Best Shots: War of Kings, Black Lightning, Punisher and More

Preview: SI: War of Kings #1

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. If you haven’t done so, please check out our Best of 2008 feature; Lucas did the heavy lifting on the assemblage, and should be commended. Commend him! It’s all here. Now, new stuff.

Secret Invasion: War of Kings

Writer: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Paul Pelletier and Bong Dazo

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Putting a final cap on the Inhumans dealings with not only the Skrulls but their earthly brethren, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning do a fantastic job of utilizing a variety of storylines and tying them together in a cohesive narrative that relies largely on past continuity to tell a compelling story built on anger and revenge.

From its explosive opening salvo, Secret Invasion: War of Kings immediately engages the reader in a thoroughly fun and exciting manner as the perpetual exiles make a fateful decision that begins a new direction for the Inhumans. Abnett and Lanning wisely exploit not only the nature of the relationship between the Kree and the Inhumans they give a logical reason why Black Bolt would take the actions he does to ensure his people’s safety.

Black Bolt’s determination becomes palpable as he purposely pursues the remnants of the Skrull armada into Shi’ar space and sets the Inhumans on a path that puts them in direct conflict with an empire already in the throes of expansion under the leadership of a very violent ruler, Vulcan. The thought that an X-Men villain and a group of sometimes Fantastic Four character would be key to the evolution of the sci-fi corner of the Marvel Universe is an interesting twist and really adds an element of cohesion to the story.

While the stories that brought us to this point in the Marvel Cosmos are varied and, at times, seem completely unrelated, Abnett and Lanning skillfully mine these past stories and evolve those ideas into a satisfying story that is enhanced by some of Paul Pelletier’s best artwork to date.

From the wide scale space chase to the explosive nature of Black Bolt’s focused powers, Pelletier does a fantastic job of capturing each scene. The final fate of the Skrull armada is well-rendered and skillfully displays the varied emotions of the characters as they react to, for want of a better word, a sleeper cell now fully activated and ready for war. Pelletier handles the action scenes in fluid manner and even thought panels are filled they never come across as crowded.

The Chamber of Devices is an interesting idea and the weapons the chamber held are well-imagined as they are powered by the ambient energy of Black Bolts power. My biggest problem with this issue is that Vulcan is given very little story-development as Abnett and Lanning instead focus on the Inhumans and their new status quo. The final scenes with Vulcan seemed to be thrown into the issue to try an introduce Vulcan to new readers but comes across as unnecessary and distracting to an otherwise well-paced story.

Abnett and Lanning have been doing some great things with the space-faring characters of the Marvel Universe and War of Kings has started out strong. Much to the benefit of the reader it really does seem like anything can happen in the Marvel Universe which makes for some fun reading.

The Punisher #1 cover
The Punisher #1 cover
Punisher #1

Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Jerome Opena

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Everyone knows the story of the Punisher and why he does what he does. Any decent writer can write that story in their sleep. It has been re-told at various time throughout the Punishers many titles. Usually a Punisher story by a new writer, with some exceptions of course, spoon-feeds you the story of the Punisher as if he’s hard to figure out. Imagine my surprise then when I read Rick Remender’s first issue of the newest Punisher title and found that rather than focusing on the why, he instead focuses on the how but not in the way most readers might expect.

Falling under the Dark Reign umbrella of titles, this Punisher decides to take out the biggest bad guy of them all, a sycophant in the guise of a newly christened savior, Norman Osborn. Using a weapon straight from the pages of Wanted, the Punisher puts Osborn in his crosshairs from four-miles away with a Skrull sniper rifle. Unfortunately the one element he cannot plan for enters the scene and the chase is on as Frank must use every trick he can to escape one of the most powerful heroes on the planet.

The Punisher’s internal dialog throughout the issue is written smartly as there are no long moments of reflection in the Punisher’s thoughts as he is constantly looking for his next zig to the Sentry’s zag. The plot moves quickly but Remender is able to introduce a new character that seems to be Frank’s guardian.

The art by Jerome Opena has a gritty feel to it, but the line work is fluid and natural giving a nice sense of realism to the various scenes as the Punisher attempts to escape. I have to say Opena has a really eye-catching style that is very distinct looking. His action scenes flow effortlessly from panel to panel and Opena manages to give his characters a consistent look from panel to panel.

I quite enjoyed the start of this new Punisher title and have to say was quite surprised with the quality storytelling Remender and Opena bring to the title. Considering how hesitant I was to pick up this title I really do look forward to the next issue.

Black Lightning Year One #1

Written by Jen Van Meter

Art by Cully Hamner

Colors by Laura Martin

Letters by Travis Lanham

Published by DC

Review by Lan Pitts

I am personally a fan of these sort of ideas. Take a b/c-lister and give them a great writer and an uber-talented artist and sometimes you get something as awesome as this. At first I was sort of surprised of why one would pick Black Lightning to star in his own mini-series, then at DragonCon this past year Cully Hamner had some pages at his booth and I browsed through them, but you never can tell with just the inked pages.

Well, it finally came out this past week. Color me impressed. I can see where Van Meter took a splash of Walking Tall with the story. It was interesting to see his wife's point of view and voice on Jefferson's situation. She feels neglected and torn, but trust Jefferson with the move back to Southside, aka Suicide Slums. This issue explores different defintions of "hero".

The story is backed by dynamic visuals. Laura Martin (Secret Invasion, Thor) on colors aids Hamner's style beautifully. Oddly enough, the outfit Black Lightning is wearing in the first few pages resembles the outfit they gave him on the most recent episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold. Which marked the FIRST appearance of the character on any animated show.

Fans of comic books as a medium should consider picking this up. Not just superhero comic fans, not just Black Lighning fans, but anyone and everyone who likes to read comics.

Shrapnel #1
Shrapnel #1
Shrapnel #1 of 5

Writer: M. Zachary Sherman

Artist: Bagus Hutomo

Colorist: Leos “Okita” Ng

Letterer: Sean Konot

Radical Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

You would figure that given the geek quotient associated with the comic book genre, decent hard- or military science fiction as well as the good ol’ space opera would be a relatively ubiquitous appearance on comic book racks from coast to coast. Surprisingly, once you get past the Star Wars universe, it’s basically undiscovered country. And the few efforts that do see the light of day are usually comically drawn and/or so incomprehensible in their complexity that they are deserved of their direct-to-the-quarter-bin hyperspace flight.

Radical Comics, that rookie sensation I’ve been cheerleading for since the jump, seems to have taken notice of the deficit, and set about creating an ambitious new book that might set the benchmark for how science fiction comics are measured. Of course, they sort of cheated: they have a creative team in Mark Long of Zombie Studios, and Nick Sagan, the son of some guy named Carl Sagan (and to be fair, the younger Sagan is not merely a legacy riding coat-tails, he does have an impressive resume of his own, including the fabulous novel, Idlewild). When I say ambitious, I’m referring to the fact that this is the first mini-series of three to tell the whole story, tying in to the video game from Zombie Stuidos (a YouTube promo vid can be seen here).

Earth is an empire in the Roman style that has colonized (often through force, we’re led to believe) and now controls pretty much all of the solar system from Canis Minor to Orion in a fist called the Solar Alliance. Except Venus, which is the last bastion of true freedom. And if you think that’s gonna last you must still be waiting for Viva Lauglin to return to CBS. Fortunately for the second rock from the sun (and not so much for the vaunted Alliance Marines), her population includes a woman named Samantha, who happens to be a former Alliance Marine hiding out as much from her past as from herself. As the issue closes, the Marines have landed, the battle is met, and Sam’s path out from the sanctuary of obscurity to something greater has begun.

Scott Card, Weber, Ringo, Heinlein, and yes, that guy Sagan, it’s all in here. The mech-suits a la Robotech that we gearheads and sci-fi junkies go giggity over are front and center, along with big guns and cool extras like sonic swords. The two-page panels of battle are just gorgeous and mesmerizing; I think I stared at pages forty-six and –seven for like twenty minutes. The political machinations behind the scenes as well as the character interactions and development all add layers of complexity that make this book something you chew on rather than simply read.

There is a drawback, however. The artwork. While Hutomo is reminiscent of Texeira (the artist, not the newly minted Yankee spelled differently) and science fiction artist John Harris, there is a lack of crispness and delineation. People and things blend into one another and the action is very hard to follow. The colors by Ng don’t help matters at all, and the last thing you want to do is read this under less than 75 watts. I don’t know why, but “science fiction” seems to be synonymous with “looks like the bowels of a Pittsburgh foundry” in the comic book colorist handbook. Between this and BOOM’s legion of Warhammer series’, a reader would be hard pressed to believe that the sun hasn’t simply gone out. And it’s a shame, really, because the details on the war machines and the graphic nature of the combat beg for better clarity. The story is so good, so deep and layered, and the script by Sherman (Seal Team Seven) is some of his best writing yet, that it’s regrettable to see it disappear under such cloudy illustrations.

I really like this book, and I am really looking forward to the rest of the series. However, the artwork is so murky that I have to recommend it as WAIT FOR TRADE. Getting it all together in one book may compensate for the weakness in artwork and make the story and the characters easier to follow.

Broken Trinity: Angelus

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Brian Stelfreeze

Colors by Dave McCaig

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

In First Born, The Angelus power chooses the troubled young woman Celestine as its host. Now in this issue Celestine's split personality struggles with The Angelus force for ultimate control, even as a rogue contingent of Angelus warriors plot their leader's overthrow. This is one of three, stand-alone tie-in issues to Broken Trinity, featuring the heavenly art of Brian Stelfreeze (Batman: Shadow of the Bat, X-Men: Unlimited, Gun Candy) and written by modern master, Ron Marz.

As an Atlanta native, I'm always happy to see other Atlanta artists and writers take on projects like this. Brian Stelfreeze's (one of my Atlanta guys) art is just some of the best in the business and even if he is a seasoned pro, he still catches me by surprise with some pretty stellar stuff. His attention to detail is uncanny, but never over the top where it hinders the characters' construction. The panel layout is solid and not over-burdening. The colors by McCaig are pretty good, too. Marz's writing takes good care of these characters and really fleshes them out.

I have to admit, it's been several years since I gave a damn about Top Cow characters. Witchblade, while pretty to look at, never really held much substance for me. Marz has brought it back to more of a detective story and less t and a. I've had to change my opinion on the company and their some of their titles. They've done so much in the recent past, it's hard not to take notice. It's also going to take me a while to catch up properly. I'm a huge fan of the supernatural genre, and I think if you're into that as well, you should check out what's going on in the Broken Trinity saga.

EC Archives: Tales From the Crypt vol. 3

Written & Illustrated by Feldstein, Davis, Kamen, Orlando, Ingels, Williamson, Evans and Peter

Published by Gemstone

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

In addition to six more complete EC classics, the latest volume of Tales From the Crypt offers several historical essays by EC historian Grant Geissman, who details the evolution of EC’s horror line, offers a glowing tribute to the quality (and conscience) of Marie Severin’s coloring, and provides perspective on EC’s GhouLunatic photographs.

It’s all very nice and helpful material, but it’s just icing on a great cake. The stories continue to be outstanding, with great twists and beautiful art. In this book, we get a rare Al Williamson horror story (mis-credited to Joe Orlando in the book’s table of contents), plus the horror mainstays, Davis, Ingels and Kamen in every issue (except one that Kamen misses, but he makes up for it with double-duty in the ensuing magazine). Gemstone also reprints the brief two-page text stories, with original ads, and the pun-intensive letters pages, keeping readers grounded in the experience of reading an original EC – except on nicer paper and beneath a sturdy hardback cover.

The reproduction is terrific, using Marie Severin’s re-colored covers from publisher Russ Cochran’s earlier EC Library editions and working directly from her guides on the newly recolored interiors.

Among the story highlights, “Kamen’s Kalamity” takes readers behind the scenes at EC for a very tongue-in-cheek look at the creative process, predating Marvel’s famed Bullpen and their occasional comic book appearances by over fifteen years. Williamson provides a terrifying chase through the Florida everglades, and Joe Orlando’s “A Rottin’ Trick” provides a truly awful, yet fitting, finale. In addition to six well designed and creep cover, Jack Davis balances the fine line between horror and the exaggeration that later marked his humor work, such as the ironic struggle for survival witnessed “Survival … or Death,” and Graham Ingels waxy figures always sit uneasily on the readers’ eyes, making their inhuman actions more horrifying in how believable they are.

Gemstone’s EC Archives series remains one of the best reasons to go to the comics shop: great art and great stories, in gorgeous volumes. Although Harvey Kurtzman’s war comics and Shock SuspenStories have been the best of the bunch, Tales From the Crypt vol. 3 finds EC’s horror line reaching new heights of depravity and creepiness. The comics are timeless, bravura and highly recommended for all readers.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Marvel Zombies 3 #4 of 4 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): Marvel Zombies 3 comes to a conclusion this issue, and I have to congratulate Fred van Lente and Kev Walker for invigorating a worn joke into a concept with endless potential. For as much as the previous installments of the undead heroes of the Marvel Universe dwelled in dark humor, van Lente and Walker bring a much needed element of seriousness to the title and set up the characters for future tales. Don’t get me wrong; there was plenty of dark humor throughout the series, especially the final scene with the Kingpin, which was priceless, or the Wasp going splat, but van Lente is wise to use those moments sparingly. The idea of the Midnight Sons reforming to capture a zombie that has gained access to the Nexus of all Realities is golden and is a great mystic twist on a sci-fi idea.

Detective Comics #852 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) Only Paul Dini could whip up a Batman tale -- completely devoid of the book's regular lead character, mind you -- and have it be as good as any issue he's had a hand in over the last three years. Just when you thought you'd seen the last of Hush, after his world was thoroughly dismantled two issues ago by a vengeful Catwoman, Dr. Tommy Elliot gets a second chance thanks to some dumb luck and his surgically altered appearance as Bruce Wayne. It turns out being a well-known multi-billionaire can open a lot of doors when you've hit rock bottom. Dini's script is noir narrative at its best, and it's aided all the more by the always dependable art of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. Again, it's another terrific issue in that it lacks any involvement from the Dark Knight, what with him now being incapacitated in some manner, but it's an absolute page-turner that follows Hush as he builds back his criminal empire by impersonating Bruce Wayne. Elliot's mostly successful, though he has an anxious run-in with a former JLI member while in Australia that has him afraid that his quest will derail not to long after he's started it. Turns out one of Down Under's finest heroes is the least of his worries as he has a more unfortunate run-in on a stop in Vietnam. The last person in the world Hush wants to encounter in his current state promises to make for a thrilling next issue, later this month in the next issue of Batman.

Jonah Hex #39 (DC; review by O.J.) Can I just say that Rafa Garres is a straight up BANANAS artist, people? The guy's visceral graphics are something to behold, page after page. I couldn't tell you how much time it takes him to produce a 22-page issue, but each page is so painstakingly rendered that it looks like it takes weeks if not months, but it's clearly time well spent. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti tell tales every month of a particularly unforgiving era in American history, and Garres is especially adept at capturing the harsher aspects of the Old West. In "Cowardice," Jonah Hex is tapped to aid the law enforcement and citizenry of a town that risks being overrun by escaped convicts. The local deputy reluctantly accepts a promotion with Hex's help, and the book's star gets a little something out of it as well in light of the town's conservative faction trying to make it a dry county. Jonah's protection and assistance teaches the locals a few lesson's, including the idea that saloons don't necessarily contribute to society's ills so much as they provide a welcome respite from them. Shoot, I could've told you that, but another excellent issue of this series is a great way to get that message across as well.

Double-Shot Pellet: Marvel Zombies 3, #4 (Marvel, reviewed by Erich): Marvel Zombies Three has mercifully come to an end. And not a moment too soon. This convoluted mess of a sequel succeeded in proving that you need Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips if you want a successful Marvel Zombie tale. Perhaps because of the success of the first two MZ stories, Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker were doomed to mediocrity. The feeble attempt at writing an Ellis-esque Machine Man was, at best, cringe inducing. The only mildly interesting part of the entire series was turning Morbius The Vampire into Morbius The Zombie Vampire. And the result of this mess? 120 pages of Marvel Zombies 3 was to set up Marvel Zombies 4. Unnecessary at best, unreadable at worst. Avoid the inevitable over-priced hardback collection. Even completists should skip this book.

What If - Secret Wars #1 (Marvel, reviewed by Erich): What If - Secret Wars asks the question "What If Doctor Doom didn't give up the power of the Beyonder?" The answer in short, is that with great power comes great responsibility (where have I heard that before?). Karl Bollers and Jorge Molina expand on the concept introduced in the Emperor Doom graphic novel that once Doom is able to take over the world, controlling it is a lot harder than he expected. From the day to day bureaucracy to the actual hands-on work of keeping the planet working as it should, over time Victor goes from omnipotent dictator to benevolent leader. The world is his world, the people his people. One of the better What If stories of the past few years, I was pleasantly surprised. A very enjoyable read.

Fantastic Four #562 (Marvel, reviewed by Erich): The follow-up to the biggest cop-out ending we've seen from Marvel (well, the biggest one this year, anyway), Mark Millar starts the issue with the funeral of the Invisible Woman. The Future Invisible Woman (to be referred to now as TFIW, to save space). A hack ploy from Millar, the death of TFIW at the hands of Doctor Doom is intended to show us just how Evil Doom can be. Because, you know, skinning people and using their skin to make leather armor is the act of a gentleman. Millar also uses this issue to remind us that he can randomly de-canonize an entire series of comics. Franklin Richards, powers and all, was a full-fledged member of the Power Pack. Now? He's asking Santa for super powers, "like the rest of the family". Not much more than a glorified filler issue, ending one story line while setting up the next major arc.

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