Best Shots Comic Reviews: INFINITY, MIND THE GAP, More

Marvel Comics' August 14 2013 previews
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Then let's kick off today's column with the Best Shots crew, as we take a look at Marvel's latest event comic, Infinity...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livsay, David Keikis and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spanning not just the globe, but the entire Marvel Universe - indeed, even the Marvel multiverse as a whole - Infinity is a good title for Marvel's latest event, as the sheer scope and ambition of Jonathan Hickman's storyline makes for a fascinating read. This giant-sized issue introduces all the various players involved in this super-saga, and while it's not the most new reader-friendly book on the stands, those who have been keeping up with Marvel's flagship Avengers titles will be rewarded.

If there's one word I'd use to describe this first issue, it's "big." Indeed, Hickman begins this issue with the destruction of an entire planet, and somehow manages to make that feel like one of the lighter moments of the issue. Rather than stay grounded on planet Earth, Hickman immediately goes to the stars, devoting a ton of pages to the interstellar intrigue being stoked by the galactic despot known as Thanos. New readers may feel a bit intimidated, but the best advice is just to roll with it, as Hickman rapidly introduces Skrulls, Space-Knights, Inhumans and more. Suddenly, Earth's Mightiest Heroes feel just a little bit small, as the Avengers only get a fraction of the pages in this book.

Just like in the main Avengers book, that lack of Avengers might be Infinity's big flaw, as occasionally it feels like Hickman is putting the cart before the horse. But he does make up for it with the other heroes that get cameos in this book. In particular, Black Bolt and the Inhumans wind up making their big event entrance this month, and if this issue is any indication, this group is going to make a big splash in the Marvel Universe. Additionally, Hickman's inclusion of the Space-Knights is one of the best scenes in the book, as it shows just how many space-age toys there are in Marvel's toybox.

And the art. Wowza. Jim Cheung demonstrates why he is one of Marvel's premiere A-listers, as he draws some truly iconic-looking shots on every page. In many ways, he's Marvel's answer to DC's Ivan Reis, albeit with a bit more of a sharper line - he doesn't go crazy with the layouts, but instead lets his compositions do the talking, particularly when the Space-Knights stand ready for battle, or when Black Bolt effortlessly changes into his battle gear. Cheung's eerie take on Thanos's scout known as the Outrider lends a nice sense of tension to the comic, and in general, his designwork is really easy on the eyes.

Go big or go home? In the case of Infinity, going big means going to the farthest reaches of space. And that's a good thing - while this comic might not be the easiest to for new readers, it does reward those who have been playing the long game. For the first time in ages, the Avengers are finally facing a threat that feels appropriately scaled, a force so potent that it will require the Universe's Mightiest Heroes to withstand the tide. With a book this ambitious, I'm excited to see where Hickman will take us next.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #23
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, Rafael Albuequerque and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Nick Napolitano and Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Origin stories can be the trickiest thing to handle, especially when you're practically rebuilding from the ground up, it's hard to not step on sacred ground so to speak. Yet, in Batman: Zero Year Scott Snyder and his team of Gothamites not only succeed in giving a contemporary birth to the bat, but make it the most engaging Batman arc since the formation of the New 52.

The thing about this issue is that Snyder's woven numerous narratives that bounce back and forth going from Bruce getting the holy hell beaten out of him, to the rise of Edward Nygma's criminal career, and even some of what's going on within the Red Hood gang. Take into account the back-up with young Bruce taking on Neo-Pagans and having his endurance being tested again, you've got a solid story that covers multiple angles, but the way how Snyder worked it was quite clever with Uncle Philip again thinking Bruce is dead.

The whole mythology of Bruce being granted his vision of the bat and thus swearing to his father that he shall become one is a story embedded in our minds and one of the greatest moments in comic lore. The moment here is a lot more quieter and a bit more surreal. Rockstar artist Greg Capullo captures the moment perfectly with bold images and almost has an Edgar Allen Poe vibe to how it plays out. Capullo steals the show here with some pretty graphic imagery of Bruce's beatdown by the Red Hood gang as well as the more subtle moments of Nygma's coming out moment so to speak. Nygma isn't loud or dramatic, but takes down his enemies with tactful precision, giving a hint of what's to come for this budding rogue.

This issue also demonstrates how colorists are unsung heroes and FCO Plascencia comes out swinging. His slight change of color scheme to show a change of point of view might ease up on the reader who could have found themselves lost for a moment. Also, just his talent to compare warm colors of the blaze on top of the cooler colors of Wayne Manor paint a perfect scene. Add in the great use of texture differences and the pages just pop with emotion and a "real world" feel without being over realistic.

The back up featuring younger Bruce before his return to Gotham tells the story of Bruce again trying to focus his rage and become the sharpened tool he becomes later on. We're still not there yet, but Snyder and James Tynion IV give a good impression of the man he'll soon be; resilient and one hell of a fighter.

A quick re-read of the previous issue might be a good idea just so all the strings of the story feel more connected. With just the third issue in, Scott Snyder is paying homage his way to the creators before him, and operating at his grandest scale yet. While the issue doesn't add anything to Batman's origin, it still feels fresh and innovative and almost new.

Ghosted #2 Cover by Sean Phillips
Ghosted #2 Cover by Sean Phillips
Credit: Skybound

Ghosted #2
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Miroslav Mrva
Lettering by Rus Wooten
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Ghosted is a mixture of Ocean’s 11 and American Horror Story, combining an ex-con and his rag tag group of thieves with a premise involving ghost busting and possessed houses. It’s novel and unique, even if it falls a bit flat with its dialogue and characterization, and it’s got enough promise to keep this reviewer intrigued. I only hope writer Joshua Williamson breaks his characters out of their stereotyped roles and delivers enough to hook readers into coming back each month.

Where Ghosted succeeds is in its intricacies. Williamson has layered the story with interesting plot threads involving murder, alternate dimensions, back stabbing, and a whole lot of ghosts. He sets up his house of horrors well, and we’re constantly reminded that while things seem normal, they are anything but. Unfortunately, we’re only given minor glimpses of the house and a brief summation of its sordid past, but these are enough to let readers know that Williamson has more planned than we see. And like any good thriller writer, he’s only doling out his story in little pieces so we’re only given enough to whet our appetites.

The weakness, however, is in the cliched roles of the characters and the silliness of the dialogue. The main characters are characters we’ve seen before -- the wizened criminal and the femme fatale -- and while they get the most air time, they’re the least interesting people in the story. Additionally, when a local sheriff arrives, he reminds readers that assumptions about rural Americans still run rampant, particularly those involving low brow thought processes and broken English. And while these are minor distractions, they still pull away from the story when its at its best.

The comic does have Y: The Last Man artist Goran Sudzuka at the helm, but he’s relegated to a lot of establishing shots so the book lacks dynamism in its visuals. This is not Sudzuka’s fault, but given the content of the comic, I’d expect to see more experimentation with the visuals, particularly for all the supernatural elements at play. We get to see this once when a character opens a door upon a world of floating cliff edges and lightning, but we’re just as quickly pulled away. The evidence is there for Sudzuka’s ability to get creative; he just hasn’t been given the forum yet.

But, where Sudzuka’s work in Y: The Last Man was clean, here, with the help of Miroslav Mrva, his work is grittier. Shading and shadows are utilized a lot, and the art definitely conveys the tone of the story so that at no point do the characters appear to be safe, and by the end of the comic, we’re sure of this fact.

Ghosted is a comic with a lot up its sleeve. Joshua Williamson moves through several different genres so the comic never fully settles on one constant, which is good, because this adds a level of originality to the story. After two issues, my interested is piqued. There’s enough story to keep readers interested, so I hope Williamson can move his characters beyond the establishing stage and start letting their individuality come through. He’s got an interesting premise. Now he has to show readers what he plans to do with it.

Mind the Gap #12
Mind the Gap #12
Credit: Image Comics

Mind the Gap #12
Written by Jim McCann
Art by Sami Basri, Jessica Kholinne and Beny Maulana
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Issues like this are what make Jim McCann such a good writer. While Mind the Gap is mired in its mystery, building the denseness of its store with each issue, McCann can find a way to step back from the depth of his tale and remind readers that the characters of Mind the Gap are what make the comic so interesting.

Granted, Jim McCann still gets into detail about Elle’s broken soul, the enigmatic “Jarius” project, and the mystery of “The Fifth.” He’s still weaving these threads so that the plot thickens more and more with each issue. But he spends the majority of the comic on Elle, Jo and Dane, reminding people of the bond these three friends have. Their interaction is a bit hokey, but it’s emotional. McCann masterfully taps into a shared emotional core, particularly for anyone who’s ever wanted to have one more moment with someone they loved and lost.

And here is where McCann is at his best. His plotting and dialogue are superb in this issue, and he gives each character an individual voice that resonates. In addition to showing an emotional moment between Jo and Elle, McCann also addresses Eddie Jr.’s role in Elle’s injury, and the two have a very touching moment together, again one that will stick with readers. Everything about this issue is built on the idea of reconciliation, a concept which makes a lot of sense once readers get to the final page.

Plus, Sami Basri continues his excellent work. Basri has to convey a range of emotions in the characters, and he does so effortlessly, making each image sharp and detailed. Jessica Kholinne is his partner in this endeavor, and she gives such vibrancy to the art that even in its more subdued moments, the comic is still very alive and very attractive. The comic has moved away from the stiffness observed in previous issues and has found a nice balance between photorealism and comic aesthetic.

When a comic revolves around a mystery, as a reader you want it to continuously revisit that mystery, unravel it a bit more, and makes it solution a bit clearer. With Mind the Gap, however, I don’t care if the mystery is ever solved. On all fronts -- from the plot to the visuals -- Mind the Gap is a page turner, and even when it doesn’t get too much into its mythos, it still gives readers a reason to pick it up each month. Sometimes the end is not the most interesting aspect; it’s the journey that makes the ride worth it.

Credit: IDW

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World TPB
Written by Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride
Art by Nick Brokenshire and Ruiz Moreno
Letters by Rachel Deering
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There’s a world of magic and a world of non-magic and never should the two meet-unless you’re Amelia Cole. When Amelia’s travels between worlds start causing major issues, she lands smack-dab in the middle of a third world that holds the keys to secrets she didn’t even know existed. The story of Amelia Cole begins in this trade with smart writing and an engaging heroine.

Amelia Cole is pretty easy to overlook at first glance. She’s a character with a magic wand living in a world where magic exists, but only for certain people, and some of those who wield magic use it for evil purposes. However, writers Knave and Kirkbride quickly take advantage of having control of their own characters to build an interesting story from these basic parts.

Right off the bat, Amelia’s willy-nilly magic use, while good intentioned, immediately causes her lasting and drastic emotional harm. In a world with magical haves and have-nots, the writing team plays up the inequality. Instead of magical protectors, they’re more like overlords, doing what they wish while those without wands are powerless to stop them-a far more realistic outcome than the overwhelming benevolence of, say, Harry Potter. Knave and Kirkbridge take natural human behavior and apply it to a world where magic gives advantages in the same way that money does in our own. I don’t think we see that nearly enough in fantasy scenarios.

I also really like the way that Amelia is portrayed in this series. She’s got a fiery streak of independence and follows her own moral compass, even when that means she could hurt herself in the process. We generally are nudged to side with her view, but I love how her ideas aren’t perfect. There are consequences to every action, and we see those front and center all through the trade. Amelia can and will make mistakes.

Amelia also gets a good supporting cast her, though it’s by no means an ensemble cast. Her golem is a source of strength and comic relief, making for a great side-kick. (He’s also so well-designed, arguably the best thing artist Nick Brokenshire created for the series. “Lemmy” is a mixture of scrap from a destroyed building, with a floating round head, anatomy that’s not quite sealed together, and even a vague spine.) She’s a super in a non-magic neighborhood, allowing for rental apartment jokes, and has non-powered friends who serve as an anchor when she’s on the edge. They’re essential to making this more than just a battle of wizards for control as their perspective shows just how much can be at stake.

There are a lot of good things about Amelia Cole but it does have its weaknesses, which could be problematic for some. While Knave and Kirkbride are masters of detail, at heart this arc is very familiar to anyone who reads similar stories. Amelia is an outsider who wants to change the new world she lives in that has an oppressive society. We end this trade with Amelia still unaware of the threat that faces her. I wish there had been a better twist on this for the ending of this arc.

The other issue is Brokenshire’s art. When working on setting the stage, Brokenshire shines. His depiction of Amelia’s aunt’s shop is incredibly detailed, with all sorts of arcane items. Sidewalks have dirt on them and there’s grime on apartment buildings. Long-shot panels show the way others react to Amelia. You can count the holes in the fire escape grating, if you’re so inclined. Stores are stocked with actual items that can be studied.

It’s really amazing work, but none of that makes up for the fact that Brokenshire’s figures are incredibly stiff, barely moving as they work their way through the detailed scenery. To compensate, there’s a lot of focus on eyes, faces, and limb positions, but it actually serves to draw attention to the problem. Amelia’s eyes are always wandering, and the expressiveness of others tends to make them look overly earnest or wildly staring, whether the scene calls for it or not. Brokenshire tries hard, but the art is the weak link for me here.

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World is the first step in a longer story. If you’re a fan of fantasy who wants to see familiar ideas given crisp dialogue and strong characterization, this is a journey you’ll want to start on right away with this trade.

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