Best Shots: Black Lightning, Wind Raider, X-Factor and More

Preview: Dark Avengers #1

Dark Avengers #1
Dark Avengers #1
Dark Avengers #1

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. And we’ve got BSEs . . .

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2

Dark Avengers #1

Mighty Avengers #21

Double-Shot

Dark Avengers #1

From: Marvel Comics

Written by: Brian Bendis

Art by: Mike Deodato Jr.

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

As Norman Osborn’s dark reign begins to build momentum he takes a dramatic step and re-assembles the Avengers in his own twisted image as other heroes are forced to take a hard look at their loyalties. As a fan I have been enjoying Bendis on the Avengers since the very beginning. In my opinion Bendis has brought an air of uncertainty to the Marvel Universe in general and the Avengers in particular and it makes for some moments that range from bizarre to intense and this issue was filled with those kind of moments.

The story is well-told in that it does not leave the reader asking any questions about who the official Avengers team, but rather prepares them for a wild ride as an unexpected visitor from Dr. Doom’s past makes a rather dramatic entrance. Unlike Slott’s Mighty Avengers, Bendis dwells directly in the cauldron of Osborn’s dark reign as he presents a decidedly “dark” take on the Avengers and sets them up to take on an important role in the Marvel Universe, Osborn’s peacekeepers.

The villain as hero theme has been done, many times by some of the greatest creators in comics, but this is the first time I have seen a twist wherein not only are the villains heroes, but some have stolen the identities of their predecessors while they remain on the run from Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. This twist on the idea should prove to provide an interesting group dynamic as well as infuse the title with some storytelling fodder.

The one drawback to this issue that really stood out was the one-dimensional nature of the story. Everything seems to easy, to smooth with nary a cry of outrage to be found and it becomes a distraction especially after the identity of Iron Patriot is revealed, by the end of the issue.

Visually, Mike Deodato does a good job with the art and his pencils really do help to move the story along in dramatic, if predictable fashion. There are a lot of great visual scenes, such as feeding time for Venom, and Deodato renders it all expertly with a variety of angles and emotions that perfectly capture the nature of the story. The problem is, it was all rather pedestrian. There were no big “Oh hell!” moments, nothing that really grabbed the reader’s attention.

The parallels between this week’s issue of Dark Avengers and Mighty Avengers are interesting. In both issue the teams come together, albeit in decidedly different ways; the potential villains are both mystical; and the titles respective writers use Dark Reign as the tool it is meant to be rather than the event people seem to think it is. The Marvel Universe is becoming an exciting place and I for one cannot wait to see what comes next.

Black Lightning: Year One #2

Black Lightning: Year One #2

Written by Jen Van Meter

Art by Cully Hamner

Colors by Laura Martin

Published DC Comics

Reviewed by Lan Pitts

Continuing on this dynamite bi-weekly series, the collaboration of Van Meter and Hamner is stellar. In this issue, we see the goodness of Jefferson Pierce through the eyes of another: Clark Kent. Kent is visiting Garfield High to do a report about it, while also trying to figure out if Pierce is the lightning vigilante. Kent doesn't think he is, but admires Pierce for what he does for the students and community, as well as what he stands for. There's a quote from Kent about how Pierce battles his students' demons as if they were his own.

Pierce has made an impact as a vigilante. The local gang, The 100, is coming after him, but are constantly thwarted by Pierce's powers and integrity. There is, however, an incident where he doesn't come back unscathed; he's shot in the arm. During Thanksgiving dinner, Pierce wants to confess to his family about his nightly escapades, but the thing is. . . they've already figured it out. They even have a new costume for him, a mix of Kevlar and neoprene, provided by the family's friend Peter.

I like how Van Meter really makes this a true Black Lightning story and I mean that by not having Superman "save the day". Van Meter has Kent mention his powers are somewhat lessened in the Slums, therefore explaining why Superman can't really assist with the crime in that location. Pretty simple, yet clever and effective. The artwork from Cully Hamner, whose expressive nature brings vibrant life to this story. If you have ever been interested in the Black Lightning character, be sure to pick this up. You won't regret it.

Superman/Batman Annual #3

Superman/Batman Annual #3

Written by Len Wein

Art by Chris Batista with Mick Gray & Jack Jadson

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

If the World's Finest stories from decades past are/were your cup of tea, Superman/Batman Annual #3 is just for you. Straying from contemporary DCU continuity, this flashback story worked for me in much the same way that Action Comics Annual #1 did over twenty years ago. Underscoring the horror elements that both annuals share is a nifty cover provided by genre master and living legend Bernie Wrightson. That cover assignment is clearly not a coincidence as this very retro story is penned by Wrightson's collaborator in creating none other than the Swamp Thing, Len Wein.

Wein's given the somewhat surprising assignment of re-imagining a classic adversary of the World's Finest team, the Composite Superman. Originally the half Superman/half Batman villain was a byproduct of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a being infused with most of that team's abilities who went through a handful of different incarnations throughout the Silver and Modern Age. What I found surprising was that Wein, an industry vet, was off regular DC payroll for years, but in recent weeks has been involved in a key Final Crisis story (Libra's origin in Final Crisis: Secret Files) and again gets to breathe life into a classic bad guy. If this self-contained story comes up short in one instance, it's that the story doesn't lend itself to future Composite Superman tales, but the flashback "Compound Fracture!" is a welcome respite from the bigger DCU goings-on.

Another check in the plus column for this annual is solid artistic contribution by Chris Batista & Co. Batista's artwork for DC is frequently a highlight, so I'm curious why he rarely gets a consistent gig on a regular book, or at the very least a high-profile limited series that could benefit from someone who could surely crank out every issue on a dependable schedule. Batista, much like Joe Bennett and Jamal Igle, brings a certain sense of realism to the superheroics while keeping the characters fresh and dynamic. I especially like Batista's take on Batman, and it you told me he used Michael Keaton's cowl as a reference I wouldn't be surprised. He does a Mr. Freeze that looked like it was from the same movie franchise, and it seemed okay. It was also nice to see Firefly's design reminiscent of the animated series that just ended it's run a year ago.

Back to Wein's new take on an old character, this Composite Superman actually has origins as a sort of failed Amazo. Put in the proverbial scrap heap, it found its way out and assumed it could take on a superhero identity as Superman and Batman with the abilities of the Justice League of America. "Compy" for short, he assumes that he can take on the lives of the Dark Knight and Man of Steel, but his agenda comes crashing down when the reality of that is driven home. "Compound Fracture" is set a few years ago (illustrated most obviously through the yellow oval on Batman's costume), and it's a hoot to see the World's Finest team's relationship more tentative than it is currently. Batman is still the grim avenger we know him to be, but he's a little more flippant and chatty than normal, and I even noticed a smile on one occasion. On their own merits, I'm not sure how well each facet of Superman/Batman Annual #3 would work -- above average on all levels for sure -- but combining all the efforts certainly make for a fun throwback tale of yesteryear.

Dragon Prince #4

Dragon Prince #4 - Finale!

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Lee Moder

Colors by Blond

Edited by Rob Levin

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

A few months back, I did a review for the first issue of Top Cow's Dragon Prince, and I'm back again for the conclusion in issue number four. Let's bring you up to speed. Aaron Chiang and his mother, April, are on the lam from a Dragon Hunter and are finally caught. They are brought to a secret mountain in the Himalayas, and are held prisoner.

In this issue, Aaron learns his grandfather is a sort of archmagi who is the leader of the society that is to kill the dragons. His grandfather is angry at April for what he thinks is betraying humankind and they have a bit of a skirmish. Aaron escapes and finds his father at the bottom of the dungeon. There's an confrontation between Aaron's father and grandfather and an ending with a slight twist.

There are some really great moments in this series and I've really enjoyed it. Lee Moder's style really fits Ron Marz's script very well. It's not gritty or edgy. There's no tits and ass. It's just an enjoyable story that readers of almost any age can pick up. I know it's just the beginning of the year, but I'm sure this will make my top picks. It'll be released in trade sometime this year, so if you missed it the first time, be sure to scoop it up.

Hero Squared: Love and Death #1

Hero Squared: Love and Death #1

From: Boom! Studios

Writers: Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis

Art: Nathan Watson

Review by Erich Reinstadler

***SPOILER ALERT***

A major character dies at the beginning of the book!

Kind of.

But not really.

The third, and allegedly final, chapter in the Hero Squared series may be the best, most cringe-inducing realistic look at love and relationships ever in a silly super hero comic. Giffen and DeMatteis have traded some of their trademarked "Bwa-ha-ha-ha" humor for a more natural look at the dissolution of a relationship, and all the heartache that comes along with it.

Milo has been cheating on his girlfriend Stephie with, well, Stephie. Just the Stephie he's sleeping with is also the evil, universe destroying villain Caliginous. Meanwhile, 'our' Stephie is finding herself falling for Captain Valor, the heroic, not-a-slacker version of Milo. Valor is everything that Stephie wants of Milo, and Caliginous is accepting of Milo's slacker ways.

What are two couples, consisting of two versions of two people supposed to do? Milo's suggestion is surprisingly perfect and something so out of the blue that it could only be devised by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.

The creative team who revolutionized the Justice League in the 80s have proven that humor still has a place in comics, if written correctly. Nathan Watson takes the artistic reigns from Joe Abraham, and does a faithful job at keeping the characters looking the same, without overtly aping Abraham's style.

If there is anything negative I can say about this book, it's that this series is supposed to be the final chapter in the lives of the Milos and Stephies. I sincerely hope Giffen & DeMatteis reconsider their position. I've been a fan since the first issue of the first series, and I just don't like the idea of not seeing these characters in the future.

Supergirl #37

Supergirl #37

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Jamal Igle

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Andersen

The turn-around title of the century continues along its merry course to ‘readability” in this latest issue of Supergirl. So much has happened in the Super-Universe lately: the return of the Krypton people, the return of Supergirl’s parents, the battle against all the new Kryptons, the new Kryptonian world, and now a surprising new mystery villainess named Superwoman! Sheesh! What’s not to like about the Superman family of books right now? And what’s not to like about Supergirl? She’s dealing with the death of her father, the return of her tough and mean mother, her new planet, and the aforementioned Superwoman. So many plotlines are bubbling in this book that it is quickly making it to the top of my ‘must-read-right-away pile’ each month. And to be honest, I am quite intrigued by this Superwoman. Who is she? Is she evil or just slightly confused and misguided? Punching out our gal of steel is not a good way to flash your hero-credentials (that and being a “Faces of Evil” cover star) but I’m still on the fence as to whether or not this new Superwoman is totally bad. Added points must go to the deft writing of Sterling Gates and to the character-driven art by Jamal Igle. Hopefully this creative team won’t jump ship onto a more ‘popular title’ now that they’re firing on all cylinders - like most female creative teams do once they’ve gotten some praise! Don’t abandon our Supergirl guys, she needs talented folks like you two at the helm!

X-Factor #39

X-Factor #39

Written by Peter David

Art by Valentin De Landro

Published by Marvel

Review by Brian Andersen

Whoa! I’ve read a plethora of superhero birth stories in my many years as a comic book reader: I’ve seen babies get kidnapped, get possessed by evil sprits, become hunted by every mutant character in existence, but I have never seen anything like what happened to the new Madrox baby. Leave it to writer Peter David to bring something entirely new and unexpected to the always entertaining X-Factor. Superheroes having babies tends to be a recipe for disaster (along with getting married, it seems) leading to stories about everyday, ho-hum, boring, normal life-stuff. And who wants normal life stuff in a superhero book anyway? We readers want to see fist-flying-action, melodrama and evil bad guys trying to take over the world. Thankfully David knows this and manages to throw a massive curve-ball at the reader by depicting something totally surprising and shocking but still totally obvious and ingenious when you stop to think about it. I would say more about the fate of the wee little one but I want to respect David’s “personal plea” not to spoil what happens in the comic. But if you have ever read X-Factor in the past and left, or have ever considered reading it, now would be an excellent time to pick it up! (Plus, kudos to artist Valentine De Landro for not only having a super cute name but for making Madrox look scrumptiously like Ryan Reynolds! Yums!)

The Big Skinny

The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude

Written & Illustrated by Carol Lay

Published by Villard

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Carol Lay’s newest book is different. It’s something of a memoir, as she shares personal experiences that led her to this point in her life, but unlike other comic memoirs, The Big Skinny is ultimately the comic-book equivalent of a self-help, lifestyle book. In it, she lays out how (and why) she, a lifelong over-eater, managed to balance her diet, fit in enough exercise, and slowly whittle herself down to her medically ideal weight. (She admits highs and lows in the book, but I won’t share a lady’s information in this forum.)

If it doesn’t sound like something that works best as a comic, you’d be surprised. Lay’s extremely adept at depicting her process, mixing images of food with calorie-counting text and capturing the everyday reality that enables her to maintain her new, healthy lifestyle. The conversational tone and comfortable, engaging humor make the whole book read like a conversation with a dear friend, and Lay’s open cartooning (complemented by warm, flat coloring) keep the narrative upbeat and fast-moving.

By mixing her own experiences with those of friends, she’s able to show how different people are affected by obesity, and how different strategies are able to have a permanent effect on their weight loss problems. However, as Lay explores, each person’s situation may have minor differences, there are similarities that bind them all together – including an honest desire to change, better awareness of the food one eats, and making incremental time for basic exercises. Biological and societal factors also get considerable shrift.

Lay’s ability to humorously depict the temptation of food, the calories in meals, and the abstract psychological issues, such as self esteem, that are influenced by diet and lifestyle keep the book engaging and upbeat. Even when she may have been down, her narrative remains bright and positive, aware of the silver lining that was just around the corner for her. She makes the entire process relatable and possible. If she can accomplish her goal, then certainly her readers can as well.

The simple cartooning allows readers to quickly identify the characters, and more importantly, to identify with the characters. Sticking to solid grids and basic camera angles, the storytelling is crisp and easy for non-comics readers to follow. Lay manages to capture dozens of characters, hundreds of foot types, exercise processes, different locations, and even presents recipes and calorie charts in a convincing, positive manner.

Given the overwhelming number of self-help and diet books out there, I’d hope and expect that The Big Skinny will be a huge crossover hit. It’s fun and funny, it’s intelligent and helpful, and it’s tremendously well drawn. Lay’s frankness with her own body issues and her willingness to cover as many bases as possible makes The Big Skinny a balanced, fun and rewarding experience for those who need its expertise and even for those of us who just love great comics.

Miss Don't Touch Me

Miss Don’t Touch Me

Written and Colored by Hubert

Illustrated by Kerascoet

Translation by Joe Johnson

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The end of the 19th century, Paris, a killer is dismembering young women on the city’s outskirts, often near the jaunty dances held in the suburbs. Two young women, working as maids, reserved and quiet Blanche and outgoing, fun-loving Agatha, live in an abandoned building in the city. Ironically, despite Blanche’s warnings to stay home and away from the dances, Agatha is killed at home in their building. Blanche then determines to track the killer and avenge her friend, which leads the virginal young woman to take a position as a dominatrix at a local brothel called the Pompadour (the most recently murdered woman, Agatha excepted, worked there).

That’s the gist of Miss Don’t Touch Me, a French comic recently translated into English by NBM. It’s an interesting set-up, but the follow-through is what really makes this volume a great comic book. Hubert’s script has a strong undercurrent of danger and threat, but the mix of characters keeps the tone upbeat and the pace fast-moving. Blanche’s naïveté and innocence play, at times, humorously against the more worldly women of the brothel, yet Blanche herself exhibits a dark side on occasions – particularly, and hilariously, when working with her first customer. A combination of duplicitous schemers and well-meaning humanitarians, the women in the Pompadour are a diverse cast that bring out the various aspects of Blanche’s personality and provide murder suspects, friendship and humorous side-plots.

Kerascoet’s artwork is lively and full. Each page is packed with panels, usually 9-12 per page, giving it far more story than most 100-page comic volumes. The dynamic linework is somewhat reminiscent of Chris Blaine’s artwork, a little more simplified and straightforward, but still clean and detailed. In addition to the visual storytelling’s clarity, character designs are great; there’s absolutely no difficulty distinguishing any of the twenty or so major and minor characters, which makes all the sequences read quickly and easily. As the story does occur in a brothel, sexual situations and nudity (male and female) are fairly common, though Hubert and Kerascoet do not resort to explicit sexual depictions or hardcore imagery. All of the sex is seen from far away or implied.

Filled with great twists – I suspect very, very few readers will guess who the actual killer is – a lively sense of humor, and a thread of terrifying danger, Miss Don’t Touch Me is a winner, plain and simple. The script is full of engaging characters and surprising revelations. The art is strong and distinct. In short, there’s really no reason not to pick up this book; it’ll likely be one of the better comics you read this year.

The Wind Raider #1

The Wind Raider #1

Written by Richard Finney and Dean Loftis

Art by Gabriel Hardman

Colors by Micah Farritor

Lettering by David Hedgecock

Published by Ape Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

Wow. Simply put, I really liked this book. It's sort of Star Wars in a "desertpunk" (an off branch of "steampunk") environment. There are car-like machines with sails and almost everyone is wearing goggles and scarfs and just, man...I really liked the imagery in this book. The story is about a young teen named Joshua who spends a lot of his time scouring the wastelands for "skyrock" (meteorites that have valuable mineral deposits). As fate would have it, one day he finds a rather large one and takes it to the market to have it analyzed. It turns out that his sample is worth a ton and the shop keeper buys it as is and Joshua runs as fast as he can to his father and his sister.

Unbeknownst to Joshua, him and his family were followed by a man named Barfog and his team of marauders (think the cliche pirate look). They are after Joshua since he knows where more deposits of the skyrock are, though the Marauders end killing Joshua's father, Gannes, and kidnapping his sister, Lore and killing Joshua as well. Out of nowhere comes Tristain, a Ki Warrior. A Wind Raider.

Tristan fights and kills off the remaining Marauders. He uses a special Ki ability and revitalizes Joshua back from the dead. The story isn't original by any means. Like I said, it's Star Wars: typical farmboy learns the way of an ancient powerful society, etc...but the thing is, it left me entertained. It actually left me wondering what will happen next.The art by Gabriel Hardman (who has done storyboarding for the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises) is nothing short of stunning and at times I thought I was looking at a Joe Kubert book. The panel layout is beyond superb and the coloring scheme really adds a certain feel to the story.

This is the first issue of a three-part series. Quite honestly, 52 pages for $3.50 is a damn good deal. If you want to take a chance on an unknown book, I suggest pick this up. The best part about this issue is that sometimes you have fantasy novels that don't include a glossary or anything like that and as fans, we have to piece together certain bits of information. Well fear not, the issues comes with character bios and facts and the creed of the Ki Warriors. So nothing will be lost in translation.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Green Lantern #37 (DC Comics; review by Lan): Serving as the prelude to the upcoming "Blackest Night" saga, this issue proves why this book is the best super-hero book on the market today. The art is stunning and Geoff Johns continues his streak of genius. I haven't seen Hal act this angry in ages and it's downright scary what the man is capable of. It has a sort of interesting ending, and I have my theories of how Blackest Night will end, but I'll save those for later. There are battles, some deaths (including a somewhat major player), and just awesome all-around.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #2 (Marvel Comics; review by Lan Pitts) With the way things are coming along, this could easily wind up on my "Best of..." list next year. Eric Shanower and Skottie Young make a dynamite team that can't be beat. The book is kid-friendly and easy to read. In this issue, we meet the rest of Dorothy's entourage: the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. There are some cute jokes and like I mentioned earlier in my review last month for the first issue, this is a proper adaptation to the BOOKS, and not the movie. Which I think is long over due for a remake. So, if you have a young reader in your family or friends, pick this series up.

Tiny Titans #12 (DC: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Haha. This book made me actually chuckle out loud once or twice. Does the cuteness and wittiness never end with this comic? You would think after 12 issues such a sweet, fun, delightful book would loose some of its charm. Nope. Not one bit. In fact, I would say, it’s better than ever. Flip through the comic to see the dreaded lunch lady Darkseid (in a hairnet!) who gets one day to take over the school and attempts to bring about a Finals Crisis! Hahah, get it? Finals with an ‘s’! This book just oozes creativity and is a rare monthly gem of sugary-goodness standing against a dark and dreary DCU filled with the shriveled-up corpse of Batman. Great work all around!

Triple Shot: Dark Avengers #1 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): I’ll keep this short: Dark Avengers = Thunderbolts. Right? Why not call this Thunderbolts 2.0 (or 5.0 by how many series the Thunderbolts have had). I expected better of you, Bendis!

Double Shot: Mighty Avengers #21 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): This book was all over the place. I felt like so much was shoved into one issue that writer Dan Slott really, really, really wanted people to know that he had “plans” for this book. For me, the story wasn’t all bad; it just didn’t give me that “cool, it’s the Avengers” vibe I like to get when reading my Avengers books. It was more of a “how-much-more-plot-and-flash-backs-can-be-mixed-into-one-issue-to-make-me-want-to-pick-up-the-next-issue” vibe. What really brought the comic’s enjoyablity down - way, way, way down - for me was the awful, rushed, everyone-makes-the-same-scrunched-face art of Khoi Pham. Seriously, did the guy just run out of time or what? The art is terrible. No one looks good, and the ‘exciting’ splash page with the new Wasp (did we really need a new Wasp BTW? No. Bring back the original Wasp!) summoning the team with the “Avengers Assemble” shout feels lifeless and dull. What should have been a “wow’ moment instead looks like a “why-does-Jocasta-looks-so-weird-and-uncomfortable-and-misshapen” moment (like on the cover where she’s running like an ugly, robotic, Baywatch character)? I also smirked at how dumb it is that one of the smartest men on earth took the time handwrite “exit” on his dimensional portal door-thinger. Does Henry Pym really need to write an “exit” sign on his doors to know which door to exit from? Maybe I’m just being a mouth-breathing fanboy nitpicking at every detail but I was just underwhelmed by this issue. I just felt disappointed. I expected and hoped for more.

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