Best Shots: Hulk, She-Hulk, Ms Marvel and More

Best Shots: Hulk, She-Hulk, and More

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

Secret Invasion #7

Final Crisis #4

Cyblade #1

Superman: New Krypton & Jimmy Olsen specials

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny

Best Shots Shoot-Out: Air #1-3

Man, that was a stretch. Right, then. The rest of the week . . .

HULK #7

From: Marvel

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Art: Art Adams and Frank Cho

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this story, I do have to mention how not fond I am of the name "Rulk." I can do Green Hulk, I can do Red Hulk, I can do THE Hulk. But something about "Rulk" strikes me as feeding into that media phenomenon of combining names of famous couples ("Bennifer," "Brangelina," etc.). Never mind the fact that "Rulk!" sounds like an exclamation Scooby Doo would make, were he to unexpectedly encounter an Incredible Hulk of any hue.

Anyway, this new title had fallen under my radar for whatever reason, and that's saying something considering the high-profile talent involved (Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness). With the first arc concluding (fare thee well, EM2), I decided to give this Hulk series a shot with Art Adams and Frank Cho sharing artistic duties. On an artistic level, Hulk #7 is a whole lotta wonderful, but I'll need a little more story to pass final judgment.

Two stories are being told simultaneously here, and both come and go in the blink of an eye. Loeb's first tale, with Adams, follows Bruce Banner as he's in Las Vegas on the trail of Red Hulk. He doesn't find his target, but he does run across a ravenous pack of Wendigos trashing a local casino. Something about Vegas brings out another side of Banner as he "Hulks out" and instead of going green he reverts to his old gray Joe Fixit persona. Fixit appears to be on the side of right in doing what he can to take care of the Wendigos, which makes the appearance of Moon Knight all the more ill-timed. Loeb seems to have a tendency to throw a lot of character against the wall in hopes of seeing what sticks.

The second half of the book, drawn deliciously by Cho, showcases She-Hulk, also on the trail of Red Hulk with the "able-bodied" assistance of Thundra (isn't she a redhead, by the way?) and Valkyrie. It's an eye-popping team that plays to Cho's strengths, but the story's a bit light, literally and figuratively. Twelve pages devoted to each story only gets you so much, eleven pages actually, considering that each tale gets a recap page that uses previous work. For as little as we get, I hope that they're able to at least keep Hulk on a respectable schedule.

Sentences

Written by Percy Carey

Art by Ronald Wimberly

Published by DC/Vertigo

Review by Sarah Jaffe

Just as comics are an overwhelmingly male medium still, they’re also an overwhelmingly white medium. Yet one of the most acclaimed comics of 2007 was the autobiography of an underground hip-hop legend. And yeah, I just got around to reading it when it came out in softcover last week.

The mainstream press loved Percy Carey’s story, told in the smaller-size hardcover black-and-white graphic novel format that Vertigo seems to be going to more and more, especially with new writers from outside the medium. Tailor-made for bookshop sales, these books aren’t written by comics superstars and offer a low-risk entry point for those who wouldn’t ordinarily buy comics.

Because let’s face it, M.F. Grimm has way more hip cred than even Brian K. Vaughan.

Lots of first-time comics writers fall into the trap of telling too much through voiceover, and Carey is no exception here, but again, it works well with a book like this with maximum crossover appeal. Non-comics fans aren’t going to be bothered by lots of narration, and Carey’s matter-of-fact storytelling, punctuated with rhymes from the characters, doesn’t get bogged down in the details.

Instead, the details are picked up ably by artist Ronald Wimberly, whose kinetic drawings have a raw, streetwise feel. Panels come at you from all angles, from a closeup of gum stretched past breaking on the bottom of a sneaker to close-ups of faces that show all the pain, frustration and fear that Carey often leaves out of his narration.

This isn’t a story that simply had to be told in comic form, but it’s all the better for it, since the illustration manages to slow down the story, to dwell on emotional moments that would otherwise be too easy to skim past.

Sentences takes you from the birth of hip-hop to the present day, managing at once to tell an intensely personal story and a universal one. It may be more of a comic for non-comics fans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.

Super Human Resources #1-3 of 4

Writer: Ken Marcus

Artist: Justin Bleep

Ape Entertainment

Review By: Jeff Marsick

This might be the funniest comic book Man has ever produced. Not on a Bwa-ha-ha-ha!-Giffen level where the humor can often feel forced and gets old after a few gags, nor on either a slapsticky Archie or a wisecracking Spidey way. It’s The Office for the super-hero set, but don’t think that means this is just a rehashing and reworking of corporate shticks and cubicle inside jokes culled from the British and American versions of the hit show. The undertones are there, of course, but when you add super-heroes to the formula, it opens a whole new can of worms for the human resources division. An axe-wielding Thor-type with carpal tunnel complaints, a time-traveler who’s been to the future and seen what the paltry return of their company-sponsored 401(k) is going to be, and a multiple man who tries to get his dupes to qualify as dependents on his health plan are just a few of the issues SCI has to tackle as they seek to try to maintain some semblance of profitability.

SCI is Super Crises International, the “exclusive provider of evil fighting services on contract with the federal government”, and is probably unlike any job our protagonist Tim the Temp will ever have again. Where else could be poisoned in the waiting room by an applicant who mistakes him as a rival for the “Stealthy Assassin” job posting? His boss Roger, in Accounts, is an odd man who might be out to kill everyone in the building, maybe the universe, who eventually becomes Dark Roger in issue three and no one seems to take seriously. There’s the copy machine that has achieved sentience and has begun a mission to annihilate the human race, starting with random copy errors that can’t be cleared and attempts to recruit the coffee and fax machines to its cause. Or Zombor, the Frankenstein-like receptionist with ghoulish Tourettes (“Zombor will suck your mammal brain through a straw…hold please.”). The best has to be Wombat, a Batman-esque character, who’s appearance on “To Catch A Predator 7” caused corporate to issue a recall of all Tickle-Me-Wombat toys. What he does to poor Tim in issue two, side-kicking him with the name Thrush, is both hysterical and cringe-inducing. And then there’s Were-Guy…

The first issue is all about Tim’s first day on the job, while issue 2 is the surprise birthday party for Zombor, and issue 3 follows the angst associated with the annual Christmas party and secret Santa gift-giving. When the curtain draws on the third issue, the future of SCI is left uncertain as all crime-fighting labor has been outsourced to India.

At first I was put off by the artwork, as it is very cartoony and loose, but after a few pages, it grew on me, turning out to be a style that aids the humor. Ken Marcus writes with sharp wit, never forcing situations or trying too hard to get a chuckle. These characters are all flawed (except Tim) and by simply being themselves afford the fodder for the funny.

This kind of formula has been tried before, notably with Marvel’s Damage Control but without success. This series is far superior and deserves a look by anyone looking for some levity in their comic reading. I cannot put into words how disappointed I am that the series will end after four issues, but I can hope that there will be more to come after this first run.

Highly recommended and I give it an A.

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!

Written & Illustrated by Art Spiegelman

Published by Pantheon

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

A new edition of Art Spiegelman’s 1978 collection of experimental and autobiographical strips, Breakdowns shows comics most famous leading light at his most protozoic stage, while enabling him to contrast that against a wholly new comic-form introduction/autobiography that’s nearly as long itself as the original book. The result is a revelatory book that showcases Spiegelman’s range in way that few readers have ever seen before. Considering that Spiegelman’s Maus has done more than any other comic to legitimize the “graphic novel,” it’s shocking how little of Spiegelman’s adult and experimental work is available to general readership.

The all-new, comic-book introduction, comprising literally one third of this new book – showing that Spiegelman is heavily invested in this volume – is probably the most accessible of the material. In it, Spiegelman reflects on his relationship with his mother, whose suicide inspired the four-page strip “Prisoner on the Hell Planet,” which is part of both Breakdowns and Maus. Seeing “Hell Planet” outside the context of Artie and Vladek’s lives reminds the reader that the strip is ultimately not an artifact of the father and son’s relationship; it’s Spiegelman’s battle to both love and loathe his mother. The introductory strips also allow Spiegelman to reflect on his childhood, relationships with his parents and his peers. He mixes his comic book influences into his childhood narratives, giving artistic nods to Charles Schulz, Basil Wolverton and filmmaker Ken Jacobs, adding depth to his experiences and paying homage to his influences simultaneously. The shadow of Maus, however, casts itself – literally – over Spiegelman when he reflects on his adult life.

The strips from the original Breakdowns are a cornucopia of creativity. I imagine that many readers will not love them all equally, and certainly there were several I could’ve done without. After the original “Maus” short, all three pages of it, and “Hell Planet,” Spiegelman seems to have moved into an experimental phase, during which he played with the form of comics and essayed about the process of storytelling. “Cracking Jokes” is a very effective commentary on the art of telling funnies on a page; “Little Signs of Passion” is an illustrated version of a quote from Jack Woodford’s “Trial and Error, A Key to the Secret of Writing and Selling”; and the intoxicating “Day at the Circuits” uses eight panels to tell an endless (though repetitive) loop of gags.

The oversize pages showcase Spiegelman’s artwork nicely, and though the false original cover on heavy stock makes turning the pages occasionally problematic, the edition does nicely represent the original vision of Breakdowns while allowing room for its creator to expand on the notions he put forth thirty years ago.

Bottom line, look, it’s Art Spiegelman. The man is the #1 reason we have “comics as art” discussions and legitimate critical acceptance. Breakdowns is a challenging and creative performance by one of the art form’s most important creators. You really owe it to yourself, as a comic book fan, to see what he’s capable of creating.

The Book of Boy Trouble: Born to Trouble, Vol 2

Green Candy Press

Edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly

Review by Brian Andersen

The Book of Boy Trouble: Born to Trouble, Vol 2 is a fabulously entertaining anthology series featuring a slew of terrific queer indie - and queer-friendly - comic talent. Many of the amazing contributors featured in this all new, full-color book are the very definition of underground: creators with years and years of cartooning experience who toil away on their own dime for a small, but devoted audience as they self-publish their comics all the while never making enough money to live off these artistic efforts and who will most likely remain unknown to the casual comic book reader. So why do they do it? Why create these stories, why do they pour so much of their heart and soul into something that will probably always remain "indie"?

For the sheer love of comic books. These storytellers love the medium so much they do it for the sheer pleasure of seeing their stories told the way they want to tell them. So it is in this regard that I applaud the two able-bodied editors who care enough to give these underground, unheralded creators their due: Robert Kirby (best known for his indie series "Curbside") and David Kelly (with numerous projects under his belt) who have happily complied in this collection a great array of gay themed stories that range from the everyday, to the fanciful, to the humorous, to the romantic, to the arousing. There is truly something here for everyone.

A few stand-out stories include: the love story/mystery story "Incineration Point", by Andy Hartzell, which is about a boy who survives and thrives in any extreme temperature and his would-be boyfriend, whose body only gets colder and colder the more he matures. This multi-page story is so engrossing that when it stops in such a surprisingly none concluding fashion the reader almost gasps and yells "and then what happened!!" (Oh, and if you haven't read Hartzell's "Fox Bunny Funny" graphic novel then you are sorely missing out! It's nothing short of astounding.) Another beaut of a tale is the painted black & white masterwork "Litany" by Michael Fahy. Fahy's simple pages tell simple prose reveals much more about the author, his life, and his past relationships than any multi-chaptered novel. His pages are the most succinct and nakedly heart-felt. Tim Fish's sweetly cute romantic story, "The Voodoo You Do So Well," is a terrific short story that will leave you smiling, and Jon Macy's amazingly powerful two-page story of an abusive relationship will leave you thinking. It's hard to tell a well rounded, thoughtful, and thought provoking tale in a mere two pages, but somehow Macy's magic shins through and he succeeds admirably. Finally the delightful, "Secrets & Revelations," by Brett Hopkins, is a smartly written and drawn slice-of-life comic that begs to be fleshed out into a full length graphic novel.

Wonderful anthology series like these are proof that the comic medium still has, and will always have, a place in literature. It's these underground creators who work their nine-five jobs and come home to write and draw on their free time that will ensure the future of the medium. No matter how big the boom, or how horrible the bust, of the mainstream comic publishers, people will always create comic books. I celebrate all the creators in "The Book of Boy Trouble: Born to Trouble, Vol 2" for being brave enough to tell their stories their own way with no other agenda and desire than out of sheer love and devotion to comic books. Be sure to pick up The Book of Boy Trouble: Born to Trouble, Vol 2 at your local bookshop or Amazon.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Thor: Truth of History (Marvel Comics, reviewed by Brendan McGuirk) In case the high quality JMS Thor ongoing isn't quite floating your boat, or the Fraction mini's don't quite jibe with your take on the god of thunder, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer offer this timeless tale of old Goldilocks and his good pals the Warriors Three on an excursion to ancient Egypt. The Odinson is garbed in his classic Kirby duds, and has the classic cocksure affectation old school fans know and love. Alan Davis is at his best here, illustrating the Asgardians as the powerful, regal beings they are. His writing is also more than adequet, managing to tell a wholly satisfying story in a single oversized one-shot, and even including the now neglected Stan Lee faux-Shakespearean verbage. In ancient Egypt, our heroes see what can happen when men use the reverence of gods for their own personal gains, and are deeply disturbed. This issue is a decided throwback, and even though the recent editorial decisions regarding Thor have been good ones, increasing both sales and visibility for the character, it is still refreshing to see some classic hammer-tossing.

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #51 (Mirage Publishing; review by Caleb): This issue definitely has nostalgia going for it. As in the classic Cerebus crossover in the original TMNT series, ditzy time-traveling sorceress Renet accidentally strands herself and the turtles in a distant land, where they team up with another indie comics character. This time it’s Gutwallow, a sort of gingerbread man created in 1998 by this issue’s writer/artist, Dan Berger. Helping stroke that nostalgia are all the familiar names from the old Mirage days involved with the issue—in addition to Berger, Michael Dooney, Eric Talbot and Steve Lavigne are all involved in some capacity. The downside of nostalgia is, of course, it’s almost necessarily something you’ve seen before, and Berger’s tale doesn’t exactly feel fresh. The story within the bedtime story involves the turtles encountering a bunch of monsters from Gutwallow’s world—zombies, werewolves, vampires, a dragon—until they reach the end of the comic, at which point the story ends. Berger is a hell of a cartoonist though, and it’s a pleasure drinking in his line work and the highly animated emotion he communicates through his inspired versions of the super-familiar stars.

Moresukine (NBM; by Mike): German cartoonist Dirk Schweiger took “missions” from readers while living in Japan and illustrated the results in his webcomic. The results are collected in Moresukine. As a creative exercise, I can see how this challenge could get Schweiger motivated to explore his new country and work on his comics. As a book, it’s simply not that compelling. Nearly every “challenge” is limited to four pages, and few offer much insight into Schweiger’s experience or the Japanese culture. The extra features, wherein cartoonists Schweiger admires accept a challenge from him, is similarly dashed off, excepting a few entertaining tidbits from America’s James Kochalka and France’s Monsieur Le Chien.

Little Vampire (First Second; by Mike): Joann Sfar’s tale of a young vampire, his human friend Michael and his red ghost-dog Phantomato is hilarious, gross and heart-warming. It’s a perfect comic for young readers and wishfully young readers.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder vol. 1 (DC; by Mike): For all the bellyaching and controversy surrounding this series, I’m a little surprised to find that this is the best superhero comic I’ve read in a long time. It’s bold, the terse, smart-alecky banter between Batman and Robin is excellent, and Miller isn’t afraid to make readers ask themselves questions about the debatable heroism and societal irresponsibility of violent vigilantism. It’s a huge pleasure to see a creator push the characters rather than whipping out the easy fanboy-pleasing nostalgia. But for the comic geek in me: Hal Jordan nearly beaten to death by a twelve-year-old child is flat-out hilarious.

Double-Shot: Hulk #7 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Art Adams has some of the most detailed and original, uh, art I have seen in a long time. We need more of Art Adams please, because he's the rare late 80's early 90's artist who can still bring flavor and excellence to everything he renders. If anything he is probably better than his heyday way back when. This issue of Hulk features the return of the grey hued sassy-pants Joe Fixit! It’s a treat to see old Joe back in the papers of the Hulk, being as cocky and tough as he ever was. We are also treated to a She-Hulk back-up feature starring the new Lady Liberators! Love the opening routine with She-Hulk calling and crossing out a long list of female superheroes she was hoping to join her new team. The art by big-butt aficionado Frank Cho isn't my favorite but at least he doesn't draw the Lady Liberators as waif thin drug addicts in skanky clothes. Although, I could do without the tree-trunk, ultra-veiny thighs he gave She-Hulk. Maybe those buff legs might work for a dude but they ain’t so pretty for the sexy, Jennifer Walters. All in all, with both short stories ending in cliff-hangers, this was a rather enjoyable "Rulk" issue.

She-Hulk # 34 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Funny, exciting, filled-to-bursting with characterization, it just another knock-out of She-Hulk. Scribe Peter David is firing on all comic enhanced cylinders, and ohhh, do I love it! Shulkie gathers together the classic Lady Liberators (see Hulk review) - with author David wisely and quickly addressing the hooky, somewhat sexist name - to bring much needed aid to the survivors of an earthquake ravaged Middle Eastern county. What a fab idea it is to have an all female team of superheroes! Why don't we have more lady teams in comics? Oh, wait, that's right, because the majority of comic readers wouldn't buy it. Bummer! The best part about this issue is that each of the characters has their moment to shin. David knows how to give great throw-away humorous bits to everyone, which helps to make each character more likable and interesting. Considering we have some pretty D-List characters here - namely Thundra and Valkyrie - this is no mean feat. Best line of the issue goes to She-Hulk’s undercover Skrull friend, Jazinda (who has shaped-shifted into a Lillandra looking Shi'ar warrior) who tells the group she meet She-Hilk through an "Interstellar Lesbian Dating Service." Haha! What a super read!

Ms. Marvel #32 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Zzzzzzzzz, wha? Oh, sorry, I fell asleep reading Ms. Marvel #32. Uh, wow, ok, so where was I? Oh, yeah that’s right, suddenly - and without any explanation - we readers find ourselves thrown into the past with a pre-Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers flying a plane into enemy territory, getting shot down and crashing it (of course) and then going through multiple horrific torture scenes. Wait a minute, am I reading Ms. Mavel or the comic version of Saw IV? I don’t much like seeing torture-porn, less so when it’s against women, and especially when the woman being tortured is supposed to be the star of the series. The graphic arm-being-broken-by-a-sledge-hammer scene was just too much. Where is this totally out of the blue story arc even going? And why we aren't following up on the last two plot points from the last two issues, the one with Carol as an undercover super-spy in a sexy dress and the one with her deciding she has to kill Norman Osborn for some reason? Aw, f**k it, I think I'll just go back to sleep pretend this was all a bad dream…zzzzzzzzzz.

Xena, Warrior Princess/Army of Darkness #1 (Dynamite; by Troy): The improbably enjoyable crossover mini gets an improbably enjoyable sequel. The sheer goofiness is the engine of the enterprise. No one here is trying to do Maus; they’re trying to do a screwball episode of Xena, and it turns out to be a good time. Flipping the previous premise (Ash to the Past becomes Xena to the future), the book works by nailing the smart-ass demeanor of Bruce Campbell and not taking a bit of itself seriously. It’s a good comedic time, particularly if you’re into the Raimi-Tapert pantheon.

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