Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a look at the latest releases from the industry's biggest publishers! So let's kick off with the Man Without Fear's new series, as we take a look at Daredevil: Dark Nights...
Daredevil: Dark Nights #1
Written by Lee Weeks
Art by Lee Weeks and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
What is it about Daredevil that seems to bring the best out of creators these days? Those who know of Lee Weeks likely know he's a criminally underrated artist, but with the first issue of Daredevil: Dark Nights, he proves that he's an incredible writer, as well.
In many ways, you can see that Weeks is influenced by the greatest of Daredevil writers, the legendary Frank Miller. There's a real poetry to Weeks' writing, particularly the theme that Daredevil doesn't quit, no matter what. Weeks' pacing is also pitch-perfect — there's a one-page scene where he introduces a family that's long been yearning for a vacation, only to have their lives overturned by a sudden car accident. "What she wouldn't give for one more broken promise."
This comic would have been superb just for the way that Weeks sets up the scene of a New York under siege by a raging blizzard. But it's nice to see that Weeks doesn't forget whose book this is, as he also provides a smooth entree to the Man Without Fear. Considering how easy it is to make Matt Murdock into some sort of omnipotent ninja, Weeks provides a nice contrast by illustrating Matt's weaknesses, as he's laid low by a group of thugs during the blizzard. While Weeks' dalliance with amnesia isn't the most original twist in the world, he doesn't lean on it enough to hobble the comic by any noticeable standard.
And the art. The art. If you like John Romita, Jr., you're going to love Lee Weeks. He's got Romita's sense of storytelling, but with a much cleaner line — every page in this book looks cinematic, from Matt getting laid out in a hospital bed to the snow slowing covering Daredevil's face after he's taken a header off a building. The plus side of Weeks writing and drawing is apparent here, as well, as his layouts are seamlessly intertwined with the lettering. (A page where a mother kisses her son goodbye is old-school Frank Miller excellence. It's pure beauty.) The only downside for the visuals here is the lettering by Clayton Cowles, which looks just a little too artificial for what is otherwise such a pure auteur work.
Considering how much emphasis is put on continuity and events — making each comic matter — it's easy to forget that comics are an art form just as much as a soap operatic medium. Yet Daredevil: Dark Nights is a showcase for a true artistic talent. With no continuity to weigh it down, this is an accessible, impressive issue that fans of all ages can enjoy.
Adventures of Superman #6
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming
Art by Michael Avon Oeming and Nick Filardi
Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It's easy to forget Superman's roots in science fiction, and many comic creators eschew leaning too heavily on these elements in order to maintain a certain amount of accessibility for a general reading audience. This one-off story serves as Bryan J.L. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming's first collaborative take on the Man of Steel, and both seem to strike that balance between blending both the science and mythology behind Superman, which drives his worldwide appeal.
The story reminds readers about what makes Superman truly super while allowing for a continuity-free and easy-to-access reading experience. Superman is teamed up with a mysterious member of the Time Corps, which is responsible for protecting the space-time continuity. Glass doesn't bog the readers down in the details about this, as this is only a one-shot, and simply gives us enough to move the narrative forward. The plot revolves around a small child whom Superman is forced to decide the fate of, which ultimately serves as the focal point of a greater discussion on utilitarianism, moral relativism, and Superman's inherent moral character—pretty heady stuff for a stand-alone issue.
Arguably, some readers may find fault with the creation of new villains for Superman to face when he possesses a plethora of rogues to face off. However, with these nemeses comes the baggage of continuity; through adopting new foes, Glass is free to tell the story without making demands on readers' need to know Superman continuity nor is he confined to it. In this regard, it's a smart, tactical decision to go with fresh-faced characters for this one-off story.
The inks and coloring really stand out in this issue as they coolly recall those of the cosmic illustrations from Kirby and Sinnott. Given the sci-fi setting of the story, it works really well—even better, given the digital platform, which often makes the colors from a comic pop off the page. Oeming's pared-down line work is also well suited to this straightforward narrative focused on looking at the core of Kal-El. He avoids the hyper-realistic portrayal the Man of Tomorrow is often given, and instead, Oeming gives him a more iconic, more cartoon-like representation. Overall, this issue provides a complete reading experience reminding readers of their love of superheroes and the goodness they can inspire within each of us.
East of West #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
East of West #3 lies somewhere between a spaghetti western and a new retelling of St. John's Book of Revelation. A lanky, pale Death, dressed like an old time gambler, rides into New Shanghai on a metal horse. That can't be good for anyone. Specifically, it can't be good for the family that has been holding his wife prisoner for the last ten years. “Who is the woman who conquered Death?” we're asked on the very first page. This issue doesn't really answer much of that, even if we do meet his wife Xiaolian. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta only give us the briefest measure of her as they build up the consequences of her marriage to one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and subsequent imprisonment at the hand of her sister and father. Death rides into town and the powers that be try to put on a good face even while trembling in their boots.
Hickman and Dragotta have set up an America in East of West that feels like it is a frontier town. In the second issue, they revealed how the United States is divided up into its little fiefdoms more representative of individual countries than states. The House of Mao rules in New Shanghai or what we would think of as San Francisco. Rather than the lush and verdant forest that we know that surround that city, northern California looks like the arid deserts of Arizona or Nevada. Looking across the Golden Gate Bridge, there are no trees. There's no green. Just the dull, dusty brown of a wasteland. Even the strongholds of the House of Mao are steely and cold. The only signs of life we see are related to Xiaolian, as she's led past a small grove of trees and holds a blooming flower in her manacled hands.
Hickman is taking his time with this story. Easy of West #3 actually poses more questions than it answers but never feels like the story is all setup or exposition. While he builds up to a showdown between Death and those who have kept his wife from him, Hickman shows us the other three Horsemen, trying to track down the one they've double-crossed before he finds them. Through them, we get larger hints to the shape and size of the story. In three issues, there's still plenty we don't know about this world but Hickman is building the characters just as strongly as he is building the plot.
The world is made so vivid by Nick Dragotta's art. The sudden transitions in settings and the reveals of where characters actually are pull you into the story. The comic is as much about a skewed America as it is about the characters. Hickman can tell us about these things but Dragotta has to draw a landscape that feels both familiar and strange. We've got to feel like in some other reality, this all makes sense and that's exactly what Dragotta gives us; a world that's just enough like ours that we can believe it no matter how alien it may actually be.
While the world already feels complete, old and maybe past its prime, Hickman and Dragotta have created wonderfully captivating characters, full of danger and mystery. The tension that envelops these characters plays off of the world that's surrounding them. Hickman and Dragotta shape their story like it's a lit fuse and we're all just watching the flame slowly creep down the line towards the explosives. Only this explosion doesn't end with a bridge or a bank. When you've got a personal vendetta between Death, War, Famine and Pestilence, the explosions devastate worlds. This issue begins as a love story showing the lengths that Death would go to in order to find his wife. It ends full of fire and brimstone as Hickman and Dragotta remind us that this is no simple jilted lover's tale.
Wolverine: Season One
Written by Ben Blacker and Ben Acker
Art by Salva Espin and Cam Smith
Lettering by Jim Charalampidis
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
One might get the feeling that Wolverine: Season One isn't for the pre-existing Wolverine fan. Long-time readers of the Canadian X-Man will probably want something a little bit more dark and brooding from an origin story about the former Weapon X. However, what Thrilling Adventure Hour and Supernatural's Ben Blacker and Ben Acker do the best with this beloved character is turn on the lights to give younger readers a starting point that's both accessible and continuity approved.
If any super hero could have used a cleaned-up version of his origin, it's Logan. The guy has been everything from Victorian-era dandy, WWII soldier, animalistic nature-man and Avenger. Blacker and Acker don't shy away from any of this in their story. It starts where Wolverine's history starts with his adoring, real-life, public- being discovered by Department H and fighting the Hulk and Wendigo (Incredible Hulk #181, anyone?). The writer's could have started anywhere — some places might have been more attractive starting points from a marketing standpoint, but they started right where the character was born. It's actually quite an apt illustration to the books accessibility and its legitimacy with Marvel's current continuity. The writer's even throw in a few panels from Logan's long life throughout the story — almost as if they are leaving doors open for new fans to follow deeper into the Wolverine's origin rabbit hole. It's this aspect that lends itself to being a great starting point for young readers (if they can get past the one implied nudity scene). Not only do they get a modernized, PG-Rated, version of Wolverine's starting point, but it isn't dumbed-down. I mean, they still got Logan in that original, whisker-version Wolverine suit!
If there is one criticism about the storytelling, it would be the fact that nothing really new was added to the history. However, being that Marvel is a company that takes its long continuity very seriously and that the story is fine without new elements, this argument falls flat. Surely, it must have been tempting to add in a dash of something new to the origin but it really says a lot about Blacker and Acker's devotion to the original work by early creators like Len Wein and Chris Claremont. Wolvie historians might feel like this is a retread of what already exists on their bookshelves or long boxes, and they wouldn't be wrong — but this book isn't for them. Wolverine Season 1 is for the younger, newer fans that are coming in from the Wolverine movie and what better book to give them than one that's as close to Wolverine's origin as the original source material?
Although the writer's stayed extremely close to what came before, there is still a feeling that the tone is what will turn away hardcore Wolvie fans in the first place. It's hard to feel like Salva Espin and Cam Smith's pencils and colors fit with what we know of Wolverine. Again, though, the argument must be made that this book isn't for the fan of the dark and bloodied Wolverine. Espin and Smith's artwork here bring an element of Saturday morning cartoons with a comic book style reminiscent of Joe Madureira. It's a traditional take on sequential storytelling and overall line work that feels accessible and doesn't look as dated as the old-school Wolverine books must feel to new readers.
American superheroes can always feels particularly hard to penetrate for newbies, especially a character that has been alive longer than most characters in the Marvel Universe. It's even harder to crack another origin story out of a character that has encompassed so many tones and styles in his time. However, the writing team of Ben Blacker and Ben Acker, with artists Salva Espin and Cam Smith, have crafted an origin story that should be the starting point for every new reader to Marvel's must popular X-Man.
The Victories #2
Written by Michael Avon Oeming
Art by Michael Avon Oeming and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Aaron Walker
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
This second issue is all about setting up future story arcs. Many of the heroes who fill the team's roster are deeply flawed, and its leader — Metatron — is no exception as he struggles to overcome the cannibalistic and graphically disturbing Tarcus in addition to his own psychological turmoil in the aftermath of Issue #1. We also begin to see there is a threat greater than the Jackal, to whom readers were earlier introduced to as the source of the worldwide power outages and general chaos. This second issue concerns itself with both unpacking some of the backstory to yet another of these psychologically damaged superheroes, as well as hinting at an even more insidious threat to come.
Unfortunately, the tumultuousness Metatron experiences is a little confusing in this issue, and the reveal at the story's end would have benefited from additional context to help readers understand how Metatron arrives at his realization about Tarcus. Although we are told Metatron is slowly recuperating from Bacchus' inebriating power, neither character nor reader is entirely certain why these effects continue to linger. He confides to one of his teammates about a strange, repeating dream he experiences, and he believes this to be somehow related to his present state of being. Moreover, the flashback to the moon doesn't help the reader to make sense of either the dream sequence, or what Metatron reveals about Tarcus. While this does create some confusion at times, Oeming is no novice storyteller. It's likely these plot elements will make more sense when placed into the greater context of the entire story arc. Given the strength of the first miniseries, readers should give Oeming the benefit of doubt and trust that this will come full circle soon enough. And given the appearance of a mysterious cabal pulling the strings behind the scenes, readers will quite likely find the answers they're looking for soon enough.
The art in this issue is dark, intensely violent at times, and brooding, all befitting the world in which these heroes and villains exist. One can feel Mike Mignola's influence on Oeming's style through the application of inks to evoke a heavy, ominous atmosphere. Oeming really lets loose in this issue as well in terms of amping up the level of violence as lesser superheroes find themselves quite literally torn apart. Needless to say, it gets a bit graphic at times. Nick Filardi also does fine work with his colors, which create a sharp contrast from one subject to another. It's somewhat ironic in that this is a world in which the lines between good and evil, order and chaos, right and wrong all horrifically blurred.
Although not as strong as the first issue, which combined the same explosive and gritty aesthetic with greater character development, The Victories #2 makes it clear Oeming is laying the foundation for some conflicts down the road that will be played out over the course of multiple issues making it worth reading this issue in order to better appreciate and understand the plotlines he will explore in later on.
Archer and Armstrong #10 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Area 51 holds more secrets than even a conspiracy theorist could imagine as Archer and Armstrong look for clues and find enemies everywhere in a hilarious start to a new story arc. Writer Fred Van Lente is the master of the pun here, playing on words fast and furious, as well as comic book censoring. I love how what a reader expects at the start of the story is exactly what it turns out not to be. The pacing is quick, but artist Pere Pérez is more than up for the task, looking a lot like Chris Henry's work. His reaction shots, especially for Armstrong, are classic, making us see the joy in life that the immortal character feels. This is Valiant's best book.