Best Shots Reviews: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, BEFORE WATCHMEN, More

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Best Shots is back from the weekend, with a batch of your latest reviews from across the industry! So let's kick off with the second issue of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Stefano Caselli's Avengers Assemble...

 

Avengers Assemble #10

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Stefano Caselli and Rain Beredo

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Sometimes it's hard to be the middle child. Look at Avengers Assemble, for example. It's not the sprawling flagship or the peanut-butter-and-chocolate of , and it isn't the subversive or the rebellious, shock-value slaughterfest of . In a lot of ways, Avengers Assemble is a quiet success, one that supports the existing Avengers mania rather than outright inspires it.

Reading this book, it took me a few tries before I realized what was so familiar about it — out of all the new Avengers books on the stands, Kelly Sue DeConnick's reminds me the most of the previous Avengers godfather, Brian Michael Bendis. Taking a cue from Bendis's talkier playbook — which, when you think about it, Avengers movie director Joss Whedon also wrote in a similar style — there's a surprising amount of dialogue here, setting up the Avengers stumbling onto a plot involving bioweapons and mutant ninjas. In certain ways, DeConnick brings back a clearly successful style of comics for those who might not have been ready to see Bendis's exit — these Avengers quip, quibble and quarrel before diving into battle (Spider-Woman in particular gets a nice dig at Thor), and because it's all done within reason, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

That said, while she goes through a lot of dialogue — which I'll be honest, is witty enough but works better for a medium like television than comics — DeConnick does pick up with some action midway through the book. Captain America and Captain Marvel maneuver through this issue's big action set piece, which illustrates DeConnick's pacing skills since she's able to fit that in with all the exposition and talkier moments with Iron Man and the rest of the gang. Watching Captain America fight on the side of a plane against a mob of ninjas is pretty cool, as is a death-defying aerial rescue from Captain Marvel.

In terms of the art, Avengers Assemble gets a heavier hitter than one might expect in Stefano Caselli, but at the same time, something isn't quite jelling. Part of that is Rain Beredo's coloring, which at its best looks nuanced and deep, but often goes off the deep end with psychedelically bright reds and greens. Caselli's character design is impeccable, with some really expressive faces that make you root for the Avengers just at first glance. Bruce Banner writhing in pain, for example, makes you wince in sympathy just looking at him.

But you sense that the material isn't quite clicking with him — Caselli makes the talkier scenes have enough differentiation from panel to panel, but they don't really have anything that is visually striking to them. When the action sequences do pop up, it feels like an athlete who hasn't had a chance to warm up — there are anatomy issues to Captain America standing on a jet, and the composition and choreography to the action sequences doesn't quite pop.

I think that Avengers Assemble has a lot going for it — strong art, strong dialogue, a minimum of continuity to get in its way, a tone that is largely all-ages — but it's also the underrated middle child of the Avengers franchise. This is a title without a grand purpose within the Marvel Universe, and the story itself stumbles a bit without a unifying high concept to ground it and guide it. Ultimately not a bad effort from DeConnick and company, but one I do fear may get lost among its more ambitious sister titles.

 

Before Watchmen: Rorschach #3

Written Brian Azzarello

Art by Lee Bermejo and Barbara Ciardo

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Brian Azzarello’s gritty, violence-filled Rorschach has been one of the highlights of the series. Azzarello has really captured the New York of the 1970’s — crime-ridden, dangerous and immoral. And he’s also captured Rorschach perfectly, having Walter Kovacs dispense brutal justice, refusing to hold back in his one-man crusade against evil.

So why does this issue fail to keep the pace going?

Part of the problem might be in Azzarello’s use of tertiary characters to show that humanity still exists in a city like New York. A timely conversation with a cabbie is clumsily delivered, and Walter’s attempt to ask a woman on a date is painfully awkward. Azzarello started his series well, really capturing the matter-of-fact way Rorschach dealt with criminals. Here, he’s duped easily, and readers can see the ending of the book well in advance of the final page.

What I’m most worried about is that Azzarello is trying to give readers one more reason as to why Rorschach has lost his faith in humanity, and why he believes so strongly in the black-and-white nature of justice. The book started as a story about Rorschach dealing with criminal elements in New York in the 1970’s. Now, it looks like it’s morphing into a tale of a man losing the woman he cares about, and then using this as a catalyst for justice.

Lee Beremejo’s art is the bright spot of the issue. He deals mostly in small, tight panels but the detail of his close up shots is impressive, and the smoothness of texture really comes through in every panel. Barbara Ciardo’s colors are equally impressive, and they give added reality to an already realistic looking comic. Tonally, both artists work in conjunction to build the tension of the final page as a blackout hits New York, bringing darkness with it in more ways than one.

I’ve enjoyed how Azzarello has kept this series out of the of Watchmen world, meaning that we haven’t seen a strong connection between what’s occurring in this comic and its source material, other than the fact that one of the main characters of the series stars in it. I’m not a fan of the side of Rorschach that wants to date, and I hope Azzarello has more to offer in the finale than to show that Walter lost complete faith in humanity when a girl whom he asked on a date was killed (a fact which I’m assuming due to the implications on the final page). But until now, I’ve enjoyed getting my Rorschach fix. I really hope that the last issue will surprise readers, rather than giving them an ending they’d expect, and one that they’d easily predict.

 

Change #1

Written by Ales Kot

Art by Morgan Jeske and Sloane Leong

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Image Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Change is a good title for this book because it’s such a loaded word. Look at our presidential campaigns, advertising campaigns, every industry that we interact with every day and especially the comic book industry. Change is a word that we hear often that has effects that are temporary at best. But Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske toy with expectations of the word and together they create something intriguing but as of yet somewhat undefined.

I prepared myself for the worst when I read the first line of this book. “Her face was beautiful like drone video footage from Afghanistan.” That’s just abstract enough that it might be poetic but just over-the-top enough to be a little bit groan-worthy. The second page bears familiar shades of and it’s unclear whether or not this will be Kot is a hack or he’s just being clever. Thankfully, it’s the latter, and as the rest of book progresses, Kot pulls back to start exploring the major characters of this series. Considering that this is a four-issue miniseries, this issue may provide most of the background we need while still raising questions about our characters and how exactly they are connected.

Kot also blends pop culture references seamlessly into his narrative strengthening the reader’s ties to a world that seems like our own but is clearly more mysterious. Some of the storytelling may seem a bit disjointed as a character may appear for only a panel or two. Some of the symbolism can seem a bit overwrought (specifically a bit about lettuce and roses). And some of the scenes read almost as individual vignettes rather than parts of a larger whole but the sheer amount of ideas at work is impressive.

Morgan Jeske’s work lives in a space occupied by the likes of Frank Quitely, Paul Pope and Eduardo Risso. Despite the frenzied state of the narrative, Jeske brings a solid visual rhythm to the book even as it picks up pace toward the end of the book and he provides some exceedingly memorable moments of congruence in the art that really help tie the book together. Certain concepts though don’t really come through in the art. Jeske and colorist Sloane Leong don’t do a great job of selling “facial camouflage” and it becomes a distraction until it’s finally explained in the text. That might seem like nitpicking but when it’s such a noticable part of a character’s design, it can weigh on the reader and take away from other parts of the book.

Change definitely has a lot going on in it and it gets by on solid artwork and Kot’s considerable imagination. It remains to be seen whether or not Kot and Jeske can deliver on what they’ve started here but as the action ramps up, we might be in for something truly special.

 

Batman and Robin #15

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

Lettering by Carlos Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Don’t bother eating before reading Batman and Robin #15. Heck, cancel any dining plans thereafter. The Joker’s sagging flesh mask is plenty disgusting, but illustrator Patrick Gleason kicks up the revulsion factor in Issue #15 with an incredibly effective interpretation.

You really have to see the images to appreciate just how well the artist conveys the depths of the Joker’s sickness, and they represent some of Gleason’s strongest work on Batman and Robin to date. The fact that Damian stares back right back at the mutilated villain, utterly poker faced, says so much about the character’s endearing fearlessness.

With his unhinged nemesis on the loose and in possession of Alfred, Bruce has instructed Damian to stay put in the cave. Right. Robin has never been afraid of the Joker, even when he should have been, and taking orders isn’t his strong suit. One of the themes of Batman and Robin is the sense of competition that Bruce’s son feels with other members of the Bat-family, especially those who have shared his title. As Batman’s other partners question his judgment off-camera, Damian fumes about the “selfish ingrates” and says that if anyone needs protection, it’s them.

Of course, Robin’s showdown with the Joker is a freak show with some nasty surprises and very welcome bits of humor. Gleason makes their confrontation look every bit as uncomfortable and twisted as it should, and there’s a full-page image that might haunt you for days. In the end, even Damian has to blink.

 

Supurbia #2

Written Grace Randolph

Art by Russell Dauterman and Gagriel Cassata

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Director Bryan Singer once said that after characters are introduced to readers, then a writer can go “Wrath of Kahn” on them. Referencing the second movie, Singer meant that once the characters are established, they can then be destroyed.

This seems to be Grace Randolph’s goal.

Up until now, Randolph has kept her series Supurbia grounded in its own neighborhood. We haven’t really seen life outside of the small area in which the superheroes of the Meta Legionnaires live. This issue, however, expands the world and opens up doors to a bigger universe that offers a myriad of opportunities in a comic that is enjoyable, if a bit uneven in its delivery.

Because Randolph has so much to show readers — including portals to other worlds and a super-prison located in the ocean — she moves quickly from scene to scene. No one character gets more than two to three pages in the entire issue, and while this allows for several different conflicts to be introduced, it makes for a choppy read at times. Randolph uses a dialogue box once (as a transitory connection), but the rest of the comic jumps from one scene to another.

But the intensity of the conflicts really saves the issue. Randolph is still keeping her mystery character in play (a man with the ability to see every personal detail of each character’s life), yet building upon some of the base conflicts she introduced back in the initial four issue run of Supurbia. The character moments — particularly those involving Hella Heart, Paul Fritsche and his secret lover Gio Taviani — are more engaging than the any other aspect of the story, and while the book lacks smooth transitions, it definitely sets up the rest of the arc. And no character is safe.

Regardless the sudden shifts in scenery, Russell Dauterman does some of his best work of the series. Action scenes are fluid and clear. When Paul Fritsche’s wife is attacked, the intensity of the moment is perfectly communicated through smooth movement and sharp inks, coupled with strong colors (courtesy of Gabriel Cassata). But Dauterman is also adept at depicting emotions. Writing dialogue that expresses character feelings is only half the battle; being able to palpably illustrate those feelings is another, and Dauterman complies with Randolph to make the comic visually impressive.

Despite the quick changes, Supurbia is still an intriguing read. Because Randolph created the characters, she has free reign to do with them as she pleases, and this tangible confidence is present in the way in which she builds her conflicts. Basically, it’s clear that Randolph knows what she’s doing, and where she wants to go with her story. And given the nuggets Randolph has given readers, it looks like the characters are in for a serious rude awakening, and life in the superhero suburbs will never be the same.

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