New Avengers #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, and Frank D'Armata

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After a rocky first issue, Jonathan Hickman's high concept take on New Avengers is finding its footing by refocusing on the characters at its core, and shedding some light on the oblique mysteries of its first issue. While New Avengers #2 could be described as expository, to say the least, the moments of tension and exploration between the members of the Illuminati make up for the lack of action.

Although they haven't always been the best of friends, the members of the Illuminati find themselves even more at odds in the post world, where their table now hosts an empty seat, and they are joined by Black Panther, whose homeland was recently destroyed by fellow group member Namor. The tensions and stakes have never been higher as Jonathan Hickman crafts a world-destroying threat far more compelling and convincing than the one he's exploring in , forcing the Illuminati to come to grips with the possible solutions to their increasingly dire predicament. It's moments like Captain America effortlessly taking charge of the group, and outright dismissing Tony Stark's insistence that the group consider all possible options that make this book really work, and moments like Reed Richards and Black Panther surreptitiously agreeing to dismiss Captain America's concerns that make it hard not to want more.

New Avengers, at least in this incarnation, seems like a book tailor made for Jonathan Hickman's sensibilities. The most powerful men in the Marvel universe engaged in a veritable onion of layered conspiracy, facing down a cosmic, world threatening, reality altering menace — if there's anything more suited to Hickman's talents, he hasn't invented it yet, and this issue shows some of the promise of the pairing of creator and concept finally coming to light. Hickman handles every member of the team with aplomb, particularly Black Panther, whose ever more innovative and exciting gadgets, and self-assuredness make me long for a Hickman-penned solo title. While there's still plenty to go before this book really gets on its feet, this issue represents the kind of start that New Avengers needed to really sell itself as a necessary component of the Marvel NOW! oeuvre.

Hickman's longtime storytelling partner Steve Epting gets his licks in, too, using his mastery of framing and shadow to visually communicate Hickman's soaring ideas with expert efficiency while completely selling the conspiratorial nature of the Illuminati's relationship. The smooth inkiness of Rick Magyar's inks coupled with Epting's natural gift for lighting and drama, and Frank D'Armata's subdued, but still warm palette makes scenes like Captain America revealing his Infinity Gem practically ache with heat and tension. If there's a weak point, it's that Epting's faces in this issue often look strangely flat compared to the rest of his composition, as if something isn't quite gelling in the way the three artists choose to render each character's features. Still, Hickman and Epting make an almost perfect pair, sharing the same wavelength when it comes to mood, composition, and storytelling.

As one of Marvel's rising stars, and the writer of what is arguably the company's flagship title, Jonathan Hickman has a lot of room to stretch out his inter-dimensional ideas, and the characters and canvas to convey them properly. If you're a fan of Hickman's previous Marvel work, especially his run on , then you'll want to read this issue. There are clear threads that he's been building for some time coming to fruition here, and if was proof of concept of the way this title will evolve, things are only going to get bigger, and more serious. And really, if the last, chilling panel doesn't hook you, nothing will.


Batman and Robin #16

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Keith Champagne and John Kalisz

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. If you look at Batman and Robin #16, you see Patrick Gleason's mighty pencils portraying a battle for the generations, as the surly assassin-trained Robin takes on a Jokerized Batman. Yet when you think about the concept on more than just the visceral level, you realize that it's both killer and filler, something to keep the Boy Wonder occupied as "Death of the Family" barrels toward its conclusion.

That's not to say that this is a bad book, by any means — just that I think Peter Tomasi got everything he was going to say out of his system last month with the Joker's sick, bug-infested mind games. This issue is more just a fist fight, which will be good for some, but tedious for those who have seen enough of them to demand a twist. If you honestly think that Batman has been poisoned by the Joker and might actually die in combat with his son, well, you A) have a higher suspension of disbelief than I do, and B) you haven't been reading the flagship book. When you don't believe in the central conflict, you can only care so much, because unless Damian Wayne takes a bullet — hard to do if this title will keep printing — you won't be surprised. You can't.

That said, Patrick Gleason's work does look pretty sharp, even if it lacks that disgusting tone that it took last month, with all the bugs and the Joker's sliding skin mask. The Joker himself is still the high point of this comic, to the point where part of me wishes that Gleason and Greg Capullo had actually switched titles for "Death of the Family." Gleason gets horror on a deep level, with shadows and black stares really creeping you out. Yet because this is basically a fight comic, Gleason's visceral strengths get ignored — he's still a hell of a craftsman in terms of pacing the fight, firing off lots of rapid panels that make the fight feel fast and furious, but the tonal shift from last issue is still fairly jarring.

In terms of execution, Batman and Robin #16 feels like the book we deserve, even if its not the book we need right now. We buy into action-heavy crossovers because we feel that's what "matters" in those rolling biographies of our favorite characters. While we will be continually disappointed on that score, this comic ultimately delivers on the surface, giving us plenty of punches and fisticuffs in dynamic style. But this comic also doesn't pretend to be anything more than a standard fight book, nor does it try to be, which I think ultimately makes it a little less durable than it should be.


The Black Beetle #1

Written, art, and lettering by Francesco Francavilla

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

When you hear Jim Steranko give something praise, your ears should perk up. In the case of Francesco Francavilla's The Black Beetle, the attention is rightfully deserved. As a longtime fan of the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and Zorro, Black Beetle could easily join those ranks given time.

Francavilla's creator-owned Black Beetle has been floating around for a while and finally found a home at Dark Horse. It's set up as a four-issue mini-series and while the Black Beetle is cloaked in the shadows, his adversary's motives are even more mysterious. Black Beetle gives a vibe somewhere between Will Eisner's The Spirit, and the Green Hornet, but his look itself is almost Batman-inspired. Very pulp, but still functional. The noir background of the 30's and 40's is a nice take and freshens things up a bit. The Beetle is on the hunt for mob bosses and their cohorts, but somebody offs them before he could get to them. A visit to an offshore prison proves futile as another mob associate is gunned down by a mysterious assailant. Francavilla may already be a master artist, but his storytelling abilities are equally impressive.

Francavilla's art is perfect for a story like this. If you enjoyed his back up on from a few years back, you have a sense of what you're getting into. Bold brush strokes and distinct feathering with a color palette of rich reds, moody blues, and a range of golds and oranges. It does take a while for all of the detail to set in, but it's not complicated like a Jim Lee or Ivan Reis style. It's more of the fact you soak up the sophisticated simplicity like you would an Alex Toth or Steve Rude book. The panel layouts have a strong look to them. Easily accessible and the pages that don't have any dialog in them, don't need them. The Black Beetle is a silent hero. Even the inner monologues aren't overbearing.

Any pulp and classic noir fan will tell you, there are only a handful of books out on the market that really do the job. An original concept like The Black Beetle will surely give fans of the genre something to cheer for. It's been a long time coming for this title and it was worth the wait.


Batman #16

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia, Jock and Dave Baron

Lettering by Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt and Taylor Esposito

Published by DC Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

We are nearing the end of “Death of the Family,” and it has taken on a decidedly different flavor than “Court of the Owls.” Opening a new series with an unfamiliar villain is always a gamble, but Scott Snyder launched the Court of Owls into the upper echelon of Batman rogues with tight, suspenseful storytelling, truly surprising twists and an engaging, nuanced backstory. By comparison, “Death of the Family” feels lacking, and Issue #16 stalls because of its predictable set-up.

The best part of this book is the art. It’s no contest there. Greg Capullo has been churning out stellar work since the beginning and he doesn’t let up here. Capullo made his mark especially with his delightfully deranged redesign of the Joker. Coupled with Capullo’s penchant for excellent expressions, the Clown Prince of Crime comes off as disturbed as ever. The action scenes are also well-executed but in the moments where it subsides and the creepier aspects of Snyder’s script set in, Capullo loses a bit of his luster, particularly in the tapestry scene. Still, on the whole, the art is incredible. Aided by inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO Plascencia, Capullo is turning in some of the best pages in the entire DC lineup.

But problems arise with Snyder’s script. The taut storytelling that is his trademark is put aside in order to ramp up the horror of Batman’s current setting and situation. “Death of the Family” has been building up the Joker into a worthy adversary for Batman, and this horrific house of mirrors should stand a testament to his calculated cruelty. But Batman is Batman. And while some aspects of the script will elicit the unsettling response that Snyder desires, some of them are rushed. In the course of two and a half pages, the Dark Knight dispatches three of his most formidable foes. Now I understand that given the intense trauma that Batman has experienced throughout this arc, he has no time for games. But it stands to wonder how those villains will be reused when all is said and done. Is it worth it to tear down other characters for the sake of the ones at the forefront of any particular story? I’m leaning toward no. Especially when quite the opposite was done when building up the Court of Owls.

Joker spends the whole issue setting up the idea of this royal court of the Bat-King, which brings to mind some interesting thoughts. Considering that the last arc was the Court of Owls and its threat to the power structure of Gotham as a whole, does Snyder view Batman as the King of Gotham? On some level, I think that the quick and dirty connection to be made here is one with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round. But how soon will it be before we see the Court of Camelot, or in this case Gotham, turn completely on their legendary king?

James Tynion IV and Jock collaborate for a quick back-up that does a nice bit of characterization between Joker, Penguin, Two-Face and Riddler, but it doesn’t stand up well visually next to the main feature. Jock’s version of the Joker, while not drastically different than Capullo’s, doesn’t hold the same amount of menace. Tynion does have a good exchange between Harvey Dent and the Joker though that makes the story worth the effort.

Snyder might succeed more outside the story than within it. His work forces savvy readers to reevaluate what they know about characters and their place within a world. While this issue doesn’t do much more on the surface than set up a big finale, it does get the gears in motion as far as what other Batman stories might entail later on. Aided by Capullo and company’s continued quality work, even a slightly underwhelming (by the standards of this book and this book alone) issue is still worth a read.


Pathfinder #4

Written by Jim Zub

Art by Andrew Huerta and Ross A. Campbell

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 5 out of 10

Pathfinder #4 finds our heroes in that spot that most players love and many a Game Master loathe (simply because one bad roll can end all that hard work). That is, the heroes are surrounded by all manner of foul beasts with little hope of victory. It makes for good gaming and in the right hands, an even better narrative. Writer Jim Zub along with artist Andrew Huerta and colorist Ross A. Campbell have the right intentions, even if they don't quite lock in the follow through.

Issue #4 is an interesting point within the story, as Zub is still trying to find ways to introduce characters from the game into the comic. While understandable, I feel like the desire to include darn near every person from the core game takes away from the overall narrative. It's fairly obvious to the reader that we haven't seen the last of the diminutive Druid, more so when you consider the end of the issue, but it still reads very heavy-handed. That doesn't mean the issue is not without it's merits. I feel like Zub has a strong desire to look beyond the surface of these rather archetypical characters. He wants the fighter to be more than the meathead basher, or the cleric as the voice of morality. And when those moments happen, they are genuinely interesting and help round out the book. Alas, the story never truly allows for the scenes to play out. They simply happen and as such, lose some of their impact on the overall growth of the book.

Visually, there is no getting around it. Andrew Huerta's style just isn't working for me. I appreciate his blending of early 1980s era manga with more traditional and modern RPG art, but it looks too jumbled for my tastes. Playing with character proportions to suit the tone of a particular panel or scene can and does work. (One only need look at Joe Madureira's work as an example). In Pathfinder #4, the style is merely a distraction. Which is unfortunate, because you can see elements with Huerta's work, especially in chaotic fights, where his style could truly flourish. To his credit, he does try and play with panel design and angles. Although not quite successful, I will always appreciate an artist that continually pushes their boundaries and storytelling.

A special comment to both the coloring and lettering in Pathfinder #4: First, if you can, seek this book out in the printed format. Having read both digital and print, the digital loses some of the very vibrant and detailed work by Ross A. Campbell. Most of Huerta's line work benefits from Campbell's colors and tones. It would have been all too easy to fall into the very heavy shadows and lose detail were it not for Campbell's part. As was my concern with the first issue, the lettering by Marshall Dillon is a little hard to follow. But, when you consider the lack of negative space he had to work with, the lettering is functional if not practical.

I'm still willing to give this series a second look, if only because I see the potential and I have such a love for the genre. Still, with Pathfinder #4, we've fully crossed over into the territory where only the hardcore tabletop gamer is going to have much of an interest, or enjoyment, of the title.

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