Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Here’s a look back at this week’s Best Shots Extra . . .
The All-New, All-Awesome Invincible Versus The Astounding Wolf-Man
Invincible #57, The Astounding Wolf-Man #11
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Ryan Ottley/ Jason Howard
From Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
Crossovers, when utilized with proper moderation, are one of the simple pleasures of serial-comic reading. Seeing familiar characters interact, especially those with complimentary voices, is just one of the cornerstones of geekery.
This week's Invincible/ Wolf-Man team up has inflated importance given writer Robert Kirkman's recent parting of ways with the work-for-hire aspect of the publishing world for the self-sufficiency route. By combining two of his own comic series, and making the unique decision to get them out the same week, Kirkman exerted his independence rather loudly. He basically said, “Hey! I make the kind of comics all superhero comic readers like to read, and I can do whatever the hell I want with them. Don't you want in?”
And you do want in. Both issues serve as perfect primers for their respective series. Invincible is probably the greatest story of a hero in the universe. Its unique characteristic, distinguishing it from the corporate counterparts, is its rapid evolution. A regular superhero book focuses on maintaining the hero as is, living in a perpetual status quo of safe, conventional stories. Invincible only gets more and more complex.
Wolf-Man is something different. It is obviously an original brand of heroic horror, but it may not have found its stride just yet. Invincible didn't really take hold until the Omni-Man reveal, though, so the death of Wolf-Man's wife, and his new status as a fugitive may prove to be the turning point.
I'll give you this; the covers for both issue say Wolf-Man versus Invincible, and that's not really... well... true. Honestly, though, if you read superhero comics and don't expect that the formula is some variation of “heroes meet, have a misunderstanding,, fight, reconcile, and team up against a mutual threat,” you're really just not that perceptive a reader.
The plot line is fundamentally well constructed. Invincible plays in Wolf-Man's backyard, and vice-versa. We learn who Gary Hampton is, and how his life came to be a nightmare. Of course, when he curses his mortal enemy's name for effect, Kirkman reveals his tendency in dialog to sometimes be a little obvious.
If these two issues were a contest between Jason Howard and Ryan Ottley over who could draw the other's character better, I would say that Ottley drew a better Wolf-Man than Howard did Invincible, but I was struck at how well Howard conveyed emotion in the wolf-face. Howard had a great rendition of Immortal in the two-parter's climactic mega-fight.
The story ends leaving both series pretty close to where they started, one enriching sidetrack later. I'm not sure I would rank it over the Invincible/ Spider-man team-up, but this two-parter was a good exercise in fun comics.
Writer: Stephen Baldwin and Andrew Cosby, Caleb Monroe (script)
Pencils: Julian Totino Tedesco
Colors: Andres Lozano
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Reviewed by: Jeff Marsick
Yes, the marquee says Stephen Baldwin. And yes, it’s THAT Stephen Baldwin (being that I’m the resident red-stater of the Best Shots team, he’s also my favorite Baldwin, even if just slightly ahead of exceptionally hysterical sibling, Alec). If the association of the co-star of the “Flintsones: Viva Rock Vegas” and the painful “Threesome” is excuse enough for you to skip this book, well, I’m here to tell you that you just might be missing out on something great.
Part X-Files, part Millenium, part Straw Men, the book’s prologue is the Lazarus-like raising of a Katrina victim with but a whispered word from an Angus Scrimm-like mystery man. Fast forward three months to Los Angeles where our protag, CIA agent Thomas Sacker, nearly gets himself smithereened running a personal errand at the federal building when someone decides to make it go boom. Sacker’s new sexaholic trophy wife, Sarah, is a lead suspect given that her name was found on a flash drive recovered from the bomber’s remains. Then the enigmatic Lazarus makes a few now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t appearances at the periphery of Thomas’s awareness for a few days, before eventually going mano a mano with Thomas before ghosting. Mysterious? Indeed. Especially since the Department of Homeland Security discovers that a new player in the bombing is Lazarus, or rather John Drouin, who is supposed to be more pushing up daisies than walking the path of the living.
Confused? Don’t be. The issue reads very smoothly and is less convoluted than what you would expect given the sources of inspiration. The writing is actually terrific, with a natural and believable feel to the dialogue that is often missing in comics these days (there is something to be said for those Eureka writers; Andrew Cosby is a former show writer as is Johanna Stokes, whose Station for BOOM! is also a nifty whodunit in space). I would level a comparison of this script to Joss Whedon’s Buffy, albeit less cutesy and subtly more sinister. The only hiccup are the overly sex-amped scenes between the Sackers (sating his wife is going to be a full-time job it appears. Ah, the perils of wedding a much younger woman.) with Sarah coming across as something of a gynoid when she exhibits more concern over Thomas’s ability to perform on the honeymoon than she is over the fact that someone pulled an Oklahoma City in downtown Los Angeles. She’s clearly untrustworthy, but even more annoying.
Julian Totino Tedesco’s artwork is at times Kitson-like while at others Cho-esque. His backgrounds and layouts are rather Spartan, but his action sequences really move. The fight between Sacker and Drouin is indicative of the muscle this talent can flex, and I dare say I would love to see Julian tackle the effort of Daredevil or Batman, even if just for a single issue. Great work and just perfect for this book.
It’s tough to grade a series based on the first issue. I’ve eaten my share of two scoops o’crow over the years with effusive proclamations after chapter one that this series or that one is going to be talked about for years to come, and most of the time they turn into a direct-to-the-nickel-bin production and completely. But because I’ve suffered an above-average number of concussions in my lifetime and never seem to learn from past mistakes, I’m going to continue my limb stepping and say that Remnant might end up being one of the best series BOOM! has ever put out. I liked this opening salvo that much. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it will be the Potter’s Field of 2009. I give this issue and this series a rating of Buy It Now.
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen
From Dark Horse Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
Holy crap is Gigantic cool. First of all, alien-powered mega-fighting suits designed to fight on T.V.? Sold. Oh, it's also a commentary on the culture of entertainment and audience passivity? Great, count me in forever.
Gigantic obnoxiously satirizes its subject like the best absurd science fiction. Other stories have incorporated the idea that humanity could be viewed for entertainment, but this series puts that on to a massive scale, and combines it with alien abductions, overwhelming invasions, and robotic mecha- warriors on either side of a war for freedom, combining for a mighty powerful comic concoction.
Planet Earth is the universe's highest rated program, as it is the most troubled world in all of the galaxies. Of course, it is our struggles that separate humanity from their slovenly audience. Gigantic is the Universal Broadcast Company's biggest gladiatorial star. The ratings magnet betrays his employers when they threaten to cancel the Earth show, and giant sized conflict ensues.
This is a tale about the values of bread and circus. The allegory is paper-thin. It is really difficult to read this book and not see it as a scathing admonishment of reality television, and their values. It goes from difficult to impossible, though, when we are introduced to Gigantic's carefully selected adversary, Iconoclast, the monster who describes himself as “a unique warrior trained to tear through popular conventions!... Stand[ing] alone against the watered-down voice of the establishment.”
It isn't easy to skewer the fringes of a medium as poignantly as the mainstream, but Iconoclast's ridiculousness goes a long way in showing that simply being anti-mainstream doest make anything cool. Also, like almost all reality-stars, it is his obvious lust for fame and glory that motivates his actions, carelessly disregarding integrity. Again, it might not be subtle, but it is effective.
Eric Nguyen is not the artist I would have expected for a book like this. His fine style is in direct contrast to the broad, ample line I would expect, but it really works. His action is crystal clear, and his space-gear is intricate and distinct. Matthew Wilson's colors balance the comfort of the homeland with the stirring edge of the space- palate.
With solid personal development, satisfying action sequencing, and a biting, intelligent wit it looks like Remender and Nguyen have created a new book that is actively sharpening comics' cutting edge. Don't tell them, though, then they'd have to make fun of themselves, and probably self-combust.
No Enemy But Peace: One Shot
Writer: Richard C. Meyer
Pencils: Martin Montiel Luna, Richard C. Meyer
Letters: Thomas Mauer
Machinegun Bob Productions
Reviewed by: Jeff Marsick
If you want to find out what it’s like to walk the perilous streets of Iraq, clear a building with your squad while taking sniper fire, or just hang out with the men and women of our armed forces in theater and be a few degrees removed from journalistic spin, then your best choices are milblogs or grunt-level memoirs and accounts such as David Bellavia’s excellent House to House or Dalton Fury’s unbelievable-that-it-could-actually-be-true Kill Bin Laden. These are storytellers who have been there, or are there, and see random acts of bravery about as often as we here at home see commercials for Verizon. These are men and women who, as it says on the final page of this issue, read everything they can about the war and are stunned to discover that it is “as if there were two wars: one that existed in reality, and one that existed in the news.” No Enemy But Peace finds its motivation in this disconnect, and sets out to accomplish a mission of testifying to what really happens between the lines of mainstream newsprint. As a story, it is mesmerizing. As a comic book, it is nothing short of fantastic.
Written by a former Marine Sergeant, No Enemy But Peace is a Cliff Note version of the Battle of At-Tarmiya, on April 12, 2003, eighteen miles north of Baghdad. Specifically it is an account of the actions of Sergeant Marco Martinez on that day as he and his squad are sent to reinforce a platoon that had been ambushed; actions for which he would earn the Navy Cross, the second highest decoration in our armed forces. Ironically, page one has Martinez doing a voice-over while holding an enemy RPG in one hand and the launcher in the other, his face betraying the fact that he is going to need this weapon for his and his team’s survival, but he could sure do with a Google search for the instruction book. The opening line is Martinez talking to himself: “You are not a super-hero.” After reading the rest of the book, one can only imagine Batman or Superman putting the issue down and muttering the same words about themselves.
Don’t think that this is some dry re-hashing of the Navy Cross citation. Martin Montiel Luna’s pencils are terrific; kinetic and fresh, with layouts that have a seasoned professional’s eye, and panels filled with action that is never rushed or too densely packed. Mr. Luna’s work is spectacular for its detail, especially with regard to weapons and vehicles, which is just this side of photo-realistic. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m willing to overlook his weakness, which is in facial detail and anatomical proportions (the full page spread of Martinez securing the building is poster quality were it not for his comically tiny feet). The script by Richard C. Meyer (who also helped with the artwork) is also terrific, as well as refreshing in its verisimilitude. A soldier writing soldier dialogue puts the reader right there, next to these men, as opposed to being kept an arm’s distance away via civilian interpretation. Mr. Meyer also gives us a peek inside Martinez’s head during the conflict, but doesn’t falter by either getting gooey with affairs of the heart or cheesy with machismo or preachy with politics. There isn’t any time for it. What I found rather poignant is how, when Martinez and his men come under attack, the ensuing battle and Martinez’s valor all occur under the voice-over for the Rifleman’s Creed (hence the basis of the book’s title, a play on the final line: “So be it, until victory is America’s, and there is no enemy, but peace.”). Don’t be surprised if, after reading the issue, you have an urgent need to shower off the dirt and debris or to check yourself for wounds. The action is that intense.
Only in a couple places could the script have been improved. On page fourteen, there is a one-panel departure from point of view. Up until this point it had all been from the United States soldier’s perspective, and mostly from Martinez. For one panel, though, we are taken inside a building to where the Iraqi attackers hide and we are given a face and voice to the enemy. It is a glaring and obvious shift that removes focus for just a moment. The second criticism is in the final four pages where loose ends are wrapped-up, culminating in the ceremony where Martinez receives the Navy Cross and two of his comrades from the same action receive the Silver Star. Unlike the rest of the issue, this portion reads too rushed and condensed, and is perhaps not necessary in its entirety.
Still, it is a terrific book by an impressive team of creators. The inside flap boasts that this is the “first of several Marine-related projects we have in the works”. I am eagerly anticipating the next installment, which is promised to be the story of The Frozen Chosin. I also hope that this book inspires other soldiers, sailors, and airmen to put to paper their stories and experiences for the world to see and understand what actually occurs down there in the thick and heat of battle. I highly recommend this book and give it a rating of Buy It Now.
Salem: Queen of Thorns (TPB)
Review By Mike Mullins
Collecting the five issues of BOOM!’s controversial SALEM miniseries co-written by Chris Morgan, screenwriter of the smash-hit movie WANTED! Elias Hooke is a witchhunter in 17th century New England—and he finds the true forces of the supernatural not in the poor young girls of Salem, but in the hideous might of the misshapen Queen of Thorns, whose plans for the human race will subjugate us all!
-Solicitation from BOOM! Studios website
Salem: Queen of Thorns is set during the Salem witch trials, which occurred between February 1692 and May 1693, and focuses on the journey of antihero Elias Hooke and his two inadvertent allies Hannah Foster and Deacon Wood as they battle a secret religious organization and the Queen of Thorns. The secret religious order is primarily represented through its Grand Inquisitor and Brother Hopkins who is conducting the witch trials.
The book provides insight into the motivations of many of its characters. Hooke’s journey from member of the secret religious organization to renegade witch hunter and Hannah Foster’s devastating childhood and personal challenges are captured in a manner which fits naturally within the narrative. The birth of the Queen of Thorns is also documented and this element of the miniseries is the only thing that struck me as fitting the “controversial” label used in the solicitation for Salem. So, if you are offended by a story redefining God as “infinite in all things. In virtue -- and vice,” as well as the origin of Satan, you may want to skip this book.
While the journeys of Hooke and Foster are provided as flashbacks and feel consistent with their actions, the downfall of Brother Hopkins is depicted concurrent with the main story. His transition is less logical and the story could have improved if another two or three pages explained why a man striving for personal power would opt to subjugate himself, especially to a benefactor who is less than trustworthy.
Overall the story is good, if a little formulaic. The characterization, especially of Hannah Foster and Deacon Wood, move the story forward and allow the reader to immerse themselves. There is a nice twist at the end when Elias Hooke’s plan unravels a bit, and this fallibility makes the protagonist all the more human. The resolution of Brother Hopkins journey is also predictable and I think I would rather have seen Hooke have to deal with him. Even the actions of the Queen of Thorns make sense in regards to her desire to manipulate Elias rather than simply destroy him and nicely parallel her “brother’s” efforts to corrupt mankind.
There were a few inconsistencies that could have been dealt with differently to make a stronger story. The first is Hooke’s reaction to Foster. Why does he initially believe that Foster is a thrall of the Queen of Thorns when (a) he knows magic exists that is not under the Queen’s control given his own use of rune magic, and (b) later states that he can sense the reek of the witch’s power and it is not on Hannah? Hooke’s distrust of Foster is reasonable, but the rational behind doesn’t make sense.
The second element that bothered me is the nature of the Queen of Thorn based on Hooke’s knowledge of her origin. If that origin is true, then Hooke should believe that the Queen of Thorns is as powerful as the devil. Either Hooke is not nearly fatalistic enough given what he is struggling against or he has a much different belief in his ability to defeat the devil than I would expect him to have. The truth of the issue is neatly dealt with at the end of the book, but that revelation is obviously unknown to Hooke until that point.
The miniseries has three artists, with the art chores changing hands in chapters 4 and 5. I personally found the art in chapters 1, 2, and 3 to be very good with a slight decline in quality in the last two chapters. Chapter 4 suffers the most from an artistic perspective as it is the only chapter with multiple artists. The art is always solid, but the book could have been elevated a notch if they had found a way to keep Wilfredo Torres (art) and Andrew Dalhouse (colors) on board for all five issues.
From a technical perspective the book is well designed with one exception which was annoying as I made my way through the book. On page 16, the test balloons are all reverse (i.e., it looks like your reading the text in a mirror). As there is no reason for this, I assume it is a technical goof. You can still read the page, albeit requiring a bit more concentration, and it only happens on one page so its not that big of a deal.
If you like the genre of periodic horror, I would recommend this book. While not as good as last year’s Revere: Revolution in Silver (and if you enjoyed Revere, I strongly recommend this book), Salem: Queen of Thorns is a solid addition to a collection.
Rann/Thanagar: Holy War (DC, Reviewed by Erich): Rann Thanagar: Holy War Ends not with a whimper, but with a bang. A big one. A big, Weird one (subtle hint). In a storyline that began before Infinite Crisis, We've seen threads from Starman, Adam Strange: Planet Heist, Rann-Thanagar War, 52, and Countdown get all tied up into a nice, neat package. The returning heroes Prince Gavyn (Starman), The Weird and the Omega Men have joined Animal Man, Adam Strange, Hawkman, Bizarro, Starfire and the new Captain Comet in their wars against Lady Styx and Synnar. This final issue is able to end the R-T:HW stories, while setting up the new Strange Adventures series. We even have the return of a classic, pre-Crisis version of the Earth which should put a smile on the faces of any old-school DC fans. Ron Lim's art throughout the series has been as strong as ever, and Jim Starlin has more than made up for the Death of the New Gods series. This was a fine end point to the current chapter of the saga of Adam Strange, and leaves me eagerly anticipating Strange Adventures.
Hulk #9 (Marvel, Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): I've been reading comments on many different boards about how the current run of Hulk has "ruined" the character. Bulls--t. After the melodrama of Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, I'm thrilled as hell to be having so much fun reading this title. Part 1 of this months issue has the team of Banner-Hulk, Sentry, Moon Night and Ms. Marvel taking on a Las Vegas full of Wendigoes (Wendigii?). The Art Adams drawn "Wendihulk" alone was worth the cover price for me. The rescue at the hands of a stunningly unlikely hero Loeb's little details, such as Sentry & Moon Knight discussing therapy, make me like this book even more. Part 2 of the book has She Hulk's Lady Liberators taking on Rulk, after accidentally knocking Lincoln off of Mount Rushmore. In all honestly, I'd buy the book just to see Frank Cho drawing such an incredible line-up of Marvel's heroines. And again, Loeb's writing, and the lighter tone he's taking with the book, are the real selling points to me. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fun, light-hearted comic that doesn't skimp on the action.
Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 (from Dark Horse; review by Brendan): First off, the cover to this issue is such weirdly cool Americana it boggles the mind. I don't know what monkeys mean inthat world, but I am really curious. Then, the opening sequence is just about the most jarringly frightening few pages in recent memory. In murdering the chef of a particularly tasty apple pie, the two new characters symbolically and grotesquely assault America. Plus they're doing it with those gaudy, haunting, child-like masks, really solidifying the nightmare. This series only gets better and better, probably because Way and Ba introduce fresh ideas and concepts on each page. Creativity damn near leaks off the paper. The weighty depth of each new character creates an immensely compelling world where everyone matters. This factors in heavily with the family-dynamic aspect of the series. It is in this way that Inspector Lupo, Kraken's police confidant, feels like an old uncle, extended, but still part of the family. Of course, it is when One through Seven interact that this series is at its best. There is nothing so powerful as family fighting, as the roots can't go any deeper. Those who know each other best, know where and how to hurt each other best. Add masks to that, and you've got the coolest team book not about a team. Oh, and the horror of those first few pages only cements the urgency of the cliffhanger. Why isn't this book weekly?
The Flash #247 (DC; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): The return of Barry Allen to the DC Universe has been controversial, to say the least. A prime question being "What about Wally?" Flash #247, the final issue of this book, answers the question. After placing his wife and children in harm's way so many times, Wally does the right thing - he quits. Sure, he'll be around when needed, but Wally West's career as The Flash comes to an end with the decision that taking care of his family is more important than being a hero. As a fan of Wally West's since his Kid Flash days, it's nice to see the character's slow build toward maturity. I'm sorry to see the book come to an end, but after Geoff Johns' incredible run on the title, no writer, even the great Mark Waid, could compare. I am eagerly looking forward to GJ's work with Barry Allen, and Wally's inevitable return to the red spandex.
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #3, (From DC:review by Lan): I am in love with this book. However, if there was a complaint to be filed somewhere, it would be that it is on a bi-monthly schedule. Then again I have to remember that Kunkel is almost doing a one-man show here. He writes, draws, colors, etc, and there's an old saying: "the best things in life are worth waiting for". In this issue of "Billy Batson", Mary Marvel accidentally reveals the magic word to Theo Adam and he transforms into the evil powerhouse, Black Adam. I'm uber-excited about the next issue, though I sadly have wait until February for the actual showdown. As usual, Kunkel delivers an amazing spectacle of an awesome comic, but with a slight animation twist. Also, see if you can spot the Herobears in this issue, I counted 3. I would have liked for this to have been in my "best of..." list, but it's hard to judge a book solely on 3 issues alone, though this book still remains on my "must have" list.
The New Avengers #48 (Marvel; by Troy): The post-SI line-up begins to gel in this issue as a few usual suspects come together to carry on the legacy of “Cap’s Avengers”. Frankly, the group is pretty familiar, though the addition of New Cap should kick up a bit of interest. The meatiest plot development is the last piece, as Luke Cage demonstrates the lengths he’ll go to in order to find his child. It’s not tremendous, but it’s not bad; however, it’s going to need more than “not bad” to generate substantial buzz.
Ultimatum #2 (Marvel; by Troy): David Finch delivers some solid art, but some moments just don’t seem to gel. While there are a few more surprises, one is a gross-out scene that’s fairly over-the-top and unnecessary. Actually, it’s moments like that which make me wonder if the whole story isn’t some elaborate swerve. For the Ultimate hard-core only.
Farscape #1 (Boom!; by Troy): Creator Rockne O’Bannon brings us more adventures of Crichton and company, and it’s about time. O’Bannon handles the story duties himself, while Keith R.A. Decandido takes on the script; the duo manage to bring the essential attitude and off-kilter attitude of the TV series to the page. Picking up sometime after The Peacekeeper Wars, the story centers strongly around Aeryn’s uncertainty as a parent and Rygel’s attempt to return home. As you might expect, things get frelled up quickly. Artist Tommy Patterson does good work, though his Jothee looks more like D’argo here than he did on the series. If you were a fan, this is a must-read. If you weren’t, go back, watch the show, then pick up here. It’s a madly chaotic good time.
Batman #683 (DC; by Troy): If you like anything of what Grant Morrison’s been doing with Batman, then you’ll love this issue. Darkseid’s minions continue to try to undermine Batman’s will in order to properly replicate him into an army for the war being waged in Final Crisis. And Batman fights back . . . with his mind. You need to know your Batman to get the small stuff, but it’s a pretty great view of how Wayne views himself. Incidentally, this issue also shows a clear demarcation point from R.I.P. to here to Final Crisis.
Atomic Robo: Dogs of War 5 of 5 (from Red5 Comics; review by Brendan}: A year ago, this was my favorite new comic series. Today, it still is. It still looks the way I want it to, tells the kind of jokes I like, and kicks the same level of ass. There are too few funny comics, but this is one of those few. When a Nazi says, right before being blown up, “I don't even like Hitler,” that is FUNNY. I don't need this book to change, I don't need it to develop into a long-form story, or reveal any huge, story-altering secrets. I just want it to continue to tell awesome stories where a wise-cracking robot, and his insane but heroic friends battle the evils of the 20th century, sometimes without the aid of legs.
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