Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Then let's let Best Shots do what they do best, with a ton of new releases from comics' biggest publishers! We'll start off today's column with Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the first-ever Point One issue in the Ultimate Universe, Ultimate Spider-Man #16.1...


Ultimate Spider-Man #16.1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I had a hard time reading Ultimate Spider-Man during the “United We Fall” storyline. The arc was a retread of a similar series of circumstances which Peter Parker had experienced when he was Spider-Man, so I felt like writer Brian Michael Bendis was offering nothing new to Miles Morales’ mythos.

This issue, however, is a spectacular return to form.

While the comic focuses on Betty Brant, the story is still wholly engaging. The idea that Betty could potentially figure out the identity of the new Spider-Man is not unbelievable, especially considering the detective work she does. If anything, Bendis makes us believe that the press is filled with people who have an ability to be both investigative and heartfelt.

I especially liked how J. Jonah Jameson is written. Spider-Man fans know him as a ruthless and dogged editor, but Bendis gives him a level of humanity that, if anything, makes Brant the true villain of the story. Additionally, the final pages are fantastic, and the climax is one of the best Bendis has ever written.

As for the art, I don’t know what to say to convey just how much I enjoy David Marquez and Justin Ponsor’s work. Because Spider-Man doesn’t appear in the comic (other than through old video), Ponsor and Marquez instead spend their time conveying the emotions of characters who don’t wear masks — Betty Brant, Phil Urich and J. Jonah Jameson. The best art occurs when Betty is investigating Aaron Davis’ apartment. No dialogue occurs, but the panels convey an urgency for the character as well as a deliberate and plodding pacing of story. Additionally, Marquez knows when to tighten his point of view for effect.

This was one of those issues that, when I got the final page, I laughed aloud because of how good the story was. The impact on the Ultimate universe is what makes the finale so impressive, but what’s more important is that we’re back to Bendis telling his own Spider-Man stories rather than being embroiled in a major crossover. If anyone else felt that Ultimate Spider-Man was lacking the same “oomph” that it had had previously, this issue is definitely a big step in the right direction.


Legends of the Dark Knight #22

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Tradd Moore and Rex Lokus

Lettering by Saida Temofonte

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

How do you make an ordinary Batman story seem extraordinary? Throw Tradd Moore into the mix. With a hyper-kinetic style I haven't seen since the days of Damion Scott, Moore's iconoclastic artwork makes Legends of the Dark Knight #22 a fun, if bite-sized, foray into the streets of Gotham City.

With Batman on the prowl for a wood-carving serial kidnapper, Moore makes the Dark Knight's search look dynamic. To be fair, his character design can be an acquired taste, with some pinched-looking faces that actually remind me a bit of 's Rob Guillory. But that doesn't last long once the action starts. Every time Batman is in motion, he looks like he's moving faster than lightning, his cape sweeping behind him like a bat-winged comet. In particular, a shot where he spins around, allowing a covered statue to take some bullets, is a great shot, demonstrating the choreography inherent in Batman's combat skills.

The action beats are enough to cover a story that, aside from its excellent done-in-one pacing, feels a little old hat (even for the constantly static Batman). Paul Tobin's character feels a little on the chatty side, particularly when Batman brings up the Joker only to immediately chastise himself for the thought. The actual plot also strains our suspension of disbelief a bit — who has enough time to carve life-sized, in-the-moment pieces of kidnapping victims, complete with furniture and accessories? The actual mystery behind the kidnapping also feels a little forced, with the logic falling apart even with the explanation of "this guy is crazy."

Yet in terms of price and risk, the artwork and 99-cent price tag makes this book an easier sell. Similar to Batman: The Animated Series, Legends of the Dark Knight is a stylish, complete story that has enough action and forward momentum to get readers hooked. While this story doesn't necessarily stick the landing, watching Tradd Moore take to the rooftops of Gotham is well worth the price of admission.


Happy! #2

Written Grant Morrison

Art by Darick Robertson and Richard Clark

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Whereas the first issue of Happy! was a mixture of violent action and pretty unique story telling, the second issue stalls out, instead focusing on Nick using the flying blue unicorn to help him win a poker game. This isn’t the only thing that occurs in the comic, but so much time is given to it that it overshadows arc of the story, and feels more like an obstruction rather than an attempt to move the story forward.

Part of my issue with the story is the pacing. Several panels lack transitory connections making for a bumpy and vague tale. The best parts of the book are Nick and Happy discussing Happy’s existence, but when Grant Morrison brings his characters to a poker game, the book loses its thread and instead becomes a hectic read.

Furthermore, the book is word heavy and feels it. The amount of dialogue becomes cumbersome after a while, especially during the poker scene, and while Morrison eventually addresses the fact that only Nick can see Happy, this concept is barely played with, and completely underutilized. The final pages offer a glimmer of the story’s focus, but these moments aren’t given enough space to really have an impact.

The bright spot of the book is Darick Roberston’s art. Robertson’s uncanny ability to depict violence is still present, and the action sequences possess an impressive amount of clarity. Additionally, when Nick has a minor freakout (thinking Happy has left him), Robertson gives the art a claustrophobic look. At this point, the tension is clearly defined and Richard Clark’s colors take on a sickly appearance. I’m not sure if Robertson or Clark was responsible for the shadows, but the use of inks for darkness and shading is awesome.

Happy! is definitely a unique book, but considering how short of a series it is (four issues), this issue feels wasted, as we’re no closer to discovering why Happy has appeared to Nick. I like the idea behind the series, and I’m guessing that Nick will eventually become the hero Happy thinks he is, but this issue is a step backwards rather than a move towards what could be an exciting conclusion.


Winter Soldier #12

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Butch Guice, Brian Thies and Bettie Breitweiser

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

While we've known for a while that Ed Brubaker is ending his run on Winter Soldier, it's only in the last few issues that the feeling of an impending departure has set in. Maybe it's just the foreknowledge that the end is near, but this book has felt like it's wheels are spinning for a couple of issues now, with the story of an ex-soviet sleeper agent taking his revenge on Bucky Barnes by re-brainwashing his paramour, the former Soviet super spy known as the Black Widow, just kind of dragging on. This issue sees a twist to the story, but that paradigm shift and a slew of guest appearances aren't enough to make this book feel urgent or dangerous, two things that a super-spy story ought to strive for.

If there's one thing that Winter Soldier #12 gets really right, it's showcasing Bucky Barnes: Badass. Even though the story isn't ramping up quite enough, seeing Bucky take on Wolverine and Hawkeye after undergoing the same process to which Black Widow was subjected does raise the stakes enough to keep this issue moving, but the ongoing plot just doesn't have the heat to have warranted as many issues as its filled up. Call it a casualty of the cyclical nature of comics, but there just isn't a feeling that things will end up anywhere except for back at the status quo.

It's frustrating knowing that Brubaker has had his ending in sight for so long, and still feeling like these last few issues are just going through the motions, especially since Butch Guice and inker Brian Thies seem to be doing their best to give the book the mood and energy that are lacking from the writing. There's a sequence in this issue where Bucky is fleeing from Wolverine and Hawkeye where his desperation, and possibly his madness, are palpable, and the energy is, for once, electric. Bettie Breitweiser does more than her share of the lifting as well, setting a noir-ish mood in the vein of Blade Runner or Taxi Driver that Brubaker's script can't muster enough hard-boiled attitude to match.

The real tragedy of Winter Soldier right now is that Brubaker seems, in many ways, to view this series as his final love letter to his Marvel days. The inclusion of Daredevil, a character Brubaker shepherded for years, belies an almost wistful air to Bucky's tour of the Marvel Universe's gritty streets, a place Brubaker has spent more time than most in the last decade. While the intent seems clear, the execution seems more and more like the work of someone who sees his time is at an end, and is ready to move on to the next big thing. While the individual issues of Winter Soldier are readable and visually stunning, the mega-story seems to be running out of steam.


Colder #1

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Juan Ferreyra

Lettering by Nate Piekos

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Colder is the brand new creator-owned supernatural horror/mystery book, written by Paul Tobin (, ) with art by Juan Ferreyra (, ). In this debut issue, Tobin doesn’t take his concept very far, sacrificing plot development for exposition and mystery, but it holds up when coupled Ferreyra’s expressive artwork.

The cover is what really got me at first. An angry man, colored a chilling shade of blue reaches through his mouth and his fingers extend out through his eye socket, meanwhile blood drips from his nose and down his chin. That’s definitely one way to grab a reader’s attention and Ferreyra’s intense close-up of the man in question is rendered with painstaking attention to detail. Even the hairs on his knuckles are accounted for.

Ferreyra’s interiors are just as impressive. His work is reminiscent of a less design-heavy Francis Manapul. His lines are very clean. His expressions are animated and alive. His character designs are simple but don’t skimp on important details and his backgrounds are well thought out. Coupled with an effective color palette, Ferreyra’s work really sings even when he’s not drawing anything that’s all that exciting. In particular, his work with Nimble Jack is exquisite. As the most supernatural character we’ve met so far, it makes sense that he should stand out and almost every panel he’s in oozes with mystery and anticipation.

Tobin chooses to take it slow in this issue. After an introductory scene in an insane asylum in 1941, we are fast forwarded to modern -day Boston where we witness a suicide, an attempt at petty crime and an extremely exposition heavy conversation. At this point, Nimble Jack is the only really compelling part of the story. His powers are unexplained but play well on the page and he’s a villain in the classic trickster tradition that is actually a little fun to watch at work.

Comparatively, our supposed heroine, Reece, comes off as a little dull. She’s clearly compassionate and well-meaning but we don’t know enough about her to really root for her. She cares for a man in her apartment named Declan who is a modern medical marvel because his body temperature is forty 47 degrees Fahrenheit. He’s the blue man we met on the cover and in the insane asylum. Therein lies the mystery, but it’s explained over the course of one long conversation that is at times a bit repetitive.

For readers with a penchant for mystery and horror, this might be one to sink your teeth into but the interiors don’t deliver on the creepiness promised on the cover. It’s the first issue and the pacing is slow but the art is good enough to keep it afloat. Time will tell if pacing will freeze Colder in its tracks, but for now it has a vague premise with an intriguing amount of potential.


Bedlam #1

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Riley Rossmo and Jean-Paul Csuka

Lettering by Kelly Tindall

Published by Image Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The pitch is enticing: the former serial killer, Madder Red, is trying to live a "normal" life as Fillmore Press after having been caught and reformed. But can an evil soul ever truly change, or is Fillmore just sheep's dressing on the Madder wolf? With Nick Spencer on script and the unique look of Riley Rossmo's art, the book is an instant purchase. What could be wrong with it, right?

Unfortunately, quite a bit.

Hands down, this is the worst writing I've ever seen from Nick Spencer. His Joker rip-off, Madder Red, in addition to having a mind-numbingly unimaginative nom de guerre (the name is so ridiculous you have to wonder if we're destined to meet Sadder Blue) is a vile, despicable sociopath. The reader gets it from just one look at the man's mask. But Mr. Spencer doesn't want to be subtle about it (something he's so good at, see for example), feeling it necessary instead to bludgeon the reader with the despicably graphic and needless scene of Madder slitting the throat of a little child. "See? He really a lunatic!" I'm surprised an editor let the scene get by. That vein of gonzo violence is opened a few times in this issue, something I'm sure that gorephiles will fawn over, but Mr. Spencer is (or at least at one time ) a better writer than that.

The juxtaposition of Madder's past with Fillmore's present doesn't roll smoothly from one to the other. The transitions are often hard to follow even with the aid of the grayscale-with-red-splashed art for then and washed-out-color for now. Being clunky furthers the book's gonzo feel; this is probably how Hunter S. Thompson would write a comic. Adding further weight to a lumbering plot are dialogue balloons so obese that they'd choke Chris Claremont. When Madder Red holds court for eight exceedingly long pages, I didn't get the feel that this was a nutjob flaunting his narcissism as much as it was a way for Mr. Spencer to hold a lecture on the human condition. It reads like a fourth-wall event, where the writer is speaking to the reader, impressing upon them that the writer is really smart and here's why. When the scene is over, I feel as if I should have earned college credit in some humanities course.

Riley Rossmo is the lone bright spot on this book, even if some sheen is off that shine given that it pales a bit in comparison to his and work. True, he does spend an inordinate amount of time drawing only that ridiculous Madder mask to allow for the character's diarrheal asides, but there are times (mostly in the scenes from yesteryear) where the human form is a little too loose and there is a little less attention to detail. Still, there's just enough chaos in Mr. Rossmo's work to befit the book's overall flavor. Jean-Paul Csuka's coloring also helps, giving the present city of Bedlam a dull and bleak feel; Bedlam makes Gotham City look like Metropolis. Fillmore Press may end up keeping his past buried within him, but the reader doesn't get the feel that nature's going to help nurture in any way.

Bedlam #1 is a monster of an issue, clocking in at over fifty pages. So for the money, it's a value. But it's a preachy slasher flick failing to box into the weight class of psychological thriller; less , more . Unless you're a Riley Rossmo completist, you're best off passing.


Lot 13 #1

Written by Steve Niles

Art by Glenn Fabry and Adam Brown

Lettered by Saida Temofonte

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

is a brand new Vertigo horror series from the creative team of Steve NIles and Glenn Fabry. The comic opens with a suitably grim prologue set in 1670, involving a family being put on trial for their own murder/suicide pact. The plot then jumps to the present day, where a family making the move to a new town, only to arrive and discover the that the house is still being fumigated. With no motels around, they head back towards the highway to find somewhere to stay for a few days. As luck would have it, they find an old apartment building offering daily and weekly rates. However, it’s not long before creepy goings begin occurring and the family learns that the low price of their rooms really was too good to be true.

Niles does a great job of pacing this issue—opening with a gruesome intro that sets the mood of the story, before slowing things down a bit to introduce the reader to the cast of characters. The characters are all highly likeable and well characterized, though tend to fall into cliches a bit, e.g., the emo/goth daughter leaving behind the one boy that’s ever understood her. The issue features no narration or monologue, with Niles keeping the script to only dialogue. While there is some light exposition in the dialogue, the plot is mainly conveyed by Fabry’s eerie visuals.

The issue is creepier than it is outright scary, setting the reader up for things to come in subsequent issues, with glimpses of ghosts and terrifying messages. The plot is mostly very good, but does depend on a few obvious horror cliches, like the family just happening to find a low-cost apartment building in the middle of nowhere and deciding it would be a great idea to stay there, despite the fact that it looks creepy as hell. There is also a strange moment where the father runs over a small boy and his body rips apart and is scattered all of the road by their van. They get out to investigate, but the corpse has disappeared. A minute later and everyone has completely forgotten the event and seem to just be getting on with things. It’s a jarring moment in an otherwise great issue.

Glenn Fabry’s artwork on this series is just magnificent. It’s been a long time since he’s provided interiors on a book, and show that he’s still in fine form. He illustrates the issue in an almost photorealistic style, with incredibly intricate pencils and detailed linework that gives all of the visuals a very creepy feeling. The realistic quality of the artwork also acts to make the gory scenes of the issue that much more visceral and gruesome, like he’s depicting an event that actually happened. It’s a little unsettling in places. Fabry’s character and model work is second to none, and each member of the family is like a fully realized character with their own range of emotions and body language.

Fabry is a little reserved with his inks, preferring to convey texture and shadow with pencil shading and what seems to be charcoal shading. He utilizes inks only to make certain objects stand out in contrast from their backgrounds, and for doing fills and heavy blacks.

Adam Brown does a great job of coloring Fabry’s linework, utilizing a muted and subdued palette to give the final artwork almost painted quality to it that suit’s Fabry’s artwork to a T.

This time of year is a very busy period for horror comics, with the shelves overflowing with miniseries and one-shots looking to take advantage of the Halloween rush. Lot 13 #1 stands out from the pack though, more intent on delivering a solid foundation on which to build future issues than providing cheap and tawdry scares for thrillseekers. This series has some definite potential, and I look forward to seeing where Nile and Fabry take us next.


Vampirella vs. Fluffy the Vampire Killer One-Shot #1

Written by Mark Rahner

Art by Cezar Razek

Letters by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

A silly little one-shot pitting Vampirella against a Buffy the Vampire Slayer analogue has little going for it if it doesn’t hit its target audience of Whedonites willing to poke fun at a beloved franchise. Mark Rahner definitely pushes all the right buttons in this one, mashing up Buffy trademarks and overused vampire tropes, but the setting is as ill a fit for Vampirella as her costume is for her.

One of the biggest problems with parody comics is that sometimes publishers forget that, just like any joke, impeccable timing is key. While Buffy is definitely a popular property, it is nowhere near the level it was when the show was actually on the air and that makes this crossover/parody seem a little dated from the get-go. Considering the bevy of vampire material that has invaded pop culture in more recent times, wouldn’t it have been funnier to see Vampirella interacting with the or casts?

Rahner rides out the Buffy parody from beginning to end from the high school setting, slightly changed names (Fluffy, Xtanley, Sallow and Cherub), incessant quipping and ridiculous plot that ends with some abrupt, moral reasoning. But Vampirella feels shoved into the mix. She’s almost an afterthought in a comic where she has top billing. Plus the “versus” aspect of the book is a bit of a letdown as Vampirella is not Fluffy’s nemesis. Instead, their showdown only exists to serve the all too familiar “heroes fight each other until realizing they should team-up” plotline. Rahner pokes fun at the dated references made in Buffy but his attempts at humor are exhausting. Maybe he’s commenting on what it’s like to watch the show fifteen years later but it’s doubtful.

Cesar Razek’s art is sufficient. Vampirella’s gravity resistant powers are in full effect and the alternate Buffy cast looks close enough without getting anyone in any trouble. The storytelling flows well from page to page with relatively standard visually storytelling anchoring the book to allow the parody aspect to be played up.

All in all, this book isn’t going to wow anyone. Buffy fans might get a laugh from it but Vampirella fans are going to wonder why Dynamite decided to put out a book that seems so inconsequential and dated.


Scam #2

Written by Joe Mulvey

Art by Joe Mulvey and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by ComixTribe

Review by Jeff Marsick

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When last we left our band of super-powered con men, they had set out to take down a Vegas casino and get payback on a former teammate who had backstabbed them. In this outing, they've been forced to work for the very mark they had set out to pillage. Plus, they're a man down with one of their own, Doc, now at the torturing hands of a real piece of nutty fruitcake, Crosswords. It's all wrapped up in a Gordian knot of double- and triple-crossing that wraps tighter with each chapter.

This is Joe Mulvey's baby, the man tackling both the writing and drawing duties. I can't imagine how he's got the myriad of twists and turns laid out straight in his head, but it's a helluva ride. Since the book is pitched as "X-Men meets Ocean's Eleven," I would like to see the individual powers at play, even more than the hinting that happens in this issue. Still, this is one of those books where enjoyment comes bilaterally: You find yourself trying to stay one step ahead of the plot, anticipating and trying to suss out which somebody is going to do which other somebody wrong. At the same time, there's just as much enjoyment checking your brain at the door and immersing yourself in the action, -style. It's a rare feat for a comic to pull that off, especially when it's a indie book.

The artwork is in perpetual motion, with action scenes that leap off the page. Mr. Mulvey has a good sense of where the "camera" should be in each panel so as to really pull the moment to the fore. While his pencils have a cartoony look to them, when combined with the bright palette of colorist Chris Sotomayor, they add to the book's "fun" factor and aren't distracting. My only knock is that there are now so many characters running around that each isn't completely uniquely identifiable so sometimes it's necessary to back up and figure out the who's who in the scene.

ComixTribe puts out terrific titles and Joe Mulvey's enthusiasm for creating comic books really comes out in Scam. If you're looking for something unique and worthy of Big Hollywood treatment, I highly recommend Scam.

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