Best Shots Comic Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA, BATMAN/ SUPERMAN, AMERICAN VAMPIRE, So Much More
CREDIT: DC Comics
Captain America #10
Written by Rick Remender
Art by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, Scott Hanna, Dean White, and Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
And with that, Rick Remender's Captain America leaves behind Dimension Z. At least, so leaves the man. Judging by this issue's stirring epilogue, there's more story to be told with the setting, but for now, we've reached the end of Cap's saga in Zola's artificial world. And honestly? This transition came at just the right moment. After nearly a year's worth of issues that alternated between essential and completely forgettable, it's time to see what Remender can do with Cap in his natural habitat.
One thing that Remender's opening Captain America arc has succeeded at is showing just why Cap has the presence he does in the Marvel universe. Cap's time in Dimension Z has been all about strength. And while Cap's physical prowess has been shown time and time again, it's his conviction and strength of will that have been at the crux of this story's climax. It's clear that, while he's the kind of man who soldier's on - literally - no matter what comes his way, Steve Rogers is most in his element leading a charge, fighting for something tangible, and clinging to a glimmer of hope, no matter how faint.
It's Cap's never say die attitude that has cost him dearly in Dimension Z, as well. Remender giveth and he taketh away, as a lost character returns, and a familiar one is seemingly removed from Cap's story, showing the absolute power Captain America's legacy can have on those he holds dear. It's a bittersweet emotional arc, and the abrupt ending of Cap's time in Dimension Z underscores just how much his life has changed because of his presence there. On the flip side, little thought is given to resolving the tale of Steve's childhood, so when the metaphor of his rough upbringing is tersely addressed, it seems like less of a pay off, and more of a platitude. Hopefully, Remender has more to say regarding the ways he has reinvented Steve's early years in his coming arcs.
This may be John Romita, Jr.'s best issue of Captain America yet, with several memorable sequences dwelling entirely in his visual realm. Romita is one of the cleanest storytellers in the business right now, and that pays off in spades in this high octane issue, where he also captures some uncharacteristically powerful emotions in Captain America's face. Despite three inkers - Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, and Scott Hanna - finishing Romita's pencils, the book never feels disjointed or jumpy. Dean White and Rachelle Rosenberg split coloring duties here, and while there are some significant changes in palette between Dimension Z and Cap's real world, that is certainly intentional, and really sells the concept of just how dark Dimension Z really got for Cap.
Now that Remender's Captain America has moved into a new chapter, here's hoping that it gains a little expedience. The Dimension Z arc lasted a few issues too long, seemingly to cultivate the impact that some of the more trying story beats had. Still, that doesn't undersell the cathartic nature of Captain America #10, and may have actually better served the profound nature of this issue's epilogue, which is sure to make many readers await a return to Dimension Z. For now, I'm anxious to see how Cap deals with the ramifications of this story now that he's home.
Justice League #23
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
So at last it comes to an end, at least as much as mainstream comic books can ever truly be said to have endings. Indeed, it was clear from the start of “Trinity War” that this would only ever be a bridge between one phase and the next. By the final page of Justice League #23, that bridge is not so much burned as left a bit smokey from the waves of revelations that come to light in the issue’s final pages. It’s a fitting conclusion, but one that will require additional reading when the dust has settled.
It is no secret that Pandora’s Box, the mystical hot potato of “Trinity War”, has been firmly established as a gateway to something, but what or where is the big gasp moment of the month. While the first half of the issue continues much of the ‘pass the parcel‘ antics of Justice League Dark #23 last week, a major turning point comes in the form of a small betrayal. From here, Geoff Johns inundates the senses with at least another three or four twists in the remaining pages, barely giving us time to soak it all in before unceremoniously pushing us out the other side and into “Forever Evil”.
Johns is no stranger to making spectacular endings to DC events, and “Trinity War” is no exception. It isn’t an ending in the traditional sense, at least not in the same way that Green Lantern #20 was, but with an almost literal deus ex machina it conclusively solidifies the multiversity of the New 52 with the return of some old-school villains. It would be frustrating and a bit of a cheat if it weren’t for it being so unabashedly cool. The flip-side of the coin, of course, is that so much information is packed into this finale that new recruits need not apply. While some of the overflow will follow the characters into “Forever Evil”, the sheer amount of information thrown at readers could be a tad overwhelming. Of course, this is a finale, and a certain degree of ‘going with it’ is required.
Ivan Reis brings his ‘A’-game to an issue that has more splash pages per square inch than any other book this week. Using the DC’s entire character stock, he doesn’t drop a beat on a single design. The knock-on effect of Johns’s dense text is that there is often a lot of visual information to process, to the point that this could have almost been stretched out another issue without any criticism. Yet the most impressive aspect of the issue is the action, which is blockbuster comic art in its most epic form. From a Superman/Wonder Woman slugfest to some disturbing body horror involving Cyborg, there are very few pages that don’t have a jaw-dropper moment on them.
The last panel of “Trinity War” leads directly into “Forever Evil”, effectively making this one big event that begets another. It’s a crime that both major syndicates are repeatedly guilty of these last few years, one so commonplace that it is increasingly difficult to take umbrage with a singular instance anymore. Regardless of whether this was just good salesmanship, the arc has been undeniably good storytelling from start to finish, cleverly weaving in threads set up two years ago in all related titles. While it may not be the conclusion that pre-Flashpoint DC fans were hoping for, and bears striking similarities to several endings from their marvellous neighbors, DC have just cracked open a Pandora’s Box of possibilities for the next two years and beyond.
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Jae Lee, Yildiray Cinar, June Chung, Matt Yackey and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
At risk of sounding glib, Batman/Superman is the quintessential comic book hot mess. With superstar Jae Lee on art, this comic is one of the most visually stunning books in the DC lineup, and that's a great way to showcase two of the World's Finest superheroes. But at the same time, the convoluted time-travel story winds up flat-tiring this otherwise gorgeous series, making it almost impossible to enjoy beyond the surface.
But let's start with the good. And by that I mean Jae Lee. He draws only about half of this book, but he does such a great job of executing the main goal of the New 52 - namely, giving DC's heroes their bite back. Drenched in shadow, you can't help but be impressed with Superman when he shakes off an icy boulder like it was a raindrop. Lee's composition also looks superb, particularly as Wonder Woman dives into the fray against Kaiyo, a runaway from the Fourth World.
Yet Lee gets hamstrung significantly by Greg Pak's story. With the early-day Batman and Superman in the same world as their future counterparts, it's almost impossible to tell which character is which, particularly when an armored Batman just appears out of nowhere. If there was much more to the story, that wouldn't be such a bad thing - but the real meat of this story is Batman versus Superman, with Wonder Woman versus Kaiyo in the background. When you can't tell which Superman is which, it makes a lot of Pak's strong characterization a moot point.
The other half of this story, while a decent spin on the Batman/Superman dynamic, can't help but feel like a little bit of filler. Yilidiray Cinar illustrates when Clark and Bruce first met as children, and you can't help but think of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's take on the exact same story. Not only does the Dynamic Duo's childhood meeting feel a little bit hackneyed, but it doesn't add that terribly much to their relationship (from either universe). It's heartfelt, but it's more of a cheap thrill than an earned one.
Luckily for Batman/Superman, this book looks so good that you can begrudgingly forgive many of its other sins. That said, you can already see the wear and tear on Jae Lee, as now he's only drawn half the book, with many of his characters losing their key details due to his overuse of silhouette and shadow. We've seen already that Greg Pak gets these characters, but until he can streamline this story - namely, one Superman and one Batman is enough - this comic is barely going to get by on looks alone.
American Vampire Anthology #1
Written by Scott Snyder, Jason Aaron, Rafael Albuquerque, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Greg Rucka
Art by Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig, Delcan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Ivo Milazzo, Raw Fawkes, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla , Tula Lotay, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, JP Leon
Lettering by Steve Wands, Jared K. Fletcher, Taylor Esposito, Travis Lanham, and Dezi Sienty
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
The last readers saw the American Vampire series was in Issue #34 from January of this past year. Fast-forward nearly nine months later, and co-creators, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque are back with a number of their fellow writers and artists collaborating in the first – of hopefully many – short story collections surrounding the world of Skinner, Pearl, and the Vertigo brand of supernatural horror. For this review, I'm going to try and write a quick snapshot for each story without spoiling the twists and turns that make this collection a "must read."
The original duo behind AV start things off with a bang in "The Man Comes Around Part 1." It encompasses no more than five minutes in the life of Skinner Sweet, but Snyder and Albuquerque's familiar style – in both word and image – help get this collection off on the right note. The vampires are back!
"Lost Colony" is brilliantly creative depiction of the lost colony of Roanoke as well as a sort of "origin story" for the wooden stake. Aaron's vampires are not only horrific in the immediate sense, but they also signify the parasitic horrors that many colonizers came to represent to the early Native Americans and Shalvey's roughly scratched out line work alongside Bellaire's colors were especially effective in conveying this atmosphere.
In "Bleeding Kansas," Albuquerque switches gears and takes up the role as writer alongside Milazzo in this story about a young family seeking a new start in the fledgling territory as they make a stand against forces both inhumane and inhuman. The circular nature of the story makes for a satisfying – if unhappy conclusion, while the artwork is something altogether different to which most AV readers are accustomed; however, the floral-like color palette created with the use of water colors certainly helps evoke a more hopeful sense in spite of what happens along the way.
Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes pair off to tell the story, "Canadian Vampire," which serves as yet another powerful critique of Western encroachment upon Native peoples' lands. Fawkes does fine work of varying the texture of his line work and inks to convey shifts in space while at other times, the artwork becomes something of a furious blur of black, whites, and patches of watercolors, all of which effectively drive the pace of Lemire's tale of escape.
Becky Cloonan delivers both the story and art in "Greed," as readers get a peek into Skinner Sweet's feature film debut. She brings her hallmark strength in one-shot storytelling to bear reminding readers that no matter how appealing Skinner may be as a protagonist, he is still like a snake in the grass waiting to strike. Good? Evil? It's all the same to the original American vampire.
Francesco Francavilla's "The Producers" tells the backstory of a successful Hollywood actor "paying it forward." He sets the tone for his story through the use of heavy inks and colors that oppressively blanket each panel, while he captures the "old Hollywood" feel through cinematic-like panel composition. It's a great example of effectively combining technical storytelling elements to create a chilling short story.
Simone and Lotay's "Essence of Life" initially provides a visual break from the previously heavier stories and the inner monologue lends to a more personal approach than the previous stories as Simone opens the door to Hattie Hargrove's "big break" in Hollywood. The story quickly takes a turn for the worse as readers encounter Hattie's traumatic encounter with the less glamorous side to Tinsel Town. Simone's take on Hattie is powerful and evocative as she aims to create a much more sympathetic lens through which to view Pearl's one-time friend and Lotay's artwork poignantly and horrifically captures both the pain of innocence lost and revenge exacted. Without a doubt, this story was the most emotionally-compelling of the collection.
Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon deliver "Last Night," which is yet another great example of the "one-and-done" approach each of these stories take. While I really enjoyed this short story, it was the way in which they create the visual depiction of a "dark and stormy" night like no one else I've seen since Will Eisner. The first panel alone tells the reader everything he or she needs to know about where this story is going with the one small light surrounded by darkness while the sheets of rain drive into it. Their dark shades of blue drown out the rest of the cityscape evoking that oppressive feeling the night exudes in noir settings and children's nightmares.
Greg Rucka and JP Leon's "Portland, 1940" tells the story of that time when (what looks like) Skinner Sweet was nearly sold into indentured servitude and the difficulties that arise from trying to place a vampire into forced labor. Leon's inks stand out most as they create shadows that hide people's faces and eyes creating an air of foreboding mystery. Rucka's aptitude with the pen shines as he makes use of plot twists and misdirection to catch readers off-guard and deliver an interesting story into the travels of the American Vampire.
Finally, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque bring the collection full circle with "The Man Comes Around Part 2." Picking up where the first story left off, Albuquerque depicts Sweet driving off into the sunset. The burnt orange colors suggest the end of the day, and while it is the end of this collection of stories, it's clear this is far from the end for the greater story of American Vampire. Snyder – through Skinner's inner-monologue – begins to speak directly to the reader as he indicates that while he has been away from this world, "…sure enough, soon enough, I know it'll come for me too. And when it does, that's when the wildest of stories of all will be born." Although it is literally Skinner speaking, I can't help but wonder if it's not the same sentiment being voiced by the writers as well.
So there you have it: A spoiler-free review of each and every story in this collection. The artwork varies widely in the way each creative team offers its unique take on the world of theAmerican Vampire; however, at no point do any of these stories' visuals seem anything less than evocative and intentional in their delivery. There were some noticeable characters missing from this collection, but it's not hard to believe Snyder and Albuquerque are holding on to them for when the on-going series begins anew. And readers will no doubt find themselves more than satisfied in what each writer and artist brings to this collection. The stories vary from exploring territory close to the main narratives of Pearl and Skinner to expanding their view into the greater world of the undead, from providing some captivating entertainment to thought-provoking commentary on America's past all of which make this anthology a must-read for fans of the series and readers looking to jump on board for the first time.
Before Skullkickers #24
Written by Ron Marz, Adam Warren, Todd Dezago and Jim Zub
Art by Stjepan Sejic, Remy Mokhtar, Yinfaowei Harrison, Jeff Cruz, Lar Desouza, and Misty Coats
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Image Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating 8 out of 10
The past few months have been a fun time for both Skullkickers fans and those that don't take their comics too seriously. That's not to say Jim Zub doesn't take his work seriously, as the quality proves otherwise. More that Zub doesn't mind taking some shots at the comics industry, while never wading into full on troll wars. Mixing comics satire with an obvious love for fantasy and role-playing game tropes, while still being entertaining, isn't easy. With Before Skullkickers #24, Zub reaches the pinnacle of his meta experiment in the best way possible. By only doing about a quarter of the work in this comic. Well played sir, very well played indeed.
"Elvish Graces," from writer Ron Marz and artist Stjepan Sejic, opens the anthology as we learn how the lithe Kusia learned her trade as an assassin. Marz doesn't go looking for any real deep insight into the character. Instead choosing a humorous series of events that leads to a confrontation that won't really surprise the reader, but will still find enjoyment in the tale. The real star of this story is artist Stjepan Sejic. The determination he pencils with a younger Kusia is a real treat. There is a real sense of focus with the character, both in facial expression and body poise. It's a strong start for the character and one that moves the story along at a brisk and amusing pace. The coloring was a little flat at times, taking some of the detail with it, but still a strong opening to the book.
For as enjoyable as I found "Dagnabbit T' Hell" by Adam Warren and Remy Mokhtar, it's also the weakest of the installments. Warren takes us back the origin of the gun that never runs out of bullets. It's a cute story, if a little one-sided on the jokes. It's one of the rare times when the static nature of comics art might have hampered the storytelling. Remy Mokhtar has some fun creating the beast that simply won't stop attacking (and eating) but I still wish both Warren and Mokhtar had taken a bit more time in selling the joke. Although there is no denying the fun in reading about a ravenous beast that stops to “nom-nom” on clothing; the story telegraphs the joke from panel one and it falls a little flat.
Todd Dezago and Jeff Cruz take a turn at Shorty and Baldy in "Choose Your Partner," A short that just might be my favorite of the bunch. Dezago tells a classic tavern tale that any longtime role-player can immediately connect. Beyond the gags and one-liners found within the cartoonish violence there is some real insight into both characters. It's a good balancing act that few are able to find with these two talking fantasy tropes. Jeff Cruz pencils his fair share of genuinely funny moments. Cruz's pencils read like a manic take on any D&D session, by way of a Warner Brothers cartoon. And unlike the previous stories, you don't see the final gag coming. There is a reason these two characters have worked for almost three years and this short proves it.
Finally, Skullkickers creator himself brings some humor and cosmic horror to the mix with "Dimensional Theory 101." Like all good prequels, Zub is able to work some future story seeds with his tale of all that came before. By now, you're either down with Zub's style of humor or your not. Personally, this is the kind of comic horror with a dash of self-awareness that I can read all day long. Zub manages to tell a tale that's all kinds of snarky, without ever once falling into tired Family Guy-style antics and cut jokes. Lar Desouza and Misty Coats on art are the perfect compliment to Zub's humor. While never once falling into the realm of parody, Desouza and Coats still manage to draw a creature that could really care less that you're enjoy his story or not. Indeed, there were times where I could all but hear 'ol Thool sighing in annoyance that he once again has to explains parallel worlds to the reader.
Don't let the light-hearted art or content fool you. Skullkickers is one of the smartest comics out there and issue #24 only sets the stage for more crazy to come. Bring it on!
Newsarama Note: Correction: Stjepan Sejic was initially improperly listed as Marshall Dillon in his section of this book.
Young Avengers #9
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The latest story arc comes to a close this week with Young Avengers #9. After road tripping across the multiverse for months, the team have found Mother once again, as well as the Patri-Not. The success is short-lived however, as they quickly find themselves in the same place they were oh-so-many issues ago. The drama in this issue is at an all-time high, and actually serves to advance the plot, but with no real pay off the book is starting to feel like it's treading water.
The issue opens with Prodigy and Hulking, post-kiss in Mother's dimension. The mood set by the two is notably lacking in any awkward hand-wringing that might have arisen from the situation, instead handled with surprising maturity. The rest of the team are still presumably near Asgard in the company of Leah, who makes it clear that they need to leave. Now. They comply and soon catch up to their friends, breaking into the dimension as soon as Mother shows herself. After a short battle, the situation with Mother remains unresolved and the teens head back to Earth to eat noodles and discuss plans for what's next.
Kieron Gillen has been doing a great job with this series, carefully molding these characters into the multi-layered heroes we know them to be. But for the last few issues, there has been little in the way of advancing the plot. The team has been on a wild goose chase for the majority of the arc, and while there has been subtle character development and excellent one-liners, the title seems to be losing steam. There is a major turning point at the end of this issue, but even that seems like a little too little too late. While it's exciting to know that the best is yet to come, the series really needs to pick up the pace to get back to where it was.
The art is stunning as always in this issue, with Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton giving us nothing less than some of the best pencils and inks in mainstream comics. The faces are super expressive, the panel layouts are interesting and ever-changing, and the characters are frequently in great dynamic poses. This issue seemed like a bit of a rush job in the first few pages, at least in regard to the background, since Mother's dimension is just stark white with some black lines. But that thought was soon refuted by two great panels showing a deluge of characters pouring from the dimensional rift. The colors by Matthew Wilson remain spot-on, going from bright and bold to muted and quiet across moods and scenes, perfectly complimenting the tone set by Gillen.
As a whole this issue was a fairly solid read, but it was hindered by the fact that not much happened until the ending scenes. As the final issue of the arc, nothing was really resolved, and knowing the same plot devices will continue on into the next storyline is a bit of a bummer. Hopefully the forthcoming issues will introduce more reasons to be excited about this series again.