Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAREDEVIL, BATMAN/SUPERMAN, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots sure is, as we take a look at last week's biggest releases! So let's kick off the column with Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Daredevil...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #27
Written by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

There comes a point when you’re reading a comic and halfway through, you say to yourself “This is damn good.” Mark Waid’s Daredevil has consistently been this comic, but he really knocks it out of the park by bringing one of the series greatest conflicts to a close as Matt finally confronts the man whose been trying to destroy his life since the first issue, and the result is spectacular.

Waid and Chris Samnee construct this issue perfectly. In previous issues they’ve shown how deep Bullseye was able to plant his agents in order to mess with Matt’s life, so that each character was in grave danger. The payoff for this is brilliant as we learn that while Bullseye is good, Matt is better. And you definitely feel that he has a right to his revenge, a fact that makes Bulleye’s comeuppance all the more disturbing.

Throughout this entire arc, we’ve seen Matt beaten, bloodied and destroyed, both mentally and physically. I wouldn’t say that his fight with Ikari and Lady Bullseye is cathartic, but it’s great to see him on the winning side. Waid has consistently played up Matt’s heroism as Daredevil, and this is definitely an ever-present theme of the issue. The final moments, between Matt and Foggy, are beautiful and hopeful, and really a shining moment we haven’t seen in this series for a long while.

And Chris Samnee, in addition to helping write the issue, delivers some of his greatest work to date. One of the issue’s best payoffs is finding out how those closest to Matt were never in any danger, and Samnee’s ability to build the tension around this, to make each situation seem dire and threatening, is what makes the comic such a triumph. Javier Rodriguez deserves accolades as well for the tonal impression he creates, and for how well he translates the story.

Daredevil #27 is a perfect comic. It closes the door on an arc that has been building since the first issue, and it does so smoothly. While Foggy’s situation has yet to be resolved, the overriding darkness in Matt’s life has been lifted and by the final page, you know that Daredevil is setting off into a brighter future. What’s more celebratory, though, is Mark Waid and Chris Samnee who have, in this reviewer, created a Daredevil fan for life. This is the kind of series people will talk about for years to come, and I feel blessed to have experienced it.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman/Superman #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Jae Lee, Ben Oliver, June Chung and Daniel Brown
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel — together again for the first time! Yet with the inconsistent characterization throughout the New 52, Greg Pak's take on the World's Finest comes as a refreshing take on two of DC's biggest properties.

Similar to Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman of yesteryear, Pak compares and contrasts Batman and Superman through internal monologues. And that decision winds up paying off in spades — there's a great moment, for example, where Clark tells us that growing up on a farm showed him that the only way people will survive is if they come together. "But when people come together in Gotham," he adds, "The strong just eat the weak." Ultimately, Superman's optimism and Batman's cynicism — even to the point of out-and-out misanthropy — makes for a compelling read, particularly as the two square off for the first time. Pak writes a masterful sequence where Clark sees Batman as his first "true monster," where both Superman and Batman think just how easily this Kryptonian could kill this all-too-human vigilante.

That said, some Bat-fans might take umbrage to just how grouchy the Dark Knight is in this book — particularly as far as his take on children. There's a moment early on in the comic where Bruce is watching two kids beat the tar out of each other, just to make sure they're toughened up. Another child winds up in danger later on in the book, and Batman is furious at her naïveté: "That's the problem with children today... not enough nightmares." Yet I see these moments less as an out-of-character beat, and more of a smart accident — not only does Batman's characterization reflect on his inability to save his parents as a child, and not only does it act as a nice bit of dramatic irony, since we know his future penchant for teenage sidekicks, but it also lets the audience empathize with Superman a bit more.

The real star of this book, of course, is Jae Lee. There's a weird, Tim Burton-esque vibe to this comic, and while it might not be for everyone, if you can accept it for what it is, it's one of the best-drawn books in DC's lineup. A double-page spread with the origins of Batman and Superman is one of the highlights of the issue, particularly a cute moment where a young Clark, hanging upside-down from a tree, retrieves Lana Lang's cat. Batman also gets some superb moments, as Lee clearly enjoys the technology behind the Caped Crusader — his glider wings, for example, pop with almost sinewy lines. Even the more self-indulgent moments — like Batman summoning Waynetech robots from out of the ground — look so spectacular that it's immediately forgiven.

Still, while this book is fantastic, it's not perfect. Ben Oliver takes over the last few pages of the issue, and given the dimension-hopping nature of the cliffhanger, it's natural to have another artist on board... yet Oliver, despite his talents, is not Jae Lee. Not only does it feel like a drop-off stylistically, but the design for Batman in this sequence feels a little nondescript, which makes the confusing cliffhanger even more confusing. On that note, Pak's conclusion to this issue may throw some readers off, even though I think it's an attempt to make us as disoriented as Clark.

That all said, it's nice to see that Batman/Superman so effectively lives up to the hype. Not only is the art superb, but Pak's take on Superman and Batman feels so effortless and so incisive that you can't help but want to see what happens next. This book is definitely one that you need to check out.

Credit: Panel Syndicate

The Private Eye #3
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin and Munsta Vincente
Lettering by Marcos Martin
Published by Panel Syndicate
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s Los Angeles. isn't populated by people walking around, hoping to be recognized but by people who wear masks, disguise their voices and praying to their gods that no one knows who they really are. Vaughan and Martin aren't interested in a Los Angeles that's made up of cults of personalities or people wanting to be celebrities but by people who know and have experienced the follies of secrets. That's the background of The Private Eye, the story of an eponymously initialed P.I. (real name unknown) who has been hired to discover just what secrets could be exposed in his client’s past. When she's discovered killed in her apartment, all signs point to P.I. as either the killer or the man who knows her secrets that she was killed for. He, along with her sister Raveena, become the hunted in The Private Eye #3 as the story takes an odd twist with opening images of P.I. floating among clouds without a care in the world.

Marcos makes the opening sequence, a dream of floating among the clouds that dissolves into a nightmare where P.I. relives his mother's unsolved murder, a visual dance. With his lithe line and figures, Martin's artwork gently leads the reader out of a dream of flying into a brutal memory. Within pages, the reader is lulled and repulsed as Martin and Vaughan give us a brief insight into the dark corners of P.I.'s soul. We've gotten surface glimpses of that in the first couple of issues, where we saw a man working a case but here the writer and artist gives us more than just movie posters on a wall, books piled on a table or record albums lining a shelf. P.I. and his slightly futuristic world are a mystery themselves that Vaughan and Martin are slowly revealing the inner workings of.

As they make clearer who P.I. is, Vaughan and Martin plop us back in the real mystery of who killed his client and why. In the first two issues, they played up equal parts of the science fiction and detective story but Vaughan's script this issue is firmly planted as a detective story as P.I. realizes that he's been pulled into something larger than just his client or himself. Vaughan knows the genre a he's playing in and solidly makes sure that we understand the conventions of that genre. You can begin to see how The Private Eye relates to stories as similar yet diverse as Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There's the femme fatale, and the mystery that becomes something far more personal and obsessive than any other case. There's even the noticeable injury to the private eye. In Chinatown, it was Jack Nicholson's broken nose and the bandage across his face that physically defined the character. For P.I., the injury is revealed by Vaughan and Martin's clever use of dream visions and flashbacks that show us that P.I. has things that he can and will lose because of his involvement with this case.

The third piece to the creative mystery of The Private Eye #3 is colorist Munsta Vicente who proves that L.A. noir can be full of bright, solid colors. Vicente doesn’t try to hide any of Martin’s artwork in deep shadows or over rendered hues. In one sequence, where P.I. and Raveena have to jump out of his office window to escape a pair of helmeted killers, the L.A. night sky is a stunning solid flat purple. That shade of purple, while not resembling anything realistic, captures the glow of city lights, particularly the glow we want a city like Los Angeles to have. Vicente’s colors are quite luminous as he’s quite aware of the time and setting for each page that he’s coloring. Both Martin and Vicente have a minimalist quality to their work, only showing us what we need to see to understand the plot, the setting and the characters. Their uncomplicated artwork unveils a whole new city to us. It’s Los Angeles, but it is an LA filtered through Vaughan, Martin and Vicente’s imaginative story of the city.

P.I. is a detective hero for the internet age. Hiding in the backgrounds are posters declaring “Free Assange” and searches and keywords are the detectives' tools as much as stakeouts and interrogations. Even as other people hide behind complicated masks, disguising their true identities as they do something as simple as riding the bus, P.I.’s sole mask is some black face paint, striped across his eyes. It’s less a mask and more a symbol, a black bar over a face like on television used to protect someone’s identity but it hides nothing here. Maybe P.I. is the one man in all of Los Angeles with nothing to hide. In The Private Eye #3, Vaughan and Martin speculate on what the post-internet age will look like and it looks a lot like an old 1950s movie where a femme fatale could knock on a door and a unwitting sap would be pulled into the mystery of his lifetime.

Credit: Image Comics

Lazarus #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark and Santi Arcas
Lettering by Michael Lark
Published by Image Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Of the many things to admire about the debut issue of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's new series, Lazarus, one of the most impressive is its narrative economy, and how it allows for the reader's immediate emotional knowledge of the series' protagonist, Forever Carlyle. A brief opening narration sets up a plutocratic future where ruling Families lord over the masses of the serf-like Waste, protected by a highly trained and medically enhanced Family member called a Lazarus.

Those lines give us everything we need about the setting, and so when we transition into an action sequence where three starving Waste kill Forever, Lazarus of the Family Carlyle, only to have her self-resurrect and slaughter them, we know exactly why it happens, and so can focus on the psychic toll Forever's duties exact on her. The contrast of Family physician James' clinical recitation of her injuries with Forever's grim recounting of what happens after she resuscitates draws us in to the existential horror that is her life, hemmed in by boundaries of family, duty, and biology.

Aside from Forever and James, the other major character we meet is Forever's brother Jonah, who seems driven by a primitive sense of the honor he feels the Family must be accorded, covered by the veneer of wealth and refinement. Rucka is known for his strong, nuanced female protagonists, and watching Forever's isolation and manipulation at the hands of Jonah and James is an intriguing subversion of his normal approach, as well as a promise of dynamic reversals to come. Forever's resignation to her responsibilities cannot last forever, and already here she questions what is being required of her.

Lark and Santi Arcas' art dovetails beautifully with the bleak dystopia Rucka has conjured. It has a brutal, intense edge to it, all heavy lines and grit, with a washed-out palette that conveys a world in decline. Of particular note is the opening fight, when Forever's narration drops out and almost five pages of silent action establish both Lark's efficient choreography and Forever's elite skills. Lark's facial expressions and body language also merit comment; the desperation and privilege of Waste and Family come through just as much in their physicality as in their dialogue and behavior — note the dignified acceptance of the man Forever speaks to in the closing pages.

I've been a fan of Rucka's since the Queen & Country days, and it's great to see him get back on another property of his own device. Lazarus #1 is a model of clean, clear, engaging storytelling, about a frighteningly plausible tomorrow and the woman who no longer wants to be part of the problem. I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Credit: Image Comics

Morning Glories #28
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma and Paul Little
Lettering by Johnny Lowe
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For a while now, Morning Glories has been pushing the bounds of its comic niche and crossing over into literature and philosophy. Nick Spencer continues this trend with issue #28 as he delivers some impressive answers for some of the greatest mysteries the series has presented so far. But as with any good mystery, the answers only raise more questions making season two of Morning Glories the best issues so far.

The comic is a layered story involving the past, present, and future, as well as themes like destiny and choice. As the story shifts between the choice Casey has to make, the revolt Irina is attempting, and the dreams Hunter wades through to get some answers, the thread of the plot never comes undone.

Nick Spencer is also a master at pacing as he builds to the climax of the story. Quick shifts between each of the intertwined plots helps the tension take hold, and the strength of the dialogue helps carry the story forward, give life the characters, and keep the reader engaged. And regardless of the amount of dialogue that occurs on several pages, what Spencer writes about -- from Descartes to Philip K. Dick -- is enough to excite the reader in all of us. I was enthralled form beginning to end.

Plus, due to the amount of story he has to illustrate, Joe Eisma uses an excess of panels. But he creates some fantastic, cinema like shots. Paul Little’s colors also help make each page sharp and crisp, and each image polished and smooth. While much of the art in Morning Glories is usually uncluttered, this issue has pages packed with imagery, yet the precision with which Eisma draws even background detail is notable for how good it is.

What works best about the comic is how it rewards its readers. This series requires a serious investment, so a quick read doesn’t do the comic justice as small details are often missed for bigger picture items. But an issue like this one shows that every detail is important, further proves how impressive Nick Spencer is as a writer, and goes to show how good a series like Morning Glories is.

Credit: Image Comics

Moriarty: Deluxe HC
Written by Daniel Corey
Art by Anthony Diecidue, Mike Vosburg, and Perry Freeze
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Published by Image Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The world’s greatest criminal mastermind finds himself reduced to taking odd jobs when British Intelligence drags him back into the fray. Now Moriarty is out to prove he’s still the smartest man on earth, with a new purpose and some strange allies in this twist on the Holmes mythos that works quite well despite a few quirks in art and story.

I’ve been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work for as long as I can remember, both in the original and various adaptations and imaginings over the decades since Doyle himself metaphorically went over the Reichenbach Falls. Some are excellent, keying in on what made Holmes and his world so vibrant. Others go for the lowest common denominator and fail miserably, making the detective too perfect or forgetting his main reason for existence entirely.

What they share in common is an almost inevitable need to bring Moriarty into the story. In the case of this collection, rather than making him the foil, writer Daniel Corey has the evil genius joins the ranks of the anti-heroes, retaining his criminal nature yet being essential to saving the world. Like the times where Lex Luthor works to help humanity but has his own agenda at the same time, Moriarty is motivated here not just by the need to prevent tragedy on a global scale-he needs the adventure contained in the first half of the story to return him to the vitality that he lost when Holmes died.

There are so many great little touches in Moriarty, most of which occur in the first half of the collection. I love the way he banters with Lestrade, beating him down. The main threat is straight out of the thematic playbook of H. G. Wells, and the inevitable appearance of Watson is played perfectly, primarily by not being what you’d expect. Even smaller parts are written to fit the world like a glove, no pun intended given part of the plot.

However, what really shines is the characterization of Moriarty. When we meet him, he’s lost focus. With no Holmes to show his ability, he’s unable to care enough to be the center of attention, content to run a corrupt shipping business. The fire is still inside him, but it’s smoldering, and only the intrigue of a seemingly impossible mystery that quickly has him running for his life changes things. We get to watch something you rarely get to see with a repurposed literary character: Moriarty finds himself and grows as a person.

In fact, if there’s any issue I have with the story by Corey, it’s that the second arc focuses a bit too much on Moriarty’s inner fears, leading him on something of a supernatural quest that feels out of place for a character who deals as strictly in logic and fact as his antagonist, Holmes. The slow rebuilding of his criminal empire (which I hope we get to see back in bloom as part of a future mini-series) is well-done, including some great prequel work about several of his Doyle-created confederates, I bogged down in the idea of a tree of life and his fear that Holmes had returned. The first story arc, in which Moriarty must prove he can still be master of his own fate, was sharper and hewed better to the source material. While Doyle himself was a spiritualist, he left no room for it in the Holmes stories. I’d have preferred it be left out in this world as well.

As much as I liked the story, however, the reason this is only an eight out of ten for me is the artwork of Anthony Diecidue, who draws most of the collection. The rough feel, while it does contribute to the sense of malaise that plagues Moriarty, often left me wishing it had been more polished before publication. At times, the lines are very overdone and the construction of characters is loose. Then, on other pages, there is tighter penciling, which jars me as a reader. I did like his character designs and the steampunk vibe of the backgrounds, but I preferred the section drawn by Mike Vosburg, which was more consistent.

With so many Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories out there, it’s easy to overlook a good one. Don’t make an elementary mistake: If you are a fan of Doyle, add Moriarty to your collection.

Credit: Image Comics

Hack/Slash Vol. 13: Final TP
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Elena Casagrande and Nate Lovett
Letters by CRANK!
Published by Image Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Cassie knows her time as a hunter of slashers must end someday, and that time may be coming sooner than she expected as the Black Lamb Society prepares to use a rabid band fanbase to incite murder on a grand scale. It’s all come down to this, as Hack/Slash reaches a bloody and touching conclusion in this final collection of stories.

I joined this signature series of creator/writer Tim Seeley late, reading it because I enjoyed his work on Witchblade, and after getting settled in, I was pretty impressed with how Seeley managed to take a premise that has very little on its face and turn it into a dramatic horror series with a lot of moments that were far more intricate in tone and handling than you’d expect from a story about going around and killing serial killers. This final arc-at least for now-shows Seeley at his best, creating horrific set pieces, balancing it with a bit of humor (a Scooby Doo-like dog called Pooch), and making us really attached to the characters involved by showing their humanity within the insane world they seek to improve, hit by hit.

That latter piece is key, because if we didn’t care about Vlad, Cat, Linda, and the others, seeing them in grave danger at the hands of some of Cassie’s worst nemeses wouldn’t mean much. If the cast of characters were one-dimensional, they’d be no more than cannon fodder, like a hero created only to be killed off to show how horrible the villain is. Instead, Seeley has built to this moment, which is why when bad things happen-and I assure you, without spoiling anything, they happen in this trade-I feel genuine loss and understand why Cassie is ready to give in to everything she hates. If this trade can generate such an emotional response in me, a person who has only read this most recent incarnation of the series, I can only imagine how long-time readers dealt with the deaths and fallout thereafter.

Seeley ramps up the urgency as we go along, picking just the right moments to spring his emotional traps and set up dramatic tension. I like how even though we’re involved in a bloody plot, there’s still room for detective work, led by having two of Cassie’s smartest allies working together to figure out the plan of the Society. While this is still very much Cassie’s show, it’s a team effort, quite literally in some points. Cassie is not the only one to get closure, as those who have chased the whirlwind for so long get the opportunity to think about whether they’re willing to risk another reaping.

Working the art for the entire arc is Elena Casagrande, who has a lot to juggle because of the many things going on in this story arc. Despite the challenge, I thought she did a good, if unspectacular job of keeping pace with the script. Her character and panel designs are solid, keeping the reader grounded and making sure that unless we aren’t supposed to see the action, that anything important is covered. Her ability to draw the subtle moments, such as when Cassie must make the final choice of the series, makes her a good pick for the plot. I also like the determination on the faces of our heroes as they go into the big fight.

Unfortunately, for all the action going on around Cassie, Vlad, and the others, we see little movement in the art. The characters don’t pose, thankfully, but they also don’t move as much as you’d expect when facing crazed Insane Clown Posse stand-ins, the most diabolical serial killers, and other things that would best be shown in fluid motion. I also found it a little odd that there is so little blood shed by the characters in a slasher comic. Part of that may be Seeley’s choice but ironically for once I would have liked to see more gore on the page rather than the restrained take we have here.

There may be more Hack/Slash in the future, but I appreciate that Tim Seeley gives us a real sense of closure, even while showing the fight is never truly over by the subtlest means possible. Fans of the series get a great ending to a solid horror comic, which I easily recommend to any fan of the genre.

So Super Duper: The Complete Collection
Written by Brian Andersen
Art by Brian Andersen and Celina Hernandez
Self-Published
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Brian Andersen has been a staple in the gay community's comic creators, with this most famous strip So Super Duper,  covered by several mainstream media outlets over the years and now being collected into one massive trade. Andersen started the book all by himself, but now So Super Duper has been new coat of paint having been recolored and relettered, but it doesn't fix all of the problems here.

If you weren't familiar with the So Super Duper when it ran on Newarama's Blog, it's the story of a would-be super hero, Psyche, with a not so superpower: the power of empathy. While the story itself is comical and whimsical, it's not to be considered farce or campy. It almost reads like Invincible, but through rainbow-filtered lenses. Andersen himself has stated that Psyche is based off of himself, in terms of going on a similar road of self-discovery (sans super powers) and coming to terms with his sexuality.

While Andersen certainly has a knack for the more campy side of superheroics, his art is less than stellar and almost juvenile and at times just downright incomprehensible However, once he lets Celina Hernandez take over the artistic duties with her anime-influenced style, the worst of Andersen's art can be forgiven and forgotten about as the story takes off from there and becomes even more action-oriented, even if the panel layouts are minimal, the gist of the story is still understood.

So Super Duper features both straight and gay characters and is accessible to both straight and gay readers alike. It's a fun story filled with romance, action, and bits of humor and moments of awkward self-discovery, but if you don't mind the art for the first half, you'll find a great story in there somewhere.

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