Best Shots: The Stand, End League, 13 Chambers and More

Best Shots: The Stand and More

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Here’s a look back at this week’s Best Shots Extras . . .

Marvel Zombies III #1 (from, well, Marvel)

Action Comics #870 (from DC)

X-Men Original Sin #1 (from Marvel)

The Lone Ranger #14 (from Dynamite)

Ender’s Game: Battle School #1 (from Marvel)

The Stand: Captain Trips #2

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Artist: Mike Perkins

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Stephen King has often been called the “The Modern Master of Horror” but that really is a misnomer as in actuality King is the master of fear, but not in the goosebump defining way, but in a real down to the bones chilling manner. King has written a lot of books with a supernatural bent that comprise the majority of his output, but at the core of all his books the supernatural does not take center stage but rather enhances the overall quality of the story about the human condition. I was very excited upon hearing that Marvel would be publishing an illustrated version of what is arguably one of King’s most prophetic novels.

Two issues into the first mini-series and any doubts about this project have quickly evaporated. Through the course of the series Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa stays completely faithful to King’s story to the point where it seems more Stephen than Roberto, which is perfectly fine considering this is an adaptation of King’s work. Sacasa’s main role, as far as I can tell, is to provide the artist with layout ideas to keep the story moving forward, excising scenes that tend to move the focus away from our main protagonists and realigning parts of the story to ensure a natural story progression.

Unlike the current Dark Tower series that Marvel is publishing, the Stand must stay true to the original source as the nature of the story is clearly defined within the pages of the original novel. To his credit Sacasa is very successful at moving the story forward and as he really is not adding any new content or perspective to the story it becomes his job to streamline the story in a manner that compliments the story while maintaining the stories focus. For instance scenes that take place across multiple pages in the original novel are condensed to fit on one page, as the artist is responsible for setting the scene rather than the reader’s imagination, and therein lays the real success of this title.

Mike Perkins is really doing a phenomenal job with this title. Not being influenced by the original television mini-series for his designs is probably Perkin’s saving grace on this title as he takes the words of Stephen King and brings them to life in his own unique way. Utilizing a wide range of camera angles and settings, Perkin’s art is easy to follow and contains some powerful emotional scenes. The one art trick that Perkin’s continues from last issue is the spreading of the disease, Captain Trips. The graphic manner in which Perkin’s displays the spreading disease is a stroke of genius and infuses some otherwise mundane panels with a necessary feeling of helplessness as Captain Trips continues to silently strike at not only America, but the rest of the world. Complimented by Laura Martin’s vibrant colors, Perkins art has never looked better.

The Stand is not only a novel about the horrors of a man-made biological disease wiping out the majority of life on the planet; it is also a story about the human condition and man’s overwhelming need to survive. Two issues in and I am happy to say that Sacasa and Perkins have successfully captured the spirit of the novel while giving the original material a much needed spit-shine. While no comic book could take the place of the original novel it’s nice to see King’s words displayed in a media that compliments the source material.

The End League #5

Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Eric Canete

Dark Horse Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

This issue has it all: Captain America! The Red Skull! Nick Fury! The Joker! Gog! Wait, what? This is a Dark Horse comic, you say? Then I suppose I needn’t elaborate any further on how blatantly this issue reads like one big flirtation with copyright infringement. Codename Black (aka Dark Horse Batman) is looking for Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and his quest takes him right into the arms of the Smiling Man (aka Dark Horse Joker with side of Riddler, complete with one-liners even pre-K children shun and a riff that starts with “Riddle me this…”). In a theater filled with a Smilex-affected audience, the Smiling Man delivers his cliffhanger, a pincer movement of peril with no guarantee that he even has the hammer that Black seeks. There’s also a flashback and a flashforward, the former slightly more interesting than the latter, but what this issue truly needed was a guest appearance by the greatest of all super-heroes: An Original Idea.

From the jump, Mat Broome’s departure from this book is a Kimbo Slice-sized punch in its gut. Rick Remender’s script in the past two issues has been at times hard to follow and prone to wandering, but it was Mr. Broome’s pencils that talked you out of putting the book back on the shelf. Mr. Canete’s artwork in comparison is chaotic and often just looks unfinished. The top panel of page ten is a perfect example, when Astonishman is talking with a young Wojtek; it looks more concept art than finished product. Of course, the inking and coloring does nothing to support Mr. Canete’s style, and the end results are muddled panels thick enough to chew on.

I’ve defended this book against naysayers who have thrown it under the Kingdom Come bus by claiming it’s just the Dark Horse version of superheroes gone wild in an alternate future. Mr. Remender is certainly capable of writing engaging and entertaining books as evidenced by his Fear Agent and the first four issues of this series, but I worry that the scope of this project has not been fully fleshed out. I am also concerned that Mr. Remender has not been able to step back and objectively assess if he has distanced himself from his inner fanboy. There is certainly no foul in weaving tales in homage to one’s plethora of influences, but flying so close to the source that that what you call your own is seen as merely a Xerox of someone else’s is when the wings weep wax. This disappointing issue is not a good omen of things to come and I sincerely hope the next issue gets this series back on track.

13 Chambers

Created and Written by Christopher "mink" Morrison

Art by Denis Medri

Coloring by Romina Denti

Covers by Paolo Parente

Lettering by Michael David Thomas

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Lan Pitts

Recently, Newsarama interviewed the creator and writer of this series, Christopher "Mink" Morrison, and he explained what it was all about. Well, I read the first issue this week and I'm interested in how it will play out. "Chambers" is a western set in an alternate history during 1860's. In this universe, thirteen U.S. marshals, each carrying a high-tech 13-chambered pistol, have been enforcing the law until a new president deemed the weapons too dangerous. 13 Chambers is the point of view from the 13th Marshall, who was assigned to retrieve the other weapons and return them to President Jackson so they could be archived. All is going according to plan, until the Marshall arrives in a town known as Four Corners, where a tyrannic mining tycoon named York has killed the 12th Marshall and stolen one of the Peace Keeper pistols. Now, the Marshall must retrieve the pistol and bring the tyrant to justice...or die trying.

The issue starts off with a diagram of what one of the Peace Keeper pistols looks like. Beautifully drawn by Matthias Haddad, it shows how the chambers work with the multiple triggers on the handle. Denis Medri's style resembles a mix between modern artists Mark Brooks and J. Scott Campbell. Amazingly drawn figures as well as solid panels, complemented by Romina Denti's coloring skill, makes for one spectacular looking book. The first issue establishes the tone pretty well. A classic Western tale, similar to Michael Fleisher's run on Jonah Hex, with a little bit of Indiana Jones sprinkled in.

The line between good and evil is drawn pretty well here. The hero is tough and handsome, the villain is sinister and resembles a combination of Voldemort from "Harry Potter" and Tex Hex from BraveStarr, making it easy to read and recommend. Perhaps I'm slightly biased, being a fan of the western genre, but I really appreciated this book and I am looking forward to what this title brings to the table. With the market saturated with tie-ins and continuity-heavy books, 13 Chambers is a pleasant addition to anyone's pull box.

Labor Days

Written by Philip Gelatt

Art by Rick Lacy

Published by Oni Press

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Meet Benton Bagswell. Drunk, underemployed, and generally useless. He is, if anything, the opposite of the sort of man one would expect to change the world, or to achieve any sort of self-actualization. But when he is charged with the care of an unmarked videotape, he finds himself in a sprawling adventure that could do just that.

At first blush, Oni's latest original graphic novel Labor Days, by Philip Gelatt and Rick Lacy, appears to be a lighthearted tale of a loser's big adventure. As the tale carries on, though, it becomes evident that beyond the cartoonish imagery, cast of caricatures, and slapstick humor, is a story with depth and pathos usually saved for “serious” stories.

Oni has built a reputation for being a strong brand for slice-of-life stories about people not unlike the average reader; good-natured, underachieving, and longing for more out of their existence. These stories are fun, and a departure from the average beat-'em-up American comics, but can be limited in both scope and impact. Labor Days starts out as just that, for as soon as we meet the British Bags, he is promptly dumped by his girlfriend. Reading it, I thought, well great, he'll probably go on some journey of self-discovery, meet a new girl, and realize his potential. Well, yes and no.

In fact, as soon as girlfriend Kelly leaves our unlikely hero, the tape left in his charge brings his life direction, if in a wholly inconvenient manner. Immediately, he is swarmed by agenda-laden strangers, willing to do anything to secure the mystery-tape. The tape is a classic MacGuffin, like Pulp Fiction's suitcase, where the contents are of far less importance than the cast's unflinching devotion to do anything and everything to get it. Everyone Bags meets, it seems, is absolutely certain that this tape is the key to changing the world. Completely against his will, Bags is whisked into a journey across the continent, hounded and co opted by hipster revolutionaries, babe-talions of post-feminist feministas, overzealous CIA opps, and mad scientist patriarchs.

The thing is, none of these characters are wasted. Each one displays shocking depth; homicidal maniacs have daddy-issues, government spooks have mommy-issues, and revolutionaries have lost their belief in change.

And there's the whole point of the book; everyone trying so hard to get this useless artifact is trying to change the world. They are agents of change, but their conflict with one another prevents them from accomplishing anything at all. Benton, the one guy who wants nothing, no change, no bother, no matter, is the perfect foil to these agents, because they speak such oppositional languages. His on-the-run escapade tests, for the first time, his own capabilities and mettle. He learns his capacity for violence, for empathy, and for broader understanding of the things that matter, all while trying to simply survive. Well, and maybe to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Just as important as all the ambitious philosophical issues to the success of Labor Days is the irreverent bigfoot style it is illustrated in. In hilarious, cartoonish fashion, we are treated to a world where thugs look thugish, spies are rugged and strong-jawed, babes are babalicious, and Bags is, well, Bags. The style is the perfect choice for this story, since it is so well-done that it keeps the action moving and fun. This is the best kind of funny-book, where, as a reader, you are so involved in the adventure and excitement that there is no time to notice the strong pathos that underlies. How could a preachy story revolve around a character with that bulbous a nose!?

In the end, Benton isn't the guy to bring on huge world-changes, because unlike the rest of the cast, he doesn't know what it is he wants. He does, however, finally know who he is. So maybe this was a slice-of-life story after all.

Philip Gelatt and Rick Lacy have collaborated before, but this is their first creator-owned endeavor. Gelatt comes from a Hollywood background, and Lacy is one of the hands behind the genre-classic Venture Brothers. With a kickoff like this work, a story that is saying something smart, but sacrificing none of the fun, hopefully there will be much more to come.

Jamilti and Other Stories

Written & Illustrated by Rutu Modan

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Rutu Modan’s role in the Israeli comics collective Actus put her on the international comics scene, but it was last year’s hit Exit Wounds that truly cemented her reputation as a comics artist to watch. Her new book, Jamilti and Other Stories compiles six pre- and one post-Exit Wounds short stories that she’s authored between 1998 and 2007, and though none of the strips included here match the humanity and cartooning talent of her breakout book, each tale does offer some insight into the evolution of an extremely talented cartoonist.

The title story and the wide-open panels of doom-laden “Homecoming” are closest to Exit Wounds, dealing with families and young people in modern Israel. “Jamilti” is a thoughtful look at bigotry and emotional disconnects, while “Homecoming” contrasts the optimism of survival, depicted as near ignorance, against the fretting of inevitable letdowns. “Energy Blockage” and “Bygone” are family studies, the search for a lost parent, the desire of a child for stability and belonging. “Energy Blockage,” with its open line work, feels light despite the rumble of darkness at its core. Sarah’s inquisitive pursuit of her father, removed from her life by her parents’ tumultuous separation, stings with its emotional honesty and protagonist’s willingness to manipulate. “Your Number One Fan” and “The King of the Lillies” are effective tales about obsession and, particularly in “Your Number One Fan,” the ups and downs of a creator trying to find success and acceptance.

Since most of the stories appeared in Actus anthologies, all of which have been based around themes or formats, several of the stories don’t seem physically suited to the page dimensions of Jamilti and Other Stories. “Homecoming”’s full panel pages are blown up to an uncomfortable degree, highlighting some of Modan’s awkward anatomy, and “YNOF” is landscaped, so readers will have to turn the book sideways to take in the final story. Modan’s ability to lay out a page effectively is shown even in the earliest stories, and her character acting and designs are strong throughout. She also plays with her style at times, using a lot of open white space in “Bygone” rather than grey-toning and spotting blacks throughout the page. The anatomy, as mentioned, is distorted and uncomfortable in several stories, which some readers might not like.

Though it doesn’t read the same heights as her Eisner-winning effort Exit Wounds, Modan has a clear winner here. Each story has something going right for it, and readers are likely to find at least three or four standouts. Keep watching for Rutu Modan. After winning this Eisner for Exit Wounds, she’s cementing her credibility as a must-watch cartoonist with Jamilti and Other Stories.

PELLET REVIEWS!

My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Pantheon; by Mike): David Heatley’s debut graphic novel is a promising first effort, particularly for fans of the warts-and-all style of autobiographical cartooning. With plenty of insights into his sexual life, his relations with black people, and his evolving sense of family and religion, Heatley holds little back and offers some truly impressive insights into himself and humanity. However, his insistence on jamming nearly every encounter with a black person or a sexually charged scenario into this volume works to the book's detriment. The signal to noise ratio sometimes goes askew due to the redundancy of Heatley's overly frequent depictions of his sexual (which often sound more like bragging than anything else) and racial anxieties. Forty-eight panel grids simply afford him too much space to recite a laundry list of encounters, rather than focusing on the most telling and powerful anecdotes from his life. Despite the occasional drag, however, when he’s on his game, Heatley is showing himself a powerful and brutal observer of the human condition. My Brain is Hanging Upside Down is a miss, but Heatley is worth watching for in the future.

Green Lantern #35 (DC; by Lan): Issue 35 is the finale of the Secret Origins, and once again the team of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Oclar Albert make for a smashing good read. Interesting though, is that this issue doesn't do the DC usual of the first page being a splash page. There is not a whole lot of action going on in this issue, but the interaction between the rookie Hal Jordan and the more experienced Sinestro left me wanting one thing: a Sinestro origins mini-series showcasing him as the "greatest of the Green Lanterns". It's interesting to see Sinestro, one of comic's most heinous villains, as a hero and a mentor. We've heard the story numerous times about how great he was, but to have seen it is something else. Something great! Overall, this was a solid issue. It brings some resolution to the arc, tying up some loose ends while giving a tug to a couple other loose ends. We get some nice "continuity nods" that long-time fans should be able to pick up on, that show that this story isn't ignoring what's come before. Even though this is the "post-Infinite Crisis" origin, nothing really changes or maybe I just didn't see it. As the conclusion of a story, I couldn't have been happier, but it gives us a glimpse of what's to come.

The Dark Tower: Treachery #2 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): As the Dark Tower series continues on I can not help but marvel at the continued quality of the series not only on the writing front but the art as well. Due to the nature of the original Dark Tower series King only hinted at events in Roland Deschain’s life and to see his world more fully explored has been an enjoyable experience. Peter David and Robin Furth continue to elaborate on the mythology of the Gunslingers while Jae Lee and Richard Isanove provide some of the most mesmerizing art to grace a comic book in quite some time. As Roland continues with his obsession of Maerlyn’s Grapefruit and the End-World, he has another close encounter with the Crimson King, meanwhile Aileen Ritter dreams of a life that can never be, the question is will she let that stop her. Thus far the teaming of Marvel Comics and Stephen King has been a great success.

The Invincible Iron Man #6 (Marvel Comics, Reviewed by Richard): Matt Fraction has written one of the best Iron Man stories that I have ever read. Never having been a fan of the Iron Avenger I was quite surprised at how thoroughly I have been enjoying this title. By utilizing the history of Iron Man while moving his story forward, Fraction has managed to give the reader a different perspective of Tony Stark the man and the decisions he makes. The final haunting scene as Stark stands alone with his thoughts, perfectly captures the immensity of his decisions as Tony continues to stoically pursue a dangerous path under the guise of helping mankind. As Stark walks a fine line between do-gooder and evil-doer Fraction ups the heat another notch by giving Tony an enemy even he can’t fight, the future.

Detective Comics #849 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): I'm still not quite sure how "Heart of Hush" syncs up with "Batman R.I.P." except that I have to assume that this might be the Dark Knight's last mission before the Black Glove's mental dismantling of him in the other book. Regardless, I've found this story to be the Alka Seltzer I need for my "Batman R.I.P" hangover. If there was ever a doubt that Batman is not to be trifled with in matters involving Selina Kyle, Dr. Jonathan Crane can attest to such an unsafe practice. What appeals to me the most is that there feels like there's a clear direction for this series and storyline the further we've gotten into it, editorial mandates be damned, and everything makes sense. Take, for example, a flashback sequence narrated by the lead antagonist, Thomas Elliot, a.k.a. Hush. Hush describes a previous incident that took place in a Batman title I happened to ignore, but the recollection and continuation of that story made all sense to me, a testament to Paul Dini's uncomplicated writing (I mean that as a compliment). Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs have been lighting it up on the art front, delivering intensity, solid characterization and menace to this penultimate chapter. I could've done without the James Bond villain-like overexplanations detailing Hush's plans toward story's end, but the payoff of seeing just what it was behind the bandages that so rattled Selina an issue ago, besides the dagger in the gut, was worth it. And it's not often that I find myself rooting for a villain, but this chapter's prerequisite "Tommy flashback" had me cheering inside. Take that, Mother! Solid, gratifying Batman storytelling all around.

Avengers/Invaders #5 (Dynamite; by Troy): Despite an odd subplot wherein the Human Torch equates LMDs to the Holocaust, this continues to be a great super-hero read. The best scenes are all Cap-centric, with special focus this time on Past-Bucky/Current New Cap, James Barnes, and the duo of WW2 Cap and Iron Man. All parties involved manage to dance skillfully through the minefield of continuity while delivering a classically flavored action yarn. Fun stuff, and I bet it’ll read great in a collection.

Final Crisis: Revelations #3 of 5 (DC Comics; review by Troy): First note: I got the full cover; where is the fire coming from? Regardless, it’s too bad that when we see Batwoman in the DCU, she’s in the thrall of Darkseid (honestly, I look forward to seeing what Rucka does with her whenever her book drops). Nevertheless, this is a solid, suspenseful issue that makes you feel like there’s a lot at stake. The interplay between The Sister and The Spectre is strong, and I’m actually liking Montoya as The Question here. The art by Tan and Glapion is just insane, with their vision of an Anti-Life Gotham particularly striking. I was the least sure of this FC tie-in when it was announced, but I’m enjoying it more than the main book.

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