Giant-Size BEST SHOTS Reviews Column: INFINITY, BLACK SCIENCE, So Much More

Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #6
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jim Cheung, Dustin Weaver, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis, John Livesay, and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Review: 8 out of 10

Endings are always tricky. No matter what, someone will be disappointed in something. Either it will be too small in scale or maybe too vague or perhaps just a complete and utter misstep in regards to the story that was set up in the issues before. Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity #6 continues to eschew regular comic book event structure with its finale and goes as big as possible to deliver a rare satisfying final issue to this year’s huge companywide event.

Infinity #6 is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink battle for Earth against Thanos’ death pirate forces. For detractors of Hickman’s slow burn plotting of Infinity and the lack of action within the main Infinity title, Issue 6 is right up your street. From page one, panel one, this comic is nothing but boots on the ground action, starting with the re-taking of the PEAK Station ending with an all or nothing struggle against Thanos for the life of his Inhuman son. Jonathan Hickman’s style is very much defined by his labyrinthine story structures and character work, so Infinity #6, with its wall-to-wall action, is a big step out of his wheelhouse, but he handles it with relative ease, never letting the story feel out of control or just punching for the sake of punching. Each action beat is still layered with his pitch-perfect character work, and each beat has a different tone and unique group of Avengers involved in them which keeps each battle fresh and vastly different from events of the past, instead of pitting Wolverine against an unstoppable horde and then just letting it play out.

Hickman’s Infinity has been very different structurally from recent comic events, with the Avengers and New Avengers tie-ins feeling like essential entries into the main narrative instead of just throwaway side stories, this gave Infinity a more complete and cinematic feel instead of just a large story for the sake of having a large story. With the end of Infinity, this feels like the end of Act One of Hickman’s Avengers, which feels natural instead of a story hastily slapped together around a single idea. Hickman is always playing a longer game, and this just feels like the first of many huge stories from him.

Jim Cheung is back to handle the finale, which gives Infinity a nice bit of continuity art-wise. It's always nice to see an artist ending a series after launching it especially an artist as talented as Jim Cheung. Along with a murderer’s row of immensely talented colorists, Cheung delivers a steam train of a issue starting from page one, selling the scope of the battles from the opening battle on the Peak all the way to the close combat insanity of The Necropolis. Cheung has caught a bit of flak through the years for his fight sequences looking muddled and hard to follow, but in Infinity #6, his panels are perfectly epic and kinetic, while never feeling hard to follow or overcrowded. Gone is the overstuffed nature of his art that we saw during The Children’s Crusade, and in its place is a very well-spaced and fast-paced thrill ride of epic proportions.

Like most comic book fans, I am always in a state of event fatigue. I seems like every other month I am presented with yet another “game changing” event, with its banner garishly displayed over most, if not all, of a company’s line, but with Infinity, we finally got something of note and weight in regards to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This event never felt like anything other than the natural progression of the story presented to us in Avengers and New Avengers #1. Each thread offered in the larger event was dovetailed gorgeously into each title, giving us a larger story experience that has been sorely missed within event comic storytelling. With the curtain dropping on Infinity, one can’t help but be excited for what else is on the horizon. Its always teased, but this time Jonathan Hickman has delivered on the promise that the Marvel Universe has changed and now we get to see what stories can be told in this new Marvel Universe, and I for one, cannot wait to see what Act Two looks like.

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Catwoman #25
Written by John Layman
Art by Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Catwoman #25 is an origin story of sorts, but the Selina Kyle we meet is still new to the game, not jaded by the unfairness of life, and not hounded by a man who dresses up in a big bat suit. 

To be fair, this comic is not without its faults. John Layman crafts a stutter-step narrative that goes back in time several hours, only to go back in time several minutes, only to move forward in time a few hours. And Layman’s story, focusing on an evil millionaire who more or less robs a local mom-and-pop store to throw a luxurious party for luxurious people, is laughably cliché. 

But Layman finds a way to organically craft Selina’s development into Catwoman. Her cunning and craftiness are on display, and we see that, even without a lot of her trademark tools, Selina was a force to be reckoned with. Her Robin Hood like persona is also fleshed out a bit, definitely playing the angle of her being an anti-hero. 

In addition to Terry Dodson’s lush, gorgeous cover, Aaron Lopresti’s pencils are polished and tight. The ink lines are so fine that they occasionally disappear, but this only highlights Selina’s lithe and athletic physique. Faces also benefit from this tactic as Selina’s persona can change quickly, making her look weak and terrified in one panel, then flashing her tenacity and confidence in another.

Catwoman #25, as an addition to Scott Snyder’s “Zero Year,” definitely tries to tell a story that fits in with Batman’s first appearance in Gotham city, yet doing so in a way that gives some originality to its character. John Layman succeeds in this aspect, minus the stereotypes on which he relies, even if they are related to the character’s development.

In the end, Selina comes off as much more than a cat burglar, and her innocuous beginnings definitely pave the way for the person she will become. And for a comic that’s not related, canonically, to what’s occurring in the series, Catwoman #25 stands pretty solidly on its own two feet. 

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Superman #25
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Blond
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

There’s a reason Krypton was destroyed. 

Scott Lobdell’s convoluted and densely constructed Superman #25 is not the kind of epic it wants to be. He has alternate time streams, chronal loops, and trapped essences thrown into 20 pages of murky story. The tangled narrative destroys the emotional impact of a certain character’s death, and the crowded nature of the story makes reading Superman anything but engaging. 

Due to the design of the tale in its entirety, Superman has a lot of story to tell. Lobdell has three separate narratives to wrap up, yet some threads are given cursory explanations (like Kara’s), while others get more attention in the story (the tales of Superman and Superboy in particular). 

But even these stories don’t get the necessary explanation needed. Clearly, Lobdell has a lot of ideas he’s working with. He salvages Superman’s altruism at the expense of Krypton, but in a creative ways that keeps Kal-El from crossing a line and murdering H’el, as easy (and satisfying) as that would be.

Regardless, the complexity of the story ruins its delivery. Introducing time travel is tricky enough, but when it creates unnecessary complexity, then the thread of the tale is tenuously explicated, and what you’re left with is a story that fails to hold reader interest, nor have a lasting impact.

Kenneth Rocafort, however, delivers solid pencil work. His illustrations are sharper than usual, and more vibrant in the panels. His zombified H’el is particularly impressive, as is his Superboy. The rest of the comic is peppered with vibrant visuals, and this is due to Blond’s colorization. Rocafort’s tendency to create white spaces works well with the compactness of the visuals, but is occasionally frustrating when the panels are stuffed with other panels. Utilizing the space would make a more visually appealing comic.

I think of Scott Lobdell as a big idea man. He likes epics and he likes to have the space to tell a lot of story. But this density works against him, and Superman #25 is a casualty. At least the “Krypton Returns” story line is over, so hopefully Superman can get back to being a savior of Metropolis and not a guy battling chronal distortions or alternate realities.  

Credit: Image Comics

Black Science #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Science never solves a problem without creating 10 more,” and Grant McKay, with his experiments into Black Science, has created about a million more. With this first issue, Rick Remender has given us a tantalizingly rollicking first adventure into the dark and  dangerous worlds presented within his new creator-owned series from Image.

Black Science #1 presents us with the character of Grant McKay, the leader of the Anarchist League of Scientists, who, through forbidden experimentation into something called the Black Sciences has flung himself, his colleges, and his children into the Eververse, an infinitely spanning crop of alternate dimensions. The plot of the first issue is very Point A to Point B fare; Grant and his companion must return to The Pillar, their mode of transportation between universes, with fresh water to use as coolant for another hop through realities. Remender sets all of this up within the first two pages and then leaves the rest to serve as a race against time and the hostile denizens of this weird world. Remender throws us headlong into the action and barrels through pages at a breakneck speed. 

The whole thing reads like a Robert E. Howard story on LSD, merging the swashbuckling adventure with hallucinatory imagery. The first issue even features a completely insane take on a Conan the Barbarian staple with Grant coming head to head with a dinner party of royal frog people, watching a member of the Plebian race of humanoid fish creatures, dance for their pleasure. Rick Remender never really stops and takes a minute to let the reader completely process what they are seeing on the page, nor does he really have to. That’s one of the many strengths of the first issue, Remender isn’t concerned at all about stopping and giving a needless explanation to anything that’s happening other than the tersely brilliant inner monologue of Grant McKay and his race against the clock. The insanity that is standing in his way is secondary to the mission and it gives the issue a fun urgency that moves it along like a bullet train.

Black Science #1 also has most likely taken the position of Best Looking Book of 2013, thanks to Matteo Scalera and Dean White, who turn in some truly frightening and off the wall work. Scalera’s wiry flow accompanied with White’s heavy shadows and unconventional color choices give the book a completely unique look that is sure to make it stand out on shelves. The entire issue looks like a Yes album cover gone horribly awry. Along with Remender’s script, Scalera keeps things moving at a steady sprint, pausing only a few times to establish the scope of the world that McKay has jumped into blindly, the prime example being the gorgeous title page reveal of the island that we thought was just a static body of land, instead is housed on the back of a gigantic turtle slogging through a brackish ocean while purple bolts of lightening flash against black clouds.  Scalera injects a sense of dread and danger into every panel, hammering home just how intense this series is going to be, even the static shots of the myriad of creatures that McKay faces during his run feel like at any moment could spring forth and deal death at a moments notice.

Black Science is the latest mark in the win column for Rick Remender and Image as a whole. The book is completely unlike anything on shelves right now, yet strangely familiar in its first plot. This is a book about a man who thought himself above the rules and standards of normality and now, he must pay the consequences. This is a man who just wants to go home and keep his family safe, but he has the whole of the multiverse standing in his way, but like all men of science and reason, he will do whatever it takes to prove his intellect superior even if it kills him and everyone he loves. As Shaw said, science creates problems, but Grant McKay and his Anarchist League of Scientists will stop at nothing to prove him wrong.

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #12
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The battle is won and the enemy defeated, but still, the Wheel turns and everything dies. In the aftermath of Infinity, Jonathan Hickman gives us a stellar epilogue with the unofficial companion book to his blockbuster event, showing us the fallout from the earth-shattering events of Thanos’ attempted invasion and also gives us a grim taste of the new status quo for our favorite team of pragmatic jerks.

New Avengers #12 picks up directly after the dust settles in Wakanda, after the defeat of Thanos and his forces. It's here that Hickman shows us the extreme cost of the victory for the lives of the already stretched thin Illuminati. This is perfectly explained in a scene between T’Challa and Namor. T’Challa’s personal guard, who have just found out the extent of his betrayal, break their spears and renounce him as their leader. Shuri, the Queen of Wakanda, then banishes him from the Golden City. Namor instantly applauds his bravery welcomes his sworn enemy to the edge, citing that its the perfect place for men like them, who have now seen just how very little their lives now matter in the grand scheme of their exploits. 

Hickman’s handling of the complex relationship of these two men has always been the real hallmark of the series but here, as he uses it to frame the rest of the actions of the issue, which include checking in on a now broken version of Black Bolt, a desperate Dr. Strange, and struggling Reed Richards, Tony Stark, and Hank McCoy, really speaks to his understanding of these characters and their frayed states of being at this point. Yes, the battle is won, but the Incursions will never stop and there are larger forces amassing in the multiverse, ready to burn reality. Hickman is no stranger to upping the stakes, but this is something completely different; now he is mentally and physically breaking this characters down, showing the heavy cost of the victory and the weight of the decisions that they have made and will make in the future. Great men are born in flame, but can our team withstand the flames of a burning reality? Only time will tell, but rest assured, True Believer, I will follow these horrible men to the very end to find out.

Mike Deodato and Frank Martin are flawless as ever during this issue. Starting from the banishment of T’Challa to the very last page of Black Swan’s dire warning of whats to come, Deodato and Martin render it all with a sense of hanging dread that makes the book all the more weighty. Deodato’s style is pitch perfect for this book, even more so that Steve Epting who started off the series in grand fashion, but it’s Deodato and Martin’s heavy shadows and use of the negative space within panels that gave the series its brilliant signature look and feel. Deodato’s panel layouts are also to be commended, making even the simplest of seven panel grids read like something much, much more. Each of his close ups have a dynamism that leave you panting for more, which he then delivers in the form of breaking up the pages into larger half-splashes or inventive panel framing, much like the first appearance of Black Bolt in this issue, with the broken king and Maximus in the center of the page, with smaller, intimate panels framed all around the page. Its really great stuff, but that’s just par for the course with Deodato and Martin.

Though the conflict has been won for now, it seems that our favorite team of hard traveled heroes still have much to contend with. Hickman, not being on to rest on his laurels, has not only delivered one hell of an event, but kept New Avengers essential to the larger event while never sacrificing its established ongoing story. Now, in the ashes of Infinity, he’s used the springboard of the macro story to establish a new and interesting status quo for his characters on top of the existing mythos of the series. This is really great stuff and refreshing as an event weary comic fan to see a writer so committed to making an event not only matter, but have very real consequences for all the characters involved. Everything has a solution and I, for one, am glad to see Jonathan Hickman committed to that. 

Credit: DC Comics

Damian: Son of Batman #2
Written by Andy Kubert
Art by Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Things are starting to come together in the second issue of Andy Kubert’s Damian: Son of Batman. After a rocky opening issue, Kubert’s art and writing takes at least some small step forward but it’s very small. The pacing has gotten better. The characterization is still off. The only way to accept anything that goes on is to resign yourself to the idea that this is a bizarre Elseworlds story.

Kubert’s dialogue has taken the greatest leap forward as far as his writing is concerned. It comes across a bit more naturally and a lot less wooden. He still has Damian doing this whiny, misunderstood teenager bit that’s not in line with previous Damian characterization. It’s understandable that the deaths (and near-deaths) Damian experiences might force him to reconsider his stance on killing criminals. It’s an attitude we saw from him as a 10-year-old. The battle between Bruce and Damian serves to show how far apart they are in this moment in time, but it goes on far too long. Presumably we know Bruce’s stance on crime. We don’t really need it to be spelled out again. While it is completely bizarre for Gordon to exist in this story as a priest (though maybe it’s a callback to Batman: Year One?), it does allow Kubert to use him as a guiding light for Damian and Gordon succeeds in setting Damian straight for now. 

Kubert’s art is much closer to what we’re used to seeing from Kubert. Dynamics are the name of the game in this one and opening the book with a six-page fight scene definitely proves that point. Kubert delivers much stronger and consistent faces and expression work. His nine panel page of Damian suiting up is excellent. The coated (rather than caped) Batman look is a great one that sets him apart from Bruce or Dick and will be familiar to fans of Batman #666. I’m not in love with his take on Professor Pyg and that second fight scene gets a bit crowded due to the panel choices

It seems that we’re finally starting to get somewhere with Damian. But we’re still lacking any real substance here. What are we supposed to learn about Damian? Why is he worthy or unworthy of the cape and cowl? Right now, we’re flipping back and forth between action scenes and Damian’s personal gripes about Batman’s code. It’s not particularly grabbing. But Kubert fans will definitely get a kick out of the art, which is more than I can say about the first book.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers #14
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Steve McNiven, John Dell, and Laura Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Rick Remender excels at two things; high concept plotting and gut wrenching emotion and his latest issue of Uncanny Avengers delivers both in spades. Uncanny Avengers has been a book that, since its launch and along with it the new Marvel NOW line of comics, has hinted at a deep well of emotion underneath the guise of comic book craziness and as Ragnarok Now races toward its endgame we are finally seeing the darkness under it all and it makes for an amazing read.

Uncanny Avengers #14 finds our Avengers Unity Squad still scattered and this issue focuses mainly on the mutant side of the team, with Cap, Thor, Janet, and Havok largely absent from the issue, save for a gloomy cold open monologue from Alex Summers teasing the doom that is to come. Remender also uses this cold open to reveal more of the jaunts into the timestream that Kang has taken to ensure the survival of his prime timeline. As a fan of his Uncanny X-Force run, I now know that Remender isn’t one to waste panel space on anything that isn’t important, so I am excited to see what he makes of this newly formed alliances further down the road. The real action comes after the opening with Sunfire and Rogue hellbent on stopping Wanda and Wonder Man from completing the spell that will rapture all the mutants onto the ark, but they are unaware of the true intentions of Wanda’s spell. 

Rick Remender has been ratcheting up the tension since the start of this story arc, but here it completely boils over onto the pages. The entire issue is a breathless sprint toward its violent conclusion. Since the start, seeds of discord have been sown within the minds of our so-called Avengers and in #14, you would be hard pressed to actually call this group of characters a team. Each character has a defined, yet separate agenda, which makes this Avengers title radically different than any other Avengers book. This is almost a Shakespearian tragedy disguised as a superhero drama; promises are broken, lives are lost, and despair is the rule of the day. This isn’t to say that the book is dour, by no means. Remender during his X-Force run showed that he could balance the superhero action with genuine stakes and emotion, and here he is doing the same thing, just in a much larger sandbox, with larger characters. This is Claremontian levels of dramatics mixed in with the heady cosmic plots of Jim Starlin.

The art on this book has always been a bit of a mixed bag, only because so many artists have now tackled the world that Remender is trying to create, starting with John Cassaday, who then handed it off to Oliver Coipel for a gorgeous one-off issue, then settled into Daniel Acuna, who THEN gave way to Salvador Larroca, but the book has finally settled down into the pencils of Steve McNiven and the story is all the better for it. McNiven along with John Dell and Laura Martin capture a vibrantly smooth flow of pencils, and finally given the book the uniform look that it needed. Not to say that any other artist that handled the book was bad, its just they never really felt settled or just right for the story that they were rendering, but McNiven finally gives the book the pop that it needed ever since the departure of John Cassaday. His expressive and kinetic pencils lend itself very, very well to the high stakes tension that Remender is delivering in the script. Each panel has a widescreen cinema feel, which is something the other artists since Cassiday could never quite get a firm grip on, but here McNiven gives us a true Technicolor spectacle, including a hefty does of Kirby crackle.

Amid the onslaught of events and tie-ins, you need not look any further for high stakes, event worthy storytelling than Uncanny Avengers. Rick Remender clearly has huge, ground shaking plans for his team and they may not come out of the other side alive, if they come out at all. With this latest arc, Remender is proving just how capable of a writer he is with over the top plots and genuine hard hitting drama that never feels forced or just there for pure shock value. These stories have weight and consequence, and its wonderful seeing them taken so seriously, while never sacrificing the inherent weirdness that make comics what they are.

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #25
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons and Rod Reis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Geoff Johns is ending his run under the sea with Aquaman #25, but I can't necessarily say this maritime monarch is getting a royal sendoff. Even though there are some treacherous enemies and powerful weapons used in this last hurrah, Johns' final issue with Arthur Curry feels like it's mainly going through the motions rather than making waves.

I think much of that is because of Johns' emphasis on plotting rather than characterization. He gets his exposition across fast - Aquaman, after waking from a six-month coma, has to free his wife Mera and the kingdom of Atlantis from the maniacal Atlan the Dead King. On paper, Johns gets done everything he needs to - he introduces Aquaman and his unorthodox plan of turning Atlan's forces against him, but what he doesn't get us to do is care. What does Aquaman learn from any of this? Isn't there a lot of dramatic potential about corruption or leadership to be learned from this resurrected regent? There are brief moments here and there - particularly when Aquaman says that the curse of being a king is "I am who I have to be" - but it doesn't direct the story or weigh particularly heavy on the protagonist or the reader's minds.

Instead, Johns plays around with his Atlantean mythology, particularly the legend of the carnivorous species known as the Trench, as well as the mystical sea weapons that can command them. Aquaman of course saves the day, scores the knockout punch, takes his place on the throne of Atlantis as we always knew he would - but it all feels hollow. Worse, convenient. The Dead King, for example, folds like a house of cards once Arthur gets one good punch in, and even having onlookers coo over Aquaman stopping a scepter in mid-stab doesn't add much tension. It's not so much that you expect Aquaman to win - it's his own book, that's par for the course - but to have it done seemingly just because of page count rather than by some internal logic robs this grand finale of much of its vigor.

The artwork, by Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons, is clean if not always engaging. Aquaman himself has a sort of clean-cut appearance even with his six-month-old beard and perfunctory bandages, evoking Arthur's old '90s look but without the iconic hook for a hand. Pelletier reminds me a lot of Johns' original artist on this book, Ivan Reis, but even with all this fighting, he doesn't quite have a lot of iconic images to sell home - there's a splash page of Arthur leading his mutant troops into battle that feels sadly wasted, with all that detail getting lost in Rod Reis's cold royal blues. That said, Pelletier does do well with the smaller, more intimate moments - there's a panel where Mera looks positively overjoyed to see her long-lost husband return for her, and the sheer sadness in Arthur's eyes when he's without his wife are some of the best beats of the book. 

Every character has something interesting about them, even if they've been ignored or underutilized for years. That was the main thesis of Geoff Johns's run on Aquaman in the first place, but as Johns concludes his time with that most iconic of Atlanteans, you can't help but feel like much of his potential was untapped. Who is Aquaman? What can he teach us about responsibilities, about bridging cultures, about adopting and reshaping and transcending our own identities, our own preconceived notions? These are heady questions that could have been answered by the King of the Seven Seas - but for now, Aquaman's "epic" battle is more like a drop in the bucket.

Credit: Image Comics

Pretty Deadly #2
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Death rides on the wind again this week with the newest issue of female-driven Pretty Deadly. In keeping with the last installment, and perhaps the rest of the series, this latest book unravels slowly and requires a second read before everything falls into place. The extra effort is well worth it, as it gives the reader not only an opportunity to glean more depth from the comic, but also another chance to absorb the sheer beauty contained within its pages.

It begins much like the last issue, opening with a short scene of our unlikely narrators, Bones Bunny and Butterfly.  Bunny starts his tale again, beginning this time with bed-ridden Johnny. Things are still a but unclear at this point as to what the "binder" being discussed is, but upon hearing that Johnny let Sissy take it from him, Lily says, "You let her loose. And now the world's gonna burn." Burn it does throughout the rest of the book as flames leap from nearly every page. A battle rages in the midst of the fires between Alice and Ginny, and someone meets a beautiful end. 

The writing in this issue is actually quite limited, with the book being more focused on the intense battle scenes. As such, the disjointed quality carries over from the previous installment, though it is less pronounced this time around. DeConnick seems intent on bringing the true nature of this story to the forefront slowly, laying clues sparsely and counting on the reader to piece them together as the plot progresses. It seems unlikely that this series will be one with any big reveals being given freely to the reader, we have to work for it. 

Emma Rios has truly come into her own within the pages of this comic. This issue was as near to flawless in execution as one could hope for in terms of visuals. The character designs continue to be enchanting while their poses are always dynamic. The battle scenes that took up the majority of the book are fluid, with very little being lost in translation between the blazing fires and bloody silhouettes. Her line work ranges from slick to textural in nearly every panel, with hair flowing freely over fur coats and feathered capes. Jordie Bellaire is an extraordinary complement to Rios' inks, bringing life to the panels with perfectly chosen palettes. From the deep blues and greens of night, to the bright warm color of sunrise and fire, every mood finds its proper place.

Pretty Deadly remains a solid book with a stunning creative team. The details can be a bit confusing at times, but it does nothing to detract from how captivating the story is. This seeming swan song of Death's daughter is a great choice for any comic reader looking for a gorgeous book with an engrossing story.

Credit: Marvel

Deadpool Annual #1
Written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
Art by Evan Shaner and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's not hard to have noticed Deadpool's transformation to cold-hearted, one-dimensional Deathstroke wannabe to a snarky, offbeat, Fourth Wall-breaking killer, but was there a reason behind it all? While his ascension to cult favorite antihero began in the late '90s, his antics were heavily amped up later, and here we have a hint on what made Deadpool even crazier than before: he shared his brain with walking insane asylum Madcap. 

Writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker take us all the way back before Secret Invasion, when the melding of Deadpool and Madcap began and back to right before Marvel NOW, giving you an idea of how long Madcap had been inside Wilson's head. Of course there's a slew of cameos along the way ranging from Thor to Luke Cage to even Daredevil, all of whom provide fun, yet sort of twisted, humor. But the story here at it's heart is the friendship that Madcap and Deadpool actually made. Well, "friendship" being a loose term here. 

While of course there's an ample bit of cartoon-like violence with disintegration to using ninja corpses as weapons, Acker and Blacker don't slack on the comedic tone here, too. There's something quite wrong but ever so right about Thor and Luke Cage under Madcap's influence thinking they're on a dancing competition show and ballroom dancing (with Cage doing a solo pop-and-lock maneuver along the way). Even if you're an avid Deadpool reader, there are things that you can't unsee that are inside this Annual as there's nothing more surreal than the imagery of naked Deadpool sulking over how alone he now feels.

If you've been following the careers of the guys from the ComicTwart blog from back in the day, you'll recognize the artist's name. If not, you might want to pay attention here. Evan "Doc" Shaner has had a budding career over the past two years and he looks to just be getting warmed up. Shaner's cartoony and animated style lends itself perfectly to Deadpool's insane antics, but still has a classic superhero book vibe to it with bold inks and Toth-like linework. Shaner also doesn't slouch with background settings, making sure nothing goes to waste. He also doesn't waste anytime in putting in as many Marvel characters as he possibly can without letting the story suffer. The first couple pages are chock full of classic Marvel goodness that gives one a glimpse of what Shaner could accomplish on numerous titles. 

Colorist Veronica Gandini adds a particular good look to Shaner's art. She keeps it simple and not overdone, but a few pages things seem too simple and almost make it look like a coloring book. It's not bad per se, but added depth in a scene or two would have made the pages pop more. She does have a good handle of gradients when there isn't need for a full background that doesn't let go of the setting in the page. 

Deadpool fans are more than likely going to get this regardless, but for the casual Marvel fan, I want to recommend this to you as well. Deadpool's moral ambiguity aside, Acker and Blacker make this is a fun read that opens a lot about the character and gives him an almost compassionate side - even if your compassion is for somebody as psychotic as himself. 

Credit: Image Comics

Black Science #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Letters by Russ Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Rick Remender's Black Science is equal parts Lost In Space and Quantum Leap drawn through a lens of anarchic philosophy and forbidden knowledge.  Captured in exquisite visual detail by Matteo Scalera and Dean White, a pairing that elevates both artists to new heights, Black Science #1 offers a glimpse at the plight of Grant McKay, a scientist racing against time to save his children, and takes a psychedelic first step into a universe of larger possibilities, bigger problems, and unforeseen consequences.

There's a lot to love about Black Science, from the immediately engaging alien world, rendered in lush detail by Scalera and White, to Remender's terse, but definitive characterization of Grant McKay as a man who refuses to be bound by any convention.  McKay's anarchic worldview permeates his relationships, not just with his family, spoken of but only really glimpsed here, to the science that he practices.  While it's unclear exactly what rules McKay has broken, it's obvious that his unwillingness to be bound by any convention, social or scientific, is what leads to this issue's conclusion, a scenario which will undoubtedly force McKay to question his beliefs and his solitary nature.  

The real star of this book is the art, which is far and away the best looking art you'll see in a comic this week, this month, maybe this year.  Matteo Scalera, always a fantastic artist, takes his game to a whole new level, maintaining his kinetic linework while pushing his anatomy and characters in exciting directions.  However, Dean White is the Black Science's lynchpin, digitally painting over Scalera's thrilling inkwashes to create a visual language as dramatic and electrifying as the world in which the story takes place.  This book would be good with any other art team, with Scalera and White, it's outstanding.

Black Science is exciting in that it offers a new spin on familiar tropes in a way that actually feels fresh, like there are possibilities in its outlook.  This issue's final page sets the stage for a galaxy (universe? dimension?) spanning tale of philosophy, family, and the nature of responsibility in a way that takes elements of classic stories like The Swiss Family Robinson or The Fantastic Four and drops the floor out from under them.  I haven't read a book I was this excited about in a long time, or one that so perfectly captured what classic comics are all about while still daring to go in unforeseen directions.  Black Science is a must read.

Credit: Image Comics

Five Ghosts #7
?Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe
?Published by Image Comics
?Review by Forrest C. Helvie
?'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In Issue No. 7, the regular team for Five Ghosts reunites as regular artist Chris Mooneyham steps back into the penciling and inking seat alongside colorist, Lauren Affe and writer, Frank Barbiere to kick off a new story arc. It's difficult to say for sure what direction this next arc will take, but given the possibilities Fabian raises in discussion with Sebastian, it is one readers will not want to miss.

This issue moves around a bit opening with Fabian seemingly stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean – clearly the victim of some series of unfortunate circumstances. He fights off a ferocious shark to keep the fruits of his fish efforts, and it shows just how tenacious the adventurer can be. I did think some readers could find this a little over the top – not necessarily "jumping the shark" per se, but it isn't far removed. How is it possible that Fabian can be a skilled archeologist, ninja, and now uber-survivalist? It's important to keep in mind, however, this is a character who has been inhabited by the spirits of literary characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Robin Hood, Merlin, and a yet unnamed samurai. If we as readers can accept this premise, the shark scene hardly seems improbable. And it's another opportunity to show Fabian's resilience apart from the powers bestowed upon him by the dreamstones.

The story then shifts to Fabian back home conducting research about the possible locations of additional dreamstones. Both he and Sebastian conclude this could be the best route to uncovering Silvia's salvation. I found it interesting as Barbiere uses this exchange to introduce yet another, albeit minor, twist in the ramifications of Fabian's involvement with his sister's present condition particularly in relation to Sebastian. It's something I don't believe was mentioned in the previous issues, and I will be curious to see how this plays out later between the two characters as the series continues. Of course, we're not clear if this scene takes place in the past though it is reasonable to assume it does since Sebastian encourages Fabian to set out to find the remaining dreamstones and leave the researching to him.

The next scene brings readers to Barcelona where were we meet yet another woman from Fabian's past – an all-too-appropriate jewel thief. Eschewing the affections of Jezebel, Fabian makes it clear he's here for business purposes…but again, readers can only guess at the specifics of what their business arrangement will entail. Given where we find Fabian at the onset of this issue, it seems certain things will not go as planned, but Barbiere refuses to tip his hand to his readers as to how his hero gets there. Admittedly, it's a little frustrating to have all of these questions raised with only a hint as to where things are going. But it's the sort of frustration that leads one to anxiously await Issue No. 8 in order to find out what happens. That's not necessarily a critique of Barbiere; instead, I think it speaks to his ability continue to build and keep the interest of his audience.

I was also glad to see Chris Mooneyham back on deck for Issue No. 7, as I'd grown accustomed to his style from the first five issues. He captures the machismo and masculinity of his pulp hero embodied in characters like Indiana Jones without going overboard. I'm also something of a sucker for intricate maps in books I read as they hint at the greater world in which the characters exist and other possible stories that could be told in that world. Not surprisingly, I found myself going back and taking in Mooneyham's splash depicting the map of Fabian's travels and wondering where we might go next?

I also found Lauren Affe's coloring to be a strong match for Mooneyham's art; however, I do have to question her choice to color the gem of a piece of jewelry Jezebel casually gives away to a street urchin as a form of charity. If this was an arbitrary decision, it doesn't seem like the right one to have made, as the eerie glow is very reminiscent of Fabian's dreamstone. If the decision was intentional, then it raises two different questions: First, why would Jezebel give the gem away (effectively keeping it from Fabian), and 2. Why did Fabian just let it go if he is able to sense the presence of other dreamstones? Fabian sees this bejeweled necklace given away and takes no notice of the similarity between that gem and those shards embedded in his chest.

I guess we'll have to wait until Issue No. 8 to find out.

Overall, this issue runs a fast pace and leaves readers with many questions as it sets up the second story arc for the series, but this doesn't hamper readers from enjoying the story. How does Fabian find himself lost at sea? What did Jezebel find in the safe? Was that a dreamstone necklace she gave away, and why didn't Fabian notice this? Hopefully, we'll find out some of the answers to these question next issue!

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