Best Shots Comic Reviews: WONDER WOMAN #23, AVENGERS #18, Much More

DC Previews for August 21 2013
Credit: DC Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's latest reviews! So let's kick off with today's column with the Amazing Amazon, as we take a look at the latest issue of Wonder Woman...

Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman #23
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

For months, Wonder Woman has been building towards a final battle with the forgotten god known as the First Born - and now, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are delivering their big crescendo. With their latest issue, the creative team gets to placate both their fans and their critics, as Diana finally takes off the kid gloves, resulting in a surprising yet satisfying new status quo.

Azzarello starts this comic off with a bang, as Wonder Woman, War, Orion, Hera and Zola square off against the First Born and his army. In the past, I've criticized Azzarello for focusing too much on his supporting cast, leaving Diana a bit player in her own book, but in this case, the structure works out nicely - these characters are used to show just how powerful the First Born is, and so when Diana herself takes off her gauntlets and goes full berserker, you can't help but cheer her on. For the first time since this series began, Azzarello has really struck the right balance between giving the spotlight to the title character, and letting her supporting characters actually support her.

With that new balance in mind, suddenly the overbearing side characters in this book become far more endearing. When Hera puts aside her differences with Zola and actually tries to protect her, you actually feel concern for her when she's manhandled by the First Born. War in particular gets a great sequence in the book, as he raises an army of undead soldiers, but that's not even the important thing here - he finally connects with Diana as a mentor, giving the reader some emotional resonance beyond "cranky, grizzled old demigod."

The artwork for this book is also superb. Cliff Chiang's character designs are super-clean and easy on the eyes, yet his characters also have a real strength in their musculature that's difficult to ignore. When Diana goes to town on the First Born, Chiang really ups the energy, as Diana's eyes glow in seething anger. Chiang also excels in making his characters expressive, particularly in this issue's emotional denouement. Matthew Wilson's bursts of hot reds and yellows also add a lot to the fight sequences, particularly since the rest of the book is defined by cool purples and greens.

That said, this book isn't perfect - the first thing I would argue is, why did it take nearly two years to get to this point? Why have we spent 23 issues chasing our tails before finally giving Diana a new place in the DC pantheon? Additionally, while Azzarello is beginning to whittle down his overgrown supporting cast, some characters, like Orion and Zola, still feel a bit like dead space, as Azzarello has to devote valuable page space reminding us that they're there. Still, the ending of this issue is a real killer, and actually has rekindled my interest in seeing where Wonder Woman goes next.

Credit: Marvel/Disney

Avengers #18
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The Builders are coming. Worlds have fallen. And this is a job for the Avengers.

Well, at least it should be. Unfortunately, Avengers #18 winds up putting in the titular characters in this story almost as an afterthought. Jonathan Hickman is known for his sprawling master plans, and maybe introducing the Skrull Empire and the Galactic Council will pay off in the future, but as far as this single issue goes, it feels like meaningless space battles with no human cost or emotional payoff.

Part of the problem with this book is the fact that it takes nearly half the script for the Avengers to actually show up - and Hickman winds up directing a lot of attention to the fact that Earth's Mightiest Heroes aren't even taking point on this interstellar operation. Captain America is taking orders from J-Son of Spartax? Carol Danvers and Smasher aren't getting top billing as the team's two space-based heroes? Instead, Hickman devotes pages upon pages to the Super-Skrull fighting the Builders, or Gladiator and the Kree Supreme Intelligence coming up with battle strategy.

This winds up being a lot more talk, and a lot less opportunity for action. You can guess how the battle goes from a mile away - the good guys think they're winning, when suddenly the bad guys regroup and clean our heroes' clocks. There's not a whole lot of characterization going on here, aside from a weak line from Sunspot asking Spider-Woman if she has any munchies for him to snack on. You know that this early in the game, no big heroes are going to die, so all this issue winds up being is a bunch of explosions, with no tension in sight.

And that's a shame, particularly with Leinil Francis Yu on art. Yu can sure draw up a dynamic splash page, particularly an image of Thor, Smasher, Falcon and the rest of the fleet converging on the Builder mothership. That said, many of Yu's pages seem surprisingly static, and the big space battle sequences are so oversaturated with explosions and spaceship thrusters that it winds up actually being difficult to take the images in.

It's taken me awhile to realize what book Avengers has been reminding me of, but it finally hit me - Dwayne McDuffie's Justice League of America. Instead of making this a book about the title characters, Avengers has become Marvel's de facto continuity book, setting up the status quo for the big event rather than actually delivering on its central premise - an awesome team-up book featuring the best and brightest of the Marvel Universe. With few sparks amid all the outer space fireworks, this is Infinite-ly disappointing.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman Unchained #3
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jim Lee, Alex Sinclair and Jeremy Cox
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While I want to avoid reading into authorial intent, it appears Scott Snyder is trying to prove to his readers that he has the "chops" to handle writing the "Big Blue Boy Scout" in Superman Unchained. However, the number of cultural references Snyder embeds in this issue really seems to suggest this point. The question, then is whether or not "Answered Prayers" from Issue #3 delivers enough substance to prove that claim?

The story resolves the conflict between Superman and Wraith – for the time being – which allows Snyder to provide readers with some interesting reveals behind the origin of Wraith and certain historical events, some previously depicted, others hinted at in this issue. In this regard, I appreciated the amount of answers and backstory Snyder delivers. I'd recommend readers unfamiliar with the original depictions of Superman from the first years Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were at the helm of Action Comics take a look at some reprints to appreciate what's taking place in this issue. In those early comics, Superman used lethal force to deal with criminals in a world where there were no moral ambiguities: Good guys' actions were justified because they acted on behalf of the common good. In Wraith, we get a "Superman What-If." Additionally, we see another "What-If" scenario as to what Superman may look like given the same amount of time exposed to the sun's rays. For my part, Snyder is doing is homework and it works. Perhaps the only criticism I have with the main thread of this issue is with General Lane's sudden about-face as he moves from attacking Superman with moral objectivism and super-powered canons to bringing the Man of Steel into his confidence, albeit begrudgingly. This needs to happen for the plot to move along, but it is perhaps the one point that feels a bit forced given the rapid change.

We also briefly check in with both Lois as she and her crew begin plummeting from the sky thanks to the terrorist group, Ascension, having knocked out all power to her plane, as well as Lex as he makes his escape from prison. In the scenes with Lois, we see someone who is highly capable and cool under pressure. I appreciate Snyder showing a female character who can quickly take the lead in circumstances such as this; however, I did find myself wondering how Lois Lane was so much experienced than the actual pilots were. While her father is a general, she made her name as a journalist – not a commercial or military-trained pilot. Nonetheless, Snyder resolves the crash in a smart way and opens the door to more questions for later issues to resolve. All I will say for the conclusion of the Lex storyline in this issue is that I will be curious to see, given Luthor's comments to his robotic "shell" and the epilogue, whether or not we will see some elements from Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man crop up in the next issue with this criminally-minded, robotic Achilles.

Artistically, I found this issue to be my favorite of Jim Lee's in the series in his depiction of Wraith. There are elements of his character, Maul, from Wild C.A.T.S. present – especially in the face, but the character works really well as a viable threat to Superman making the Man of Steel seem at times almost like a petulant child fighting against his parent. The splash where Wraith calmly tells Superman to "Stand down" is a great example of this playing out in Issue #3. I also really enjoy the visuals the creative team employs to show the wide expanse the battle between Superman and Wraith encompassed with fiery lines crossing the map representing the two Overmen flying across the Midwest. Sinclair and Cox's colors are also especially effective in helping the action pop off the page during the battle scenes while creating a dark and chilling ambience with their blue and white color palette for Lois as her plane falls out of the night skies and towards the freezing ocean waters.

Does "Answered Prayers" deliver the type of Superman story long-time fans are looking for? I think so. Snyder is looking to engage readers with both old iterations of the Man of Steel while keeping true to more contemporary understandings of the character. I also appreciate what I perceive to be his willingness to (indirectly) tackle the recent controversies surrounding recent imaginings of Superman and the issue of whether he should or should not kill. Moreover, Snyder's various classical allusions embedded in each issue leave me wondering if this will be drawn out more, a la , or just played upon indirectly. Finally, given the turnover in creative teams for both Superman and Action Comics, many readers have asked why Snyder and Lee didn't simply take over one of those titles. One of the greatest strengths behind Superman Unchained right now is that it is fairly independent of the "New 52" universe. This is something the other two Superman titles could not get away with given the industry's ever-present interest in crossover event stories. The result, then, is a far more accessible title for fans of Superman to enjoy without the burden of keeping up with a dozen other titles.

Credit: Marvel/Disney

Daredevil #30
Written by Mark Waid &Chris Samnee
Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Mark Waid has an uncanny ability to surprise his readers every issue, making his story about anything but what’s on the cover. I thought I would see a Daredevil/Silver Surfer team up as they battle some galactic menace. Instead, Waid uses Daredevil’s encounter with the herald of Galactus to reveal a bit more about his main character, particularly using the comic to deliver a story that strikes an emotional chord and leaves readers feeling just a bit sadder about the man without fear.

For starters, Daredevil #30 is a taut story, expertly penned and extremely powerful. Mark Waid follows the traditional pattern of a hero team up: heroes meet, battle before realizing they’re on the same side, then work together to catch the bad guy. But Waid goes beyond the usual story and gives us more of Matt Murdock, really delving into the thing that makes Matt such a hero: compassion.

But Waid also understands that Matt’s compassion is also a weakness and we see a villain exploit that compassion with pretty powerful effects. Waid always finds a way to add an emotional level to his Daredevil stories, and here he seamlessly bookends the comic with Matt’s desire to be with Kirsten McDuffie and the actuality of that every occurring. The final page is a heartbreaking reminder of the solitary life he leads and it’s delivered with the least amount of effort.

And this is really due to Chris Samnee, who communicates the unwritten of the comic. The glee on Matt’s face is evident as he pilots Silver Surfer’s board through the crowded streets of Manhattan. Similarly, the agony of his heartache is palpable, and the visual pacing is fantastic. Kudos also go to Javier Rodriguez for his vibrant colorization, particularly around Silver Surfer and in the clarity of the action sequences. The book’s composition is incredible, and one more reason as to why Daredevil is one of the best books on the market.

Daredevil is a seamless read from beginning to end, and for an issue that is neither the beginning nor the conclusion of an arc, it is still as important of a read as any of the previous issues. It has incredible character moments, strong action, and solid art. What more could you want?

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl #23
Written by Michael Alan Nelson
Art by Diogenes Neves, Chad Hardin, Marc Deering, Wayne Faucher and Guy Major
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Up to a point, the latest issue of Supergirl is good. It has a strong premise, a nice flow, and it ties the previous twenty-two issues together. Then, it becomes a standard villain story, and any identity the comic was building is thrown out in favor of a simple premise used to introduce the next big crossover event.

Supergirl starts strong by dipping in Kara’s memories. Through Michael Alan Nelson, we see just how damaged our heroine is by the experiences she’s had in her short time on Earth. The first half of the comic deals with her own neuroses about her relationships, her abilities and her failure to live up to the heroes around her. Nelson does a great job of rehashing some of Supergirl’s most poignant experiences, but focusing on the mental scars she carries.

When the comic switches to Cyborg Superman, the flow is lost. Suddenly the story is about the villain and his desire to steal Kara’s life force so that he may live again as a human being. So what was an interesting take on the mental anguish a hero faces in her daily existence becomes a traditional good vs. evil story with a flimsy premise to boot.

The other frustrating aspect of Supergirl is that it has some cool reveals. Personally, I loved the reveal of the Cyborg Superman in the previous issue. Similarly, this issue has two pretty good reveals at the end, but the road to the climax is anything but smooth, and the awkward shift in the middle really dampens an otherwise shocking twist.

While the story lacks constancy, the art is a highlight. Diogenes Neves and Chad Hardin bring Kara’s anguish to life. The trauma of the situation is evident as is the pain she experiences, both physically and emotionally. There’s sharpness and detail to every panel,and inkers Marc Deering and Wayne Faucher provide clarity in the chaos on the page by utilizing a series of lush outlines that add depth to the imagery.

Even though this issue of Supergirl is nothing to scream about, it’s not enough to write the series off. Nelson provides a great set up for the DC’s “Villain’s Month” and enough of a cliff hanger to keep readers interested, at least if they’re vested in the character. But the story feels like two separate ideas cobbled together in order to piece this comic with DC’s next big event.

Understandably, the comic needs to tie in with what’s occurring in the rest of the DCU, but what it sacrifices in doing so is the opportunity to relay a defining moment in Kara’s life, and to provide readers with more than a cursory glance inside the emotional scarring she’s incurred. It’s because of this that Supergirl suffers.

Credit: Image Comics

I Love Trouble #6
Written by Kel Symons
Art by Nathan Stockman and Paul Little
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Some also say that flattery will get you nowhere and that's sort of where we are in the finale of I Love Trouble. We get quasi-closure with the world of Felicia Castro and her world, but nothing feels really resolved. Not sure if that's writer Kel Symons' intentions or not, but that's how it comes across. It just feels sort of stuck.

The biggest shock of the book is the replacement of regular series artist Mark Robinson, who left due to unforeseeable circumstances, and Nathan Stockman taking over penciling duties. While Stockman does a really good Robinson impression, it merely comes across as imitation. True, Stockman keeps up the kinetic flow and energetic panels around, as well as Robinson's trademark dirty Disney art style, but the figure compositions are so odd-looking, everybody looks like a chibi-style character and seriousness and danger of the series just falls flat here. The intro was done well, though, and gives us a "full circle" feel to the issue in itself, but as a whole, it just feels so disconnected from the rest of the series.

Now there was mention a while back that this could be the start of a larger picture where ordinary people learn they have super powers and deal with them accordingly a la Heroes or The Tomorrow People, and here we get a glimmer of that, but whether or not that will come into fruition is a completely different situation all together. Having a TV/Hollywood background, I think Symons is still learning the ropes so to speak on sequential storytelling, and whatever he creates after this learning curve is sure to get better and better along the way. He's imaginative and has a knack for sharp dialog, but the finale here could have been so much better as the first issues were so promising.

Colorist Paul Little stayed on board and keeps the same palette for Stockman as he did for Robinson, but here, Stockman's pencils aren't as covered up and the overall look doesn't look as refined as it has been. Little won me over about the third issue in and kept on impressing me.

I Love Trouble had the potential to be a runaway hit, but something derailed the momentum and while Felicia leaves us burning down the house, but it should have been more of a straight up explosion, leaving her mark on comicdom. It's a shame Robinson wasn't here in the finale, but Team Trouble prevailed and I'd like to see Felicia and her world again down the line.

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