Best Shots: Detective, The Stand, Darkness & More

Best Shots: Detective, The Stand & More

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

The Black Terror #1

JSA Kingdom Come: Superman one-shot

Detective Comics #850

Written by Paul Dini

Art by Dustin Nguyen, Justin Fridolfs, and John Kalizs

Cover by Dustin Nguyen

Edited by Mike Marts

Published by DC

Review by Lan Pitts

"Heart of Hush" concludes in this anniversary double-sized issue, which I cannot suggest enough you go out and buy for yourself. Since the "R.I.P." event started, I've started reading only the main "R.I.P."-related stories from the main two Batman books: "Batman" and "Detective Comics". However, I slowly became less interested in the main story and became entranced by what the Dini/Nguyen team-up was bringing to the table. Dini's story is completely separate from Grant Morrison's, and luckily he managed to take one of the lamest villains in the history of Batman, Hush, and turned him into a formidable adversary for the Batman. Despite the odds, the "Heart of Hush" arc developed into a well thought-out chapter in the life of Bruce Wayne.

The action begins immediately and almost never stops. Even Alfred has a skirmish with Hush before the issue is over, and one last flashback seals Dini's deal on just how demented Dr. Tommy Elliot really is. Dini then took what should have been an obvious story point for any past scribe who tinkered with the Hush character, and played upon the doctor drawn to evil element in Tommy Elliot's life. He's an accomplished surgeon and that should've been a major plot point when he first arrived in Gotham, or even when he was given a second go around. The double sized issue helped out with the story; the flashbacks, the final battle inside the Batcave, everything. Without it, it probably wouldn't be as better in terms of pacing and what Dini provided. In terms of Hush himself, what Dini did here was prove to us that Dr. Thomas Elliot was not a murderer at first, but someone who had reasons. How his mother treated him was enough for me to say "no wonder he hated his family, look at them". Obvious, Elliot's mother was spoiled and sees things right if under her rules and influence. And if Elliot doesn't do at least one or two things right, she does something horrible that wasn't needed like take away his money. No mother does that, and I found myself liking Hush and understanding him, but only from those flashbacks.

With the pencils by Nguyen, inks by Dustin Fridolfs, and colors by John Kalisz this art continues to be a winning combination. Nguyen's costumed heroes and villains have never looked cooler, nor have his women ever looked so beautiful. And, as always, he's equally adept at staging dynamic action and calmer moments both quiet and creepy. Kalisz brings a perfect palette of colors to the mix, and he knows when to let loose and when to hold back. Nothing seems out place, and as I mentioned Dini's pacing before, everything meshes well together. I loved the cameos by Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific and Zatanna. Even though Bruce considers himself a lone ranger, he knows his limits and knows when he needs help.

When writing this review, I tried my best to remain spoiler-free. There's an endearing scene between Bruce and Selina near the end that will please all the hopeless romantics, while still playing entirely true to their relationship and where they both are at this specific point in their lives. It's just beautifully constructed. The ending is almost Shakespearean and the issue had several moments where I found myself either laughing or wanting to jump and down. It's that good. The double-sized format really assisted and gave the proper length for such a worthy conclusion. Also to add: the scene in the Batcave gave several nods to Bat-fans: the good-ole Batboat, "Whirly-Bat", and the Batmobiles from the '40s, Burton era, B:TAS, as well as the "Tumbler".

Heart of Hush ends with something worthy of Hollywood and a Greek drama, and with that, I give you an Aristotle quote that seems quite fitting to the Batman universe: "Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy."

The Stand: Captain Trips #3 of 5

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Art: Mike Perkins

Colors: Laura Martin

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Three issues into the story and I have to say I am quite impressed by how well Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has managed to trim down the exposition of the original book and give the reader a filling experience while allowing Mike Perkins art to relay the emotional weight that the main characters experience throughout the issue. While the spread of Captain Trips is minimized to a one-page acknowledgement in this issue it’s the consequences of individual actions that are given a sharper focus throughout the remainder of the story.

From Frannie Goldsmith to Stu Redman each character introduced thus far is given a moment to progress their individual stories, yet the main thrust of the issue revolves around the introduction of Lloyd Henreid and Andrew “Poke” Freeman. With a deft hand Aguirre-Sacasa expertly excises a lot of exposition from the original book’s introduction of Henreid and Poke and realigns some key beats to better inform the reader while allowing the story to flow smoothly from scene to scene. As this story progresses, I must give credit to Aguirre-Sacasa for allowing the art to be an integral part to the story by limiting needless scenes and shifting others to allow the story to progress in a straightforward manner.

As great as Aguirre-Sacasa’s story adaptation has been, it really is the talents of Mike Perkins that help to make this title stand out. From the very first issue Perkins has delivered some consistent art that utilizes light and shadow to capture the tone of the story and thanks to the subdued colors utilized by the ever talented Laura Martin the effects are even more gratifying. Much like the previous two issues Perkins does get a one page grab’em-by-the-balls moment when a gunfight breaks out early in the story. The scene is not to be missed as it gives new meaning to losing one’s head.

There are so many great scenes strewn throughout the book that it would be hard to imagine any other artists treating this adaptation with the same amount of gravitas that Perkins does. From the emotionally draining scene with Frannie and her mom having words to Stu’s growing fear of his detainment, Perkins expertly captures the emotions and really draws the reader into each moment as they unfold.

The only thing missing from this issue was the spread of Captain Trips. Using the framing device of a virus to enhance the dread of the spreading disease was effective in the first two issues and seemed like it should have been shown at least on the first page of this issue where the virus does infect others.

Having read The Stand multiple times through the years I for one have thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched adaptation as it tells the story in a medium that I enjoy above all others. I highly recommend this title to anyone looking for a well-developed story enhanced by some stunning art.

Batman: Cacophony #1 of 3

Written by Kevin Smith

Pencils by Walter Flanagan

Inks by Sandra Hope

From DC Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Kevin Smith really likes to work with friends. The loyalty he has to his stable of actors, no matter the film, is evidence of that. It has proven to be an effective method of film making, but it is apparently not a great way to make comics.

Smith's latest comic foray, Batman: Cacophony pits the villain he created during his Green Arrow run, Onomatopoeia, against the Dark Knight. Smith pens the miniseries, and longtime homeboy Walter Flanagan provides the pencils. You may know of Flanagan for his kind of famous Mallrats one-liner “tell him, Steve-Dave!” or as the owner of the infamous “Walt Flanagan's dog,” often referred to in Smith's Askewniverse. What you likely don't know is that he sometimes draws some comics. There's sort of a reason for that.

First let's acknowledge what Flanagan does well. His take on the Joker, a major player in this story, takes strong visual cues from the work of both Brian Bolland and Jim Aparo. These are the right influences to have. Rubbery and emotive, with a tinge of sadism, his Joker is consistently the most interesting thing on the page.

But the difference in being able to draw and being able to sequentially tell a story is as vast as being able to run fast and being able to play wide receiver. And you wouldn't sign the fastest guy from your high school to play wideout for the Cowboys.

Flanagan can draw characters. Joker is strong, and Batman looks like Batman. What is missing, though, is the influence Batman should have on the page. The way you make Batman work visually is by composing the page such that he constantly commands the reader's attention. Here, Bats is no more influential than incidental scenery. Oh, and almost no attention is given to scenery. Combined with an over-dependence on photo-stated imagery, this package simply is not ready-for-prime-time.

This is not entirely the fault of the artist. Part of the problem is that A list talent demands pairing with A list talent. Kevin Smith's comics have been drawn by Joe Quesada, Jim Mahfood, Phil Hester, and Terry Dodson. That is lofty company to keep. There is no shame in failing to meet those standards, and this story is not helped by a lackluster script from the famed Hollywood fanboy.

The issue is almost completely devoid of charm. The concept of “Chuckles,” a recreational narcotic culled from Joker's venom, is creative and original. Batman versus Smith's own villain, Onomatopoeia, is an intriguing story prospect. The Joker makes a fun addition as a wild card. That's where it ends. Add Deadshot, Zsasz, and Maxie Zeus to the story and you have a logjam that preempts any depth of storytelling.

When it comes to comics, Kevin Smith's trademark has been fun. This story lacks any semblance of that. The Joker, while well equipped with potty jokes (and some quite risque potty jokes, at that) just isn't funny. Deadshot, playing the Joker's straight man, is steely and bland, (an especially glaring faux pas given Gail Simone's handle of the character in Secret Six). Batman, when he finally shows up, is also out of sorts. I'm sorry, but “Baruch haba, SCUMBAG,” is not a line I can see Batman even thinking. There are no scenes that Bats is at all a commanding presence, and if Batman doesn't have a presence that commands, what does he have, witty banter? Because there's none of that, either.

Look, I hope Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan had a great time making this comic. They are lifelong friends, so successfully convincing DC higher-ups that they deserved the opportunity to collaborate on the coolest character in comics must have been a thrill. I hope they had fun making it, because it just wasn't much fun to read.

My real issue concerning the choice of artist on this project is that comes off as a vanity play, and not a merit-based assignment. It reeks of desperation, with Smith saying “I'll only do this book if you let my boy draw it.” DC agrees, justifying it with a Batman book bearing “Kevin Smith,” on the cover, Smith gets his buddy a dream assignment, and fans get excited. But if Smith is spotting his friend a favor, the impetus is on him to pick up the slack. That doesn't happen. Instead, the product is coarse, uneven, and ultimately lacking. If you're jonesing for some Kevin Smith style fun, go see Zach and Miri Make a Porno.

Sub-Mariner: The Depths #3 of 5

Writer: Peter Milligan

Artist: Esad Ribic

Marvel Comics

Review by: Jeff Marsick

Talk about a book that gets no love. Interpreting my double-blind, placebo-controlled research, I’d have no choice but to come away with the impression that I’m the only person (at least on the East Coast) not just reading, but enjoying this book.

Peter Milligan is writing a book that feels as claustrophobic as the characters must do whilst scouring the depths in their submersible crafts. Dr. Stein’s on the verge of losing his nerve, his resolve, and probably his mind. Is it all a byproduct of the hull-crushing deep and the oxygen deficiency and relative solitary confinement therein, or is the legend of the Sub-Mariner actually more than mere speculation? Six thousand fathoms down, the Mariana Trench station receives the submarine Plato, and Stein and company disembark to find out why communications in the station have gone the way of the dodo. What they find is grisly and mysterious, and when Stein has a private viewing of a Zapruder-type film shot there on location, what image fleets across the final frame is sure to test the limits of his belief in science over fiction.

This issue feels very much like The Thing, that classic movie of horror, and a little bit of The Shining. If there is any criticism it’s deservedly leveled at artist Esad Ribic who has a penchant for drawing characters that look too similar to one another. One must keep in mind the individual proclivities of facial hair fashion in order to tell who’s who in any given scene. However, as a pat on the back, I must give credit to Mr. Ribic’s ability to make the Sub-Mariner’s “appearances” ghostly and eerie. Many times, if we, the reader, didn’t know any better, we could share Stein’s apprehension and believe that yes, something DOES exist way down there.

Fans of flash and bang are going to be disappointed by this series. It’s a cerebral read, and I think fans of classic horror and even noir fiction will get the most enjoyment out of this series. I continue to recommend it to everyone and give it a B+.

The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli, Volume 2

Writer: Jay Piscopo

Artist: Jay Piscopo

Nemo Publishing

Review by: Jeff Marsick

I reviewed and praised Volume 1 a few months back and eagerly awaited Volume 2. Figuring and fearing that the sequel could only disappoint on the fun and adventure established in the pilot, I cracked the cover with a healthy dose of skepticism. Turns out I was completely wrong, as Jay Piscopo throws the dial over to eleven and creates a book that’s even better than the first, “The Empire Strikes Back” as it were, of the series.

It’s a heady read in the beginning, as Mr. Piscopo channels his inner Chris Claremont and lays down a lot of back story about two undersea utopias, Lemuria and Atlantis. Pretty standard Shakespearean fare tempered with some New Gods influence shapes the history, with villains and heroes and Princesses, oh my! It all leads up to the creation of the undersea kingdom of Aquarius, where our titular hero now finds himself, standing beside the enigmatic Commander X, the kingdom’s Lord Protector. Faster than Eli can say “Fraffle!” the kingdom finds itself under attack, and the story hits the hyperdrive button: Commander X goes missing. Eli takes command of Sub Zero to mount a rescue mission. The Sea Searchers are looking for Eli. The World Security Navy, led by Admiral Taw McGraw is trying to find Commander X to bring him to justice. There’s a new villainous Lord Hydro, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with designs to carry on his father’s work of destroying Aquarius. And the Firehawks make their debut! All of this, on our planet, right there in the depths of the Sargasso Sea.

Whew. If it sounds like a smorgasbord of action, think Sizzler on All-You-Can-Eat night (and my quick Cliff Note summary does very little justice. Kind of like describing an aircraft carrier so simply: “It’s really big.”). It does jump from scene to scene, from plot to plot, at times with a dizzying deftness, and it could be argued that Mr. Piscopo tried to cram a maxi-series into a mini-series format. Yet I defy anyone to find one hundred and seven pages of story priced at a penny under a Hamilton that is nearly as satisfying and enjoyable. What really sets the book apart, are the vibrant and vivid illustrations. Pencil work augmented by computer enhancements make every panel leap off the page. The costumes are gaudily cool in the Silver Age tradition, especially the Sea Ghost and Lord Hydro, while the vehicles and vessels are fantastic imaginings of concepts from HG Wells, Victor Appleton, and Robert Heinlein. Where all of this action needs a home, though, is a weekly half-hour spot on the Cartoon Network. This would look absolutely amazing.

While adult readers can certainly enjoy this book, I think it is a wonderful concept for young readers. The artwork, the story, the young main character on an adventure that kids his age couldn’t possibly comprehend, all makes for a magic read. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not implying that the message and the delivery speaks down to a more mature audience, it’s just that in this world of wondering who watches the men who watch, crises de finale, and invasions most secret, such a simple and straightforward book like The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli can be viewed as ‘too unsophisticated’. And as Goethe said, “Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.”

Highly recommended for everyone, I also give it a B+.

The Darkness #7

Writer: Phil Hester

Pencils: Jorge Lucas

Colors: Lee Loughridge

From: Top Cow Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

The current issue of Darkness makes the perfect entry point for any reader curious about the character. While not dwelling on his somewhat complex history and by minimizing the continuity of Jackie Estacado and his relationship with his curse, the Darkness, the story moves at a rather brisk pace with some fun twists and turns.

Interestingly enough for a character who has been defined by his look for most of his existence there is little trace of the Darkness with the exception of a brief flashback that does an excellent job of succinctly capturing the overall effects of Estacado’s curse but not dwelling to long on the explanations making for a more coherent read.

The setting and premise of the story is nothing new to the horror genre; man stumbles on a town with a dark secret, in this case a witch who protects the town in exchange for their dreams, which he must somehow escape. Again not the most original concept but thanks to the fluid writing style of Phil Hester the issue manages to give the well-worn premise a slight spit-shine which allows readers new and old the chance to get a clear idea of who the main character is and the curse he carries with him, while still telling an entertaining story. Hester also adds a new layer to Estacado’s life in the form of a potential sidekick in the vein of Batman’s Robin.

The art is provided by the ever talented Jorge Lucas who utilizes a somewhat gritty style while still maintaining the believability of the characters. Even the witch who vexes our hero is rendered with a great amount of skill that her interaction with Estacado comes across as believable. Lucas’ art has a Severin-type feel to it throughout the story and that perception is enhanced by the story’s setting which has a western feel. The final moments of the issue are captured well and perfectly evoke the surreal nature of the story.

With a solid script and some well-paced art, it seems Top Cow is really moving the Darkness in a unique direction. Whether or not this change catches on still remains to be seen, but the overall effectiveness of this issue is a positive step toward their goal.

Usagi Yojimbo vol. 22: Tomoe’s Story

Written & Illustrated by Stan Sakai

Published by Dark Horse

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The ronin rabbit’s staunchest ally, Tomoe Ame, gets the spotlight in this selection of stories from issues 1-3 of Usagi Yojimbo Color Special from 1989-90 (way back from the when Fantagraphics published the series; one of the tales, the title story, is completely redrawn in this book) and Usagi Yojimbo 90-93 of the current Dark Horse series. Fortunately, Usagi’s closeness to Tomoe keeps our hero right in the center of all the action as well.

The title story fills in Tomoe’s background, explaining how she became the top retainer and advisor to Lord Noriyuki, benevolent ruler of the Geishu province. The other stories from the Fantagraphics run pit Usagi and Tomoe against various supernatural foes drawn from Japanese folklore, enabling Stan Sakai to show off his great character designs and the peerless research done for this series. Impressively, although the stories were originally drawn for color comics, the black and white reproduction in this book still look terrific.

The more recent batch of stories from Sakai’s current and ongoing Usagi series are set up to show different aspects of each Usagi and Tomoe. An assassin’s attack on dignitaries in the Geishu territory forces Usagi and Tomoe to save face for Noriyuki, while forcing Usagi to prove his own loyalty. Usagi later finds himself caught in a game of one’s-upmanship between Tomoe and another of Usagi’s occasional allies, light-fingered, spirited Kistune. Sakai plays the two ladies off one another to great comedic affect, allowing each to one up the other in her own distinct manner.

Finally, a Sakai classic, is “Chanoyu,” Sakai’s re-creation of a classic feudal tea ceremony. Nearly wordless, the story shows the beauty of Japanese culture, the depth of Sakai’s research, and the bond between our heroes Usagi and Tomoe.

As with the previous twenty-one Usagi books, the cartooning is peerless, with excellent layouts, full backgrounds, and tremendous pacing and layouts that enforce the drama of the moment or allow room for the humor of a sequence. The battles remain poetic, and the humor light and natural. Even extended silent sequences come across clearly and powerfully, thanks to Sakai’s ability to capture subtleties in the characters’ body language and faces. His strong grasp of his characters’ personalities enables him to play them off circumstances and each other in ways that surprise readers, even twenty years after the series began.

If I could only follow one comic book series, I’d read Usagi Yojimbo. The series is the work of a master, a full-bodied depiction of a beautiful and remarkable society, with a deep, moving understanding of the samurai way of life. It’s continually surprising and inventive, and each supporting character is capable of carrying a series unto him or herself, which allows Sakai to explore the corners of the world he’s created without Usagi. Twenty-two collected editions of Usagi later, it continues to delight and thrill, doing so with class and humor. It’s simply my favorite comic book series going.

Tales of the TMNT #52

By Ryan Brown, Steve Murphy, Dario Brizuela

From: Mirage Studios

Review by David Pepose

By the end of the first page of Tales of the TMNT #52, I was hooked. The high concept—Ninja Turtles meet the Wild West—could have fallen flat on its face. Instead, the script, written by the tag team of Murphy, Brown, and seminal scribe Laird, nails the cowboy southern patois while offsetting the page with the lone image of a gunslinging Ninja Turtle drawn by Michael Dooney.

And that’s just the first page.

If you know your history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you know that their off-kilter foundations have made them a magnet for teaming up with other quirky underground characters, including Cerebrus, Flaming Carrot, and Usagi Yojimbo. This story is no different, with the Heroes in a Half-Shell crossing paths with the C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa. Yet the weirdness of this conceit is lightly exploited to move the story forward—as Murphy and company state, “he loves to overturn cliché.” Yet when one of these cowboys is possessed by an Utrom—brain-like creatures such as the ‘90s TMNT villain Krang—it’s clear that New York’s finest amphibians will go back to the 1880s and rise to the challenge.

One of the strengths of beginning of the story’s execution is based on characterization. The interplay between Raphael and Casey Jones is especially amusing: when Raph brings some fast food to Donatello and Glruin, their Utrom scientist companion, he immediately shouts, “Yo. You can quit playing with each other’s test tubes now.” Casey, meanwhile, has more of a neurotic skittishness—his first words upon meeting the C.O.W. Boys is to turn to the gluttonous Raph and say, “est-bay itch-day ee-thay urger-bay.” To which I say: Raphael, never change.

While the frontispiece has a dry, edgy style, the rest of the art chores are in a much more cartoony vein, drawn by Dario Brizuela and Ryan Brown. That said, despite my usual distaste for that sort of style, Brizuela and Brown really draw out the emotional potential (as well as the cute factor) with their art, which makes up for a somewhat static set of images during the fight sequences. In addition, they should be applauded for their use of panel composition, which never feels cramped despite a number of six- and seven-panel pages.

However, don’t start handing out Eisners just yet. This issue does have its flaws, first on moral grounds: how can you only use two out of the four Turtles?! The brothers work best as a whole, and this story in particular has little interaction between Don and Raph—in this way, as a new reader, the book just feels incomplete.

But that can be argued as nostalgia talking: the main problem with the issue lies primarily in terms of its plotting—while the Turtles/C.O.W. Boys concept works organically, the Turtles themselves feel arbitrary. For example, when the teams meet up, besides the initial joking, the Turtles themselves take a backseat—Glruin initiates the trip to the past, and he introduces the Macguffin and explains its importance. Meanwhile, the C.O.W. Boys initiate every else, including the final battle with the Utromi Preservi hordes, leaving the Turtles to become ciphers in their own book, simply whacking enemies and making “udderly” terrible puns. This hurts, especially when the C.O.W. Boys seem to be lacking in the sort of personality that Raph and Casey had—unfortunately, stoicism is a quality that only works with lone heroes, and having a team full of stoics quickly brings down the energy of the book.

Finally, the last problem of the book is for new readers: while the book is user-friendly at the beginning, the story suddenly makes a 180-degree turn around Page 22, where we are suddenly thrown face-first into weird continuity, with good aliens, bad aliens, and ugly aliens—but still aliens which had no prior set-up in this issue. Meanwhile, the Macguffin suddenly becomes a plot point to be used in later issues: however, this approach is likely to alienate new readers, as my eyes glazed over during the explanation of why exactly this box…thing… was really important.

In short, this isn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination—sadly, the promise of the first few pages is largely dissipated by the issue’s end. While the humor and early characterization of Tales of the TMNT #52 is 100% Grade-A Quality, I feel this is a concept that could have been further milked for a solid storyline.

The Comic Art of Frank Frazetta

From: Underwood Books

Edited by: Edward Mason

Reviewed by Tim Janson

Like a lot of people, my first exposure to Frank Frazetta’s art was through his covera art for the old Ace paperback Conan books of the 1970s. After that I then found he had done numerous covers for Warren Publishing’s magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. But a lot of people may not know that before he became a legend as an illustrator, Frazetta spent most of the 1950s as a comic artist. He was associated, of course, with EC Comics, that long-defunct yet supremely influential comics publisher. But Frazetta worked on all manner of comics including adventure, romance, and even funny animal comics.

The Comic Art of Frank Frazetta from Underwood Books is a gorgeous hardcover book that celebrates Frazetta’s comic work. Editor Edward Mason relates Frazetta’s history in the comics field including his years at EX and Warren but also examines much lesser known work as well, reprinting in full several of his stories. Frazetta got his start in the field in 1946 working for Fiction House, a publisher of both comics and pulp magazines. They published A variety of different comic books but perhaps their best known title was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Frazetta would even work as an assistant to Al Capp on the long running Lil’ Abner newspaper strip.

Incredibly, DC comics thought that Frazetta’s style was too “old-fashioned” when Frazetta sought work from them in the early 1960’s. It’s pretty amazing that a company that would regularly give loads of work to people like Wayne Boring, Mike Sekowski, and Bernard Sachs could not find a spot for Frazetta but DC had a certain production look that they had developed in the 1950’s and they were not going to budge.

This book contains several fully reprinted and restored comics stories by Frazetta. The first up is one of Frazetta’s own creations, Thun’Da, which was published by Magazine Enterprises, A comic company in business from 1943 to 1958. Thun’Da, King of the Congo, was heavily influenced by Tarzan although the Lost Lands setting was similar to Ka-Zar’s Savage Land featuring dinosaurs, mammoths, and other pre-historic beasts. It’s enormously interesting to see Frazetta’s art in comic format; to see how he paces a story and lays out the action. Even in those of restrictive panel confinements you can see just how much his sense of style was so far ahead of many other artists of the time.

If you really want to see something different then you have to see Frazetta’s work on Romance comics such as “Too Late for Love” or “The Wrong Road” from 1953. Here Frazetta must do without half-naked barbarian heroes in favor of a contemporary setting.

Characters such as Thun’Da, Captain Comet, and Judy of the Jungle may have been lost to time but Frazetta has gone on to become a mythical figure in the history of comic art and illustration. This is a simply gorgeous book! It comes with a sturdy slipcase and would make a great gift for the holidays

In Case You Missed It . . .

Broken Trinity #3

From: Top Cow

Writer: Ron Marz

Artists: Stjepan Sejic, Phil Hester

Review by David Pepose

I usually hate “that guy” – the guy who only reads the third part of a trilogy and then rags on it. But after reading the third part of Top Cow’s Broken Trinity, I feel there is at least some merit to this approach. After all, this is a story that was so close to being truly epic, but ultimately lacked the substance to hook readers in.

As the best editors in comics say, “every issue is someone’s first.” That said, Broken Trinity is already moving at a million miles an hour by the first page turn, which a double-page spread of the battle between the bearer of the Witchblade, Sara Pezzini, the Darkness’ alter-ego Jackie Estacado, and Estacado’s arch-nemesis, the Angelus. The plot of the issue? These three superpowers—along with a bevy of other superfolk—go head-to-head, with a not-too-terribly-surprising death at the end.

Unfortunately for those new to the Top Cow “Moo-niverse,” the story runs the risk of losing the reader—while Ron Marz’s script has decent structure, without a firm expositional foundation, the characters we’re supposed to root for are subsumed by dull violence. One full page, for example, employs a Kabalistic chart of the forces in play, such as the Witchblade, the Darkness, the Ember Stone, and the Glacier Stone. However, they are represented by abstract symbols, which made me wonder if I had missed a character, if I had miscounted, or if there were simply other protagonists (I almost wrote “fighters,” as if this were a Mortal Kombat game) who were being set up for later. Unfortunately, if the writing makes a reader stop to ask a question that you didn’t set up, something needs to be changed.

Another issue of the script is that of character. The Old Man—his name is not revealed in this issue, but if it is in another one, that would be one more strike against new readers—is the driving force of the subplot, but feels more like a plot device to drop exposition about the trinity’s relevance. Unfortunately, the main characters—Sara Pezzini and Jackie Estacado—have few “human” moments to give them connections to the reader—as I wrote before, it feels a lot like a video game.

Furthermore, at least based on this issue, it is unclear who the protagonist of the story is: is it Sara, who is protecting a weakened Jackie? Is it Jackie, trying to get his power back? Is it the Angelus, trying to gain supremacy? Even dual-character books like DC’s Superman/Batman have that unique story spine that compares and contrasts its lead protagonists—but since none of the characters have any set-up, if I hadn’t read the solicitations, I’m not sure I’d know exactly who the Trinity was. The real scene-stealer was the character of Finn, whose sense of humor in the face of hideous transformation echoes that of a certain ever-lovin’, blue eyed member of the Fantastic Four.

The artwork, by Stjefan Sejic and Phil Hester, is one of the more interesting parts of the book. If Hester hadn’t been credited on the book, I would not have believed he was involved—this artwork seems far more realistic than any work I have seen of his before. The Sejic-Hester partnership works well on several levels, especially that of color—where it doesn’t work, however, is during scenes with motion. Unfortunately, given that this issue is more or less a fight scene, some of the art does come off as static. Moreover, one scene with Detective Gleason momentarily drew me out of the book, as I had initially thought he was Jackie Estacado. Perhaps this is where the video game analogy popped up: much of the art is reminiscent of the cut scenes from Blizzard, the company behind Warcraft and Starcraft.

In short, was this a knock-down, drag-out brawl between the three major powers of the Top Cow lineup? Absolutely. Will it signal a new era for the Top Cow brand? Perhaps. But a little bit of character build-up can hit harder than any punch, and without that means of connection, the would-be heavy-hitter Broken Trinity comes off as a little bit lightweight.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Spirit Archives vol. 24 (DC; by Mike): Though I still fully and totally recommend The Spirit to readers, this final volume of the weekly Spirit Sunday sections is not where I’d encourage anybody to start. It’s exceedingly clear through the first six months of strips here that Eisner had moved on to other ventures, leaving his assistants in charge of the asylum, and though able storytellers, few of the assistants had Eisner’s ambition or talent. Fortunately, for readers who’ve stuck by the series through the past twenty-four volumes, the last couple months do bring the series back to a crescendo, with Jules Feiffer taking on the bulk of the scripting and the brilliant Wally Wood seizing full art chores for the classic and gorgeous “Spirit in Space” continuity. The Spirit voyaging to the moon seems out of left field, but it’s a fitting ending for a strip predicated on breaking new creative ground, rather than treading safely explored territory.

Booster Gold #14 (DC Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): This book is about as fun as comics get. Booster Gold is the book where every character can appear, every era of DC history is available as a backdrop, and even the unfunny parts are probably intentional, thus funny. It is to the credit of the editorial team that this book hasn't missed a step since the departure of Jeff Katz and Geoff Johns. Rick Remender makes the case that he should be the new ongoing wordsmith with this issue, balancing the zany oddball aspects with this book with the subtly serious ongoing threads left by the original writing team. Even when Booster is doing well as a hero, he is still helplessly clueless. Pat Olliffe and Jerry Ordway sub for Dan Jurgens, and come up big. Olliffe in particular seems to elevate his work, varying line of sight perspective much more than usual. In short, Starros, freeze guns, and mystery time-babes all add up to one satisfying comic.

Amazing Spider-man #577 (Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): This Spider-man/ Punisher team-up issue is a blueprint on how to do a successful done-in-one story for an ongoing book. Paolo Rivera has been somewhat out of the mainstream readership's eye for the last few years completing the massively ambitious Mythos hardcover of Marvel origins, and trades in his painter's brush for pen and ink. His Spider-man is small-eyed and strongly echoes Silver age takes on the character, and his Punisher has a pronounced brow line and ornery. The result is a look that is classically modern. Zeb Wells channels Garth Ennis' Frank Castle, and his script accentuates the contrast of these characters present. This issue allows you to forget what the series isn't, and enjoy what it is; a showcase book for top tier talent on a top-tier character.

Action Comics #871 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): It's a shame that Gary Frank is not making much of a contribution to "New Krypton," but DC at least does right by the reader by getting a quality fill-in for this accessible issue. Pete Woods is always welcome to a Superman book as far as I'm concerned, but it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if he was accompanied by a decent inker. Woods tackles Geoff Johns dense script well enough, only it's a little rough around the edges. This latest chapter covers more ground than the breezy previous one in Superman, and that's a good thing. General Lane is throwing a lot against the wall to undermine this Kryptonian occupation as we find out early on how exactly Doomsday has entered the scene, and Lex finds out the hard way that his involvement is purely at the pleasure of the general. I will say this: if Lois ever finds out what's going on, she's gonna freak. Speaking of generals, some Zod loyalists get the bright idea to free their superior from the Phantom Zone and they're held up by a mysterious new dynamic duo. Just who are this new Flamebird and Nightwing? I'm certainly tuning in to find out.

Double-Shot Pellet: Action Comics #871 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Richard): It has been a long time since I have enjoyed reading the adventures of Superman that it seems almost a shame that series writer Geoff Johns has decided to take the title on a course that makes it feel like the DCU is suffering from some sort of secret invasion. Let’s go down the “You know you are in a secret invasion when …” checklist: aliens can easily pass as human with powers far-greater than a normal man; the government hires the biggest non-powered bad guy (who happens to own a green and purple battle-suit that flies) to help save the country, nay the world; the bad guy that got the ball rolling on this invasion is green; the use of the tag line “nothing will ever be the same again” or some other variation. I really appreciate the fact that DC wants to have the Superman family of titles maintain a consistency, but the fact that I have to buy Supergirl to get the next chapter of this story rubs me the wrong way. I have no fondness for the character and the story of New Krypton, while an interesting concept, does not pull me in as a reader enough to encourage me to try the title out. The fact that I trust Johns as a writer does not mean I trust others to tell an entertaining story, even if it is based on his ideas, about characters I don’t care about – which includes every Kryptonian from Kandor.

The Lone Ranger #15 (Dynamite Comics, Reviewed by Richard): Even though the reveal of the serial killer was a bit predictable I enjoyed how Brett Matthews sprinkled the previous issues with some very well thought out clues that allowed the reader to be a part of the investigation. Once the killer is revealed, it is to Matthew credit that he refrains from allowing a force of good like the Lone Ranger to be corrupted by a Punisher-style mentality. By allowing the Lone Ranger to rise above the darkness Matthew clearly defines what type of hero the Lone Ranger really is and his impact on others as he continues to spread hope through the old west. Sergio Cariello continues to improve on his artwork from issue to issue and his use of close-ups during the Ranger’s confrontation with the killer really helped to sell the scene and keep the reader focused on the story. Matthews and Cariello have done an incredible job of creating a world of desperation that has finally found its silver lining.

Titans #7 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): I don't get it. I don't know how it's possible to take a group of heroes like the formerly-Teen Titans, and make them suck so bloody much. Not only did Judd Winick gut the current Teen Titans book in order to create this abomination, but he managed to wipe out every bit of character development that Johns, et al. put into the heroes. If you read DCU: Decisions (and God help you if you did), then you know that Jericho is evil again. And he's not in the body of Match anymore. Titans #7 explains how he left Match's body, but not why he's evil. Doesn't seem to matter. He's bad just because Judd needed a villain for Decisions. That's it. Winick crapped on Johns' efforts at bringing the character back just because he couldn't think of anyone else to turn evil. This series has been terrible from issue 1, and #7 is no different.

Nightwing #150 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): Often you'll see that a book gets canceled and the last remaining issues limp off feebly into the sunset. Not the case here. If this milestone 150th issue of Nightwing is any indication, this series is going to finish strong. In the conclusion of "The Great Leap," Dick Grayson goes all out against a revenge-minded Harvey Dent, and thousands of lives hang in the balance. Throughout this issue, there's many an indication that Dick seems ready for a possible promotion, and I'm not all that against the idea. I'm curious to see where this goes, especially since Dick's always had a less dire worldview than his mentor ("Life's a carnival, Barbara, believe it or not."). And writer Peter Tomasi does an amazing job portraying Two-Face as a legitimate arch-nemesis for Nightwing, not just a villain on loan from Batman. The two's final showdown is a white knuckle thriller, and it's all brought home by the excellent art of Don Kramer (with tidy ink assists by Jay Leisten & Rodney Ramos). The veteran showman in Dick rears his head here in that you always leave an audience wanting more, and Nightwing succeeds in that regard.

Anna Mercury #4 (Avatar; review by Troy): I really enjoy the get-up-and-go of Warren Ellis’s Avatar books. They all move. Artist Fecundo Percio is a terrific collaborative partner for Ellis here; he offers richly detail when needed and streamlined action when necessary. This issue spends a bit more time on exposition, and for that reason, is actually a decent entry point. However, once that’s over, it’s back to the rocket-ride of action that the book’s been since its start. Anna Mercury is a great high-concept, high-adrenaline comic.

The Walking Dead #54 (Image; review by Troy): The first phase of the “Post-Prison Reset” concludes, and Kirkman and company are still managing to find new directions. I don’t buy that our new science guy actually has the complete answer to the plague, but the new characters certainly provide impetus to push the story down fresh avenues. With Rick’s speech to Carl, I wonder if Kirkman is preparing us for his long-term protagonist’s demise. Certainly, the past several issues could be Carl’s inauguration into the world of self-sufficiency. At any rate, the art is still great and the story is still involving after many status quo shake-ups. I expect this book to thrive for quite some time.

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