Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN #5, BATGIRL #25, More

Marvel Previews for November 13, 2013
Credit: Marvel Comics

Newsarama Note: We've now had David Pepose here with us at Newsarama for five years. From reviewing a random Top Cow issue to leading the Best Shots team, we're happy to have him aboard.

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with this Monday's installment of Best Shots! We're kicking off today's column on the wrong side of the tracks, as Justin Partridge, III takes a look at the latest issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Michelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramaga
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Nick Spencer has written a lot of great books. He’s given us nail biting thrillers month after month with Morning Glories. He’s given us emotional superhero dramatics with his reboot of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He’s given us blood soaked suspense with Bedlam. But, its his ensemble comedy about a bunch of B-list criminals that has been his best book since its premier. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is one of those books that I never expected to be as good as it is, but since its #1 its been my favorite book hitting shelves.

#5 finds our favorite morons about to embark on the heist of a lifetime, venturing into The Owl’s bizarrely intricate stronghold to steal the head of Silvio Silvermane, illustrious super-gangster. Its nutty antics like this that makes Superior Foes such a job to read. Nick Spencer goes full-bore comedy here, and it's a joy to read. This doesn’t mean that Superior Foes isn’t without its darkness - indeed, this issue opens with a particularly gruesome scene with The Owl doing away with a henchmen who had been skimming from him with a pack of hungry rats, suspended above him in a net. This issue also gives us the current fate of Shocker, who was stuffed into a trunk and thrown into the Hudson at the end of last issue. Its this wry sense of dread that keeps the book so fresh month after month. Spencer keeps the jokes coming, but also gives us the full spectrum of criminal life, warts and all among the ineptitude. Even though they are mostly all idiots, Spencer has taken the time to give each character a full, charming personality. These may be idiots, but they are OUR idiots. That's what makes the book so unlike any other team book; it fully commits to the ensemble nature of the story. Boomerang may be our faux hard-boiled narrator, but the book wouldn't be the same without our group of ne’er-do-wells.

Steve Lieber, meanwhile, outdoes himself with #5, packing just as many jokes into panels as Spencer does. His two page splash of The Owl’s insane security precautions had me howling. Its also refreshing to see that Lieber gets a bit more than just an Artist credit. Lieber is credited right beside Nick Spencer as storyteller and he earns it wholeheartedly. This is as much Lieber’s book as it is Spencer’s. Both of them are turning in a book so unique that its unlike any major superhero title on the shelves right now. Its rare to see a full tilt comedy on shelves, much less one from a major publisher, but every month Superior Foes delivers an experience unlike anything else Marvel is putting out. Lieber's art is the perfect fit for Spencer's clever scripting, adding a sense of pop style to the book, while retaining the hint of grit that Spencer injects into the book. The art toes the fine line that the script does and its amazing to add yet another crack creative team to the stable that Marvel has accumulated over the years.

If you would have told me at the start of Marvel NOW! that my favorite comic would be about a bunch of idiot super-criminals trying to scrape by in the hard-luck world of the 616 underworld, I would have called you a liar, but nonetheless, Superior Foes of Spider-Man hasn’t had a missed issue yet. It’s hilarious, dark, and chocked full of unique storytelling unlike anything seen in a major published title. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is the kind of book you would see coming out from an independent publisher, but yet, Marvel took a huge chance with a weird little book like this, and it heartens me to no end to see that people have responded to it as well as they have. Who could have guessed that the best Spider-Man book on the shelves would be a book that barely has Ol’ Webhead in it at all?

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Batgirl #25
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Fernando Pasarin, Jonathan Glapion, Blond
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl has been one of the quiet achievers of the New 52. Neither coming with the much-hyped fanfare of Scott Snyder’s Batman nor the convenient backing of a film adaptation tie-in, Simone’s story arcs have been building up nicely to a major turning point for Barbara Gordon and she is about to go toe-to-toe with her top-cop father. However, for the second time in as many months, both Simone and her gripping story are brushed to one side as the unavoidable crossover signal goes up, marking Batgirl’s entry into the “Zero Year” monolith.

Marguerite Bennett, who has recently proven a deft hand at filling in the historical gaps in the Gotham archives of late (from the Anchoress to Joker’s Daughter), takes over for this issue and transports us back to a time before Barbara Gordon had her training or her first costume. Running parallel to Bruce Wayne’s first tentative steps as a man in a bat costume, Barbara and a pre-psycho James flee their home and take refuge in a shelter due to the Riddler’s blackout and the oncoming storm. Taking Comissioner Gordon’s directions to “protect the homestead” to heart, she assists in leading her fellow refugees to safety and in fending off would-be rogues, getting her first taste of what it means to be a hero.

Batgirl #25 is as much a curiousity of a character study as it is frustrating. Another hurdle in Barbara Gordon’s forward momentum is nothing new to comics, with folks like Brian K. Vaughan repeatedly showing that this push-and-pull motif can successfully build character over a number of years. Here it’s forced, the machination of salesmanship and event marketing, and not a more organic kind of layer peeling. However, this doesn’t stop it from being a fascinating and revealing chapter in Batgirl’s past. Much of Batgirl’s recent history has concentrated on the impact of Gordon’s rehabilitation and the spectre of the Joker’s bullet, so it is nice to see a story concentrating on her formative moments prior to that seminal event.

Fernando Pasarin, closely associated with his work on the Green Lantern titles during the “Brightest Day” era, brings something a little more street-level and gritty to this title. Reimagining a younger Barbara Gordon with a shock of short red hair, he slowly evolves her from another citizen running scared in the rain to an action figure fighting in defiance of it. We’ve seen Gotham in various states of disrepair, and Pasarin does a marvelous job of showing the chaos caused by flash flooding. As the group escapes from the shelter across rooftops, Pasarin uses multiple angles to great effect, along with point of view shots to depict the full extent of the devastation.

Batgirl #25 mostly functions as a showcase for what is happening in the rest of Gotham while Batman figures out his plan of attack in his own titles. While we are itching to sink our teeth back into Simone’s wonderful ongoing tale, Bennett at least uses the arbitrary confines of the “Zero Year” structure as an opportunity to flesh out what is already one of the most interesting leads in the current DCU.

Credit: IDW

Wraith #1
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III and Jay Fotos
Lettering by Shawn Lee and Robbie Robbins
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As a fan of Joe Hills’ N0S4A2, I’m familiar with the character of Charlie Manx and his Wraith, the supernatural vehicle that takes children to the enigmatic and terrifying Christmasland. So reading Wraith didn’t necessarily provide me with any new information, just more affirmation of the monster Charlie Manx is.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it still isn’t horrific.

A word-heavy tale, Wraith reads more like a narrative than a comic book. Much of the issue is an extension of what’s presented in the novel, so it reads a lot like the novel. But in an effort to set the mood, Hill creates a enough tension in the opening scenes to give readers a solid impression of their narrator, and his dark and twisted past.

Kudos to Shawn Lee and Robbie Robbins for controlling the extensive lettering that aids the story without disturbing the flow. My own familiarity with N0S4A2 made stepping into Hills’ demented world easy, and the history he provides for Manx, particularly the dark childhood that molded the boy to become the monster he is, adds another layer to the character. Hill touches upon a few “broken home” tropes, but in ways that make them unique.

Plus, Hill uses Manx as the narrative lead so the villain is able to present his own depraved interpretation of events. I won’t say that we sympathize with Manx, but we definitely find ourselves immersed in his weird world, and at least understanding of the moments that lead to him becoming the vampiric antagonist of N0S4A2.

Charles Wilson, though, is the real star of the issue. His pencil work is simple, yet effective. The opening of the comic is tonally oppressive, and coupled with Hills’ dark characterization, unfamiliar readers will still get the foundation they need to be pulled into Wraith. Wilson’s best work is around Manx himself, and his possession by the Rolls Royce Wraith. Shading, in particular, brings the monstrous Charlie Manx to life, and if readers were unfamiliar with the character and story before, they have a strong enough foundation to understand by the end.

For fans of N0S4A2, Wraith is a satisfying Easter egg hunt. For new readers, however, Wraith is an unsettling introduction to a world of horror, and hopefully, this steers people in the direction of Hills’ novel. But Wraith is good enough to stand on its own merit, and as a horror story, it carries enough creepiness to make people uncomfortable as we come into the holiday season.

I know I’ll never view Christmas the same.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers Arena #17
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Kev Walker, Jason Gorder and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Marvel's marketing spotlight may be on the Avengers fighting in Infinity or Otto Octavius's long con in Superior Spider-Man, but there's some real sparks flying over in Murder World with Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker's Avengers Arena. After months of slowing building up Marvel's teen heroes in a claustrophobic, prisoner's-choice situation, the kid gloves have finally come off, as these young superhumans have finally decided to take no prisoners.

It's a testament to Dennis Hopeless's plotting skills that he's managed to make this penultimate issue work, as it makes perfect sense why these Avengers Academy graduates and Braddock School students have finally gone head-to-head. There's a real desperation to this issue, almost a sense of finality - after months of these heroes resisting Arcade's mandate of killing each other, suddenly they're all at each other's throats.

That evolution is really the big payoff this week, as you can see just how much these characters have changed. Anachronism, who started the series as a nebbish kid in a barbarian's body, has fully given into his bloodlust, while consummate survivor Cammi finally steps up as a hero, getting one of the best moments in the book as she goes head-to-head with Darkhawk. And what's more, Hopeless's subplot featuring Apex, Chris Powell and Death Locket is a great way of keeping the tension strong, as it's clear Arcade has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

Kev Walker, meanwhile, continues to show why he was born to draw this gritty, horrific book. His characters are sharp and angular, and they really play up the pain and hostility of Avengers Arena. His rendition of X-23, a gnarled mass of irradiated muscle and burnt skin, looks horrific, as does his cut-up and tear-stained take on Hazmat. Walker's angular layouts play up the twisted funhouse mirror atmosphere of Murder World, and his small flourishes of design - particularly the subtle new take on Darkhawk - really lends a lot of energy to this battle royale.

The kids are far from all right, as we have one issue to go before Avengers Arena transitions to Avengers Undercover. At this point, it's really Hopeless and Walker's book to lose - there's a lot of tension, a lot of heartache, and a lot of earned stakes to this comic, as Hopeless really has built up why these teenage heroes are now at each others' throats. If this issue is any indication, the next installment of this series is going to be all killer, no filler.

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Injustice: Gods Among Us Annual #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Xermanico, Jonas Trindade, Mike S. Miller, Bruno Redondo and Alejandro Sanchez Rodriguez
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Confession: I have not played Injustice. I know many people that have, but I’m not a fan of fighting games, despite the game culling its cast from DC’s many heroes. I have heard, however, positive buzz around the Injustice comic, and I have personally found the series to be one of the best written alternative histories of the DCU. Tom Taylor has provided issue after issue of solid storytelling, and taking a chance on the Injustice annual doesn’t feel like a gamble.

Additionally, I was disappointed with the new 52 version of Lobo. DC really stripped away everything that made the character a fan favorite. Luckily, Tom Taylor returns the Main Man to his badass roots in an issue that is strongly written, sharply illustrated, and loaded with fun.

Given the heavy handed subject matter of the previous issues, Lobo brings much needed comic relief. Sent on errand by Darkseid, Lobo is instructed to capture Superman and bring him to Apokolpis. But things don’t go the way Lobo has planned, and instead he’s recruited to find Harley Quinn. Harley, however, proves to be much more difficult to apprehend, and Taylor really exploits Harley’s unpredictability to make her story that much more engaging.

Mostly, Injustice is fun to read. Taylor has impeccable comedic timing, and his Harley Quinn is electric in every scene. She steals the show. Furthermore, Taylor proves his DC history knowledge by perfectly capturing Lobo. Everything that’s made the character the person fans have come to love is on display. His recklessness, egotism, and hubristic masculinity all get some time in Taylor’s comic.

The inconsistency in the art is what really holds the issue back from being perfect. The scenes with Superman are okay, but faces really take a hit in these pages. They’re misshapen and unemotional. At all times, Superman has zero affect. The parts of the issue with Harley, however, are gorgeously illustrated. Each image has impressive amounts of detail, and faces come to life, Harley’s especially. Coupled with Alejandro Rodriguez’s vivid colorization, the comic is a visual treat.

I loved this issue. Whereas people have had mixed reactions about the new 52, I think readers will find that Injustice retains a classic sentimentality of the old DC. Tom Taylor is an underrated writer, mostly due to the forum of his skills, but readers will find a lot to like about Injustice, both in its story and its art.

So pick up the Injustice Annual. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, ya bastich.

Bandette Vol. 1: Presto HC
Written by Paul Tobin
Art and Letters by Colleen Coover, Steve Lieber, Alberto J. Alburquerque, Tina Kim, Jonathan Case, Jennifer L. Meyer, Rich Ellis, Mitch Gerads, and Erika Moen
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Whether it’s bank robbers or spoiled rotten rich people, Bandette is out to take things from those who don’t deserve it. With one foot on the side of the angels and the other knee-deep in larceny, Bandette steps right into the path of a shadowy organization ready to kill her. Not even her witty banter, athletic skills, and unlikely friends may be enough to keep her safe in this first collection of stories from the husband-wife team of Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover.

Bandette was one of the debut titles from online-first publisher Monkeybrain back in July 2012, and in some ways has served as the face of the franchise, going on to win an Eisner award. The five collected here are solid gold, doing everything right.

Bandette is what happens if you mix the Pink Panther movies with Catwoman, Lupin III, and garnish it with a touch of childish imagination. She’s clearly a criminal, but we want her to win, because the people she steals from are a pile of jerks. The police turn a blind eye because of her assistance against greater threats, like the bank robbery that turns from a romp into a major plot point. Her capers often involve a large cast of helpers including a love-struck delivery boy, three ballerinas, street ragamuffins, and a dog, who come together when she needs a hand, regardless of the danger. Bouncing around seemingly without a care, Bandette simply refuses to take anything seriously, and that’s part of her charm, even as we admire her taste in rare things (some of which are detailed in the afterward by Tobin).

It’s really refreshing to have a comic like this remain light-hearted through an entire story. When a paternalistic fellow thief tries to scare her about the bounty placed on her life by Finis, Bandette acknowledges it, but pushes him aside, since he’s “old” and she doesn’t want him to get hurt. What follows is the total opposite of a dire battle, with Bandette trading quips with an inept dualist calling herself Matador, then a fire fight where Bandette’s “urchins” save the day.

It’s not grim, it’s not gritty, and that’s the point. Tobin’s pacing is fast and his dialogue is faster. While Coover keeps Bandette all over the page, alternating athletic feats with cute poses, Tobin has her working the patter a mile a minute. Her narration during action scenes is hysterical and will remind some of the best uses of the Peter Parker Spider-Man. The France of Bandette is bright as drawn by Coover, with digital coloring that will fool you into thinking its watercolor, thanks to the ink washes she uses during the process. I’ve watched Coover hone this style via her art blog, and this comic shows all the practice has been worth it.

Coover’s page layouts are extremely innovative, posing characters at just the right angle to enhance the script, whether it’s Bandette coming at the reader through a duct, bouncing out of a bag of money, or balancing along a wire. Her designs fit the light tone just right, such as making the main police officer (B.D. Belgique) have huge ears, a nose that could double as a doorknob, and thick eyebrows, which combine for comical poses no matter what he does. You can find out more about Coover’s process in the thick and rich bonus material, which also includes a text story from Tobin.

Rounding out the collection are a series of short pieces in which Tobin combines with other artists to tell short stories about the side characters. Steve Lieber gets to have fun with drawing Belgique and the troubles his smoking habit causes and Erika Moen looks into the future of one of the urchins in two of the highlights. Working with other Monkeybrain artists, Tobin gets to expand Bandette’s world, like having Matador spear an oncoming car or what Bandette’s dog, Pimento, gets up to when she’s not around.

It’s rare for a comic to hook me so quickly as Bandette did, but I fell in love with this one from the first set piece and never looked back. Tobin and Coover have created a fun comic that knows its caper-movie origins and sticks to them, with absolutely gorgeous art and some of Tobin’s best writing. This is about as close to a perfect comic as you’ll get, and should be in your collection.

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