Best Shots Reviews: UNCANNY AVENGERS, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready to kick off this week's reviewing goodness? Best Shots has you covered with this Monday's column, as we start off with the latest issue of Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers...

Uncanny Avengers #10
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Daniel Acuna
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Marvel's best team book keeps on getting better, as Rick Remender outdoes himself with his latest issue of Uncanny Avengers. Pitting this divided team against the newest lineup of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this book balances character dynamics and fist-fights with equal aplomb.

What I particularly like about this issue is that is shows just how much Remender has grown as a writer over the years. While his strengths have always included sharp dialogue, smart characterization and a panache for action sequences, I've always thought Remender has had one blind spot - his villains. In Uncanny X-Force, for example, having a Confederate drummer as Famine felt a little too quirky to catch on - but now that he has continuity to lean back on, Remender shows he knows how to make the smart calls when it comes to reintroducing and reinvigorating Marvel's B- and C-list supervillains. Resurrecting characters such as Banshee, the Sentry, Daken and the Grim Reaper is a brilliant choice just on a conceptual level, but Remender sells it by reminding us the connections these villains have with our heroes - it's great to see, for example, Thor get effortlessly taken out by a demigod he killed just a short time ago, while Wonder Man's reunion with his late brother just reeks of bad blood.

But not only does Remender juggle a lot of action sequences, he also continues to show how his heroes' relationships evolve. Seeing the Scarlet Witch finally come around and accept Havok as a leader is a superb moment, and one that feels really earned, despite that tension only having come about in the past five issues. Meanwhile, Thor and Rogue have begun to show some unexpected chemistry together, and Remender brings back an interesting shared theme between Wonder Man and Wolverine, as both of them wax philosophic on the merits and morality of violence. Ultimately, that is the main strength of Uncanny Avengers - it's putting together these unexpected combinations of characters, pitting them against larger-than-life threats, and then watching what kinds of sparks fly when the team isn't in the heat of the moment.

Daniel Acuna, meanwhile, continues to blow the roof off this book. His action sequences are the highlights of the book, particularly as we watch the Sentry completely dismantle Thor, choking the Norse demigod out in an eerily green volcano. Acuna's take on Wolverine is also particularly expressive, whether it's him grinning as he interrogates Ozymandias or he scowls as he beats himself up over his violent past. Acuna's designs of the Four Horsemen are also really wonderful to look at, almost a dark Tron version of these powerful heroes and villains - they're all unified by their black-and-blue color schemes, yet they also just exude energy on every page they appear. These villains really cut a mean figure, both in terms of concept and visuals.

The popcorn blockbuster of the Marvel Universe isn't losing any steam this week, as Remender and Acuna introduce the Four Horseman without missing a beat. Lots of history and bad blood keeps Uncanny Avengers unpredictable and interesting, and the scale can only get bigger from here. Even with the team split down the middle, Remender finds interesting ways to divide and conquer - if you're not reading Uncanny Avengers, you're missing out on one of the best superhero books on the stands.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League Dark #22
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Is there such a thing as too many Justice Leagues? The third installment of "The Trinity War" begs the question, as Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin struggle to fit in three different teams into a single issue. While there is some progression to the overall storyline, there's a little bit too much talk and not enough action in this so-called "war."

Part of the problem that this issue has is Lemire has to catch us up with a ton of stuff - it takes about eight pages before we even see the poorly named Justice League Dark, and even then, they're in only about six pages of story. Instead, Lemire has to touch upon Pandora's Box, the death of Doctor Light, the incarceration of Superman, not to mention three different Justice Leagues. Indeed, just as the last issue of Justice League of America focused more on the original Justice League than the actual titular characters, this issue focuses more on Superman, Wonder Woman and the JLA.

Unfortunately, with so many characters on board, that means that many of them just get perfunctory appearances, rather than anything that feels organic or pushes the story forward. Green Arrow going AWOL from Amanda Waller, for example, doesn't really add much to the plot, and lines from Cyborg, the Martian Manhunter, the Atom and Element Woman just feel tacked on. And with all the additional dialogue clutter from all these extraneous characters, some big beats in the book - namely, Batman and Wonder Woman going head-to-head over what to do next, or the Phantom Stranger suggesting to speak with Doctor Light in the afterlife - wind up going almost completely unnoticed.

Artwise, Mikel Janin is rocking a little bit of that Dale Eaglesham vibe, mixed with a little bit of Pete Woods (particularly the way that Jeromy Cox colors his art). But like Lemire, Janin gets bogged down with the sheer number of characters he has to pack on every page - as a result, the backgrounds (already gray and muddy from Cox's coloring) wind up being pretty minimal, with a lot of shots of characters just standing and talking with one another. That said, Janin's take on Green Arrow looks pretty dynamic, and I really like the way he shows Superman straining to maintain his self-control in the wake of being infected with Pandora's Box. Still, it's a little bit of a case of too little, too late - because there's not much going on in the script besides exposition, there's not much going on visually, either. It's posing and assembling rather than actually doing much.

The other issue that seems to be holding "The Trinity War" back is it can't quite seem to decide what kind of story it wants to be. Is it the Secret Society launching its big assault on the heroes of the DC Universe? It is the Justice League of America finally getting their big break against the original League? Is it Pandora, the Phantom Stranger and the Question finally shedding some light on the secrets of the New 52? Right now, the answers are slim, and it winds up making this arc feel like a crossover for crossover's sake, more of a collection of action figures rather than something that truly requires three Justice Leagues. Without that kind of set direction, Justice League Dark just feels out of place, even in its own series.

Uncanny #2
Uncanny #2
Credit: Dynamite/Sean Phillips

Uncanny #2
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Aaron Campbell and Bill Crabtree
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Biting the hand that fed him freedom, Weaver takes off, relying on his wits and special power to get him out of the country before his debtors collect their pound of flesh, but it’s hard to beat the rap when the deck is stacked against you. The gambling table might not be the only place where Weaver’s luck has run out as this series follows up a strong debut issue with a solid effort that deepens the mystery.

The great thing about this issue is that right from the start, writer Andy Diggle immediately zigs when the reader expects him to zag. Instead of sending Weaver directly to his mysterious benefactor, we see him try once more to go it alone, with results that aren’t any better than his first attempt. The resulting story this issue could have dragged down the overall narrative, but instead Diggle moves quickly, showing Weaver trying to get out of the country by any means possible. Without a single flashback, Weaver’s character is built upon in these scenes. He’s independent, self-serving, and uses up people as it suits him. In the past, that’s been enough, but not now. Even better, with this latest encounter, Weaver learns the true toll his actions collect on others by touching someone in a critical moment.

With that core identity created in just two issues, Diggle is ready to move forward with the larger plot. We learn a few tantalizing hints about Weaver’s new potential boss, namely that they have extensive resources and a way to shield their agents from Weaver’s powers. They are acquiring people with abilities and have been doing so before they targeted Weaver. What we still don’t know-and I hope that’s coming in issue three-is the purpose of this organization. Diggle is no stranger to creating stories based around agencies or characters with incredible black ops powers. The question in Uncanny is whether this one will act as a force for good, as in The Losers or more like the one we saw in the recent Image mini-series, Snapshot. The next issue would be a good time to let the reader in, or at least provide some information that could later be a revealed as a clever misdirection. Either way would work for me, but I’m ready to move into the meat of the story. Hopefully, Diggle is, too.

Aaron Campbell shines again on art duties in this issue, opening with a half-splash page that sets the world for the reader. We get detailing down to individual shipping crates and Campbell even takes the time to differentiate the clothing of the dozens of characters in the long shot, with colorist Bill Crabtree putting icing on the cake by shading them in multiple tones as well. It’s little things like that which make me stand up and take notice in a world where comic backgrounds can often be blank walls.

Care for the craft of telling the visual part of the story is evident all through this issue. Campbell adds to the characterization of Weaver by showing that one of the first things he does after getting off the bike is to adjust his clothing, cluing us in to his vanity. His reaction shots are timed for effect, such as when Maggie (Weaver’s rescuer) realizes he’s just brought the police down on her head to cover his escape or the close-up on Weaver when he believes he is about to be shot.

Everything in Campbell’s panels pushes the action, which is essential for a suspense story like Uncanny. When Maggie breaks in to save Weaver for the second time, there’s a whirlwind of movement, aided by the placement of the figures in each segment of the page. Maggie busts in from the top of the page, curled and ready to strike, with the broken glass coming in just off-center. Two thugs are shot, falling back against the page, as though we the reader are Maggie. When the goons recover, they’re not all standing at the range-Campbell places them scrambling to recover from the surprise attack. This is just one example of how well Campbell understands the need for the visuals to be as interesting as the storyline. There are plenty of others I could have highlighted.

Uncanny is a bit different from the usual Dynamite book and shows them branching out as they mature. If the story keeps up being this good, Diggle has a chance to catch Brubaker and Rucka for best crime comic writer in 2013.

Godzilla, Vol. 3 TPB
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Simon Gane and Rhonda Pattison
Letters by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The best laid plans of mercenaries and businessmen often go astray when gigantic creatures walk the world’s cities, laying to waste everything in their path. With the fate of civilization hanging in the balance, Boxer and the rest of humanity must rethink their relationship with Godzilla and the rest of the monsters. The devils the earth knows are better than the devils from space, but it all adds up to destruction on a grand scale as Godzilla ends its run at the hands of the creative team of Duane Swierczynski, Simon Gane and Rhonda Pattison.

Long-time Newsarama readers know I’ve been a fan of this series since it opened, and I’m really sad to see it go, though I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending. Swierczynski ties all of the outstanding plot threads together here, from a creative use for Mechagodzilla (that shows the thing really is an unworkable concept) to the corrupt corporation running Monster Island to a final resolution for Boxer that finishes his arc-and its Moby Dick allusions-in a note-perfect landing. Finding a way to end Boxer’s story was always going to be the tricky part. After all, you can’t really kill Godzilla, but to leave both he and Boxer alive would have felt incomplete. I really love how Swierczynski refuses to change Boxer, even if he must (temporarily) swallow his pride for the fate of the world.

As with any good kaiju story, this one builds up to a series of climaxes featuring big battles with the monsters taking center stage and the humans reacting as best they can. Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan get the most screen time here, trying to take down the trio of monsters from space that are out to wreck the earth even worse than the home-grown versions usually do. In the end, of course it’s the title character who has to save the day, but getting to see some of the rest duke it out as well will make fans of the Toho films smile as they take in panel after panel of destruction framed exquisitely by Simon Gane.

This would have been a great series with adequate art, but Gane brought something extra to the table that I haven’t seen from others who’ve worked on Godzilla. I remember loving Gane’s work in All Flee from Top Shelf, which showed he had a soft spot for Japanese monster movies. That care for the source material shows in his art throughout the series, but especially here. The ending fight scenes in these five issues feel like they’re right out of one of the classic films. He deftly switches between the humans trying to control/fight/assist the creatures and the monsters themselves, often showing just how puny people are in comparison to the giants taking up much of the page space. The humans could easily be lost in the mix, but their emotions and actions are given just as much attention as the monsters, such as Clair’s return. We know she’s furious at Boxer without a single word, just by looking at Gane’s body language for her.

If that were all Gane did, it would be enough. But in addition to angling his pencils to evoke the classic poses of the men in the rubber suits (such as the sideways attacks, backwards crashing into buildings, and of course Godzilla’s patented boasting stance), he also takes pains to make each city backdrop unique to its source. Anyone can draw the Statue of Liberty getting clobbered, but Gane also makes sure everywhere from Vancouver to Hong Kong look right out of an atlas. If you tried, I bet you could even identify the exact places in the desert that Godzilla fights a monster in at one point. It’s amazing attention to detail that makes you stand up and notice-and look for Gane’s next project.

IDW does an amazing job as a company with their licensed work, and Godzilla is no exception. This series might be the best of them that I’ve read so far, with a writer who balances an intricate plot with explosive action, humor, and pathos, a line artist who even remembers to put dirt on his character’s clothing when they’ve been in a crash, and a colorist who balances the garish with the grime. This series gets my highest possible recommendation for both kaiju fans and those who want to read great comics.

Pellet Review!

Gamma #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Pokémon meets Power Rangers in this week's Gamma by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas. Antihero Dusty Keztchemal is a famous coward, currently making a living off of people paying to punch him. But when a damsel in distress asks for his help, this ex-champion of monster training convinces himself that he still has what it takes! While the book itself is well-paced and the concept interesting, the issue falls short as a one-shot. It would much better serve as a first issue of a longer story, where there would be time to develop connections with the characters. That being said, the art in this issue (also done by Farinas) is a real winner, with modern character designs, unique layouts, and great colors. A decent read overall, but a bummer thinking what could have been if this had been a mini-series instead of a solo issue.

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