Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERGIRL #25, INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #15, More

DC Previews for November 20, 2013
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Best Shots is at it again, with this Monday's column! So let's kick off today's column with the not-so-jolly green giant, as we take a look at the latest issue of Indestructible Hulk...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Indestructible Hulk #15
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Kim Jacinto, Val Staples and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

"I think, therefore I am." Or to be more glib, if you're present, it's a sure sign you exist, if nothing else. That's the feeling I get from Indestructible Hulk #15 - it's a conclusion that means well, but something ultimately gets lost in the translation, transforming what could have been an excellent comic into something a little less refined.

The premise - featuring the Hulk battling his way through the timestream, with a robot programmed with the brainwaves of Bruce Banner as his only guide - has led to some rollicking action, but you can't help but think that maybe Mark Waid's "Agent of T.I.M.E." arc has generated a little bit more flash than substance. Part of that is because the tension Waid had been generating in the past few issues has been lost, as originally the Banner-bot had a time limit. Now that Bruce's brainwaves have been re-downloaded into his past self, Waid has to rely on more saccharine motivations to get this scientist back into the gamma-irradiated saddle.

Part of the problem here happens to be the artwork. Contrary to what it says on the cover, Matteo Scalera does not draw this issue, but instead the scratchy, cartoony Kim Jacinto takes the reins. Jacinto's villains look pretty sharp, but you can't help but think that he isn't quite at the level to really bring some of Waid's concepts to life. For example, the central premise of this issue is that the Hulk, rather than puny Banner, is hit with the original gamma bomb, turning him into a "Hulk Squared" - but the design for this Hulk is the same as the original Hulk, only with spines. Meanwhile, the Hulk demonstrates a tremendous feat of strength near the end of this issue, but Jacinto doesn't choreograph it well, leading to an empty light show.

That said, this comic does have its strong bits. First off, Waid wraps up Hulk's time-travel escapades nicely, with a beat that demonstrates why he truly is the strongest one there is. Additionally, while sometimes the art makes it difficult to follow, Waid also explores the rules of time travel in Banner's final battle, and that is particularly interesting to read. Finally, Waid's cliffhanger is a smart one, and shows a lot of potential for the series moving forward.

On the one hand, you have to give Waid and company credit for trying - throwing Bruce Banner into the timestream is just one more way of showing how Indestructible Hulk lives up to his name. And ultimately, I can't even blame Waid for this conclusion stumbling at the finish line - it's a mismatch of writer and artist in this case, nothing more. Still, it's a shame that an action story of this scale couldn't have packed a bigger punch.

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl #25
Written by Scott Lobdell, Michael Alan Nelson and Justin Jordan
Art by Paulo Siqueira and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Ever hear the saying “Too many cooks spoil the brew”? Clearly, DC hasn’t.

Supergirl splits its writing duties between three people, and the excessive amount of narrative voice shows. The comic is, at times, incomprehensible. There’s split narration, side plots, thought boxes and thought bubbles, and such a lack of cohesion that the it’s a wonder this comic was even published.

And I say this as a fan of Supergirl. The one thing the writers do well is to show Kara’s strength and ferocity. Regardless of how naive the character can sometimes appear, Lobdell, Nelson and Jordan make her into a warrior by the end of the issue which, despite its abruptness, is a solid indicator of Kara’s developing personality.

But the constantly shifting viewpoint makes reading the comic an exercise in patience. I feel more like we’re looking at a series of vignettes rather than following a narrative thread. These guys threw in everything and the kitchen sink. Rather than focusing on one character, they try to show every player in the “Krypton Returns” storyline, but without success. Kara’s story is at least interesting; Superboy’s is not.

Sadly, having three writers vying for space in the comic reduces Paulo Siqueira’s effectiveness. The book is so dialogue heavy that it masks some of Siqueira’s art, drawing the eye towards the narrative boxes rather than the visuals. I like Siqueria’s designs; they remind me of Amanda Conner’s smooth art styling. But the art only really shines when it has the space -- which is limited.

So much story is shoved into the comic, and the pages so loaded with jetsam, that the art takes a hit. Superboy’s pages, in particular, lack the same clarity found in Supergirl’s pages. Parts of the comic look rushed to the point of being dirty. The smoothness found on certain pages is definitely lacking in others, calling attention to a lack of visual polish. For an already convoluted book, the lack of consistency in the art only adds to the discord.

This was a difficult read for a variety of reasons, but mostly it never settles on a narrative center. I get that Lobdell, Nelson and Jordan have a lot of story to tell, but they don’t need to pack it all into one issue. This only hurts their intent, and as much as they leave the reader with a cliff hanger, I don’t think many people will be interested to find out the end result if they have to wade through this kind of convolution again.

Credit: Abstract Studios

Rachel Rising #21
Story and Art: Terry Moore
Published by Abstract Studios
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The simplicity of Rachel Rising is really the main draw for this reviewer. Even in a comic where nothing really “happens,” writer Terry Moore still finds a way to tell an engaging story.

Moore splits the comic into two parts -- Rachel’s story and Jet’s story -- finding a nice balance that moves the story along while at the same time building a mythos and developing future threads. He uses dialogue well too, inserting quite a bit of humor through character speech. Moore has a way of capturing the natural rhythm of speech, as well as pacing the point of view so that the humor lands well.

As always, Moore’s simple yet effective black and white art brings the story to life. The weary yet sage-like Dr. Siemen is Moore’s visual crowning achievement in this issue. In one panel, Moore conveys all the pain, weariness and heartache the character has dealt with, instantly making the character an object of pity.

Additionally, Zoe’s experience with a guard dog brings a little levity and humanity to a comic full of soulless dead girls. The suspense Moore builds in these pages is evidence of his ability to create tension using only his visuals, and I couldn’t help but be moved when Zoe made the decision to save the guard dog that tried to eat her alive.

The story doesn’t deliver any major reveals, but is another solid entry in the series. It’s clearly an indicator that Moore has a plan. He’s very aware of the series’ past, present and future, and this confidence comes through in how methodical he is in telling the story.

So while we’re no closer to understanding any of the major mysteries of Rachel Rising, we’re at least entertained for one more issue, both in the storytelling and in the art.

Credit: DC Comics

The Wake #5
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Jared Fletcher Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Disclaimer: If you haven't been following The Wake or missed the last issue or two, this is not the issue for new or latecomers to pick up and follow along. I find the series is very much in the vein of "Lost" (Season One - not Nine!-), and while I highly recommend this series, the story that Snyder is developing is one that needs to be read from the beginning. Otherwise, those readers could find themselves failing to make sense of key plot points and missing the poignancy of certain moments – especially in this issue. While I would certainly drop a point on a book for this if it was a first issue (since I am of the mindset that No. 1 of any series should be accessible), I am much more lenient on later parts of a story arc as it is fair to expect readers to catch up before jumping on board.

So fair warning: Normally, I try to keep my reviews about key plot points somewhat vague in order to avoid spoilers. For Issue #5 of The Wake, however, I really want to focus my review on the ending as it serves the focal point for the entire creative team's efforts in this issue and the series as a whole. It's often said that it is the journey that matter – not the ending. In this issue, however, I might argue the perceived ending of at least one character's journey – if not more – is what will leave readers anxiously waiting for Issue No. 6. So read on at your own risk.

The last issue ended with the monstrous introduction of the giant merman rising up from the depths and leering menacingly at the underwater station – a devastating attack just moments away from being unleashed on the site. With the odds stacked against Lee Archer and the rest of the remaining crewmembers, Fate was not smiling upon them at the end of the story. Issue No. 5 picks up with the team fleeing the now-destroyed base and taking up pursuit of the monstrous beast and the thousands of mer-creatures following close behind as they made their way to the mainland to begin launching an all-out attack on the unsuspecting surface dwellers. With the use of Meeks' underwater hunting sub, the team was able to assault and kill the monster. Of course, this only comes at the expense of disabling the vessel and leaving the rest of the crew appearing to be dead with Lee making one last call to her son, Parker, to say her farewells. Murphy's rough inks works well in this dark and fast-paced action sequence, which Hollingsworth accentuates – but does not overpower – with his use of colors.

As Murphy and Hollingsworth show, the situation's bleak for Archer and the rest of the team, but with the monster blown up, one would think they nullified the threat. Yet, not one page goes by before Snyder snatches any semblance of victory from the hands of those who sacrificed themselves. The larger merman, it turns out, was only one of a number of such monsters rising up from the depths robbing any sense of true victory from Archer in her final moments. Here, Murphy and Hollingsworth swoop in for the kill as they slowly choke out the light and drown the panels in blackness, allowing the inky darkness to envelope the sub crew and blot them out. Murphy's line and brushwork continue to convey a raw, emotional tone, which is well suited to what Snyder lays out in this story, and arguably conveys more of her turmoil in her facial expressions than the words she utters. Likewise, Hollingsworth slowly pulls back on the colors and allows the darkness to encroach upon each panel all of which reinforces the feelings of claustrophobia and fear that Archer is visibly experiencing. Upon a second reading, I also found the hauntingly beautiful images that Lee experienced underwater as a young girl, a scene which was previously introduced, now became simply haunting due in large part to Hollingsworth's efforts.

The issue ends in darkness as we see an entirely black page marked only by a single, white text box informing readers that every coastal city was decimated within 24 hours. Nothing more. Needless to say, the outlook is exceedingly grim as we now know the source for the future world's flooded state of being.

It is worth reiterating, however, that we do not see any member of the crew actually die. Given the fact this issue is only the halfway point for the series, it is possible that Snyder hasn't killed Archer yet. After all, Meeks was thought to be dead in an earlier issue and yet, he too survived to fight the good fight soon after. Regardless, between Snyder's scripting and the combined efforts of Murphy and Hollingsworth behind the pen and brush, this final scene of a parent saying her final good bye to a child whose safety is no longer certain or secure…is crushing. It is crushing the character that readers have grown to know and care about, and it is crushing those very readers sense that things will turn out "okay." The moment is handled well, and I never had the impression this team was killing its characters for shock value – it stands to reason this would be a likely outcome for anyone in these circumstances – but it doesn't lessen the emotional impact of these final few pages. Yes, it's done well, but that doesn't make it easy to read.

Characters seem to die in comics only to cheat death and trick readers in a multitude of different ways – it's a hallmark of the medium. Regardless of whether this is or is not the last readers see of Lee Archer, I thought the final scene of Issue No. 5 stood out as an excellent example of how Snyder, Murphy and Hollingsworth are able to treat the (potential) death of a character in a somber and respectful manner even as it leaves readers feeling emotionally drained and weighed down in its wake.

Credit: Painfully Normal Productions

Leaving Megalopolis
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Painfully Normal Productions
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

For many readers, this reviewer included, one of the biggest losses of the New52 was the Secret Six. That band on morally questionable characters, doing what they thought was right, was a real highlight of my monthly pull. Sure, it wasn't DC's top seller, but critics loved it and it's fan base was about as rabid as they come. So when series regulars Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore announced a creator-owned Kickstarter titled Leaving Megalopolis and claimed they would capture the mature tone and humor of the Secret Six. Well, I jumped. I jumped headfirst. Like one of the themes running through this original graphic novel, I have learned that you really can't go home.

The plot to Leaving Megalopolis is a familiar one, though with an admittedly more visceral and horrific tone. The heroes of the world have gone insane. Homicidally so, and now kill anyone out of pleasure, and perhaps even need. The book follows Mina, a cop doing her best to get out of the city alive. Along the way she attracts followers that see her skills and knowledge as a ticket to survival in the cape and cowl apocalypse. With some intriguing flashbacks into Mina's past, the premise is clear a setup for a one and done book. Alas, very little of Simone's normally entertaining style works in this book. Leaving Megalopolis suffers from a sense of unrealized plotting.

Threads are hinted at within the comic, but rarely play out, or even grow from their initial mention. Still, that style of narrative could have worked to the books favor. There is something to be said for simply taking characters and dropping them in a nightmare. But for that to happen, we need characters that connect with us. Good or bad, we need a reason. They simply aren't there in Leaving Megalopolis. Save for the short flashbacks to Mina's very troubled past, there just isn't any reason to care when people are horribly dispatched by the world's heroes. More frustrating are the hints of greatness peppering the book. There are moments when the theme of darkening our own heroes and myths come through. Themes the truly make you look at your own ideals of heroism, only to fade back into the page. Simone's dialog is still strong at moments, with a natural and conversational style. But that's just not enough to redeem a story that, at best, reads as unplanned.

Like the writing, Jim Calafiore's pencils are a mixed bag, though not as much. The opening third of Leaving Megalopolis might be some of Calafiore's best work to date. I've never seen him apply this much attention and thought to backgrounds and panel layout. It's a real pleasure to see what an artist can create when not burdened by monthly deadlines and last minute changes. His character work is also some of the best he's done. It's nice to see Calafiore stretching his own comfort zone, particularly with facial composition. His signature design of more angular and stark facial lines are highly softened. Each character moves with a better sense of space and realism. And there is no doubt he designs some rather nasty and emotionally evocative ways in dispatching our refugees.

But again, using a term that comes up far too often in Leaving Megalopolis, Calafiore's pencils frustratingly fall back on old habits. The second half of the book looks incredibly rushed, with harsher lines and other visual shortcuts. Shortcuts like dense inking that hides rougher pencils and anatomy. It's still decent work, but seeing what Calafiore is capable of only pages before makes the latter half of the book hard to understand. Jason Wright's colors help some of the rushed pencil appearance in the second half. Which, is again a shame, because when he's working with Calafiore's more refined lines, the coloring really does add an emotional layer to a book that so very badly wants to be more than Mark Waid's Irredeemable with a splash of Garth Ennis' Crossed.

I understand it's not fair going into any book with expectations based on previous work. Leaving Megalopolis was never going to be the Secret Six, and I honestly didn't want that. Not really. But what I was hoping for was a book that would let a smart creative team tell their stories with their gloves off. What I got was a book that only served to remind me of how much more both Simone and Calafiore are capable of doing. And that it's not this book.

Credit: Fantagraphics

Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1
Written by Ed Piskor
Art by Ed Piskor
Lettering by Ed Piskor
Published by Fantagraphic Books
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree, Vol. 1 starts out feeling like a very straight-forward retelling of the characters who were there in the early days of hip hop music. Grandmaster Flash and Russell Simmons are well known names who were there as Piskor recounts the mid/late 1970s in New York City and the music movement that was beginning. In the parks and in the basements, the MCs and their turntables started exploring what more you could do with a record other than just putting it on and letting it play. Piskor spends the first pages catching us up on the main players of this emerging music scene. His comic begins as a catalog of people and places but it’s hard to capture music in a visual form. He tells us about the music but there’s no real way to experience it. That is until Piskor uses the form of his comic to recreate the thunderous beat of the speakers and the rattling effect a heavy bass line has on you physically.

Piskor’s comic looks like an old, aged comic from the 1970s. The “Fantagraphics Treasury Edition” banner on the cover and the large, yellowed pages cause the best kind of flashbacks for anyone who spent childhood afternoons devouring those oversized newsprint reprints from Marvel and DC. Some companies like IDW lately have tried to mimic those treasury editions but without a toothy, yellow paper, it just doesn’t work. Piskor and Fantagraphics gets it right; it’s not just the size of the comic that makes it special. It’s the imperfection of that old printing that was the charm of those comics. When Piskor gets to a point where the music starts to be real and the bass is vibrating a whole room, the “printing” of the comic is off register. Lines and colors don’t match up, creating a ghosting effect. The panel itself is actually vibrating like the speakers are shaking everything. The first time Piskor does this, it almost looks like a fluke like the old printing techniques were. But on the next page as the Brothers Disco take the stage with their The Mighty Mighty Sasquatch collection of speakers, turntables and equalizers, Piskor throws everything on the register off, practically rattling the plaster off the walls and rumbling you down to your very soul. The comic books hits you in your gut the same way that the great music does. Piskor hits that perfect alchemy of comic and music.

Once he makes you feel the music, Piskor spends most of the book recreating events, places and characters important to those early days of hip hop music. Like so much of modern music, the story of hip hop is a story of art and business. There are so many names and people that are important to those early days that it’s kind of dizzying to read Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1 but Piskor keeps a number of the main players in focus, returning to them over and over in the book so that you begin to see how it developed out of a NYC subculture into this artform that eventually captured the attention of a nation. This world of competition and power struggles presents this whole microcosm of the music industry but the main struggle of the book is between those who were approaching this as a business to grow and as an artform to nurture.

Piskor’s cartooning captures the joys of performing and the struggles of the performance. Coming out of 1970’s New York, one of the first really memorable events that Piskor recreates is a knifing of a DJ. That violence colors everything in the book while Piskor concentrates on the clashing personalities that were at the heart of this movement. When the performers break into their rap, Piskor’s art is powerful and mesmerizing. In just panels here and there, spread throughout the book, Piskor shows you why these raw musicians were able to capture their audience’s attention through spectacle and charisma. But he also shows the ugliness of the people behind the surging popularity of hip hop. Maybe it’s cynical of Piskor but those who worked to broaden the popularity of hip hop are also the harshest caricatures. They’re the ones who stand out in all of these promoters, MCs and DJs. The “nice” people are well represented but they don’t feel like the moves and the shakers of the music world that Piskor is interested in. Or more likely, they’re the ones who nurture the artform of hip hop while it’s a totally different group of performers that push the business of hip hop.

Hip Hop Family Tree, Vol. 1 is about the beats, the music and the people who were there in the earliest days of hip hop. Piskor’s fascination of those elements colors this tapestry of events from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s that saw the emergence and acceptance of a new form of music. Piskor dives into the history and as he explores what happened, he also reveals how an artform can grow from being a neighborhood phenomenon to something that’s embraced and celebrated by prime time television. It’s not always pure or right but it’s the mark of progress as hip hop became a world-wide sensation because of the groundwork that Piskor explores in his book. As well as being a record of musical history, Piskor embraces comic history as he makes his book look like a relic of the times it’s recreating. Everything about Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1 is a love letter to the music and comics of bygone time.

Pellet Review!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Young Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For a comic called Young Avengers, the characters in the series sure have been acting mature lately. The battle for the fate of the universe is finally on and the team is on the assault against Mother, Leah, and quite a few of Noh-Varr's ex-girlfriends. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie continue to do great work together, mixing complex story with even more complex panel layouts. Their collaboration shines brightly in the battle scenes, where things could easily fall between the cracks, but the duo pull it off smoothly. With the conclusion looming, the only question left is whether the team will make it out in one piece.

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