Best Shots Comic Reviews: JL 3000 #1, SUPERIOR FOES, JUSTICE LEAGUE, More

DC October 2013 solicitations - New 52
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League 3000 #1
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

I don't get it.

I've reread Justice League 3000 several times, and I just don't get it. It's not a matter of not understanding what they were trying to do - that seems perfectly clear. Take your ailing Legion of Superheroes title. Take it to the back of the barn and Ol' Yeller it. Take the vibrant world of the 31st century, add in the ever-lucrative Justice League franchise, put one-time JLA superstar Howard Porter on art, and give Justice League staples Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis the keys to the kingdom.

I get alllllll that. But what I don't get is how this project went so wrong - or how a creative team this experienced let this book go out the doors like this.

There's an old saying that every issue is someone's first - and considering the ignominously quiet end of the Legion of Superheroes book, Justice League 3000 #1 should have been streamlined, likeable and, most importantly, quick to get to the point. Unfortunately, Giffen and DeMatteis's script starts slow, taking five pages even to get our heroes onto the page. And once they are there, well... this new Justice League isn't much to look at. To Giffen and DeMatteis's credit, the League starts off with an action sequence, but it's the worst of both worlds here - you know what Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern can do power-wise, but you get very little sense of whether these are carbon copies or if there are some new and different tricks up their sleeves. While Cadmus's new "Wonder Twins" allude to the new League's history, it's basically delivering exposition in the most oblique and frustrating way possible. It doesn't hook you in, but instead just frustrates you.

That's not the only thing that will make purists mad. There's a slight hand-wave about the new League missing some of the memories and characteristics that made the original League such icons - not exactly a great way to sell your team, essentially writing them off as diluted copies. But most of this could be overcome if the team itself actually worked - but it almost feels like Giffen and DeMatteis are trying to channel their dysfunctional Justice League International days (or worse, to riff off of Joss Whedon's immensely successful bickering in the Avengers movie). The result is a group of really unlikeable protagonists whose over-the-top actions - particularly Superman and Batman physically threatening each other with Bat-bombs and super-strong haymakers - pull you out of the story. And what's more, DeMatteis's attempts to show how out-of-character the League is acting - like Batman calling Superman out on referring to himself in the third person, or Wonder Twin Teri calling Batman out on using the word "jackass" - winds up feeling more like the characters pointing out their own clumsy dialogue over any lapses in characterization.

The artwork by Howard Porter, while the highlight of the book, still isn't enough to pull this book out of the sequential art sewers. When he's on, he's on, like the double-page splashes of the League wreaking almost cartoony levels of havoc on a homicidal hive-mind cult. Porter, who inks himself, delivers some fairly smooth-looking characters, but his layouts are way, way off, especially when faced with DeMatteis's oppressive number of word balloons. One page inexplicably zooms out to see a group of unconscious demons stacked neatly criss-crossed like plywood, giving us nothing to focus on - meanwhile, his establishing shots of the city actually go the opposite direction, giving us an almost Darrow-esque level of overwhelming detail of scaffolding and buildings. But Porter really drops the ball for a two-page sequence "interviewing" the various Leaguers - Superman and Batman in particular are almost identical, and their downright malevolent dialogue doesn't help distinguish them one bit.

There's a panel in Justice League 3000 that made me gasp a second, making me wonder why Giffen, DeMatteis and company ever put it in in the first place. "We're the Justice League--but we're not," the Flash says. "Am I the only one who thinks this is the stupidest idea ever?" Green Lantern's response might be even more telling: "Stupid or not--this is the hand we've been dealt." The problem is, you only get a few comments like that before your readership starts to believe it. DC already tried this approach not two short years ago with Justice League International - do we really need to read about another team that regularly reminds us that it's dysfunctional and ineffectual? Maybe the point of Justice League 3000 is to prove to us that this team isn't really the Justice League - in which case, why spend all this time and energy to disprove your premise? Or is this team going to step up - in which case, how is this League different from any other League?

And that's what I don't get. It makes plenty of sense for DC to try to leverage its strong Justice League brand further, even if it comes at the cost of a longtime but unprofitable book like Legion of Superheroes. But Brainiac 5 and the rest would be spinning in their graves if they knew what kind of book replaced the Legion - the Justice League 3000 might have a future if they turn themselves around immediately, but if this bad first impression is any indication, this might be one of DC's most disappointing starts yet.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Who would ever have thought that Boomerang, an F-List villain, egregious name/power violator, and Australian stereotype would become one of Marvel's most curiously compelling leading men? While it's unfair to call the rest of the Sinister Six (or so) supporting cast, they take something of a back seat this issue to the ongoing slice of life comedy that is Fred Meyers's life as a super-villain, and while the rest of the team gets some big moments, Meyers is undoubtedly the star of Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6.

If Superior Foes were a TV show, this could be the episode where Boomerang earns his Emmy. Switching gears between acting like a smarmy boyfriend, unofficial super-villain historian, and rakish manipulator, Boomerang truly earns his role as this book's narrator and headliner. Despite being so obviously in touch with his role as a bargain bin scoundrel, Boomerang nonetheless views himself as just one hit away from the A-List. All it will take is that one big score - one he may have already pulled off in stealing the only known image of the true face of Dr. Doom - and he'll marry the girl of his dreams, party with Dormammu, and earn the respect and infamy he so obviously deserves. The only problem is, he can't stop tripping over his own feet to get there.

While Boomerang may be one of the best examples of the true pathos of the modern super-villain, the rest of his team, Beetle, Speed Demon, and Overdrive, get some of the issues biggest moments despite somewhat limited screen time. Beetle in particular, whose background has remained something of a cipher, gets this issue's major beat, as some of her mystery finally unravels. Speed Demon gets short shrift despite some brilliant one-liners, as Overdrive's super-villain fanboy schtick takes center stage in a confrontation with the Owl, written here as a kind of demented gentleman, something like Danny DeVito's Penguin through a Brooklyn filter.

Nick Spencer has really found his voice with Superior Foes of Spider-Man. While he's done great work in the past, his Marvel output has been hit and miss. With Superior Foes, he's doing not only some of his best work, but some of the best work going on at Marvel right now. Likewise, Steve Lieber is proving that he's on the same level as artists like David Aja and Chris Samnee, turning out flawless storytelling and characters that ooze with energy and personality. Rachelle Rosenberg is the perfect partner in crime for Lieber, with colors that evoke a veritas atmosphere while never sacrificing mood for literalism.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man is just one of a number of books at Marvel that are exploring the idea of the post-modern super-hero. More like a sitcom than a traditional super-hero book, Superior Foes combines humor and pathos with a sarcastic love letter to the history of Marvel's super-villains. With Boomerang, the book's leading man, receiving some fantastic characterization this issue, and his supporting cast providing some big thrills, Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6 is a strong issue from a book that, month in and month out, is one of Marvel's best.

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Justice League #25
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Gabe Eltaeb, Tony Avina, Rod Reis
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the “Forever Evil” crossover showing no signs of going anywhere soon, the DC flagship Justice League has been taking the opportunity to explore the origin stories of some of the Crime Syndicate, because clearly a month full of “zero” issues just didn’t give them enough space. This month, Geoff Johns focuses on the Owlman, and while we only get a small hint of forward momentum, the tale itself is a curious spin on one of the most famous origins in all of comic book history.

The end of “Trinity War” revealed that Earth 3’s Alfred the butler “did it”, and was one of the players that manipulated the opening of Pandora’s Box. However, what Johns reveals in this issue is the extend to his complicity in the origin story of Batman’s analog. This Dark Knight is in fact Thomas Wayne Jr, who manipulated Alfred into helping him gun down his own parents and younger brother Bruce. What he couldn’t muscle, he bought, consolidating all of his Gotham’s crime bosses into his own machinations. The real surprise is what he wants with Dick Grayson of Earth prime, and how he might also be the key to bringing down the Crime Syndicate.

For months DC has been dangling the fate of Nightwing in front of us, almost telling us that he is ready for the great temporary circus in the sky. In this issue, it finally becomes a bit clearer that this might not be the case, and indeed that Dick Grayson may be one of those great Crisis figures that stands on the seams between two worlds. That said, fate has never been too kind to those figures, so he can probably thank heavens for small mercies that he isn’t part of the Flash family.

Fresh from pairing up with Johns for the great last few arcs of their historic Green Lantern run, Doug Mahnke gets to play a little closer to home in the alleys of Earth 3’s Gotham and the murkier sides of the more familiar version of the city. It’s curious that he still depicts Owlman’s origins in a stylistically 1930s setting, right down to Martha Wayne’s outfit and jewelry. Some nice framing juxtaposes the twin origins of Nightwing across space-time divides, emphasizing what a small sliver of difference fate has made between these two worlds.

Ultimately, the issue doesn’t bring us any closer to finding out what the current status of the "real" Justice League is, nor does it further the plans and schemes of the Crime Syndicate, save for the last few pages. It does, however, remain a solid piece of standalone storytelling, which would be terrific if we could take it as such. However, as part of a bigger piece of the arc, it certainly doesn’t feel like essential reading.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Mighty Avengers #4
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D'Armata
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Talk about the little Avengers book that could.

I shouldn't like Mighty Avengers as much as I do. I struggled valiantly, believe me. I didn't think I'd like the C-list characters. I didn't think I'd like Greg Land's art. I didn't think I'd like Al Ewing's storyline (because who the hell had heard of Al Ewing, anyway?).

But it's got me. While this book is far from perfect, there's something charming about this cast of street-level Avengers, as Ewing strikes the perfect balance between goofy and driven, making us enjoy hanging out with these characters so much that it barely even registers how little they actually are doing this issue.

Indeed, Ewing somehow manages to break all the rules by bringing the Mighty Avengers in late - unlike, say, Justice League 3000, Ewing anticipates all the haters, but he doesn't just roll over to their concerns. Instead, he alleviates them: In a canny twist, the ultra-popular Superior Spider-Man becomes the voice of the Internet troll, as he snidely asks Luke Cage "why not call yourself the Champions and be done with it?" But Luke - and Ewing - have other ideas. While Cage elaborates on the new nonprofit structure of his team of Avengers, Ewing breezily introduces the team, hearkening back to Matt Fraction's use of quick, quirky expository captions from Uncanny X-Men.

It's charming because it's funny - especially the banter between Luke Cage and Ronin, the latter of whom's voice sounds exactly like a certain tax-evading superhero actor. ("You dream of a coat so nasty," he tells Luke Cage, after Cage makes a comment about his nasty black trenchcoat giving his secret identity away.) Meanwhile, Luke and his wife Jessica Jones are the cute bickering couple (and their baby Danielle gets some cute first words), while the Falcon gets a great beat describing how he's had it up to here with being known just as Captain America's partner. "My name is not 'And the Falcon.' I do have things going on outside Steve, okay?" But it's not all fun and games, particularly as Spiderhero alludes to some deeper history going on, particularly with Luke Cage and his family.

Artist Greg Land, meanwhile, doesn't particularly help the proceedings, but he doesn't slow them down, either - considering that this issue is actually mostly dialogue-based, it's to his credit that he can vary up the panels without the book looking too much like pure talking heads. Sometimes he gets a little caught up in his rectangular layouts, with panels like Spider-Man pointing at the reader getting weirdly cut off - that said, other pages he really sells it, like Blue Adam helping Hauptmann Deutschland punch out the Terror-Hives of W.E.S.P.E., or Spiderhero sitting in his spooky mystical lair that's packed with ninja equipment.

Now, there are some bits of this story that do slow down some - the first few pages featuring the fall of Attilan feel obligatory rather than organic, although there is a chance that the threat of the Deathwalkers might tie in specifically to Ronin's quest. Additionally, the team balance isn't always there, as Spectrum, Power Man and White Tiger barely get any screen time. Finally, action die-hards will be disappointed, as there is nary a punch thrown in this book.

But I have to give Al Ewing and company a lot of credit - that despite that lack of action, this book winds up still remaining eminently readable, and even fun. Not exactly the kind of reaction you expected to get when Marvel announced their latest Avengers cash-grab tie-in, right? In certain ways, Al Ewing winds up perfecting that old Brian Michael Bendis chestnut - this is a book about the Avengers doing little more than talking, but thanks to Ewing shedding more light on the team's dynamic and characterization, it's not a bad way to pass the time.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #26
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Daniel Sampere, Jonathon Glapion and Blond
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Over the last two years, both the character and the title Batgirl have been engaging in one long fight. Following Barbara Gordon’s miraculous cure from paralysis, writer Gail Simone treated the often controversial decision with respect and sincerity, delivering an action-filled series of arcs that dealt with Batgirl’s own insecurity about moving forward. Behind the panels, Simone has fought off regular crossover events and her well publicized ‘firing’ from the title to pull together an overarching story that reaches a conclusion of sorts in this issue. It’s no surprise that one of the most anticipated confrontations of the last few years is also one of the most emotional.

Like most mainstream superhero books, Batgirl is concerned with duality. Barbara’s double life has brought her to a conflict with her police commissioner father, who believes her alter ego to be responsible for his rogue son’s death. Similarly, Jim Gordon shot a young man Barbara had begun to care for both in and out of the costume. Yet an attack on the Commission by a metahuman gang is all that is needed to flip the coin to the other side of their dual relationship: that of father and daughter. Much of this issue is Barbara Gordon fighting to defend her most treasured ally, her father, but with the tragic tinge that it must be done with her "other" face.

Despite the fits and starts of scheduling and what seemed like an ‘irregular’ event every other month this year, including “Forever Evil” and “Zero Year” tie-ins, Simone loses very little momentum as Batgirl literally comes crashing onto the scene in this issue. Babs and Jim momentarily put aside their differences for what amounts to a lengthy action sequence, forming one of the more unconventionally effective teams on the block. (On one of DC’s parallel Earth’s, there’s got to be a Dynamic Ginger Duo team somewhere). It all builds to something we’ve been expecting for a while, in Barbara’s revelation of her identity to her father. However, his reaction is what is unexpected, and restores a kind of status quo after a long period of angst.

Daniel Sampere manages to convey this balance with a flair for layouts, and like the heroine of the piece, makes the most of the cramped corridors of comic book panels to help the reader feel every punch as it is landed. That said, some of the action feels a little muddled in the middle, perhaps deliberately obscuring who is ‘winning’ at any particular moment. Similarly, the somewhat functional layouts for Barbara’s ultimate reveal don’t inspire an outward display of emotion in what Simone has written to be one of the more touching moments of the series. There’s still some excellent use of lighting from Jonathon Glapion and Blond, and perhaps it is simply the villains that Batgirl is fighting that are singular uninspiring.

While next month promises another interruption to the flow in the “Gothtopia” tie-in, perhaps a shiny happy interlude is exactly what Batgirl needs after all this darkness. Treating this issue as an end point in Simone’s extended arc, it gives the character some modicum of redemption in the eyes of her father, and as was always the case from beginning, from Batgirl’s own exacting standards as well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel Knights: Hulk #1
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Piotr Kowalski and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The premise of the relaunched Marvel Knights label is an interesting concept of taking strong independent comic voices and letting them work their magic in the Marvel sandbox. Mixing elements like this are hit-and-miss at times, but the out-of-continuity aspect is always appealing. After all, if you don't know that Bruce Banner had a gamma bomb dropped on him and turns into a green behemoth, you're probably not going to pick up this title to begin with. Here we have Image alumni Joe Keatinge taking on scripting duties and Piotr Kowalski on interiors and together it's a very solid Hulk story - well, more like Bruce Banner story.

Keatinge gives us the bare essentials here with Banner having lost his memory and has for some reason lost the ability to hulk up. Oh, yeah, and he's in France for some reason. It doesn't take long for him to befriend an attractive French woman who helps him try to regain his memory of who he is and why he's there. It doesn't take long for a shadowy agency to come looking for him, but the thing here is that they have a hulk serum of their own. So take note, if it's smashing you want in a Hulk comic, smashing is what you'll get in this issue, but not necessarily done by the Hulk. I'm a bit confused on why the French goes back and forth between being translated and being subtitled, but that's a minor gripe and easily overlooked.

Not being too familiar with Kowalski aside from Sex, his take on the jade giant is a pretty stellar one, even if we only see him for have a page. It's the his take on the environments that really sold me. The backgrounds are ornate and detailed with nothing going to waste. His handling of a French nightclub, along with colorist Nick Filardi (Helheim, Adventures of Superman) has imagery that sticks out once you're done reading. The action is on par with almost everything else Marvel is putting out these days, and one of the knock off Hulks tossing a subway train like a frisbee also is something you don't see too often.

I'm not the world's biggest Hulk reader, but enjoy the mythology and looking for something I could just dive into without worrying about feeling lost or overwhelmed. It might feel short on material compared to recent Marvel Knights additions, but I like Keatinge's direction here: basic Hulk, but still manages to be entertaining without going too deep in Hulk mythos. The intro is reels you in and doesn't waste anytime getting to the action. The hook is set with this minimal approach and one can only imagine what happens with Hulk finally does show up.

Dead Body Road #1 cover
Dead Body Road #1 cover
Credit: Skybound

Dead Body Road #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Matteo Scalera and Moreno Dinisio
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Stop me if you've heard this before: a guy's wife is killed and he becomes a vigilante hunting those responsible for their actions. While the Frank Castle/Paul Kersey trope is nothing new to comics, it makes quite a backdrop for this gallery of characters in Image's new crime-thriller Dead Body Road. Writer Justin Jordan strays away from the superheroics and super science to tell a more grounded story, with dynamite artist Matteo Scalera along for the ride, but is it a road worth going down?

He doesn't have a van for a hideout or a skull on his chest, but Gage Orson means business. You can't really blame him, and even gets advice from a fellow cop about how Gage's wife wouldn't approve of his method and becoming a hound of justice. Of course reasoning with a man like Orson isn't probably going to work. The set up is laid out pretty well, with the dramatis personae all making their introductions accordingly, with hints of more to come from crime boss Lake's crew.

The major difference between this and other of Jordan's works, and especially of works of this genre, is that there is no inner dialogue of any of the characters whatsoever. Now that's a bag of mixed pros and cons because on one hand everything is more straight-forward, and again, setting up a more grounded book. On the other hand, I felt as though I barely knew anybody, even Gage. The dialogue felt wooden and forced at times. The opening scene with Gage and fellow officer Jack Yablowski is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Somebody with Jordan's caliber and wit could have done better. On the plus side, Jordan really excels with the somewhat macabre Fletcher Cobb as he tortures a mob fledgling.

Matteo Scalera has definitely made a name for himself in the past couple of years being one of Marvel's big gets, but still making splashes in the indy scene, most recently working with Rick Remender on Black Science. His jagged inking style adds another layer of grit to this already heavy story, but still leaving enough room for colorist Moreno Dinisio to play with. Scalera takes a more cinematic approach with the action scenes and delivers a solid car chase sequence, even if the scene itself is a bit too much by-the-book. I wouldn't also have minded if Gage didn't look like a Frank Castle wannabe and having a more distinguished look to him like the gangsters and goons he'll be facing down the line.

As mentioned, Jordan has laid out the groundwork for what has the potential to be a great thriller and it looks great so far, but reads only mediocre so far. Dead Body Road has the ingredients to make a fine comic, but things need need to pick up some, otherwise readers could easily keep on driving after this first issue and past right by this one.

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