Best Shots Comic Reviews: DETECTIVE COMICS #27, YOUNG AVENGERS Finale, Much More

Detective Comics #27
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #27
Written by Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Peter J. Tomasi, Francesco Francavilla, Mike Barr, John Layman and Scott Snyder
Art by Bryan Hitch, David Baron, Neal Adams, John Kalisz, Ian Bertram, David Stewart, Francesco Francavilla, Guillem March, Jason Fabok, Tomeu Morey, Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos, Dave Sharpe, Sal Cipriano, Dezi Sienty, Taylor Esposito, Carlos M. Mangual, Jared K. Fletcher and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Seventy-five years ago, darkness fell upon the nascent comic industry in the form of The Bat Man – the Dark Knight protector of Gotham, and DC Comics made history once again with the introduction of its next iconic character in Detective Comics #27. To help mark the occasion, DC wanted to bring together many of the industry's hottest creators to contribute to the over-sized Detective Comics No. 27 vol. 2. Given that this eighty-five page comic consists of seven stories, I figure it best to break this review down story by story than try to tackle the piece in its entirety. From there, you can decide for yourself whether this anniversary issue needs to go on your buy pile.

I gave "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" by Meltzer, Hitch, Baron, and Eliopoulos a 6/10. This story operates as the first journal entry of the Batman as it revisits both the first meeting of Commissioner Gordon and Batman as well as the origin of the Joker at Ace Chemical. The art was fine but I was a little distracted at the use of the more classic blue-and-gray coloring with the Nolan-esque costume design – an pairing that didn't visually work well together. I also felt there were times when Batman's legs, while kicking, felt out of proportion and somewhat awkward looking. Strangely, the strongest element of Hitch's work was in the backgrounds depicting various areas in Gotham City from the masked ball and Ace Chemical plant to the city skylines. Overall, Meltzer's plot will not be anything readers are not already familiar with, and the attempt at recreating the Joker's origin felt forced and uninspired. It's not a bad story per se, and I did enjoy the conceit of this journal entry, but Meltzer certainly doesn't open this issue up with the type of "bang" I was expecting for such a monumental issue.

"Old School" by Hurwitz, Adams, Kalisz, and Sharpe earned a solid 8 out of 10. This story provides readers with a much stronger and interesting story in both the writing and art that celebrates the Golden Age Batman. "Old School" ends up being a sort of meta-commentary on the evolution of Batman, and while the scene with the scene with Scarecrow and the encounter with the rest of the rogues gallery does feel a little heady, the opening chase with Penguin was some really brilliant and witty storytelling, particularly Cobblepot's chastising of Robin. I also felt the artwork was pitch-perfect in those opening scenes as well from the classic depictions of the dynamic duo to the traditional Ben-Gay dot coloring. The only real criticism I have is that the ending felt a little trite, but given the originality of this story, it's still an excellent short that hearkens back to previous generations' experience with Batman.

"Better Days" by Tomasi, Bertram, Stewart, and Cipriano delivered an emphatic 10 out of 10. Take the badass attitude of Frank Miller's futuristic Batman, tone done the sci-fi elements, and add just a dash of sentimental good will and you have a taste of Tomasi's story about Bruce Wayne celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday with the rest of the Bat Family. Bertram's artwork is especially strong in every regard in the way he conveys tone, attitude, and the action of the plot while the never failing to keep the reader's attention. Bertram – a relative newcomer to DC – has a style that is relatively similar to that of the ever-popular Chris Burnham, but I would argue it's a little cleaner (and stronger). Keep an eye out for this talent in the future. This short does a superb job of capturing the essence of why Batman endures.

"Hero" by Francavilla, Sienty, and Esposito was a solid 10 out of 10. Although Francavilla's story is one of the shorter entries in this issue, it is still one of the strongest of the bunch. His heavy inks expertly convey the stormy atmosphere in which Batman operates and in which this story is set. I also really enjoyed some of the profile shots he created as they recalled iconic images of Batman from the past. We also don't know what led to the accident or how Batman knew to be there to save the woman and her son – though long-time readers can guess – but Francavilla does an excellent job of conveying Batman as Gotham's protector as well as ending the story on a rather chilling note.

"The Sacrifice" by Barr, March, and Mangual came in at an 8 out of 10. This is short story brings the Phantom Stranger and Batman together to show Bruce Wayne what the future might have looked like had Thomas and Martha Wayne not been murdered in Crime Alley. Although the conclusion of the story is never truly in doubt, it is nonetheless an interesting opportunity to see how Barr envisions a tragedy-free Bruce Wayne. March's art is strong and the panel composition varies in ways that are both interesting and well suited to this sort of time travel story.

"Gothtopia" by Layman, Fabok, Morey, and Fletcher earned a 7 out of 10. This short story is actually the opening salvo to what appears to be a cross-title story that will play out over the course four other Bat-titles. It's a strange, otherworldly sort of story that has a very hallucinogenic vibe to it. Batman is the shining, state-sanctioned hero who operates during the day while a number of familiar characters appear in ways that vary from their typical depiction in the regular Bat-mythos. The art is very polished and doesn't deviate from the common grid layout making it very easy to keep track of what's going on, which is helpful since the nature of the story's setting isn't clear until close to the end of the story. Additionally, "Gothtopia" does have potential to be an interesting storyline, but the fact it will be spread out over four different titles will no doubt a turn off for many readers unwilling to buy multiple titles to follow a single storyline.

Finally, I gave "Twenty-Seven" by Snyder, Murphy, Hollingsworth, and Wands a 10/10. Forget Batman Beyond - this is the future of Batman that I want to read. Snyder and Murphy's story delivers a wild, futuristic rodeo of Bat-Easter eggs you will not want to miss as they send this issue out with the sort of bang it rightly deserves. From the visually exciting landscapes populated by fantastic visions of the future that Murphy creates, readers will find plenty in each panel to pore over. Moreover, this story demonstrates the real strength behind Murphy's brush as he is able to convey so much of the emotion behind Snyder's script in the depiction of Bruce's facial expressions – especially the eyes. More than just an opportunity to pay homage to the greats like Finger, Miller, Waid, Dini and Timm, and others (including Snyder's hatred of horses and love for Pacific Rim), this dynamic duo is also able to capture that undying drive that makes up the core of who Batman is – and will continue to be – from one generation to the next.

On the whole, I would characterize the issue as delivering a somewhat inconsistent reading experience that has some real high marks. Although some of the stories were especially strong, others seemed to fall short of the sort of compelling and exciting story one would expect for such a momentous anniversary issue particularly with the rather lackluster opening. Additionally, I was also a little surprised to see that there weren't any female creators included in the lineup as it seems someone like Gail Simone, Ann Nocenti or Becky Cloonan might have made good choices for inclusion in this largely contemporary list of creators given their time served in the Bat Family. Overall, though, there are many good things to be said for this issue. Whether it is worth the $7.99 will depend on the type of reader you are. Collectors will certainly want to own it for historical purposes as will those readers who do not want to chance any spoilers. For patient digital readers, however, it may be worth waiting for the price drop before buying this issue. After all, DC will likely be celebrating Batman's birthday all year, and I don't see any harm in being "fashionably late" to this party.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Young Avengers #15
Written by Kieron Gillen Art by Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Ming Doyle, Joe Quinones, Maris Wicks, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse." It may be a cliche, but it seems to be one that Kieron Gillen has taken to heart for the finale of his go 'round on Young Avengers. As a title, Gillen's Young Avengers has had ups and downs in its brief lifespan, but it never lacked for emotional impact. Young Avengers ends on that note, providing catharsis galore and proving that it's better to burn out than to fade away.

Jumping from scene to scene on New Year's Eve, kind of shows the other side of the party that began in the previous issue, following Prodigy, Noh-Varr, and even Loki as they ruminate on the year they spent as a team. These characters, each of whom played the role of the antagonist in their respective relationships, are given some kind of redemption, with each admitting their faults and finding some solace in their status quo. Loki in particular receives some quality treatment, with Gillen offering commentary about the fan favorite character's recent changes, and his move from Gillen's longtime care to Al Ewing's upcoming Loki: Agent of Asgard ongoing.

And like Loki, stories are cyclical. Nowhere is this more true than in modern mainstream comics. Gillen embraces that idea, and indeed has made it something of a model for his run on this title. It's sad to see this iteration of Young Avengers coming to an end, especially with it ending on such a high note, but the story for these characters isn't over, and even if readers will miss the young adult dynamics of the team, from the explorations of sexuality, to the team's dimension hopping, party fueled breakfast excursions (all of which are made reference here), it's better to see Young Avengers go out doing what it does best, with its story told and its themes properly served than to see it drag on, outliving its welcome.

Just as Kieron Gillen's script is the best he's turned in since this title's first issue, the issue's art features a murderer's row of talent, though it is not without flaws. With huge names like Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, and Joe Quinones turning in excellent work, it's colorist Maris Wicks, who collaborates here with Doyle and Quinones, who proves the weak link. While Cloonan's chapter - the strongest of the book - is perfectly colored by Jordie Bellaire, and regular series artist Jamie McKelvie's finale is handled by frequent collaborator Matthew Wilson, the two chapters colored by Wicks are less consistent. In particular, it's Wicks's collaboration with Doyle that is least appealing, with Wicks's smudgy colors doing little service to Doyle's sketchy inks.

It's more than a little depressing to see Young Avengers come to an end, especially as it seems characters like Ms. America and Noh-Varr were just starting to come into their own. While Gillen won't be continuing this title with a new volume, there is always the possibility that he'll still follow some of these characters to where ever they land next. Young Avengersmay not have been perfect, but it absolutely captured the energy and uncertainty of youth better than almost any mainstream title in many years. It's fitting that the book should end with the members of this team, now more than simply allies, letting go of their regrets, embracing their own conflicted identities, and heading off in search of another breakfast adventure. These Young Avengers have grown up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers World #1
Written by Nick Spencer and Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As Jonathan Hickman recovers from the grueling double shipping pace of his Avengers run, the D.B. Weiss to his David Benioff, Nick Spencer, steps up to the big leagues with Avengers World, a book that looks to be more of a companion book to Hickman’s ambitious Avengers run and less of a separate title as, say, Avengers Assemble. The book itself is pretty standard fare if you have been following Hickman’s run, but this #1 looks to stand on its own just on the witty strength of Spencer’s writing and his willingness to skew a bit more into the screwy nature of superhero comics than the main Avengers title.

Nick Spencer smartly uses this #1 to introduce, or re-introduce in some cases, to the main Avengers roster, splitting the teams in separate response squads all around the globe, and relying a bit more on scenes of characterization, instead of wall to wall action. The issue opens with Captain America and a wonderfully smarmy Bruce Banner reporting for duty to Director Maria Hill, as the splinter squads of Avengers deal with various hell breaking loose around the globe. From page one, you can very much tell that this is a Spencer scripted book with his trademark wit exuding through in waves in the characterization of Bruce Banner. This is a welcome improvement from the gloom and doom back and forth that we’ve been getting in the main Avengers title between Cap and Tony Stark. Seeing Banner gently chide and riff with always-the-straight-man Steve Rogers was a breath of fresh air.

The spot on characterizations don’t stop with Cap and Banner though, in separating the team out into the world, Spencer uses this to his advantage to remind the readers who these characters are after the knock down drag out (and character favoritism) of Infinity. While that event was mainly relegated to a few fan favorites getting the spotlight or, worse yet, everyone standing in a room delivering exposition, Spencer gives each group a separate problem to deal with and in doing so, devotes equal page time to who these characters are and the different weirdo events that demand their attention. Only Hyperion, Thor, and Captain Marvel get the short shrift in the form of a super cool establishing shot of them dealing with a compound super-storm with no dialogue, but everyone else, including one of my favorite Avengers, Shang-Chi, get a chance to shine and shine they do. I will say though, its weird seeing Wolverine just randomly on the scene when not even a month ago in Avengers #24 he was benched, but...he sells books, so what are you going to do?

Back again alongside Spencer are his Avengers fill in art team, Stefano Casselli and Frank Martin, who do a serviceable job rendering the script, though this issue lacks the vibrancy of his work on Avengers Assemble. Most of this has to do with colorist Frank Martin who is known for adding heavy darks to the pencils and while it doesn’t so much hinder the book, it does bog it down a bit when it comes to static scenes. When the action kicks up is when the art really shines and shakes off the lagging nature of the expository scenes. The aforementioned grand shot of the heavy hitters of the Avengers squad, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Hyperion, is a wonderful example of just how great Stefano Caselli is at what he does. The image has depth and power worthy of the characters in frame, and Frank Martin’s dour colors around the splashes of color that make up the hero’s costumes really bring everything in that scene together. The scenes in Madripoor (its always something in Madripoor isn’t it?) are also a huge testament to what Caselli and Martin bring to the story at large. The heavy shadows and flickering flames around the characters really sell the mood, while they both nail the scale and dread of the Godzilla like kaiju that rises from the deep with the island on its back. Its here that the colors and shadows of Frank Martin really excel to hammer home the feel of the individual scenes, but I just wished that some of the quieter scenes would, for lack of a better term, lighten up a bit.

Nick Spencer has been a writer that I’ve been following ever since his stellar work with Morning Glories and upon his first works with Marvel, I had hoped that he would find a book that would launch him into the forefront of Marvel’s deep creative bench. It seems that with this, and the sleeper hit that is Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spencer has finally found his place among the big names at the House of Ideas and it couldn’t have come at a better moment. Its about to become Nick Spencer’s world and we will just be living in it and that’s perfectly fine with me.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #27
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Now this is what you call a bullseye.

You might be forgiven if you were skeptical of Jeff Lemire's expansion of the Green Arrow mythology, as it was revealed that the titular hero was a warrior destined to join a fabled "Arrow Clan" -- not to mention square off against a number of other weapon-themed secret societies. Yet Lemire has a secret weapon in his arsenal -- namely, artist Andrea Sorrentino, who backs up Lemire's lofty goals with some bone-crushing action. The result is the best issue of Green Arrow since its relaunch in the New 52.

If you're still wondering about this new spin on Green Arrow, think of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's acclaimed run on The Immortal Iron Fist -- by spinning off Green Arrow in this obvious way, Lemire actually has actually created some really striking threats for Oliver Queen to battle, such as the helmet-wearing berserkers of the Shield Clan. But if you think you might get desensitized by all this violence -- and there are some smart bits to the choreography, for sure -- there's also some backstory here, which evokes the same sort of feel as DC's successful Arrow TV series. There's a mystery afoot regarding Ollie's time shipwrecked on the island, and while it's somewhat obvious from the get-go, Lemire paces it just well enough to build on Ollie's transformation from wastrel playboy into a harder vigilante.

But the real deal for this book is Andrea Sorrentino. This is by far the best work he's done at DC Comics -- his panel composition is incredibly striking, as you can't help but tense up as the hordes of the Shield Clan materialize on a blood-red page, striking their totem weapons ominously over Oliver. Similar to David Aja over on Marvel's Hawkeye, Sorrentino is a real master of throwing in smaller panels for emphasis, aided by the great uses of green and white by colorist Marcelo Maiolo. Even the moments that are easier to miss -- like Ollie sliding underneath a thrown shield, then popping up to arrow an attacker in the face -- are great for repeat reading. This comic looks gritty and rough, but the action comes across oh-so-smooth.

The other great thing about Green Arrow #27 is that, while it sometimes skirts the lines of predictability, it ties into both Oliver's past and the greater DCU in a way that's more organic than much of the other books in the publisher's line. (Indeed, one of Ollie's compatriots over in the Justice League of America may make a very opportune appearance, if the idea of the Weapon Clans plays out to its logical conclusion.) This book has been troubled, make no mistake about it, and I'll be the first to say that Lemire and Sorrentino have had their growing pains while they hit their stride. But this issue really hits the potential that Green Arrow has had all along.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Widow #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Phil Noto
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Months after the title was announced at New York Comic Con, Black Widow finally hits the shelves this week in her own ongoing series! Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto do a respectable job with the leading lady, wasting no time in establishing her as a capable assassin with a mysterious past. However, a solid script and some lovely panels notwithstanding, there are no great strides yet made for this character.

Being a first issue, it makes sense that things are taken at a slower clip, but the story has no hook apart from the general intrigue of its star Natasha Romanoff. Edmondson has created a script that works on a lot of levels - it's simple, succinct, and true to character, but it fails to give the reader cause to think that there is more going on in the story than atonement for past actions. Yes, Natasha is fearless and deadly, she is mysterious in all the ways she is expected to be, but at the end of the day, that just makes for standard reading. This story needs something to set her apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe.

As previously stated, Edmondson does do a solid job on this scripting, predictable as it may be. He crafts Natasha into an impossibly flawless operative. She never makes an error, never seems to stress during a mission, and always gets her man. She is the perfect weapon, and at times she seems to enjoy it. While off-duty, Edmondson shows her more vulnerable and honest side, though just barely. She chats with neighborhood cat "Liho" about the limitations of their relationship, and briefly touches upon the reasons for her work with her lawyer/manager, Isaiah. Her moral compass is beginning to show, and hopefully with it will come more complex emotions and a deeper insight into her character.

Noto's art varies in styles and colors within the book, but remains a great accompaniment. The issue starts with a more sketchy style, heavy in cool colors with warm punctuations, and segues into a smoother look before ultimately transitioning into his painterly style. The coloring seems a bit rushed in parts, whole panels being washed out in bright oranges, but it does little to detract from the story. Noto really shines in both the brief hand-to-hand combat scenes (which is the only time we see some dynamic poses), and the smaller detail panels like the close-up eyeroll Natasha does when someone tries to reach for a dropped gun. The character design too, stands out as exceptional. It's functional, it's classic, it's on point.

This initial Black Widow story is undoubtedly worth the read, but could be so much better if a few risks were taken. It will take some work to bring the infamously impassive Natasha into a world where she has complex emotions and a connection to her supporting cast, but with a few more issues under their belts, it's possible that Edmondson and Noto can take this great character to exciting new places.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Factor #1
Written by Peter David
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, Lee Loughridge, and Manny Mederos
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the great surprises of 2013, to me, was the Marvel NOW! relaunch of the X-Men line. I had never really immersed myself into the X-universe, other than the odd issue of Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and The X-Men, mainly because the convoluted continuity scared me away, but along came All New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men: Legacy, and later on Amazing X-Men ,which captivated me in a way that an X-book never had before. One thing that disappointed me though was that I never got a chance to dive into X-Factor, a title that, from what I was hearing from some of my mutant minded friends and colleagues, was one of the gems in the crown of the X-Men line. But it seems that my laments were answered by the X-Men offices and before long I was feasting my eyes on an All-New X-Factor, still under the legendary hands of the original series writer, Peter David, and now I can add yet another X book to my pull list.

All-New X-Factor strays a bit from the original premise of a mutant private detective agency, but retains the germ of the original idea in a shiny new package. Serval Industries, a kind of proto-Google stand in, is recruiting its own super team in the form of an all-new, corporate-sponsored X-Factor, led by the mistress of magnetism, Polaris. The story opens with fan-favorite Gambit, who serves as #1's protagonist, delivering his trademark folksy narration throughout, trying to steal a priceless arcane artifact when he is interrupted by Logan, filling his contractual obligation to show up in every X-title at least once, even if it is a glorified cameo, like it is here. He reminds Gambit of his obligations to the school and puts him on notice for his criminal activity. After a nice little bit of comedy involving Remy reacting to some choice words about Hurricane Katrina, the Ragin’ Cajun is swept up into the word of Serval Industries by Polaris and the comic really takes off. Its here that David reworks the initial premise of a mutant private detective agency and introduces X-Factor as a corporate super team, serving the greater good while wearing a logo. Here we are introduced to Harrison Snow, the CEO and president of Serval, who exudes all the charm and smarm of a supervillain, yet seems devoted to helping people and the other member of the team, the disgraced Avenger, Quicksilver, who provides a nice foil to Gambit and Polaris.

Peter David gets all the praise in the world from page one by being one of the only writers to make Gambit actually come across as charming instead of grating, which is how he normally comes off in comics to me. David smartly avoids the trap of the over using the Creole syntax and overabundant moral ambiguity to deliver a pretty middle of the road, simple characterization, much like James Asmus’ recent series, to give readers a pretty good understanding of the character without making him a straight up cartoon. He fits into his role as the dashing rogue, while still voicing his doubts about Serval’s true intentions. David also doesn’t dwell on the deep ocean of backstory surrounding around the characters on the team and keeps it contained to the situation at hand, which keeps the comic moving at a nice pace and keeps the reader engaged in the story being presented instead of dwelling on the history of what came before. This #1 is a reboot in every since of the word and David uses that to his advantage. This X-Factor isn’t concerned with what came before, instead it is focused on the here and now, looking toward the future. Peter David also smartly uses two characters that have largely been benched in the X-Men line, Polaris and Quicksilver, to provide a nice bit of tension between the members of the team off the bat and to tell a fresh story with new characters, instead of relying on the tried and true (and a bit overworked) X-characters that we are used to seeing. I will admit its a bit of a bummer to not see Jamie Madrox in the pages of this new X-Factor, but David has assembled a pretty great little team that I don’t mind hanging out with month after month. And with the last page cliffhanger, he seems to teasing a new member that plays directly into the eclectic, deep cut choices that set this book apart from other X-Men titles.

Peter David’s deftly handled script is not the only thing that sets it apart from the rest of the X-line, its the impeccable design of Manny Mederos and kinetic pencils of Carmine Di Giandomenico, made even more vibrant by the colors of Lee Loughridge. Its fairly rare, though not unheard of, that you see the credit “Production Designer” on a comic, but Manny Mederos earns his credit handedly and adds some incredible touches to an already pretty great comic. From the movie poster design of the cover (done by the tremendous Kris Anka) to the Serval logos peppered throughout the credits page, Mederos lays down another level of flair onto the slick packaging of this new series. Di Giandomenico’s pencils coupled with Loughridge’s colors given even the expository scenes a sense of movement that just explodes from the page when the action really kicks in. Di Giandomenico is also handling the costume designs which reminds me of the sleek corporate duds of NEXTwave, which is never a bad thing in any capacity. This is some of Di Giandomenico’s best work since Punisher: War Zone, which is high praise indeed. His expressive and dynamic work is right at home in the pages of this new series.

Peter David is one of those names in comics that you automatically take notice of when you see his name on a book, and here, he seems right at home, giving us almost a spinoff of the series that made him a comic writer’s writer. Coupled with a stellar art team and an unlikely team, we are getting something that is wholly different than the standard X book that we are used to seeing on the shelves. I may not have been an X-Factor fan during its original incarnation, but you can bet that I am a fan of them now.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #27
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Aaron Kuder, Mike Hawthorne, R.B. Silva, Ray McCarthy and Eva De La Cruz
Lettering by Steve wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

He's faster than a speeding bullet. He's more powerful than a locamotive. But in the hands of Greg Pak, Superman's greatest power is empathy. Underneath that black hair, blue eyes and Kryptonian ubermuscles is a heart of gold and a real sense of humanity, and it's that kind of understanding and compassion that makes Action Comics such a compelling read.

In certain ways, Greg Pak's opening arc comes from two very interesting places. On the one hand, the story is a bit about a boy and his dog -- or in this case, a Superman and his size-changing, misunderstood alien friend Baka. But underneath that is a much stronger, almost metatextual thesis -- namely, seeing the humanity, seeing the beating heart beneath an unrelatable, otherworldly creature. Sound like any Men of Steel you might know? Considering what a challenge it's been for writers to make readers empathize with the all-powerful Superman, it's great to see Pak tackle this question from a different angle, as Superman and Baka wind up getting to know each other (while trying to rescue errant Super-supporting character Lana Lang).

Lana, who has replaced the semi-defunct Lois Lane as Clark's danger-seeking human anchor, acts as a counterpoint to Pak's thesis, amid all the rollicking fight sequences. Sure, she's known an alien her entire life, but he's one of the good guys -- he's not a monster like the others, right? That irony lends a certain poignancy to Action Comics, but one that endears Superman to the reader even more -- it doesn't matter if you're from Smallville, Kansas or the hidden underground realms of Subterranea, Superman sees something in you. No matter what. When you can root for a character like that, suddenly the action becomes much more bouyant and natural, as you care about Clark, Lana and Baka surviving, even as you tense up when both of Superman's sidekicks wind up misunderstanding each other.

Aaron Kuder's artwork for this comic continues to impress, as he's backed up by R.B. Silva and Mike Hawthorne. Hawthorne, for my money, handles the most important scene -- namely, introducing the readers to the cuddly yet deadly alien critter Baka -- with aplomb, as you can't help but love a creature with such big eyes and an ever-present grin. Silva, meanwhile, lends some humanity to a young Clark Kent, particularly the heart-warming smile on his face as he receives his Kryptonian cape from Ma and Pa Kent. With all that out of the way, Kuder delivers a strong finale, designing some horrific aliens whiel also balancing the unlikely comedic team-up of Lana and Baka.

What's perhaps most impressive about Action Comics #27 is that this, on the surface, is a low-key, run-of-the-mill story featuring the Man of Steel. The world isn't going to change, Superman's status quo isn't going to be upturned forever -- but this comic feels that much weightier because of it. This is a story that gets to the heart of who Superman is -- namely, he's a good guy who brings out the best from those around him. With stirring characterization like that, satisfying action and adventure are sure to follow.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Savage Wolverine #14
Written and Illustrated by Richard Isavove
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Entertainment
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Savage Wolverine is the kind of book that I wish more characters were afforded. The characters that serve as the pillars of Marvel’s publishing line have almost limitless story possibilities so its always interesting to get a new creator’s take on a classic. In this issue, Dark Tower artist Richard Isanove takes the reigns on both writing and art duties, sending ol’ Wolvie back to 1930s Prohibition Era Canada. Isanove’s dark artwork is definite fit for Canucklehead but the writing leaves a bit to be desired.

While the setting is different than what we’ve seen in most Wolverine stories, Isanove’s core concept is fairly common, placing Logan in the middle of a dispute between a friend’s family and the consequences of trying to survive The Great Depression. Wolverine is always a begrudging hero in these pre-X-Men, pre-Avengers days. He’s constantly balancing his anonymity with honor and doing what’s right. Fortunately, if you want more of that, it’s here in spades. One of Wolverine’s greatest strengths are his intense moral principles. But Isanove forces Wolverine int the role of protector without giving us much about who he’s protecting The plotting is so insipidly obvious that nothing comes as a surprise. So whatever fun was to be had from Wolverine running away from Mounties quickly disappears in a hail of bullets and a dying man’s last words to Logan to take care of his kids.

But Isanove’s artwork is awesome. The muted, snowy forests of Canada and the shadows of a Depression-era family home are brought to life under Isanove’s watch. His penchant for deep, dark blacks brings out the sadness of the era and the severity of this family’s situation. But then, like a twisted Norman Rockwell, the story explodes into brutal violence. The only knock on Isanove would have to be the lack of background in the interior scenes. While the almost watercolor-like washes do put extreme focus on the characters, you lose a sense of where they are sometimes. It’s almost as if some scenes take on a dream-like quality that I don’t think is the artist’s intention.

For a first time writer, Isanove has a sense of what works in a Wolverine story but that’s only because it’s worked a hundred times before. At the very least, Isanove’s art is a great fit for both the tone of the story and the character. Hopefully, as his arc continues, we’ll get to see a bit more reasoning behind Isanove’s storytelling choices. Why is this setting an important moment to Logan? What will this story reveal about him? He’s a character that, despite the many stories about his past, is still cloaked in mystery. There’s a lot of room to grow.

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