Best Shots Extra: 'TEC #15, HAWKEYE, HELLBOY IN HELL, More

 

Detective Comics #15

Written by John Layman

Art by Jason Fabok and Jeromy Cox

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's a good time to be a Batman fan. With Scott Snyder's flagship book and Grant Morrison's concept-stretching Batman Incorporated, did you think the world really needed another place for excellent Bruce Wayne stories?

Well, that's where John Layman comes in, with Detective Comics.

In certain ways, Detective is the villain-centric book of the Batman group, particularly as Layman focuses on the shotgun wedding between the plant-controlling Poison Ivy and the mud behemoth Clayface. Ironically, this book is also the one with the most heart. Layman's Batman is analytical yet fallible, and his Clayface has real human stakes underneath all that muck. It reminds me a lot of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series, with its character-infused, done-in-one chapters that leave you wanting more. It's not revolutionary like Morrison or badass like Snyder — it's just simple, solid superhero storytelling.

And that tone, that directive fits the artwork, as well. Jason Fabok's tutelage under David Finch is quite apparent here, with his bulky physiques and widescreen compositions, but unlike his mentor, he also has a cleanness of line that comes from his work at Aspen. It's not the kind of design work that will wow you for its innovation, but it's simple and strong, playing to the stuff we already know we like — Batman looks tough as hell when he crouches in a fighting stance at the beginning of the book, and a splash page featuring his secret weapon against Clayface practically screams toyetic opportunity.

If this comic has any flaws, it's mainly about scale, and that's mainly due to the high stakes Detective has to compete with from its sister titles. The "Death of the Family" tie-in here is mercifully minimal (although Fabok's Joker does look awfully menacing in the shadows). The story flaw here is the actual mystery behind the Ivy-Clayface union, which seems as big of a no-brainer as you can get. Still, Layman lands the dismount so nicely that it's easy to overlook the paltry detective work, giving the villains a defeat they won't soon forget.

It's funny how the guy who used to be a Wildstorm editor, who then became the guy behind that cartoon cannibal cop comic, has also become one of the guys driving the Dark Knight. But John Layman has earned this, and continues to earn his place with Detective Comics as each issue keeps unfolding. Yeah, there are plenty of good Batman stories elsewhere, but Layman and Fabok do a great job arguing for one more. Smart plotting, strong characterization and a couple striking moments in the script make this book well worth adding to your pull list.

 

Hawkeye #5

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Javier Pulido and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Who'd have thought some yahoo with a bow and arrow could also be Marvel's most likeable superhero?

That's Clint Barton in a nutshell. The world's greatest marksman is also a world-class screw-up, trusting on dumb luck and his own formidable fighting skills to get him out of the frying pan, out of the fire, and out of a hotel window surrounded by ninjas and about a hundred armed terrorist goons.

In other words, this is a fun comic.

Matt Fraction, in certain ways, is channeling Chew's John Layman, as he plays around with time to get us invested in the story early. Who needs immediate linear backstory when you can open up with Clint tied to a chair and falling out of a high-rise? But Hawkeye — and yeah, by Hawkeye I also mean thinly veiled smartass allegory for Fraction himself — also brings a lot of charm behind his rapid-fire internal monologue: "I don't want a next life. I just want a nap." There's a lot of "save the cat" moments here, a lot of beats designed to make us relate: Hawkeye isn't the superhero who hits everything with panache. Even though he's on the prowl to destroy a tape of him killing a foreign dictator, we can't help but see Hawkeye as the guy who steps on glass in the middle of a raid, the guy who tries to save death cult ninjas, the guy whose sidekick both looks up to him and is desperately in love with him.

Of course Hawkeye doesn't notice. Because even with his godlike aim, he's not perfect, and neither are we. So we love him all the more for it.

Javier Pulido's artwork is also a fantastic fit for this breezy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants action/adventure/comedy. The secret is the eyes — every character has so much intensity behind their eyes, whether it's Clint clenching them shut as he realizes he might become a smear on the pavement, Madame Masque's barely reserved rage at her foes, or young Hawkeye Kate Bishop glowering from behind elevator doors like a lioness protecting her cubs. Pulido's layouts and character compositions are sharp as well, so when Hawkeye does get his moment to bring down the house, his shoulders are squared and his muscles are clenched like a big damn hero.

There are a few hiccups here, but this book is so infectiously charming that it's hard to notice. Fraction's done-in-one pacing, when read a few times, actually is somewhat formulaic, from the in medias res openings to the flashback explanations to the costume changes and final displays of game-changing archery. I'm not saying it's a bad formula, but merely that the similarities do exist — but like the best jazz artists, the trick isn't so much the familiar foundations, but the flair of improvisation that makes each performance unique. Additionally, Pulido's occasionally blocky artwork may be an acquired taste for some, but to be honest, if you liked David Aja's opening issues, you should have no problems keeping up here.

As a card-carrying Avenger, Clint Barton may be one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but he's also one of its goofiest. And that's a good thing. Moving between scamp and scrapper with ease, Clint is like the high school dropout James Bond, the guy who's both tragically weird and magnetically cool, all at the same time. He's the superhero we all think we would be yet also desperately would aspire to become. This comic may be about an archer, but archery is just about the last thing that Hawkeye is all about. It's about a guy with perfect aim and a life with less-than-perfect trajectory. And that's what makes him the perfect protagonist.

 

Hellboy in Hell #1

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart

Lettered by Clem Robbins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

You didn’t really think that Hellboy’s death at the end of The Fury was the last we’d see of Big Red, did you? Nah, death was merely an inconvenience for HB — he's a demon, after all.

The story finds Hellboy cast down into the bowels of Hell, finally returning to the land of his birth. Instead of a welcome party awaiting him, there's all manner of nameless monstrosities vying for his blood. Not only that, but Hellboy has sent many people to Hell over the years, and now they want to pay him back for the favor. On top of everything else, there is a throne waiting for Hellboy in Pandemonium, the capital city of Hell.

This new Hellboy miniseries is particularly remarkable, in that it's an increasingly rare instance of Mike Mignola writing and drawing an extended story starring his famous creation. This first issue starts off things off quite gently, easing readers back into the story by refamiliarizing them with the conclusion of The Fury, before going on to treat us to some classic Hellboy fight scenes, while introducing new characters and laying plot threads to be explored in subsequent issues. As such, while you wouldn’t expect it to be, the issue serves as a great jumping-on point for new readers, as it only requires minimal knowledge of the character’s history to pick up the story.

Mike Mignola is an amazing storyteller, and this is never is this more evident than when he is both writing and drawing a story. Mignola keeps his script to just dialogue and monologue, with very little exposition, preferring to let his artwork do much of the storytelling, which it does in splendid fashion. The dialogue is generally short and to the point, never wasting words on pointless chatter and babbling. Mignola can do more with one page of art with a single word on it than most writers can do with pages packed full of dialogue and narration. The issue is really well structured and paced, and Mignola defly plants the seeds that will grow into future plotlines, making it seem like part of the story rather than an obvious setup for things to come.

Mike Mignola’s artwork is truly in a league of its own. It’s been so long since readers have seen more than a cover or a book illustration from him, that when you first open the issue, all you will want to do is stare in disbelief at all the pages upon pages of stunning art. Nobody draws quite like Mike Mignola, there are plenty of imitators these days, and artists influenced by his style, but nothing beats the original. His distinctive trademark style is in full effect in this issue, and fans will be pleased to see his simplistic but powerful characters, his Lovecraftian monster design, his love of heavy blacks and silhouetted outlines, and more. Together with the splendid color artwork of Dave Stewart, this makes for some of the best artwork in comics today.

Hellboy in Hell #1 is indescribably good. No amount of hyperbole can do the book justice. Mike Mignola is back, and better than ever.

 

I Love Trouble #1

Written by Kel Symons

Art by Mark Robinson and Paul Little

Lettered by Pat Brosseau

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

A world with super powers, but without capes and aliases. This is the world of I Love Trouble. Street-wise con woman Felicia Castro just planned to get away from things, but a plane crash and the discovery she has the power to teleport has her going from small time jobs, to bigger schemes once an old enemy finds out. It's an interesting concept, sort of in the vein of The Tomorrow People and Misfits.

Writer Kel Symons has a Hollywood background and in his first foray into comics here is not bad at all. While Symons has mentioned that the concept began with a bigger scope, the concentration on a single character here is a good start. Felicia is strong, willful, cunning, and to say the very least, ambitious. She hasn't led the most saintly of lives, but it seems she's done it for both survival and for the thrill. The dialog is hip and refreshing, especially coming from Felicia herself. The rest sort of plays out with mob boss clichés and typical villain rhetoric. Symons sets up the rest of the story with a mysterious blind man, who has apparently been keeping tabs on Felicia and we're left to guess what.

Now let's talk about the art here. Seriously. Man. Mark Robinson has had a few Marvel issues here and there and if you know anything about him it's that there is nothing out there like what he's doing. The comic pages with Robinson's eye had a kinetic feel that's part Eric Canete, part Robbi Rodriguez, but definitely all Robinson. It has an animated feel that moves the story along marvelously. A specific scene could be where Felicia robs an art gallery and the way Robinson has the panels constructed, it's almost out of an old Carmine Infantino Flash playbook. Also, Robinson's hand lettering for certain sound effects is incredible, too. Everything about the presentation is just so out there. One minor misstep is Paul Little's coloring job. It's not bad, but it felt a little held back from what Robinson was doing and just felt flat a few times when things should be amped up more.

I Love Trouble has unlimited potential to be the next big thing. If you don't read comics, try to read this one. Symon's writing style has a TV flair to it, so it's easy to just dive in and enjoy. It's a crisp beginning for Symons and company and they've got me in for the long haul.

 

The Legend of Luther Strode #1

Written by Justin Jordan

Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Luther Strode is back and he is pissed off.

Following the events of this year's Strange Talent of Luther Strode, creators Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore head back to this world of blood and mayhem and advance the story of Luther without being too redundant. Luther isn't the same kid we last saw and five years will change just about anybody. While Jordan doesn't digress too much into where he's been just yet, he still gives Luther a powerful shadow.

Story-wise, it's cool to see the "what happened next" approach here since Strange Talent left off on quite the cliffhanger with our protagonist seemingly returning from the dead. And is he ever alive! Justin Jordan keeps things pretty simple here, even if you didn't read the previous installment. All you really know is that there is some monolith of a man taking out criminal scumbags and making them explode with a single punch. Think Batman vs. Guy Gardner's classic "one punch," but multiplied by infinity. So far we have one returning character, and for fans of the series, it'll be a nice twist. Jordan, now having a few titles under his belt since last time, takes his time building up to the last page, but the way is paved with his usual flair for the ultra-violent.

In case you're wondering, Tradd Moore is the superstar you're going to see a lot more of coming soon. His style has evolved a tad since Strange Talent, but still pertaining a similar way in his figure composition and panel structuring. Moore's inking technique is just killer to behold. Sort of like a more animated old-school Guy Davis in his renderings, the pages pop with emotion and a sense of intense drama. The fight scenes are out of this world and one particular shoot out is just balls-to-the-wall insane. Moore's cinematic eye takes over and captures the scene amazingly. Felipe Sobreiro returns as the colorist once again and once things are in top shape. His palette seems toned down since last time relying a lot on reds and yellows and here's it more of moody blues and not as exaggerated and doesn't keep up with Moore's pacing.

The Legend of Luther Strode isn't a retread of what has happened before and expands on the story, but readers who didn't get a chance to get a hold of Strange Talent will find it easy to understand, but might be missing a few steps along the way, mainly asking, "how did this happen to Luther?" Jordan has become a more experienced storyteller over the year and still a strong up and coming talent. Fans of Mark Millar's more violent works will eat this up and hopefully will want to try Strange Talent if they hadn't already. 

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