Best Shots: Captain Britain, Secret Six, Punisher & More

Best Shots: Captain Britain, & More

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

Final Crisis #5

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1

Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #1

All right, then . . .

Captain Britain and MI 13 #8

Writer: Paul Cornell

Artist: Leonard Kirk

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

One of the best superhero comic books on the stands has to be Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk’s Captain Britain and MI 13. Pulling together a variety of story threads complimented by some well-rendered art, Cornell and Kirk rewards faithful readers with yet another compelling story that utilizes elements of the greater Marvel Universe while being a completely unique take on a team of superhuman beings.

Case in point – issue #8. Not only does Cornell make Blade work within the context of his story, he also manages to make Blade, and I hate using this word, but it’s the only one that fits, cool. For only having been in three issues of this title, Blade has really experienced some great characterization in a handful of pages. Throughout this issue, Cornell builds a cohesive story out of myriad threads; it’s really quite satisfying.

Just to catch people up, back during Secret Invasion, Pete Wisdom helped rid England of all Skrulls by basically making a deal with some very evil supernatural creatures. Enter Plokta, a duke of hell and maker of the Mindless Ones, who intends to turn earth into his next factory. This is just one of the many new spins on old ideas that Cornell brings to this title. From the Black Knight realizing his bloodlust may not be a side-effect of his “ebony” blade, to Spitfire learning how to be a vampire from Blade, Cornell packs a lot of story into this issue.

Adding to the overall quality of the story is the stellar art provided by Leonard Kirk, who once again brings a sense of realism to a supernatural scenario. His rendering of Spitfire “repairing” herself was a perfect visual as he easily adds a touch of humanity to her character. By balancing the real and the supernatural elements throughout the issue, Kirk also does a good job of keeping a consistent looks for the characters and creatures. Jesse Delperdang provides some solid inks. The coloring by Brian Reber comes across as a bit inconsistent, but he does put in a solid effort.

Captain Britain and MI 13 continues to be a gem among the myriad of team books that seem to forget what heroes are supposed to be doing. This issue is yet another solid effort from a team that should be getting a lot more attention.

Secret Six #4

Secret Six #4 of 6

Writer: Gail Simone

Artist: Nicola Scott

From: DC Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

This is one of those titles that’s just fun for all the wrong reasons. There is nothing redeeming about the storyline. The protagonists are not on a mission of good but rather a mission of greed. There is no reason to root for the Secret Six. Yet, in spite of it all, by the end of this issue I felt myself rooting for the bad guys. Taking great pains to ensure her story does not devolve into a series of pratfalls, writer Gail Simone presents a refreshing take on the super-villain team concept by dwelling in the basement of dark humor and allowing the story to flow in a somewhat natural progression, even if the Lando-like betray was a bit obvious.

The best aspect of this title remains the trust that has been built-up between the team members and how they manage to co-exist. With this issue though, Simone starts to test those bonds of trust when the group discovers the truth about Neron’s card and its potential ramifications. Throughout the issue, Simone gives each member of the group a unique personality and utilizes otherwise seemingly irredeemable characters with good effect. Bane is by far the most interesting character of the title as his sense of honor and justice create an interesting dynamic to his new status within the DCU. Junior, the main antagonist, continues to be a scary creature and the nature of his desire for the card is revealed with gruesome effect. Simone excels at characterization; even her secondary characters, like Tig and Aaron (Junior’s helpers), have unique personalities that are expanded upon as the story continues.

On the art side, Nicola Scott provides a consistent look from page to page while displaying a wide range of emotions from her characters. Scandal’s brief talk with Knockout was a particularly effective scene. Scott really brings about a longing in Scandal that adds further dimension to her character. There are a variety of elements at play throughout this issue and Scott handles each in an effective manner. Simone, for her part, never tries to reform her characters, but she does make them interesting.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1

From: Marvel

Script: Eric Shanower

Based on: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L.. Frank Baum

Art: Skott Young

Letters: Jeff Eckleberry

Review by Lan Pitts

By now you should be familiar with the story of Dorothy Gale, the young girl from Kansas that is whisked away to the magical land of Oz where she encounters Munchkins, Good Witches, Wicked Witches, a tin man, a scarecrow, lions and tigers and bears... Sorry. I got a little carried away there, but you get the gist. Unlike MGM's legendary film, this mini-series is a more faithful adaption of the actual "Oz" lore, created by L. Frank Baum.

The issue is written by "Oz" enthusiast Eric Showaner and calling him a fan of the world of Oz is an understatement. His first major published works were the OZ graphic novels, which were released by First Comics and Dark Horse between 1986-1992. He has also written and illustrated a full-length "Oz" novel, "The Giant Garden of Oz," and a collection of short Oz stories, "The Salt Sorcerer of Oz". Like I mentioned, the man knows his stuff.

The art is by Skott Young, and it's exactly what this book needs. It is kid-friendly, cute, cartoony and I am an adamant supporter for comics aimed for a younger audience. The time line of this first issue (the book is a nine issue mini-series) spans from right before the twister that takes Dorothy to Oz up to right after she meets the Scarecrow.

Those of you who are only familiar with the Judy Garland version, should really try to pick this up. If not for yourself, then perhaps for a young reader in the household. He or she won't be disappointed, but possibly a little confused since the movie has a lot of differences. It's nice to see the original novel getting the comic treatment.

Booster Gold #15

Booster Gold #15

From: DC

Writer: Dan Jurgens

Art: Jurgens and Norm Rapmund

Review by Mike Mullins

In one brief panel, the canvas for Booster Gold stories is enlarged in a manner that I hope Dan Jurgens follows through on in future arcs. That panel has Skeets stating, “Not an alternative timeline. Our timeline, though altered. The difference is vast.” Does the DC universe have both timeline alteration and alternative timelines? I didn’t think so with the reinstitution of the multiverse, but I would love to see the difference between these two concepts explored by Booster, Rip, Michelle, and Skeets.

Then the comic loses me and Booster falls out of character when he tells his own sister, recently rescued from her death, “Michelle I am beginning to think Rip made a big mistake when he rescued you.” Sure, I see the sibling rivalry that leads to the debate of whose fault it is, but for someone like Booster to virtually wish his sister dead after losing Blue Beetle for the second time and given his absolute joy at being reunited with her, this seemed out of place.

The remainder of the issue is very well orchestrated. The interaction between Michael and Ralph (Elongated Man) has the typical hero versus hero fight, but Ralph’s rapid deduction that Michael isn’t the enemy is a nice nod to Ralph’s astute detective skills. The team up between the characters and the relevance of their conversation in light of Identity Crisis and 52 is touching.

Punisher War Zone #1

Punisher: War Zone #1

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Steve Dillon

From Marvel Knights

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Milk and cereal. Peanut butter and jelly. Meat and potatoes. Ennis and Dillon. Some things just fit.

Garth Ennis recently finished his seminal Punisher MAX series, where he explored the darkest shadows of humanity's worst, and pushed Frank Castle just about as far to the extreme as any licensed comic character has ever been allowed. It was gutsy, it was gory, and it was grand. But it is the Marvel Knights miniseries, Punisher: War Zone, that proves to be the writer's real swan song.

It was eight years ago that the creative team behind Vertigo's impeccable Preacher series was commissioned to bring Frank Castle back from the dead, both in the Marvel universe and the real one. After a series of editorial missteps, somebody had to remember what made Frank so f'ing cool. Welcome Back, Frank brought readers the Russian, a trio of distinctly motivated Punisher- wannabes, and the most notorious mafia family ever to be punished, the Gnuccis. It was a glorious celebration of the messed up sh-- that made Punisher cool.

Garth Ennis would go on to a long run on the MAX series, which would delve even deeper into the character's brutality, and that of the world around him, but what I always found most compelling about the original Marvel Knights series was how it was tempered within the limitations of an acceptable Marvel comic. Playing within the contextual parameters, remaining consistent with the understood limitations of a Marvel story, (and with the occasional team up), all solidified the starkness of the contrast between the clean, light-spirited Marvel books and the furious, often hilarious brutality doled out by the Punisher.

Punisher: War Zone #1 is as fun as a comic book can be. It opens the same old toy chest the creative team left behind, with former Punisher Task Force-er Lt. Molly Von Richtofen, an unlikely resurrection of the Elite, and the Gnucci family all simultaneously reemerging in Frank Castle's life. The new war, it seems, is the same as the old war.

Some things shouldn't be revisited. Some things should. Steve Dillon and Garth Ennis prove that they can still tell a mean story- equal parts horrifying and hysterical. War Zone is not simply a rehash, lazily tidying up old plot threads; it is a new challenge to the character. The Punisher finds himself in a rare situation a job was left, uncharacteristically, unfinished. Of course, Ellis and Dillon have already proved once that the Punisher can't be kept dead, so why should he expect anyone else would?

Green Lantern: Secret Origin

Green Lantern: Secret Origin

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis

From DC Comics

Collecting issues #29-35

The origin is the quintessential superhero story. Done right, it shows explicitly what makes that hero tick internally, as well illustrates just what makes that hero cooler than the rest. The modern superhero film has co-opted the origin in many ways, diminishing it to merely a first act. It has compromised the independent merit of the man-into-superman story, that which is meant to define the character.

Geoff Johns has single-handedly re-forged the Green Lantern mythology. He rechristened Hal Jordan as the greatest of the Green Lantern Corps, and brought a crystal clear vision to what drives the Corps, as well as the Guardians that preside over them. The heart of this new mythos is the emotional color spectrum that is explained as the a power source for all sentries of the cosmos. Green represents willpower, which drives all GLs. Yellow is fear, the natural adversary of willpower. The other emotions and associated “power” colors make up the many enemies of the Green Lanterns.

Secret Origin is the latest installment of the now age-old comic tradition of taking a classic origin story and retooling it for a new generation. In this story Geoff Johns weaves his modern reimagining of the Lanterns. It is deliberately paced, giving weight and depth to the history of Hal as a young man. As in almost all his work, Johns focuses on family, and how familial relationships shapes us. We see where Jordan's hotshot, sometimes anti-authoritarian nature arises from, and even how and what motivates him to reconcile that nature. We get a nuanced portrayal triangle mentor relationship of Jordan, Sinestro, and the Lantern Jordan replaced, Abin Sur. We see the seeds that will later grow into the battles of Jordan's life, including Sinestro but also Black Hand, Hector Hammond, Star Sapphire, and the latest threat, Red Lantern Atrocitus.

The real fun of a “Year One” story is in knowing where it is all headed. The readers know which early matters will be thorns in the hero's side, and which will be ever present demons. This effect is heightened by the epistolic narrative, with Jordan actively reflecting on his formative years.

The beauty of Johns' work with this character is not merely that he lays out such strong groundwork from which to explore the character. The genius of it is that each thread pays off so satisfyingly. Rebirth promised Sinestro's revenge. The Sinestro Corps War kept that promise, and foretold of the upcoming Blackest Night. Secret Origin is something different, though, as it fulfills the promise of the Green Lantern character himself.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Detective Comics #851 (DC Comics; review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow): I have to say that if Nightwing (Dick Grayson) is due for a promotion, the publisher's done a hell of a job driving that point home on a week that seemed devoted to the character (see Nightwing #151, out now). On paper, this issue features an exemplary creative team in the legendary Denny O'Neill and a revelation in artist Guillem March, but the story's impact pales in light of recent events found in this very title, Batman, and the star of "Last Days of Gotham, Part 1," Nightwing, in his own book. The book opens with a flashback to "Cataclysm" from a decade ago, and the relevance of that happened to be lost of this reader who never read those books, nor "No Man's Land." That in and of itself didn't prevent me from enjoying the story, but Two-Face is heavily involved and it almost cheapens what I felt was a classic battle of wills recently between Harvey Dent and Dick Grayson in the latter's regular title. As for this Millicent Mayne (interesting how familiar the last name is if the "M" is turned upside down, and March never fails to render her absolutely stunning), I hope O'Neill has something more captivating laid out for Part 2 with Ms. Mayne, because her role in this first part seems to lack a point other than a pretty face and ethereal narration. "The Face of Gotham" comes up on multiple occasions, so one wonders if it'll address the obvious need for a new city guardian, what with Bruce Wayne being quite absent. The drop-off is notable in Detective Comics in light of how excellent it's been over the last couple of years, but knowing that this is a brief 2-issue respite in anticipation of some major changes in this corner of the DC Universe, so I can cope.

Final Crisis #5 [of 7] (DC Comics; review by O.J.): Rarely, if ever, would I suggest that Grant Morrison should take a lesson from Geoff Johns (and vice versa, for that matter), but on this one occasion, Grant may want to borrow a move from Johns when it comes to That Last Page. As interesting as this creation may be, it's not enough to garner a "Oh, snap!" when you wonder aloud who someone is or what it means in a big cataclysmic epic. Kal-L, yes. Barry Allen, yes. MC Rubix Cube for the PlayStation3 that we got here? Not so much. Am I to understand it's an updated Monitor? Narrative rant notwithstanding, I rather enjoyed this issue. The opening sequence is riveting, thanks to Morrison and artist Carlos Pacheco (I keep thinking the guy should've had this assignment from the word "Go"). The earthbound faction of the Green Lantern Corps looks way ready to take names and then some. Since battle lines have officially been drawn, and The Big Bad has finally awakened in full ready to make Earth his own personal Fith World, there seems to be more payoff in terms of clarity and purpose by the good guys and not so good. Scenes featuring the remaining keepers of the Shazam magic are exciting, and the pop-a-wheelie first appearance of Morrison's Mahnke what makes comics fun. It's been anything but a smooth ride, and some beyond astounding things will have to happen in Final Crisis #s 6 and 7 for me to rule this a bona fide success, but I've asked the proverbial driver to take the car a few more blocks down the road when only a few weeks ago I asked them to stop the car to let me out.

Action Comics #872 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): If nothing else, Part 7 of "New Krypton" succeeds for two reasons. One, some delightfully vintage characters have been dusted off in classic Geoff Johns fashion: the Creature Commandos, now made relevant for the 21st century thanks to being exiled into outer space when they no longer properly served their military only to be taken in by Brainiac; Ultra the Multi-Alien (not too surprising after the planet of his metahuman origins was featured a few issues ago); and Reactron, a villain seen over 25 years ago in Supergirl stories, now a gold kryptonite-fueled counterpart to Metallo, and bad-ass to boot. Two, Johns & Co. don't necessarily give redemption to Superman's Aunt Alura after she came across as downright icy in the last chapter, but she definitely sheds a little bit of her Patti Blagojevich-like tendencies this time around. Good enough for me. Not exactly the most fun Man of Steel tale I've read in the last couple of years, but it's one of the more explosive chapters of "New Krypton," and it looks like there's more cool to come.

30 Days of Night: 30 Days ‘Til Death #1 (IDW; Reviewed by Richard): For the life of me, I can not remember the last person, other than Steve Niles, to write a 30 Days of Night title. Yet David Lapham, doing double duty as writer and artist, not only takes a swing at the title and, but decides to aim for the bleachers. Building upon the events that have happened in Barrow during previous installments of the series; 30 Days ‘til Death seems like a natural progression of the Niles-established mythology and sets the stage for a potential war between vampires. The thrust of this story revolves around a seemingly harmless man, Rufus Wellby, who just wants to remain unnoticed, and the steps he goes through to ensure his quiet (all while rehabbing a junkie against her will). On the surface, the story reads in typical fashion, but Lapham smartly keeps the reader engaged with a well-paced script that forgoes a lot of exposition; this allows the art to enhance the story. Lapham is definitely off to a good start on a series that looks to have a lot of potential.

Wolverine: Flies To A Spider One Shot (Review by Jeff Marsick): In 2007, Gregg Hurwitz single-handedly restored my faith in annuals and one-shots as unencumbered features of impressive storytelling. Ironic then, that just one year later he would be an accomplice to Jason Aaron and Duane Swierczynski in crushing that conviction and returning my mindset to one of avoid-at-all-costs. There’s nothing in this issue that you couldn’t have gotten from last week’s Punisher one-shot, except that Mr. Hurwitz prefers to keep his murder spree off the streets and confined within the walls of a biker bar, The Rat Trap. The bikers are stereotypically ornery, they do stereotypically bad things and have stereotypically done bad things, Wolverine appears on the scene to mete out justice in spectacular and eviscerating fashion, then our hero rides into the sunset with destruction in his wake. It’s the standard wash-rinse-repeat cookbook recipe that has numbed down the character of Wolverine to the point where the only thing differentiating him from the Punisher these days are claws and porkchop ‘burns. The pencils by Jerome Opena start off fresh and tight, but after page ten seem to loosen up and attention to detail goes by the wayside. Even Mr. Hurwitz appears to grow bored, with his parking lot climax sufficiently convenient and curiously impossible given that Wolverine was inside the bar the entire time. Boom, just like that, all the loose ends are tied up, and the reason for the titular’s rampage is revealed (although anyone with two functioning brain cells would have sussed it out on page twelve). If you just have to have a Wolverine one-shot in your collection, then Wolverine: Roar, while not a good comic overall, is still a better choice than this one. I give this book a grade of Skip It.

Ojingogo (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): Matthew Forsythe’s dream-like tale of a young girl, her squid and a menagerie of strange creatures, simultaneously cute and terrifying, is a totally unique and engaging book. Drawing on Eastern myths (Forsythe apparently spent time living Seoul), Ojingogo is nearly silent and full of imaginative leaps of logic that keep the reader engaged. Forsythe’s gorgeous pen and ink artwork captures the nuances of his characters’ curiosity, fear, determination and creativity. The designs of the creatures and landscapes are tremendous. It’s just a really beautiful, well-paced, fun comic. You can even read some of it here.

Pohádky (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): One hundred twenty pages of beautiful, full-color illustrations from Marek Čolek and Pat Shewchuk, Pohádky combines Shewchuck’s graphic designs with Čolek’s fantasy illustrations. Mixing anthropomorphic animals, gypsy humans and the natural world into a swirling blend of fairy-tale reality, the artwork is simply wonderful. There’s no story; this is a pure artbook, done in D&Q’s small Petits Livres style, which might be my only complaint. The detailed full paintings deserve a more overwhelming size, dimensions that would allow readers to get lost in the complex, interwoven fantasy of Shewchuk and Čolek’s worlds.

Big Questions 11: Sweetness and Light (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): I wish I kept up with Anders Nilsen’s spare and subtle series. Nilsen’s such a strong cartoonist, with excellent panel-to-panel storytelling and strong illustrations. The blend of characters – humans, dogs and birds – surviving in a damaged and dangerous world all come across as distinct beings, particularly the animals whose natural behavior isn’t compromised by their occasional forays into human speech. The overall story is slow unfolding, but Nilsen’s great artwork makes every panel of the journey enjoyable.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign (Marvel; review by Brendan): The Bendis/ Maleev Marvel one-shots have proved to be valuable touchstones to major power shifts in the larger Marvel storyline. Each one, basically, shows the new sheriff in town. At this point, readers know that today, that means Norman Osborn sits in the big chair. And where each member of the Illuminati protected a different corner of the Marvel U, Norman Osborn's newest assemblage of super-villainany preys on those same corners and crevices. First of all, the Green Goblin probably gathered the toughest crowd to win over in the history of ever, so for him (and Bendis), to deliver just the monster speech needed to sway those demagogues is pretty damn superhuman. For Alex Maleev to make each player look both convincing and convinced is equally impressive. Eventually, this will end badly. Until then, enjoy the ride.

Double-Shot: Secret Six #4 (DC; review by Brendan): At this point, it seems like Gail Simone is screaming, “See!? This is what happens when bad guys meet badder guys!” to readers. Nicola Scott is probably the best ensemble artist working right now, and seems to improve ever issue. The “Get Out of Jail Free,” card has proven to be the hottest commodity in the DCU, and that means tons and tons of Grade A Secret Six hijinx. This is the book where even the worst atrocities seem like the most harmless of fun.

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