s delivered fully painted page that make the reader stop in their tracks to admire the artwork and soak in the scene.
The issue is mostly illustrated in black and white with some sepia tones and lots of luscious of ink washes. The few places where color is used are then all the more striking, with the skies illustrated in a dark bruised blue color, and blood being depicted with vivid and bright splashes of red paint that stand out in stark contrast to their background.
Transfusion #1 is a great debut issue for an intriguing miniseries filled with the promise of horrific things to come. With Halloween just around the corner, this might be just the book you are looking for.
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti. Justin Gray, Steve Niles, and Jay Russell
Art by Andrew Ritchie, Jerry Lando and Paul Mounts
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Talk about some deja vu.
Creator-Owned Heroes definitely fills that void of spy thrillers and tactical espionage with a flavor of old-fashioned cool, but this being the fifth issue of the series, I feel like we've been here before. At least in the first story entitled "Killswitch" anyways. The duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are back with another take on suave assassins and other tropes of the like, backed by artist Jerry Lando. With "Black Sparrow" by Steve Niles and Andrew Ritchie, Niles dives back into his horror roots and gives a proper cliffhanger.
This all seems like a treaded road, however. Especially harkening back to the first issue of the series with "Trigger Girl 6" and "American Muscle." Palmiotti, Gray, and Noto opened the show and Niles and Kevin Mellon closed it. I just think this time around, "Killswitch" dominated the issue while "Black Sparrow" barely had time to take a breath. Not complaining, I just want to see the books evenly published. "Killswitch" is what you think it would be about and Palmiotti and Gray certainly have a knack for this type of story: a sexy assassin with an aura of mystique doing what he does best. But the mystery to it at the end if is a nice added layer. Jerry Lando does some great layouts and art here, even though he uses a lot of talking head shots as the book progresses. Everything is rendered wonderfully and Paul Mounts' colors work well with the line art giving it a certain depth and moodiness to the world.
Steve Niles, Jay Russell, and Andrew Ritchie make a supernatural old pioneer tale with "Black Sparrow." It's a good beginning but asks too many questions, that I'm certain will be answered in due time, but there's not a lot of dialogue to explore or to get an idea of who these characters are. Ritchie has a great Mike Mignola/Matthew Dow Smith vibe with his art, and a muted color palette to boot.
In the middle of the stories to act as a sort of intermission, is a terrific interview with Amanda Conner. We learn about her Kubert School roots and some defining moments in her career as well as some of her artistic techniques and gives advice to any and all up and comers. It's a real warm read, and Conner comes across as sincere and personable about her work. That alone is almost worth the price of admission.
I've been digging COH since day one, but I'd like to see something new and different from Palmiotti and Gray. They certainly know their audience and are great at these tales, but this book is all about taking chances. Let's see if they can liven up.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Seven monsters for seven heroes—or is it eight? Red Sonja and her unlikely allies continue their battle to stop Kulan Gath’s plans to bring the Mayan apocalypse to life in another excellent issue of this mega-crossover event for Dynamite Entertainment.
Just when I think that Ron Marz has used up every surprise he can bring to the table, he reaches out and finds one more. This time it’s another cult favorite, known more for his screen appearances than comics, who arrives just in time to alter the dire circumstances Herbert West found himself in at the end of issue three. I was completely surprised by this addition, as I had forgotten that Dynamite owned the license to his series as well. Marz is doing an amazing job blending the public domain (Dracula, Sherlock Holmes) with licensed properties (Vampirella, Red Sonja) together, and I wouldn’t put it past him to include a few more before we finish the series.
Because the cast is getting so large, certain players only make cameo appearances as the focus is on the fights of West, Vampirella, Pantha, and Athena. Holmes is missing again, and I’m still a bit lost on how he fits in, but I am trusting Marz to link it all together. I think leaving Sonja’s battle to the second half of the middle section makes sense, as Gath is her villain, but her absence was felt. She is the heart and soul of this crossover and the only one who knows Gath’s true nature, to say nothing of the fact that Sonja is probably the only true “hero” in this comic—and that’s stretching things a bit. I hope we see a lot more of her in Issue #5.
Continuing the theme of linking the battles to the personalities of the characters, Marz and artist Walter Geovani do an amazing job again of keeping the action moving while making each fight unique and interesting. Though the nature of each battle is similar—a “hero” from Sonja’s team must fight a god from Gath’s creatures, they are all extremely different in terms of how they are portrayed. While West and his ally’s battle is dark comedy mixed with exposition (just in case we have any new readers), Pantha’s fight is full of animalistic savagery. Athena’s battle is a classic in the mode of a Homeric epic, with the warriors clashing on an icy plain, using weapons that evoke those of the Iliad. The last conflict, with Vampirella up against a creature wielding effectively a wooden stake, ends in a way that only the female vampire could relish, showing she is only a shade of gray better than those she opposes.
Geovani effortlessly switches between these scenes, using just about every comic book trick imaginable, from rotating camera angles to constantly shifting panel sizes that keep the reader off-balance but locked in to the narrative. He seems to know just when to give us a splash page and when to split a page into 10 uneven rectangles that pack more into each one than others can manage over an entire twenty-two page book. You can tell that Geovani takes the time to think carefully about Marz’s script and focus on the detail that brings the most impact. It may be a close-up of a gun to West’s head that shows the Re-Animator’s eye straining almost out of its socket at the imposing weapon or a depiction of the world’s longest waterfall that makes the characters miniscule so we understand the scale of the backdrop. I’m not sure which is more terrifying—the god facing Vampirella or the transition she makes from considering drinking its blood to gorging herself on its life fluids. Backed by the perfect color palate of Troy Peteri, Walter Geovani is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. He’s using the storytelling tricks that made Kirby, Ditko, and Romita the masters of the Silver Age of while still making them his own, and the results are amazing.
Prophecy is helmed by a great creative team at the height of their craft, playing with ancient legend, pulp favorites, and cult classics to make a story that’s not to be missed. Don’t let the licensed characters fool you into passing on one of the best comics out there right now.
Written by Brandon Montclare
Art by Amy Reeder
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
With Halloween right around the corner, this would seem like a perfect quick read to get one in the mood for the incoming swarm of trick-or-treaters and spooky decor. Yet, sadly, this comic that sprang from Kickstarter left me wondering why it wasn't as good as it should have been. The premise is cool: imagine Wizard of Oz meets Nightmare Before Christmas with a slice of A Christmas Carol mixed together. However, something falls flat halfway through.
I'm not too familiar with Brandon Montclare's work, but I've been an Amy Reeder fan since her Madame Xanadu days. Her line work and great use of facial expressions has never been better. The cast of characters all have a distinct look that mirror a little bit of their personality. When Eve wanders into Halloween Land (also the name of the shop she works at), the details are full of whimsy and Halloween fun. The parallels of her co-workers and their counterparts in the magical land is a nice nod and really thought out. Reeder, who was the one-time artist for DC's Batwoman, is better off with projects like these, which give her a true spotlight to be herself.
There seems to a be a lot of development into the characters themselves and their particular design, but the interactions among them are just not interesting. Eve is probably the biggest victim here. She's just not likable. By the end of the book, I didn't really care what happened to her, Most of the dialogue just doesn't work, either. It's either too cliché, or just juvenile. We're really not quite sure the reason of Eve's hostility towards Halloween and it's never really explained. From the notes of the book that Reeder and Montclare have a great friendship and rapport, but I just feel something better could have come from their creative union. Some pages seem too cluttered and while Reeder does her best to maintain control, some details get lost along the way. Reeder is a one-woman show here taking on all artistic and lettering duties. Her choosing her own palette paid off wonderfully; nothing is too over-saturated and looks great on the page. Her letting is a bit rough, and I caught myself once or twice trying to figure out who is saying what, but nothing overly distracting.
The behind-the-scenes look at how certain characters evolved is fascinating. You can see that Montclare and Reeder really went into this with guns blazing and excited to make a comic that they wanted to do. I think that level of enthusiasm is sometimes lacking from creators going into certain projects. I just feel Reeder's art here only elevated this story so far and didn't quite mesh with Montclare's script. I think the main problem was that it's too condensed. Had this been a mini, it probably would have worked better giving the creative team a little more to expand on. Instead, we're given a box of raisins in our candy bowl.
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