Best Shots Extra: YOUNG AVENGERS, SUICIDE SQUAD, BATMAN, More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Young Avengers #7
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Kieron Gillen's Young Avengers is the kind of book you want to pass around to all your non-comic reading friends, just to prove that comics are still cool. Really, achingly cool in this case. Gillen's take on his late teens cast is spot on, combining a biting sense of humor with a strong emotional hook and some out of this world action. There's more to Young Avengers than simply reviving a somewhat dormant concept, and this latest issue proves it by finally taking a step back, and showing the full cast doing what they do best; getting into Twitter arguments, going to concerts on the moon, and fighting intergalactic crime while still engaging in the seemingly endless quest for breakfast.

After last month's quick detour to visit erstwhile teammate Speed and his co-worker Prodigy, the super genius former mutant, it's nice to see Gillen taking some time to evolve the team's group dynamic through a series of vignettes that explore their relationships. Gillen's version of Noh-Varr, an interstellar teenager finally allowing himself to enjoy life, is particularly compelling, especially when paired with Hawkeye, who finds herself living up to her namesake's example in all the right — and wrong — ways. As with all teenage hero stories, there's gotta be some drama, but fortunately, the growing tension between everyone's favorite couple Hulkling and Wiccan doesn't feel forced. Rather, it brings up some salient issues without beating them over the reader's head, forcing the characters and the readers to ask emotional questions that constantly plague real relationships.

Of course there's some plot in there, too. Fortunately, we're moving away from the occasionally draggy story of the Mother and her strange, parasitic hold on the Young Avengers' parents that keeps the kids sans supervision — still an excellent conceit, by the way — and the dots between Speed and Prodigy's story and the main cast are now connecting, resulting in some really excellent sequences bolstered by some very clever page design from Jamie McKelvie, like Prodigy's introduction and explanation of how he tracked the team, framed inside Prodigy's head, or the team's jaunt into another dimension shown in shards of glass like the broken boundaries of space.

Jamie McKelvie really seems to be getting comfortable with less traditional layouts and artistic concepts, even using a series of "screenshots" to illustrate the passage of time via the team's fake social media accounts. This all works thanks to McKelvie's unique ability to draft believable looking young adult superheroes, from their haircuts, to their newly streamlined outfits, to their alternatingly listless and excited expressions. Matt Wilson also continues to prove why he's one of the best colorists around these days, knowing exactly how to balance mood setting conceptual colors with more literal tones when the need arises.

Seven issues in, Young Avengers has gone through some hurdles, and had one or two issues that didn't quite match the book's promise, however issue #7 may be just about the best one since the first. It may be that Kieron Gillen simply excels at these kind of introductory or transitional issues, but more likely, now that the team is basically formed and the stage set, Young Avengers is really taking off.

Credit: DC Comics

Suicide Squad #22
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Patrick Zircher and Jason Keity
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Ales Kot knows how to ruin my week.

For those who missed the news, Kot announced on his Tumblr page this week that he would be off Suicide Squad starting with issue #24, to make way for Mind MGMT writer Matt Kindt. "I killed my deadlines, I wrote my best, and I have no regrets whatsoever," Kot told his fans.

Well, I have regrets. I regret that he's leaving the book. Seriously, this is why we can't have nice things. Because Suicide Squad #22 makes three-for-three for Kot's terrific, truncated run, and his deft handling of DC's ragtag team of super-crooks shows that there is so much potential that is going to be scuttled once Kot departs the title.

The key to Kot's success for this book is, like Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts and Gail Simone's Secret Six before him, he always manages to strike the right balance between comedic and cruel. With the Squad on an operation in Las Vegas — one of the highest suicide capitals in the country, Kot helpfully notes — this crew is in their seedy element, as they attempt to stop a psychological terrorist strike utilizing big-name billboards. Little beats like Harley Quinn shouting "like a boss!" or Unknown Soldier given the official narrator title of "party pooper" — or my personal favorite moment of the script, when King Shark dives into a building saying "hello. My name is Trixie. I like to party" — shows that this book doesn't take itself too seriously, but instead makes fun of itself just enough that it gets readers on-board.

Of course, there needs to be some edge to this book as well, and Kot delivers there, as well. Unlike the do-gooders of the Justice League, the Suicide Squad just does not give a fig, so kneecapping a guard in a back alley? Par for the course. Kot also takes a smart twist on the hulking monster that he introduced in his first issue, as he gives a little bit of distinction to something that would otherwise be just faceless cannon fodder. He also adds a lot of tension just by virtue that these guys are all untrustworthy SOBs - you never know who's going to betray whom, and even though we all know the Squad can be resurrected at any time, thanks to the Samsara Serum, you still find yourself worrying. Honestly, the only flaw in this book? That the amazing dynamic Kot has been cooking between Squad taskmistress Amanda Waller and sociopathic analyst James Gordon, Jr. has to get on the backburner a bit.

The art in this book is also a great fit, and keeps this book on an even keel. Patrick Zircher keeps this book looking realistic, favoring solid storytelling and darker shadows rather than flashy layouts and choreography. That said, this issue he does experiment a bit more with the panel composition, evoking a Mike Deodato sort of vibe that really injects some nice energy towards the end of the book, when the fight sequences start really ramping up. (And he also deserves some mad props for being able to fit so many panels per page without sacrificing any detail or emotion.) Speaking of emotion, Zircher does a great job with the "acting" needed for each of these characters, whether it's Cheetah sneering at Amanda Waller, or Deadshot shrugging when he stumbles into a den of hedonists.

I'm not privy to the politics of DC Comics, but when you read comics like Suicide Squad #22, you can't help but feel it's a wasted opportunity, knowing that a team this good only has one issue left in the can. There is so much more going on — and Kot actually ups the ante on his last page — and you just know there's no way he can possibly wrap it all up with just 20 more pages. There's resurrection, romance, some new depth on characters we're only just starting to get to know — why would DC throw all that away? So if you're into quality crime comics, well, enjoy this while it lasts — while this run on Suicide Squad might be short-lived, it's making the most of what little time is has left.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers Arena #12
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker, Jason Gorder and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The kid gloves are off. With the latest issue of Avengers Arena, Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker don't just crank the dial to 11, they break it off entirely, as the teenage superheroes of the Marvel Universe engage in a lethal battle royale. Thanks to some striking artwork and some clever narration — not to mention going against the grain of the inherently optimistic natures of many of these young characters — this is a taut, tense fight comic that'll have you on the edge of your seat.

With the cybernetic puppetmistress Apex out of control, Dennis Hopeless has racked up a decent body count with this series, with even fan-favorites like Mettle and Nico Minoru taking a dirt nap in Arcade's version of the Hunger Games. Of course, that's made plenty of fans pretty upset, and it's to Hopeless's credit that he actually responds to some of these critiques in his narration. Is this a story, with development, with characterization, with an arc that progresses? Or is this a game, just action for action's sake? In so doing, he actually winds up getting the best of both worlds, as he not only orchestrates a surprising, fist-pumping comeback from one teen hero, but he also puts some real stakes behind the over-the-top fighting.

The artwork in this book is also superb, as Kev Walker produces the best action sequence I've ever seen him draw. His take on Darkhawk in particular is impressive, as Chase winds up morphing and growing as his alien armor sprouts energy cannons from his chest and shoulders. There's a real edginess to his character designs that both highlights the innocence in many of these characters — poor Death Locket is a heartbreaker, particularly as someone disassembles her mechanical arm - but at the same time, his quirky, sharp artwork shows just how dark Murder World can get.

It's difficult to get too in-depth on this issue, for fear of spoilers — but suffice to say, if you've been reading Avengers Arena, whether you've been angry or been loving it, Hopeless and Walker have some sharp twists that you're really going to love. With some huge fireworks, some nice character dynamics between longtime teammates, and more than one big surprise, this arc goes out with a bang.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #22
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Pascencia
Lettering by Nick Napolitano Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Now, it’s important to be clear about one thing when it comes to Batman: many fans buy this book because they want to see Batman in action… yet they won’t find Gotham’s Dark Knight in this issue. But that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s arguably what makes this issue as strong as it is. After all, “Zero Year” is all about how the man behind the Bat came to don the cape and cowl, and it would be distracting from this course if we didn’t spend some serious time learning about how Bruce constructed the identity of the Batman. When it comes to exploring that journey, Snyder, Capullo, and the rest of the team deliver in spades.

Unlike the first issue, which bounced back and forth more frequently to various points in Bruce Wayne’s life prior to the “New 52” launch, this comic remains predominantly grounded in those weeks just following Bruce’s return to Gotham. This provides readers with the opportunity to dig in and really spend some time seeing how Bruce took all of the lessons he learned abroad and brought them together to begin waging his war on the criminals of Gotham. Of course, it’s not a smooth process as we see. While quite skilled, Bruce’s tactics don’t always go exactly as planned, and he lacks the same level of polish readers are more accustomed to seeing during the execution of his master plans to infiltrate the enemy and take them out. Moreover, we see his relationship with Alfred is less clearly defined and far more volatile as the two come into conflict with one another, learning about the dedication each holds to a particular ideal. The real question – which we know the answer – is what brings each around to recognize the value in the other’s firmly held beliefs.

Something else I enjoy about Snyder’s approach is how he folds in past influences into his fresh perspective on the Batman mythos. Elements of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series can be seen with the zeppelins patrolling Gotham. Dipping even further back into the past, the backstory is a decompressed episode inspired by a single panel from Bruce’s years spent training as a scientist in Detective Comics #33 co-written with James Tynion IV and art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig. Albuquerque is really a spot on choice for artistic duties given the somewhat scratchy feel to his brush and line work. Given this story is all about the rough edges involved in the building of a superhero, the aesthetic works quote well. McCaig’s also does solid work on colors particularly with his controlled use of light throughout this short story. Snyder has mentioned he did not want to contradict past origins of Batman, and I would say what he’s doing here is more along the lines of looking at them from a different perspective. In doing so, however, he does not fail to recognize the past and this respectful attention shows.

There’s also a lot to like about Greg Capullo’s work on Batman #22 from his actions shots, smart panel composition, and highly detailed backgrounds all of which make it clear Scott Snyder isn’t the only storyteller on this title. And those skills are all on display in this issue (the bat suit prototypes are particularly fun details included). Capullo manages to successfully “de-age” Bruce so he looks like a young, impetuous 20-something. He’s leaner and a little more wide-eyed. Even his body posture seems a little less balanced and sure from Capullo’s more wizened rendition of both the man and the superhero. We know this is a younger Bruce, but it says something about the artist who takes the time to show it, as well.

I also appreciated the balance in how the various panels were composed. Some are fully detailed and provide a sense of depth to the picture, such as in Bruce’s lab or the museum. In others, however, Capullo steps back and lets Plascencia step forward and color in the backgrounds to keep the reader’s eye focused directly on the main action of the panel. Miki and Plascencia also pair off well together in the scenes within the cave — the careful balance between light and darkness, which is integral to Snyder’s plot. I also found the back-and-forth between Bruce and Edward Nygma to be a brilliant way to underscore the battle of the minds taking place in real time. It’s smart art and it’s smart storytelling.

I always try to keep a critical eye out for even little things that didn’t quite work for me; however, I simply didn’t find any in this issue. I moved seamlessly from one panel and page to the next until, sadly, the comic was finished — the only disappointing aspect to the comic. With the brief introduction of Penguin, the meeting of Bruce and the Riddler, and of course, the pre-Joker Red Hood, there is a lot in store in for this title, and it’s certainly not to be missed.

Credit: Fantagraphics

Lost Cat
Written by Jason
Art by Jason
Translated by Kim Thompson
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Norwegian cartoonist Jason returns with his latest anthropomorphic animal adventure. The story of Lost Cat centers around private detective, Dan Delon, who finds a lost cat while walking home from work one night. Responding to a flyer, he reunites the cat with its owner, a lady who runs a local bookstore. The two get chatting and find they have a lot in common—both are heartbroken divorcees living alone, who have trouble meeting other people. A couple of days later they agree to meet for dinner, but she never shows up for their date. Worse than that, she doesn’t answer her phone, doesn’t seem to be at home, and none of her neighbors have seen her for days. As Dan employs his detective skills to investigate her disappearance, he begins to become obsessed with her, believing her to be his soulmate and imagining conversations with her. Then his investigation starts uncovering a deeper mystery and things take a turn for the bizarre.

Jason’s stories often look very simple and straightforward at first glance, but there’s always more to them than meets the eye. Without revealing any spoilers, this tale is no exception: while at its heart a detective fiction story and a love story, the plot takes something of a science fiction twist in the middle that makes you bring into question everything that the protagonist is seeing and hearing. He closes the story with a rather unexpected and Lynchian ending that leaves much up to the reader’s interpretation and rewards repeat re-readings. For all of its eccentricities though, at it’s core what we get here are two intersecting tales of lost love — examining the question of what happens if you meet your perfect partner, your one chance at true love, only to have it all taken away by circumstances beyond your control.

Jason has always been a man of few words. A few years back he put out a collection called “Almost Silent,” which is probably the perfect way to describe his cartooning style. While not completely free of words like the work of Jim Woodring, he forgoes any sort of narration and keeps his script just to dialogue. Said dialogue is often very sparse, to-the-point, and free from any sort of exposition. He leaves much of the storytelling up to his artwork and trusts in the intelligence of his readers to comprehend the plot. This tends to give his stories something of a haunted atmosphere, a feeling which is amplified by the fact that his characters all have dead, featureless white rings for eyes.

A major effect of this sparsity of words is then whenever he writes dialogue, it’s always really rich and involving. One of the best scenes from the story is a “talking heads” sequence between the two main characters, which features incredibly natural and human feeling dialogue that lets you know so much about the characters: their sad pasts, their aspirations, their sense of hopelessness. Of course, a large part of this must be attributed to the late Kim Thompson, who was responsible for translating Jason’s original script into English. With such sensitive character-building moments a poor translation could have ruined the whole story, but thankfully Thompson provides a stellar English-language script.

Jason’s artwork on Lost Cat follows his tried and tested formula. Which is to say that he utilizes very clean looking linework and very minimal inking to accentuate lines and fill blacks. His backgrounds typically contain a lot of white space and very little in terms of scenery or ornamentation. It is often said that his style owes a debt to the work of Hergé and his development of ligne claire, an influence that is pretty clear to see here. While mostly black and white, he employs some sepia spot-coloring here and there to give the final artwork a slightly vintage look. In line with the minimalistic feeling of both the script and artwork, he utilizes a standard four-panel page through, except for the cover and opening splashes.

Lost Cat is an incredibly powerful and human story, despite the fact, or perhaps in part because of the fact, that it’s told using talking animals. While equal parts detective fiction and science fiction, in essence this is a haunting story of lost love and heartbreak. Once again, Jason has managed to outdo himself and tell a unique and touching story that will linger in the reader’s mind long after the final page is turned.

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