Best Shots: SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN, PANDORA, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Have a happy Fourth of July holiday? Best Shots enjoyed the weekend with fresh comics, as we take a look at the industry's latest releases! So let's kick off today's column with Aaron Duran, as he takes a look at The Superior Foes of Spider-Man...

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There really is something great to a group of characters that have nothing to lose and everything to prove. Which is what initially drew me to The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1. As soon as you open the comic, writer Nick Spencer lets you know what you're in for. These folks aren't heroes. They aren't even the villain with a heart of gold. Nope, these costumed folks are liars, thieves, cheats, and cowards. They're the worst the Marvel universe has to offer, both in skill and morals. They're also pretty dang entertaining.

While I have a fairly strong knowledge of Spider-Man lore and continuity, I was grateful that Spencer brought us passing web-slinger fans up to speed. I mean, sure, I know Otto is calling the shots in Parker's body. But, as to the rest of the people running around his life, I didn't really have a clue. Spencer does a great job of using Boomerang as not only our focal character, but also as a guide and narrator throughout the comic.

In much the same way Parker all but speaks to the reader with his internal monologue, so too does Spencer use Boomerang. It's a subtle play with the norm that works very well. Although the book claims these aren't “lovable rouges,” their actions, intentional or otherwise, suggest different. While Spencer never takes this all-new Sinister Six into the realm of parody, they certainly have their moments of absurdity, tempered with legitimate pathos.

Together, Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg deliver one pretty looking issue. Marvel seems to be on an artistic trend of simple lines and basic coloring. That's not to say this comic isn't a visual treat. Indeed, it's this cleanliness that makes it standout. Lieber's pencils are smooth and clear, without any unnecessary detail to distract the reader from the moment. With so much of the humor playing out with simple character interaction, Lieber's subtle changes in movement and pose go a long way in selling the joke to the reader.

Rosenberg's color selection for the book is far less pronounced than you'd expect. These are, after all, brightly costumed villains trying to stand out in an already saturated New York. However, through her deliberate muting of theirs colors, the book is almost suggesting that even visually, these folks are in no way ready for prime-time villainy. It's a neat little trick that sits in the back of your mind as your read the comic.

I was going to promise myself not to make the Secret Six comparison, but like the characters in this comic, I'm not above such obvious actions. While The Superior Foes of Spider-Man have yet to reach that level of crazy, this is just their first issue and the potential is most definitely there. All the raw elements of such a classic are in this comic, and Spencer, Lieber, and Rosenberg make one heck of a creative team. Really, the only thing that really worries me about this book is what happens with their old boss Otto comes swinging into their lives.

Credit: DC Comics

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1
Written by Ray Fawkes
Art by Zander Cannon, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes and Patrick Zircher
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

When the New 52 launched, the mysterious woman in purple was little more than a Where's Waldo for DC fans. At best, an intriguing image. At worst, an annoyance that pulled you from the story you where reading. Ever since her appearance, and eventual naming, we've all wondered just how strongly Pandora will play into the continued evolution of the New 52. Well, here we are. At the opening salvo of the comics event that's means to shake the young status quo of this DC universe. Considering Pandora is the fulcrum from which all events (and maybe even the New 52 itself) pivots and turns, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 needs to be one heck of a book.

Ray Fawkes is faced with a tricky proposition in the early pages. He needs to get Pandora to the image we already know. That of the cloaked woman with the dual pistols, but he needs to do so in such a way that not only are we knowledgeable of her, but even a bit sympathetic. On both accounts, he is only moderately successful. Pandora's origin is little on the heavy-handed side, filled with imagery and events that are well traveled by both reader and writer. Indeed, you could argue Pandora isn't cursed with curiosity, but rather some of the worst luck of all time. Remember, if you see a metal Despero looking skull in the woods, don't pick it up. Fawkes certainly gives us all the beats we need in order to follow Pandora, but they aren't moments that we truly need. As it stands, she's still just this mysterious woman that wanders the Earth and is (rightfully) angry for her lot in life.

Visually, this issue is a mixed bag. Daniel Sampere, along with Zander Cannon handle the bulk of the art, with Patrick Zircher taking some duties in the middle of the book. The sudden shift in art is very distracting and really does nothing to improve the tone or theme of the comic. Sampere's lines are clean, if a tad on the busy side. In fact, much of the art in Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 suffers from the same concern found in a lot of modern DC books. In an attempt to tell these edgy and fast paced stories, the art becomes relentlessly busy. It's one thing to include detail in a panel to draw in the reader. It's another thing entirely to simply make the panel busy. So much happens, with little care to the story, that we lose the creators original intention. By the time we reach Vandal Savage in the middle of the book, we're almost numb to all the events happening.

To be blunt, this book is simply trying too hard. Which I know doesn't make any sense. Every title should try and exceed the reader's expectations. Still, there is a difference between exceeding expectations and tossing everything at the reader and hoping something sticks. And that there is the real problem with this debut issue. This is supposed to be the comic that launches the first event that will truly shake up the New 52. As it stands, it not only misses that mark, I'm not even sure you need to read it. Mind you, this isn't a bad comic. The writing is serviceable and the art is on par with most superhero titles on the shelf. However, it very much feels like a comic designed and plotted by committee. In the end, Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 would have worked better as a shorter installments within other books or as bonus digital content. The comic is simply okay and okay is not how you launch an event.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Next Testament #2
Written by Clive Barker and Mark Miller
Art by Haemi Jang
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
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Put aside your doubts for a moment, if you will, and imagine that the Judeo-Christian god really does exist. Not the kind and benevolent god of the New Testament—that was another guy—but the vengeful and wrathful god of the Old Testament. For over 2,000 years he’s been imprisoned by his brethren for his crimes against humanity, but now he’s back to look upon his creation once more, and he doesn’t like what he sees...

That the concept behind the first original comic series created by horror/fantasy master Clive Barker. Barker co-plots the series with longtime collaborator Mark Miller, and in this second issue the pair pull back the veil on some of the mysteries teased in the debut issue, introducing us to Wick, the Father of Colors and revealing his role in the events recounted in the Old Testament. We also get to know the main cast of characters a bit better and get a brutal demonstration of Wick’s power and his disregard for human life.

Mark Miller’s script for the comic is really top-notch, with good pacing, natural feeling dialogue featuring only minimal exposition, some strong character-building moments, and only a small amount of narration on the old testament flashback scenes. His portrayal of all of the movers and shakers of society as being selfish, cynical, and corrupt comes off really well, as does Wick’s reaction to their stupidity—there’s some really funny lines of dialogue between him and the gathered society members. The only ones that come out of the issue clean are Tristan and Elsbeth, who provide the more human point-of-view on the whole story. Wick comes off as every part the vengeful god, who looks upon humanity as a plaything to be used as he wills, and towards the end of the issue he begins to show true colors to those gathered, giving us a taste of what’s to come in future issues.

The series artist is Haemi Jang, a relative newcomer to the industry, who previously provided artwork for Boom!’s Hellraiser: The Road Below miniseries. Her artwork here has a slightly manga-like quality to it, with very clean linework and strong attention to detail. Her model work is really nice, with a good focus on realistic anatomy and features on characters—Julian is portrayed as flabby and overweight, while most of the other characters have somewhat average body types, which makes Wick’s god-like tall and muscular psyche stand out all the more. Her characters are all very expressive, with a good range of highly emotive facial expressions, which comes in handy because this is mostly a “talking heads” issue. There’s not a whole lot of action in this issue, but the last two pages have a decent amount of gore on them, which she portrays incredibly well, with a fantastic depiction of an exploding head, which gives way to a splash-page of horrified diners covered in blood and guts, with some nice little details like an eyeball floating on one woman’s soup.

Jang’s inking is quite impressive, she has a taste for heavy blacks and negative space, which she uses with flair to enhance tense scenes and add atmosphere to dramatic moments. In places you can see her brushstrokes, which adds texture to shadows backgrounds. Her coloring mostly employs a subtle palette of earth-tones and pastels, except on Wick, whose body is a canvas of vibrant shifting colors, which stands out in sharp contrast to the to the people and environs surrounding him.

Next Testament #2 is a fantastic sophomore issue, which elaborates upon the mysteries of the first issue and provides a strong foundation upon which to build the rest of the series. It’s a privilege to be treated to a new original story from the mind of Clive Barker, and Mark Miller’s strong script manages to do justice to Barker’s unique vision.

Pellet Reviews!

Satellite Sam #1
Satellite Sam #1
Credit: Image Comics

Satellite Sam #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This is a decidedly unexpected story given the cover’s depiction of a murdered spaceman with a pin-up woman stranding astride his body holding a smoking gun. Instead of an odd sort of “sexy sci-fi” story, it seems Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin are pursuing a murder mystery out of early 1950s Hollywood and the seedy underbelly of television broadcasting. While Chaykin’s black-and-white linework does a fine job of portraying the fast-paced world of early television serials, it is Fraction’s dialogue — both spoken and interior monologues — that stood out most and helped drive the hectic, anxiety-ridden tempo of the story. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I read this comic, but it’s one I’ll be putting on my read pile for next month.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Catalyst Comix #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): In its first issue, Catalyst Comix is one of the more ambitious projects out there. Setting the scene at the end of the world, this comic follows the timelines of three separate superheroes, as they figure out their roles in the impending apocalypse. While the concept is good and the art department boasts a stellar line-up (Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, Ulises Farinas, and Brad Simpson), writer Joe Casey might be over-reaching with this script. There is too much going on in the book for any individual hero to get sufficient attention, let alone have the reader make a connection with them. By the end of the issue the story seems overblown, and to its detriment. However, first issues are hard to navigate, so here's to hoping the series will pick up over the course of its nine-issue run.

Credit: Image Comics

Dark Skullkickers Dark #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Unfortunately, I found this last issue of what has other been a really fun story arc to feel a bit disjointed from the previous issues. The art quality is as strong as ever, but the story itself did not seem to deliver a resolution that the past events had appeared to build towards. While an unexpected change in plot can work, it felt as though the overall tone shifted where characters began to “metacognitively” analyze their circumstances within the narrative in earnest – not exactly the payoff I was expecting from past character behaviors up to this point. The alternate realities felt a bit tacked on and based on the ending, I’m not sure how they will play out in later issues. While not a bad issue, it certainly does not deliver the same sort of comedy and storyline as the earlier parts of the story arc.

The Victories #3 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This issue provides readers with an interesting response to some of the practical constraints to being a superhero – namely, the issues surrounding the financial ramifications of being a superhero and how one deals with these challenges. I thought Oeming’s take was a fairly unique one that could create some interesting story twists in later issues. Oeming’s depiction of DD Mau – both narratively and artistically speaking – is probably his strongest next to Faustus. We learn more of Metatron’s backstory, but given how heavily he is wrapped up in the conspiracy theory angle of this series, he feels more like a plot device and is a less a fully realized person as DD Mau and Faustus. Oeming introduces some interesting threads in this issue, and despite some of the disconnect I felt from Metatron, this series could simply be a good example of a “slow burn” build up to what could be a solid story.

Credit: Inverse Press

Flesh of White #2 (Published by Inverse Press; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This budding series is a great example of indie comics telling some truly unique stories. Erica Heflin and Amanda Rachels draw their inspiration for this supernatural suspense from real world atrocities committed against albinos in Tanzania. This issue picks up on Rehema’s arrival and settling in to the albino village to raise her son and protect him from the sinister witch doctor who wants to claim the boy for his own nefarious rituals as he continues the hunt for the fleeing widow and her albino son, Kwasi. Not only does Heflin deliver a really engaging tale that depicts the struggle between good and evil in a way uncommon in comics today, but Rachels’ line work and colors strong and compelling in the ways they convey both the emotions of the characters and the rising tension within the story.

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