Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots is looking to start your week off right, as we unveil a six-pack of the week's biggest releases! So let's kick off with the Jean Grey School of tomorrow, as we take a look at Wolverine and the X-Men #29...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Wolverine and the X-Men #29
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ramon Perez and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

When Wolverine and the X-Men first hit the stands, what struck me the most about this series was its potential. With the ill-equipped but well-intentioned Canucklehead putting together an eclectic band of mutants to teach the next generation of Homo Superior, I couldn't help but be amazed at the freshness and diversity of Jason Aaron's stories. From Westchester to the far reaches of space, Wolverine and the X-Men could go anywhere, do anything.

And it looks like we ain't seen nothing yet.

Set 25 years into the future, Wolverine and the X-Men #29 is easily the series' best issue of 2013. Not only is there a heartfelt message about living with age-old regrets — a nice little nod to all the time-travel stories going on elsewhere in the Marvel Universe with Age of Ultron and All-New X-Men — but this high concept plays right into Jason Aaron's strengths as an ideas man. Nods like Kitty Pryde and Iceman's future child to Eye-Boy (err, Eye-Man) manning an orbital satellite made out of a Sentinel's head actually makes readers invest in our present-day heroes that much more. It's a testament to Aaron's skills as a creator that he knows how to make some of these ugly ducklings (sorry again, Eye-Boy) into some pretty badass swans, and it's proof that even the most awkward characters have a game plan in sight.

But for my money, what this comic does particularly well is set up future stories with Wolverine and company, all while anchoring it to some very human emotion. For a character long defined by his berserker rages, Wolverine has always been a surprisingly introspective hero, one who, in many ways, is defined by his guilt just as much as a neurotic like Spider-Man. Yet while Peter Parker soliloquies ad nauseum about his fears, Aaron just shows Wolverine acting on them, trying desperately to undo his painful past — the pains of being a leader, a teacher and a father are far more than what a healing factor can ever truly dull. So by alluding to the next big Wolverine and the X-Men stories, Aaron not only whets the readers' appetite, but gives the readers an important message about living with your own mistakes.

Artwise, Ramon Perez is continuing to hit his stride and really acclimate himself to the X-Men's quirky character designs. While occasionally his faces looks a little too cartoony, a little too squished, Perez does great work in keeping everyone expressive, particularly with a group shot of the school at the beginning of the book. When the issue jumps to the future, Perez's work really jumps to the next level, mainly because the character designs aren't a quantum leap, but instead an organic, natural evolution from the present. Wolverine, for example, still has his soulful eyes, but with his Old Man Logan haircut and his jacket from Days of Future Past. Eye-Man gets the best redesign of all, as the awkward-suited teen suddenly gets ripped, with his own functional, sleek superhero suit.

The greatest superpower of the Jean Grey School has been its narrative potential, and Wolverine and the X-Men #29 shows that potential fully realized. If you thought the first few arcs of this series were ambitious and quirky, just wait until you take a look at this comic. With big ideas, some excellent character payoffs, a smart message and heaps of teasers for the next year's worth of stories, this comic is easily the best thing you'll read all week. 

Wonder Woman #20
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Goran Sudzuka, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The New 52 Wonder Woman has been one of the main books polarizing fans since its debut. Not really knowing much about Wondy except from what was shown on the Justice League animated series, I wanted to give the book a shot and glad I did, but this issue as a whole felt a little off. 

First off, it's good to see Cliff Chiang back on art duty. True, he does less than half the book with fill-in artist Goran Sudzuka who has done his share of work for a few issues now, but Chiang is one of DC's strongest in their collective art stable. If you don't really pay close enough attention to the credits, you might mistake the two as the same talent. Both Sudzuka and Chiang have a more animated style in comparison to DC's more "realistic" house style, especially with Sudzuka favoring an almost Amanda Conner type of vibe in his linework. 

The biggest difference though is how they went about their own pages. Chiang did the layouts for the entire issue and his pages come off the strongest and more action-oriented. Sudzuka rises to the occasion, but doesn't exactly quite meet Chiang on his level. The panels don't seem as versatile and not as exciting. Matthew Wilson does a superb job here once more, giving the book a range of colors and moods, adding an extra dimension to the already bizarre character designs here. 

Now the biggest problem of this book I found was Brian Azzarello's amount of concentration of Diana, or lack thereof. The book is called Wonder Woman, not "Wonder Woman and Company". It's almost as though he's taken a Game of Thrones or West Wing approach here with telling a story. True, Wonder Woman is in the book, but she's neither on the first or last page and feels hardly here at all. I understand the need for a supporting cast, but when your villains get a good portion of the book, as well as your sidekicks, and you're putting Artemis and War back into the fold, the issue just feels crammed with characters and it loses its focus. 

That being said, Wonder Woman is a fine DC title and almost comes across as DC's answer to Marvel's Thor. This issue is a mild hiccup in a great run thus far. She's far from just a female Superman, and Azzarello's treatment to the Greek pantheon is a fine touch, too, for any mythology nerd like myself. 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #23
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Dave Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Rehashing a familiar story in comics is always a delicate process. Creators have to toe a fine line between homage and redundancy, while also bringing something new to the table. In the case of Lee and Romita Sr.'s famous "Spider-Man No More!" from Amazing Spider-Man #50, there is the added pressure of some interpretation of this story having appeared in many versions and adaptations of Spider-Man — cartoons, movies, and so on.

What Bendis has pulled off here, however, is a deepening and strengthening of the original, raising the stakes for Miles Morales in a way that harkens back to the origin of his predecessor and ties him more firmly to the identity of Spider-Man even as he tries to discard it.

Since the initial furor over Miles' introduction faded, I feel as if the series has not been getting the attention it deserves. Bendis has refreshed the entire concept of Spider-Man by reexamining it through the eyes of a hero motivated by living up to the legend of the fallen Peter Parker, someone he never knew, rather than by the death of a loved one. While Miles has always taken his double life seriously, he entered the world of super-heroics unburdened by a sense of personal tragedy. The death of his mother at the hands of Venom has changed all of that.

While this loss may have driven him out of costume for a year, it's also given Miles perspective and a new sense of maturity. There has been a very clear evolution of the character between issues, and Bendis does a remarkable job of showing how much Miles has grown up since we last saw him, just through the tone of his dialogue. This is not grim 'n' gritty Miles Morales — he still has his playful, brotherly relationship with Ganke and a closeness with his father — but he has started to turn into the man he will become, and it's well-handled here by Bendis.

I've said very little about what actually happens in the issue, but that's because it's fairly obvious. Miles is ricocheting off all the people in his life who know his secret, and starting down the path that will lead him back to the costume. We all know where this story will go. The important part is how it gets there, and Bendis' deft characterizations are making it into a diverting, heartfelt journey.

Likewise, Marquez and Ponsor handle their end of things with aplomb. As difficult as it might be to realistically age a teenage character a year in personality between issues, I imagine it's as much or more of a challenge to differentiate them visually. The artists handle this task admirably, however, with subtle but perceptible adjustments. Miles has grown, his face squared off a touch; Ganke has perhaps thinned out a little. Minor changes, but they do a huge amount in selling the passage of time. Likewise, Marquez' facial expressions, whether in conjunction with Bendis' dialogue or on their own — I'm thinking here of a couple of close-ups on eyes in particular — beautifully convey the confusion, pain, and affection that these characters all share.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #23 continues a run that I think is equal or better than anything Bendis pulled off on the original incarnation of this title. Miles and his supporting cast have given us a new window into the consequences of heroism and the repercussions of responsibility, and I look forward to the continued unfolding of this new chapter in the legacy of Spider-Man.

Credit: DC Comics

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #2
Written by Keith Giffen
Art by Pop Mhan and Kathryn Layno
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Having been disappointed by the earlier issues of the previous mini of the same name, writer Keith Giffen seems like he's hit his stride with this world and certainly restored my faith as well as put some power back in the "Power of Grayskull."

While this is a continuation to the mini, it doesn't recall many of the events save for Skeletor's apparent death, as well as the Sorceress' since the opening scene is her funeral. So if you missed out on that, some things might go over your head like the big deal with Teela getting her trademark red haired bun. That said, with everyone's memories restored, the plot finally feels like it's catching up to where most hardcore MoTU fans want it to be and the fantasy elements of Eternia come into play. With the previous issue introducing the Horde, as well as Hordak as a character, but has yet to appear. The revelation of General Despera, Hordak's daughter, to be Adora was something fans of the series have long waited for. 

Giffen takes part of the established mythos and really runs with it. The fact that Hordak had adopted Adora was established back with "The Secret of the Sword", but we never really saw Adora act the way a Horde General would. Well, we certainly get that here. Despera/Adora is pure malevolence with a cruel, fiery rage and temperament worthy of any Horde officer. The twist being it's that Teela has dreams of Adora, and Adora of Teela, instead of the Sorceress as it was in TV canon. Since the Sorceress is dead and Teela is the Sorceress' daughter, it makes sense and is a nice nod to what has already been established. 

Artist Pop Mhan continues to hit some impressive marks here. While he was one of the many artists in the mini, his standalone work is plenty strong with great action sequences and exciting layouts throughout the book. He carries on the tradition of this universe with these unique looking characters and keeps them just that. The biggest change is how Despera/Adora looks. In the animated series, she looks the same throughout, but here, she has a more menacing look with dark platemail armor and a more military-inspired haircut. Definitely not something your kid sister would have played with.

Establishing Adora as a legitimate threat is a nice way to start this series off. With Skeletor out of the picture and Hordak on the horizon, it's a great way to give MoTU fans something they've never really seen before, even if we know how it all plays out in the end. He-Man and the Master of the Universe remedies what felt wrong with the other series and expands on the mythos and lore fans know and love. 

Credit: Image Comics

It Girl and The Atomics #10
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Natalie Nourigat and Allen Passalaqua
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even though the previous issue was the last issue of an arc, it felt like a perfect jumping on point. This issue is a start of a new arc, with a new artist on board as well, but doesn't have the same feeling and it's as though there's a step missing to get the whole story.

Jamie S. Rich has taken these established characters from Mike Allred's universe and made them his own without deviating too much. It Girl still is as charming and whimsical as she always has been, but Rich takes it to a new level with a certain amount of wit and spunk that readers unfamiliar with the Madman world can still appreciate. The thing about this issue is that while it touches on previous adventures, it doesn't really tell you who It Girl is or what she's about. There's a small blurb in the beginning of the issue that attempts to set the stage, but new readers on board might find themselves a little lost trying to pick up all the pieces. 

The rotating art team on the book has been a great cast of cartoonists and Natalie Nourigat is a find addition to the lot. Her linework is soft and energetic that's reminiscent of Bruce Timm and Mike Kunkel. Nourigat's talent for lively facial expressions should be applauded as it really gives you the right idea about the book and what you should expect. The character design for the Kimmandos is just fun and reflects the youth culture properly. Allen Passalaqua's color palette fits well with this world with his bright tones and simplistic style. He lets Nourigat get the story across and just elevates her art without overshadowing it. 

It Girl and the Atomics and its title might give the impression of a superhero team in the same vein as a Fantastic Four or even Teen Titans type of book, but what they'll find is still a great story with comedic characters but still having an edge to them.

Nightwing #20
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

You thought Gotham was rough? Things move fast in Chicago, too, as readers of Nightwing will soon discover. Kyle Higgins doesn't skip a beat as Dick Grayson finds his feet in the Windy City, and that no-nonsense pacing results in a satisfying, old-school kind of comic.

Purists might argue that the gold standard of Nightwing stories would be those of Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, who juggled high-speed action with soap opera subplots and effortless characterization. Higgins clearly subscribes to that same school of thought, as he focuses on Dick Grayson's growing pains in his new city — not only is he juggling his secret identity with new roommates (one of whom nearly assaults him, thinking he's a burglar), but he's also dealing with a new supervillain known as the Prankster... and the ire of the entire Chicago police department. It's a lot to take in in one comic, but Higgins' everyman voice for Nightwing makes the exposition go down smoothly, as Grayson himself just is a naturally likeable protagonist.

It also doesn't hurt that there's a decent amount of action in this book, as well. Nightwing's background as an acrobat makes him a naturally visual character, able to wow the audience with death-defying leaps while telling us about his move to Chicago and his run-ins with the police. It's also a nice way to get the audience hooked without giving too much spotlight to the villain of the piece — indeed, the Prankster doesn't actually show up on panel the final third of the book, but because we're already invested in Nightwing from both a character and action perspective, it allows the final fight sequence to really end this issue with a bang.

While Brett Booth's artwork might not be for everyone, I can't argue that Nightwing isn't a good fit for his style. While sometimes his expressions can be distended and cartoonish and his bodies can be a bit exaggerated, he does inject a lot of energy into the visuals, particularly when Dick starts fighting blind with his taser-enhanced nightsticks. It is very much a '90s kind of style, particularly some of the pose-heavy splash pages, but as I said before, much of the charm of this book is its old-school flavor.

There are likely those who might criticize Nightwing for being less than ambitious, and I can definitely see how people might accuse this book of playing it safe — however, there's something to be said for a solid comic that blends action and melodrama without getting bogged down in this need to reinvent the wheel. There's nothing wrong with Dick Grayson, and he's such an easygoing character that it's not hard to pick up a comic with him in it and immediately feel some sort of investment. Given the manic atmosphere of much of today's superhero comics, a little bit of normalcy might not be such a bad thing.

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