Best Shots Reviews: ALL-NEW X-MEN, BOYS Finale BATGIRL, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly dose of Best Shots reviews? Your favorite team of reviewers has your back, with a ton of releases from the biggest publishers around. So let's kick off today's column with a blast to the past, as Brian Bannen takes a look at the first issue of All-New X-Men...

 

All-New X-Men #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Grawbadger and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I’ll be upfront about All-New X-Men: I’m not crazy about the premise. Writer Brian Michael Bendis basically takes a page from Back to the Future and makes the comic about the need for someone from the past to halt something from the future. But after a few pages, I easily got over my own reservations. Bendis is still a master at crafting great characters and pacing his story well, and with Stuart Immonen drawing the book, All New X-Men #1 does everything right in order to come out of the gate strong.

Bendis focuses the majority of the issue on Hank McCoy who, in the absence of true leadership from either Scott Summers (who’s gone off the deep end with his mutant crusade) or Professor Xavier (who’s dead again), has to come up with a way to stop Cyclops from destroying mutant human relations in the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men. Bendis uses Hank as the soul of the book, but gives the story urgency because it turns out that Hank is undergoing another mutation, and because Hank is the expert on mutation, the only person that can help him is himself hence the dual nature of Hank’s need to travel into the past.

The comic’s pacing is fantastic and Bendis moves the story along by using Scott as the connective tissue. Scott is utilized much like a force of nature — he shows up, causes destruction, and disappears. This type of characterization adds a level of danger to Scott and makes him seem more threatening than ever, especially because Bendis makes sure to show Scott as having reason for his actions rather than causing chaos for the sake of chaos.

Additionally, the character details are what’s truly impressive about Bendis’ writing. He knows the people about whom he’s writing so well that he can deftly moves between sequences while still presenting tangible emotions and powerful dialogue. And the final pages show just how far Scott has fallen from grace.

Stuart Immonen, who’s worked with Bendis on several projects, is no stranger to Bendis’ world, and seeing the two work together again shows just how strong their connection is. Immonen’s characters are smooth looking, thinly inked, and detailed in both facial features and costume. Immonen knows when to use tight shots for effect, and while mayhem may be occurring in the story, the art never loses its clarity. Furthermore, Marte Gracia’s colors give everything sleekness. Highlights and shadow are used perfectly, and Beast in particular looks powerful and heroic. The final shot of the original X-Men is great, and a true display of a strong art team.

Despite my doubts, All-New X-Men is a great book to be reading. The comic offers something for readers with a cursory knowledge of the X-Men, or for die hard fans. The story is strong, and the art is impressive and as a jumping on point for new readers, I can’t recommend this book more.

 

The Boys #72

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Darick Robertson and Richard P. Clark

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson reunite to deliver the final issue of the controversial superhero series that they co-created over six years ago.

This issue is set six months after the events of Issue #71, where Butcher’s crazed plan to get Hughie to stop him from detonating his anti-V bioweapon ended with his death at the hands of the man he’d come to love like a little brother. The issue opens with Hughie visiting the newly reconstructed Brooklyn bridge, to pay tribute to his dead friends, before he gives a final ultimatum to Stillwell, stops Rayner’s run for Congress in its tracks, and reunites with a lost love.

After the insanity of the last dozen or so issues, Ennis slows things down a bit to deliver an epilogue to the main event, taking the opportunity to tie up a few loose ends and deliver a heartwarming and touching ending for Hughie and Annie. The Boys has always been the story of Hughie, so it seems fitting that he would be the last man standing. Throughout the 72-issue run of the series (plus minis), Ennis has done some amazing character work on Hughie, and managed to mature him as a person, while never losing the core of what made him so likeable in the first place: his hopeful and optimistic view of the world. Seeing him reunited with Annie was sort of inevitable, but what made it special was the way in which it mirrored Hughie’s first scene in the comic, with him head over tails in love and holding Annie in his arms, just like he held his original girlfriend in issue one. Thankfully though, the similarities end there, but there is a moment of doubt, where the reader expects a superhero to appear out of nowhere and kill Annie while Hughie is holding her hands.

Elsewhere in the issue, Hughie sends a message to Stillwell, threatening that if Vought (now American Consolidated) ever tries to weaponize superheroes again, he will unleash Butcher’s final ultimatum. Stillwell is unfazed, telling him that the corporation will just find another avenue of possibilities. Herein lies the real message of the series -- the superheroes were never the real problem, the true evil is the multinational corporations that run every aspect of our daily lives, and there is nothing you can do to stop a corporation, they will just rebrand and refocus, then it’s back to business as usual.

While Russ Braun has delivered some fantastic artwork on his run on the series, it seems really fitting that Darick Robertson came back for this finale. Robertson doesn’t disappoint either, delivering some fantastic work that suits the story perfectly. His linework is detailed and intricate, with fantastic cityscapes and backgrounds. His model work is top notch, with realistic anatomy, posture, and facial features. His characters all have a vast range of highly emotive facial expressions that convey their moods perfectly. His inking augments the linework, and adds lots of detail and texture to many scenes. Not content to just fill blacks, he utilizes hatching, cross-hatching, screen-tone and more to keep things looking interesting.

The Boys #72 delivers the perfect ending to one of the most epic superhero stories of the last decade. I wouldn’t hesitate to rank this series equal to Preacher in a list of Ennis’ best works.

 

Batgirl #14

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes, Mark Irwin, Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's something to be said about a strong, driven protagonist, and given Barbara Gordon's history with the Joker, DC's "Death of the Family" crossover does give Batgirl a shot in the arm. With lots of combat, a clear sense of motivation and a couple of clever twists, Gail Simone and company are delivering some nice popcorn action for your buck.

Now, Simone's story doesn't exactly tread new territory here — there's no strong theme, no new insights into Barbara's relationship with the Joker — but what this issue lacks in long-term re-readability it makes up for in brash, brisk pacing. Barbara's got a problem — namely, the Joker has kidnapped her mother — and is she going to break? More like she's going to break a few henchmen's kneecaps. There's definitely a fist-pumping Girl Power vibe to all this, even if someone else is pulling Batgirl's strings. No matter how horrific the stakes are (and Simone does make them horrific by the end), Barbara Gordon is always going to keep her wits about her, and is always going to be able to knock somebody out. It's a nice, if simple, message.

The artwork, while not in the running for any awards for innovation, does its job serviceably. There are two art teams cracking down on this issue, and it's to the credit of editor Brian Cunningham (and colorists Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter) that they mesh pretty seamlessly. Ed Benes gets the splashier moments in this book, particularly a strobe sequence of Barbara bouncing around a room, knocking out a trio of Joker's henchmen, and that's dynamic enough to ease in Daniel Sampere taking over for the second half of the book. Sampere doesn't have Bene's angular figures or his striking fight choreography, but his storytelling and transitions from panel to panel are strong.

That said, I will say that this book is fun for the short-term, but there's definitely going to be a rapid expiration date for how long this issue stands on its own two feet. Simone's got a fun twist at the end of the issue, but after you figure it out you won't read this issue the same way again (kind of killing the suspense, to be honest). Furthermore, the lack of theme or deeper insight feels a bit like a wasted opportunity, a victim of pacing if nothing else. In terms of the art, there is definitely a lack of strong facial expressions that certainly hurts the likability of our protagonist, making it tough to root for (or fear for) Barbara Gordon, since she's constantly grimacing.

This is a simple chapter with some simple, visceral thrills, but considering the baggage that Batgirl has been carrying with her return to the Gotham city rooftops, it's nice to get back to basics a little bit. Barbara Gordon is done moping, done being the victim, and uses that fury and hurt and rage to stage her own campaign against the Clown Prince of Crime. Not a bad tie-in for Gotham's latest crossover epic.

 

Avengers Assemble #9

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Stefano Caselli and Rain Beredo

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Avengers Assemble #9 marks the first "post-Bendis" Avengers issue of the Marvel NOW! era, with Bendis passing the reigns to Captain Marvel scribe Kelly Sue DeConnick. It's a surprisingly smooth transition, primarily because DeConnick's dialogue driven Avengers isn't too far off from Bendis's own well-worn style.

That's not to say DeConnick doesn't bring anything new to the table. The direction of DeConnick's Avengers Assemble is clearly more focused on the "clubhouse" aspect of the team made popular by this summer's blockbuster film, though not all of those characters are present, and others take their places. There's a distinct "Avengers: Friendship is Magic" vibe to the way the story escalates to a contest between two pairs of Avengers via a series of jibes, jests, and yes, sloppy peanut butter sandwiches. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. It's not particularly gripping, but it's a lot of fun, and there's certainly a niche for this kind of Avengers book, particularly among Joss Whedon fans.

When DeConnick does get serious, it leads to some of the more promising moments of the issue, with the opening scenes drawing a contrast between the scientific worldviews of Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. Banner takes a forward role here, a move that makes sense considering the popularity of Mark Ruffalo's performance in the Avengers film. He's also one of DeConnick's best-written characters, maintaining the sardonic, dry wit that has characterized many of his recent appearances. Unfortunately, the Hulk himself is a bit of a sticky wicket in her script; while his "gentle giant" moments work in this context, she falls into the "Hulk talk about himself in third person" trap, which comes off too often as a crutch in place of characterization.

While DeConnick's script is often fun and lighthearted, it's Stefano Caselli that makes it work. His expressive, open art nails the tone, depicting each mood of each character in turn. Even though the script often consists of talking heads and Avengers kind of just hanging out, Caselli keeps it visually interesting with his sense of performance and visual expression, Rain Beredo's colors are a great fit, giving the pages a lush, almost painterly feel without skewing too far towards the manga vibe that Caselli's work occasionally has.

If there's a major flaw to DeConnick's Avengers Assemble, it's that it just doesn't move fast enough. It's clearly designed to appeal to fans of the film, making its accessibility a smart move, but that film worked so spectacularly because the moments of interpersonal drama and comedy were inter-mixed with big moments of action and suspense, building a roller coaster kind of feel. It's surprising that DeConnick's Avengers Assemble would skew so close to the talky vibe of Bendis's run, but that's not to say it feels like old hat. With this issue's ending leading into some more action-driven scenarios, that will hopefully signal a move into a more energetic tone. As it stands, the story itself seems like an afterthought, an element designed only to glue together the scenes of the characters getting along (or not), rather than a scenario into which the characters have been placed. DeConnick has the chops for a book like Avengers Assemble, she just needs to flex a few more muscles than those she's used here.

 

Locke and Key: Omega #1

Written Joe Hill

Art by Gabriel Rodriquez and Jay Fotos

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With only six issues left in his acclaimed series, Joe Hill is getting all his emotional ducks in a row for the final charge. I say this because Locke and Key: Omega is more about healing broken relationships and giving its characters closure than it is about creating an epic finale, and the focus on people over story makes the comic an interesting, if hokey read.

Joe Hill gets a bit sentimental in his characters’ confessions as much of the story is told through videotaped encounters where people see the lens as a path towards personal redemption. What comes out is some pretty heartfelt revelations of guilt, sadness and remorse, particularly in the cases of Tyler and Kinsey who reveal secrets about their parents, and ways in which they wish they could change the past, even though that’s impossible.

The more evident purpose of the story, however, is Hill’s goals to build the characters up before breaking them down. By the end of the comic, most of the characters have reached a personal resolution, so now they’re in a place where their anguish will have the greatest emotional impact.

Because the majority of the comic is dialogue, Gabriel Rodriguez is charged with keeping the story well paced. His methodical, point-by-point panels move the story along fluidly, and because he’s using a lens within a lens, Rodriguez had to alter his point of view to occasionally break up the monotony of the panel design. He does so by keeping the reader fully engaged with the characters as he depicts their emotions with aplomb, conveying character’s feelings with incredible detail.

What’s most impressive about this comic is how in line it is with its predecessors. Hill has kept the story engaging and Rodriguez has made it look great. This is a team I hope will reunite to continue making comics together because their work is consistently good, and the push towards the series finale, while a bit sentimental, is still interesting enough to keep me reading. Plus, I still have no idea what will happen, and I’m excited -- and scared -- to see where the story goes.

 

The Zaucer of Zilk #2

Written by Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing

Art by Brendan McCarthy and Len O’Grady

Lettering by Ellie DeVille

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

How often can you say that a comic book is full of favors? The Zaucer of Zilk #2 is a savory comic full of lickable pages that take you to different dimensions. Al Ewing and Brendan McCarthy's new comic, a reprint out of the pages of 2000 A.D., is a imaginative ode to old Marvel comics, taking that Stan Lee style and Steve Ditko mind-altering artwork to create a comic that is a superhero hallucination. The Zaucer of Zilk #2 feels like nothing you've ever read even as you see the strains of old Doctor Strange stories on every page.

Brendan McCarthy and Ewing’s story is the comic book equivalent of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as they plunge the reader into candy colored dimensions of heroes, villains and damsels in distress. While the first issue suffered a bit of working too much set up into its multicolored landscapes, the second issue zips along as its hero the Zaucer of Zilk has to save a girl who idolized him and, in doing so, save his own life tied to closely to hers. The story they’re telling is a fairly standard superhero story- hero has to save the girl- but both creators take an obvious love for early Marvel comics, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and infuse a psychedelic intensity to the whole thing.

In a story of an extra-dimensional superhero Al Ewing is writing Stan Lee poetry with this issue. Instead of iambic pentameter or as a sonnet, Ewing writes the story of a powerful man becoming a hero using that old, wonderful hyperbolic language that Stan Lee used to define the Marvel style of comics. “Beware, dear reader, to stare too deep into the gimlet eye of Charognae... or listen to the gramophone hiss of her dreadful voice... is to feel the spiders of age and decay making a nest in the back of your creaking mind...” Ewing doesn’t so much as give into his inner Stan Lee as he writes of Doctor Strange comic that Stan Lee would have created if he was first writing it in 2012 instead of 1965.

Brendan McCarthy’s artwork and Len O’Grady’s coloring make you wonder just how much more trippy those old Ditko stories would have been with modern coloring. The worlds they create are the game Candyland exposed to that old Marvel madness. They’ve taken the gumdrop ladders and peppermint slides and turned them into the battlefields of heroes and villains. In McCarthy, you can see where artists like Frank Quitely and Nick Pitarra have come from, following McCarthy’s strong and defining line, creating comic artwork that feels open and beautiful. Even when drawing hideously transformed figures, McCarthy’s lines are wonderful to get lost in, following them around the page as they dance through the fruity hues of the Zaucer’s dimension.

McCarthy and Ewing have created an ode to the old Marvel comics of the 1960s the same way that Jim Starlin and Steve Gerber were homaging the House of Ideas in the 1970s. Like those older creators, Ewing and McCarthy take the Stan Lee formula and ratchet up the hyperbole, the purple prose, the hallucinogenic landscapes and the action wrapped around character moments to create a modern day Peter Parker of the Zaucer. This comic is more of a Marvel comic than anything Marvel has actually produced in 2012, enjoying playing in Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s sandbox.

 

Stumptown #3

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Matthew Southworth and Rico Renzi

Lettering by Matthew Southworth

Published by Oni Press

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The third part of "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case" opens with the baby, or in reality a rock star’s precious guitar, sitting on the detective's coffee table, a delivery from its unseen thief. Dex, the detective, can't believe that this is the guitar that she's been chasing all around Portland while running amok with D.E.A agents and skinheads. And here it is in her living room, having been given to her brother with Down syndrome. Dex has been at this game long enough to know that finding the "baby" is not the end of the case but another part of the greater mystery of why would someone steal the guitar in the first place. Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth basically solve the case Dex was hired for without answering any questions about when, where, how or why? The case is solved but the mystery continues.

For the first couple of issues of this second series, it has looked like Southworth and colorist Rico Renzi have been trying to find a visual identity to the book. Compared to the first series, the artwork has looked rushed and sketchy. With this issue, Southworth finds the surer artistic footing of the first series while demonstrating how to keep the mystery alive in almost every panel. This issue is about what people are not telling Dex but to make that work, the art has to convey that people are still trying to hide something. We have to understand that everyone but Dex knows a piece of the puzzle and either will not or are not able to tell her.

The first person we see unable to tell Dex something she needs to know is her brother Ansel. Someone handed the guitar to him; someone linked to the case. As Dex tries to dig the information out of him, she pushes too hard and the boy just is not able to tell her anything. With the way that Rucka scripts the encounter, it would be easy to read Dex as uncaring and just wanting information or Ansel as petulant and unable to understand anything. Southworth shows the end of the argument with Ansel on his bed in the foreground, ignoring his sister who is standing in the background. "He had glasses" Ansel finally remembers. Following that, Southworth shows us practically the same framing of the scene but breaks it into two panels. One shows Ansel still in the foreground, still angry at his sister's tough prodding of him. The second panel shows Dex, still in the doorway but it's a closer up shot of her. Southworth showed the difference between them and then showed just how close the brother and sister really are.

Southworth plays with that tension all through the book. Rucka's story is all about the conflict of people not telling Dex everything they know or believing that she's withholding information from them. Sometimes it's the personal, quiet moments that Southworth showed us between Ansel and Dex but other times it's explosive and violent as when Dex shows the problems she has with authority by being a smart alec with one of the D.E.A. agents. For an issue that is mostly investigation, Southworth keeps pushing the tension through his composition of the scenes. He pushes co flicking characters into the foreground and background or into the light and the shadows. All that time, he's also skillfully showing the story on every characters face.

In the first series, Rucka wrote Dex as a massive screw up. She was constantly working against herself. In this series, he writes a much more together and competent Dex. She's good at what she does and he writes her with her detective mind always in action. She doesn't screw up; her troubles are caused by everyone around her in this issue. Actually, she does screw up a bit, too confident or impatient with people around her. She expects everyone to be as strong and committed to the case as she is. Rucka specializes in these self-destructive characters but now he doesn't make the self-sabotage as obvious as he has done with other characters. Dex is a professional and that's how Rucka writes her.

As strong as the first series is, Rucka and Southworth are not telling the same story. They’re taking their characters and instead of showing us the same things about them in story after story, they’re developing Dex and her cast. This case isn’t as personal as the first series was so we see the hothead detective, who doesn’t want any cops or federal agents breathing down her neck but is smart enough to know if they’re involved, her case isn’t a simple robbery. The guitar is a catalyst to a deeper mystery that Dex is getting pulled down into. Rucka and Southworth know that they mystery isn’t simply who took the guitar but why? Why was the guitar taken? Why was Dex hired? And why did it simply show up at her house? You’ll want to turn in next issue for that.

 

City in the Desert

Written by Moro Rogers

Art by Moro Rogers

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by Archaia

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I've only just put down City in the Desert from writer / artist Moro Rogers. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I've read. There was much to enjoy within the brisk 144 pages. Just as there were elements I wanted to enjoy, but simply didn't click. Indeed, the one thing I know to be certain is this; Moro Rogers loves world building. But is that enough to sell a story to the reader? For now, lets claim it is and perhaps as the review moves on, we'll find the whys.

City in the Desert tells the tale of a monster hunter duo. There is Irro, the elder hunter from the city of Kevala, and his young companion Hari. They are the last of the great monster hunters, indeed, they are the last of any monster hunter. When a man of peace arrives in the town, he promises to end all the ills of it's people, including the dreaded monster attacks. All they need do is cap the spiritual (and physical) center of the town and culture. A sacred fountain. This does not sit well with Irro and Hari, both of whom have no others skills, save besting foul beasts in the wilds of the desert.

It's a simple enough tale, and one we've seen and read before. However, within City in the Desert, Rogers spins one of the oldest questions of human morality. Is suffering the price we must pay for true freedom, and if so, is slavery, no matter how well intended, a better path if it promises peace. And is that true peace, or merely control swathed in the comforting folds of conformity. Not an easy topic to tackle in a book that promises high adventure and rousing action between flintlock and fang.

My biggest issue with City in the Desert is the pacing in which Rogers chooses to tell this story. We learn very little about this town, this culture, and the main characters that we're supposed to identify. Which brings me back to Rogers and her love of world building. It's clear this is a very old world. Even the young and vibrant Hari carries a certain amount of emotional weight to her that is only brought on by time. But in her desire to present such a believable world, Rogers loses much of the narrative drive keeps a reader interested for the length of the book.

Although her whimsical art works well in maintaining a high level of enthusiasm from the first to last page. Her line work is quite beautiful in it's simplicity and sense of movement. Her characters and creatures move with such grace, they appear more an organic growth than physical creation. Her sweeping landscape (of which City in the Desert has many) convey a sense of awe and loneliness that few books of this nature can capture. When the scene demands it, Rogers' art takes on an almost manic and childlike design. As if she allows the little kid that designed fights in the back yard to take over and draft fantastic images of violence. It's a variation in style that does well to keep the reader locked onto the page.

City in the Desert is a beautiful, if flawed attempt at genuine myth building. For that alone, Moro Rogers is to be commended. And while I wish the Rogers had taken a bit more time in tightening her story, the concept is strong. Mix that with her natural artistic style and you've got a book that promises a lot and delivers just enough to make me want more.

Rapid Review!

 

Batgirl #14 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):
Sometimes I forget just how mean Gail Simone can get. Sure, she's all stuffed Catman dolls and cute Tumblr posts. Then, BAM! Out comes Batgirl #14. This is some twisted stuff happening to poor Babs and something tells me Gail is loving every minute of it. It's hard to review this issue without delving into massive spoiler territory. Suffice to say, things are only going to get worse for Batgirl and in a twisted way, the audience as well. Ed Benes stills draws a Barbara that's a little too sexpot for me. Though it seems his teaming with Daniel Sampere helps temper this predilection. That minor complaint aside, I don't think I've ever seen a more savage Barbara Gordon. Batgirl #14 is a wonderfully frightening issue.

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