Best Shots Reviews - ORIGINAL SIN #2, BATMAN & FRANKENSTEIN, MPH #1, More

Best Shots reviews for May 21 2014

[Check out Best Shots' Spotlight reviews of this week's Forever Evil #7 and Justice League #30 from DC Comics.]

Batman and Frankenstein #31
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christina Alamy, Keith Champagne and John Kalisz
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Team-up books are at best a fun distraction and at worst, a nonsensical waste of two great characters by pairing together for a goofy side adventure. Titles like the Batman and... series aim to sidestep all the usual pitfalls that come with allying another hero with the Dark Knight in order to not only highlight Bruce, but show how the other characters paired with him complement his personality and fighting style. Recently the title had great success with a short arc co-starring Harvey Dent, a wonderfully weird choice that ended up producing a gut-punch of a story. Now Peter J. Tomasi has intertwined another unlikely character into the macro story of The Hunt for Robin, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E and current member of Justice League Dark, for a story that not only capitalizes on the pulpy nature of this pairing, but offers a tale that puts these characters front and center in order to contrast just how much these men actually have in common.

Batman and Frankenstein #31 runs with the handing thread that is the title’s main macro story arc The Hunt for Robin, finding the World’s Greatest Detective chasing Ra’s Al Ghul around the world with his son’s faithful hound Titus in tow. This issue brings Batman to the Himalayas in search of the mystical city of Nanda Parbat. Instead he finds a very angry Frankenstein, who wants nothing more than to be left alone after his recent exploits with Justice League Dark and is still smarting over his recent encounter with a grief-stricken Batman.

Tomasi deftly melds the events of both the Batman and... title and recent issues of Justice League Dark in order to give Batman and Frankenstein a narratively sound reason to team up, quickly avoiding a usual mistake that certain team books make simply by allowing both characters to be honest with one another instead of taking the usual route of a punch fest that get interrupted by the story’s antagonist. Batman is there to find the body of his son while Frankenstein is contemplating the recent battle that caused Nanda Parbat to disappear from this plane of existence. Frank knows the area and the city well, and Batman requires support, and moreover, understanding. He finds both in Frankenstein, after a particularly funny apology. This first scene between the two men is handled very, very well by Tomasi, a writer famous for finding the heart to even the pulpiest of plots. Tomasi understands that both of these characters are defined by their mission and purpose so he writes them as such. Batman and Frankenstein #31 treats its leads like real characters instead of just a cheap team up ploy. This does nothing but add to the experience and fun of seeing them banter and fight side by side.

Doug Mahnke, an artist known for his interpretation of Frankenstein, serves as guest penciller of this issue lending his signature look to a pretty outstanding adventure starring Frank. While Tomasi understands this team on a scripting level, Mahnke understands them on a visual level, highlighting Batman’s methodical and highflying fighting style with Frankenstein’s lumbering destruction. In the issues sole set piece, Bats and Frank are attacked by a group of vicious yeti; Batman sets to delivering precise aerial maneuvers while Frankenstein lumber into the fray, shotgun roaring and sword swinging. It’s a stark, yet visually exciting, contrast and an amazing way to highlight how these characters compliment each other in terms of visual storytelling. The stark, bright colors of John Kalisz and the clean lines of Champagne and Alamy give this action a grounded, yet otherworldly feel, hammering home the hyper-reality of comics. Team up books like this rarely look this good, but the visuals are just icing on a very well written and thrilling cake.

Most fans would agree that when it comes to team up books, there is an alarming amount of chaff, yet when one works as well as Batman and Frankenstein #31 does, its definitely something that makes readers stand up and take notice. Titles like this are often times built around name recognition; the hope that pairing two fan favorite characters together will move units and get people invested in their respective solo titles. Peter J. Tomasi isn’t interested in presenting the easy way to go with Batman And. He is betting on story potential instead of name recognition, and if Batman and Frankenstein #31 is any indication, he is about to hit a very large narrative jackpot.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

So far, Original Sin is a head-scratcher. The first issue delivered on intimate character moments and an diverse and unexpected cast while still balancing some semblance of mystery and intrigue. But it seems as though Jason Aaron has seemingly already gone down his own rabbit hole and is losing sight of what made this event potentially exciting. And while the plot has gone in a bit of an unexpected direction, there is an element of ambivalence to it. For his part, Mike Deodato’s work is about as strong as it was last issue but an overreliance on double page layouts makes the pacing stagnate.

Aaron’s greatest strength in Issue #1 was his introduction and it seemed that he had shaken off some of the “slow start” reputation that he had gained from his current run on Thor. Small character moments quickly built up into a murder mystery plot brimming with potential. But meaningful character moments are sacrificed here to deliver some action, and it doesn’t work. There are so many different teams in this investigation that Aaron can’t balance them all (in fact, one of them doesn’t even show up in this issue). Aaron’s fallback when faced with an opportunity to delve deeper into a character is humor, and even that falls flat, especially between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. The caption boxes that provide some insight into certain characters see Aaron doing his best Warren Ellis impression, but it’s weak. Nothing about the writing of this book stands out enough to forgive the pacing. It’s obvious that this issue exists for one simple reason: get to final splash page reveal. And even that doesn’t play well, as the reintroduction of a Z-List villain is sure to have veteran readers and newbies alike somewhat confused.

Mike Deodato’s inking seems much heavier here than in Issue #1, and it’s harder to ignore the big chunks of black that dominate his pages. What ends up happening is that the black completely obscures many of the smaller details that might be present when Deodato works with another inker. This leads to awkward lighting situations during daytime scenes and there’s only so much that Frank Martin can do to balance it out with his color work. You can also count on Deodato for a very similar double-page layout in almost every scene. While it does become a visual indicator that a scene is wrapping and that the pictured event are likely the most important, the pattern does make the book seem predictable.

Original Sin has six more issue to really come around but it seems like Aaron is going to have trouble balancing each of his different task forces. He’s especially having a hard time finding the different voices on each squad, a problem he didn’t have as much in issue one because he could rely on Thor, Captain America and Wolverine, characters that he’s fairly familiar with. Deodato’s art will look a lot better the more the story expands into space but he need to ease off the pedal with his heavy inking during daytime scenes. I didn’t think this event would start spinning its wheels so quickly, but here we are.

Saga #19
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
Lettering by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

So there's a monster at the end of this book. But, then again, in Brian K. Vaughan-penned comics, there almost always is.

From its miraculous first page on, sci-fantasy family epic Saga returns from its hiatus in familiarly perfect form. The interstellar war rages on. Cosmic socio-political dynamics remain fraught. Interracial power couple Marko of Wreath and Alana of Landfall are still madly in love, with the sort of driving passion that occasionally tips love's odometers into frenzied redlining. Their young baby, Hazel, is growing up, becoming more of a little person all the time. Times are still tough for the only family more on the run than Jay-Z, Beyonce and Blue Ivy, but there's romance in their struggle.

No matter the imaginative and colorful characters, backdrop and trappings, the romance of that struggle is the beating heart of Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan's story: there's nothing so worth fighting for as loved ones, and no more worthy a cause than a family.

While everyone has a family, stories that make those collections of humans their focus are relatively rare. More often, fiction will give us a story of a father who loses everything, family included, and who only then begins an adventure. Or they'll focus on a mother's struggle to hold things together in desperate times, or a young child who must find the family she has lost. In those stories, the family might be a touchstone, a context for the character, but the actual hardwired relationship dynamics of relatives and loved ones are secondary to a single character's arc. Romance stories only resolve by uniting the couple. Adventure odysseys end with cathartic reunions. But the actual fabric of human beings' lives is largely woven through the choices people make beyond those passing moments. “Family” can be a tenuous concept, but it is also an essential one, whether the ones we are born into or the ones we seek out to define for ourselves.

By putting both sorts in focus, Saga separates itself, not only from the majority of comic books, but from stories told on platforms from film to television.

Alana is not the “hero” of Saga. Nor is Marko, or young Hazel. The star of the book is the unit itself, and its crucible is its story.

Issue #19 advances the series' promise by throwing at its protagonists exactly the sorts of complications young families face, from temptation to financial hardship to the unforeseen and concessions born for the sake of commitment. For a series starring characters with wings and horns and television-set faces, its struggle is very real. Alana has a new career that challenges her relationship with authority and authenticity. The only thing Marko knows how to do instinctively is love, which is as much an asset as a limitation.

I just see so much merit to this story. Nowhere else could you find as hysterical and specific a flourish as Alana's new career. There's no apparent end to the ideas Staples and Vaughan throw at every page, which refreshes not just due to volume, but because no matter how out-there the world becomes, nothing distracts the storytellers or the audience from the story's core. The creators seem exactly as sure of what they're doing as their protagonists aren't.

The monster at the end of this book, like many of the payoff final page cliffhangers, poses a deep and real threat. It's one thing to threaten an individual character in a story, but when a story's hero is a family, well, threatening that is different altogether.

That's why Saga is so great. At the end of the day, it's about the all-together.

Credit: Mark Millar

MPH #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Duncan Fegredo and Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

MPH is Mark Millar’s latest Millarworld debut, and it’s one that finds Millar cobbling together a lot of different influences in order to set itself apart from any one direct comparison. Super-speed is far from a new superpower but it’s Millar’s approach that gives it something of a refresher. Unfortunately, powers alone do not a comic book make, and the narrative is built up on clichés and plot points that we’ve seen before. Duncan Fegredo is a veteran artist whose work has appeared at every major company, but it’s not as strong as what we’ve seen in the past.

Roscoe Rodriguez is a drug dealer with a heart of gold and no drug habit to speak of. He’s got a plan, see? He’ll deal only long enough to make enough money to help him make something of himself. Unfortunately, it lands him in jail and suddenly, this feel-good story about beating the odds becomes one of revenge. Millar is right in his wheelhouse here, working in platitudes ready-made for a Hollywood action movie. There is no subtlety. There is no nuance. Millar can take shortcuts because we’ve watched this set-up more than a few times before.

What I did like was Millar’s approach to super-speed. The destructive nature of extreme speed at the beginning of the book is juxtaposed with the pinpoint control that Roscoe displays early on. Is this Millar’s way of communicating to the reader that with time absolute power corrupts absolutely? The framework of that metaphor exists, but it’s flimsy at best.

Duncan Fegredo delivers a few excellent pages at the beginning but after that initial scene, his work is plagued with inconsistencies. Roscoe almost never looks the same way twice. Fegredo’s character designs are pedestrian at best and entirely forgettable most of the time. His storytelling sense is solid though. It’s always clear what’s happening. But coupled with Peter Doherty’s muted color palette, it’s just not very exciting. I thought that the prison setting might be to blame but even the house we’re shown in the final scene has a kind of inorganic blandness to it.

MPH is not as strong as other Millarworld titles but fans of his work will probably be on board. The “superpowers as designer drugs” concept is not a wholly original one, and that’s compounded by lackluster characterization and plot development. But it still has the potential to be a very powerful starting point. Millar is onto something with his early depictions of super-speed. We’ll just have to see if the rest of his story can catch up to that.

Solar: Man of the Atom #2
Written and Lettered by Frank Barbiere
Art by Joe Bennett, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Mauricio Wallace
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Frank Barbiere starts off his sophomore issue of Solar: Man of the Atom with a bit more substance than the last issue, boiling down much of this comic with one sentence: "Superheroes are for boys!"

It's clear that Barbiere has one response in mind: Never send a boy to do a woman's job.

I thought the first issue of Solar: Man of the Atom was pretty lackluster, and that was primarily because of the protagonist, Dr. Phil Seleski. But after establishing this doomed hero, Barbiere now has a much more fun character to play with - namely Phil's rebellious artist daughter, Erica. Her distaste with our titular hero almost matched my own, and while her journey still has its clichés and missteps, this second issue is an improvement over the first.

The best part of Barbiere's script is the hostility that Erica has towards her superpowered father, who accidentally left her in a coma at the end of last issue. You can probably guess what's next - namely that this heroine with no background in science will eventually team up with her distant father and dispense some AP physics-style justice. But beyond the inevitable comparisons with Firestorm, you also get some added edge here - first off, it's not just an odd couple, this is some serious parental angst going on, as Barbiere shows us with Erica's flashbacks with her mother. Now everything is up in the air - Erica is mysteriously unscathed after she wakes from her coma, she's hearing voices, she's not sure if her father is alive or dead... and she's beginning to exhibit powers.

The artwork from Joe Bennett keeps this story moving, although it doesn't really give it much of a visual identity. His characters are smooth and lacking in any flaws - or any details that would give them a sense of character - but the panel-to-panel storytelling is very clear. Bennett still relies too much on letterbox panels, which makes this comic feel a little cramped, although when he does get the room to shine, such as with the wreckage of Dr. Solar's initial explosion, or Erica letting loose against a giant cyborg, it looks great. The big issue with Bennett's art is that his characters don't really emote that well - I wish we could have seen the angst in Erica's face, or seen the internal conflict she has about the dad she can't stand and the superhero who just blew up in her face.

Of course, there are some other missteps along the way, even if Barbiere is giving us a major upgrade in terms of our POV character. There are clichés throughout this story, including a little girl who happens to be walking through an empty hospital hallway just to give the rough-edged cynic Erica a reason to endear. And Erica's liberal use of swearing feels like it's trying too hard, particularly when Dynamite keeps censoring the word "A$$&%#*." And there will be those who, like, I said before, will compare this to Firestorm, a character who hasn't been able to keep a following for years himself.

Solar: Man of the Atom isn't a slam-dunk comic just yet - and that's been this character's problem with each subsequent relaunch. There has to be something good about him that we can pick up on immediately, and so Frank Barbiere's slower pacing doesn't quite do this book any favors. But if you're patient, you might find something worth latching onto - namely, a spunky protagonist who is just as foreign to this world of physics equations and derring-do as we are. We can already see Solar changing for the better from even its first issue - maybe by the third installment, Barbiere and Bennett will crack the formula and make this comic a must-read series.

The Devilers #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Matt Triano
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With the recent explosion of horror-centered shows on our television, it is easy to forget that horror is a genre that comics have long since conquered. With titles such as Crossed, Lucifer, and now Dynamite Entertainment’s The Devilers, comics offer both the creative freedom and medium in which a writer and artist can offer up nightmare fuel by the barrelful in glorious page spreads and striking colors with little to no restraint. While Dynamite’s The Devilers may not be a perfect comic, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Matt Triano offer up a juicy hook of a first issue that is firmly entrenched in the genre that comics has given a second, third, and forth life to time and time again.

The Devilers #1 presents us a hook that would have been more than at home within the pages of Vertigo Comics at the height of its power; The Vatican and the depths of Hell had struck some sort of mysterious deal, but Hell has, shockingly, betrayed the Holiest of Holies and now hordes of demons, including one surly demonic frog, are now flooding into our world. The Church has prepared for this day and assembled a team of the world’s most powerful and effective exorcists from across all faiths in order to combat the evil knocking at their doors. Joshua Hale Fialkov has long since been one of Marvel’s effective and consistently entertaining pitch hitters, as it were, deftly steering The Ultimates into suitably crazy territory after Jonathan Hickman departed the title. He also delivered another Vertigo tinged book, resurrecting I, Vampire for DC before making the leap to creator owned series for Image and now, Dynamite Entertainment. Fialkov plinks us down into the world of The Devilers quickly, albeit a touch jarringly, through the tried and true eyes of the skeptic of the team, journalist Leib, and the lapsed, hard lucked Irish priest Father Malcolm, a man with first hand demonic experience from his childhood. These are troupes that we, of course have seen before, but Fialkov is having too much fun to take them to seriously, which would make them ring false. He has bigger things to get to, namely the sinking of Vatican City into a large, fiery sinkhole, the legions of demons that are now walking into our world, as well as the ethnically diverse team, which gets a speedy roll call toward the end of this issue. While our entry into this world may have been a bit clunky, you will soon be having too much fun to care.

Matt Triano is a name that I haven’t been too familiar with before seeing his work here, but he is definitely now, very much, on my Artists on the Rise list. Triano blends the emotive qualities of Daniel Acuna with the flowing, energetic pencils of Stuart Immomen into something that looks polished and capable of showing an audience anything. He renders Father Malcolm as every bit the charming rogue that we assume he is then wastes no time destroying Vatican City with an ease that Michael Bay would be jealous of. Triano also really nails the otherworldliness and horrifying body types of the various demons that have slunk into our world. It takes a true talent to really draw an unsettling monster and Triano seems well on his way to becoming that true talent with the leader of the demon horde, a milky skinned woman who can burst forth large tentacles from her midsection. There is an awful lot going on in this first issue, but Triano never once allows it to spiral out of control.

Comics have always offered many fresh takes on a great many different genres in the past; from action to romance, comics allows the reader all sorts of new perspectives on stories that they have always loved. With horror, though, comics burrowed into that sweet spot of creative freedom that once ran rampant in the pages of books like Creepy and Tales From the Crypt. You can do, say, and show absolutely anything you want in a comic and therein lies the potential for truly horrifying stories. While The Devilers #1 doesn’t really break new ground in terms of the genre or offer up a Freddy Kruger like icon for a villain, Fialkov and Triano instead give us a cracking good time rolling around in the brimstone and blood of a genre that they clearly love, giving the audience only the slightest taste of what sights lie ahead. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, but expect one hell of a time.

In Case You Missed It!

Mice Templar #10
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Serena Guerra
Lettering by James H. Glass
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In Mice Templar #10, readers will no doubt feel the pace pick up momentum as the series movies closer towards its final arc. Leito discovers Pilot using death magic – a taboo practice – in his desire to uncover the truth behind the "legend of Karic," while Cassius returns to the Great Tree in Avalon only to discover the growing army under the banners of various Templar knights. The question raised is whether or not the young Templar can unite these fractured forces under a common banner. And if he does, what will happen once Leito enters the picture with the Mark Of Khul-en?

Although Issue #9 provided necessary forward movement in one of the secondary threads, this issue focuses strictly on the main storylines surrounding Karic and Leito, and I know this lends to a greater sense of engagement with the comic. With Karic, it is interesting to see the continued inner conflict between his uncertainty of what actions he needs to take next when dealing with his fellow mice juxtaposed against the moral certitude he possesses when dealing with the larger forces in the world. We see this when he enters the camp and is talking with Cassius about how to reunite the different groups of Templar; yet when the cats arrive, he is able to powerfully and compellingly convince both them and the warring Templar that is the legend whom they could unite behind. Likewise, there is a similar sort of trajectory for Leito where he still possesses a blinding sort of innocence that prevents him from fully seeing Pilot for who he truly is. Additionally, I rather liked seeing writer Bryan J.L. Glass's twist on the old Aesop fable of the mouse and the lion, which he introduced before with Leito and brings to fruition in this issue.

Up until this point, Leito has been aware of Karic's presence – though unaware this Karic is the same as the childhood friend he thought slain in Cricket's Hollow – but now word of a Leito has finally reached Karic's ears from the cats as well. In some regards, it does seem surprising that neither mouse would immediately think that his friend could have survived the given that they did not see the other perish with his own respective eyes. Still, it sets up what will no doubt be a battle of brothers in the near future as their coming into conflict is inevitable. Someone will need to wield the Mark of Kuhl-en to unite the Templar against Icarus - one mouse possesses it, while the other believes himself to be the heir apparent.

I also have to hand it to artist Victor Santos, as one of the unspoken challenges he faces with this series is the seemingly endless number of primary, secondary and tertiary character Glass challenges him with depicting. It's to Santos's credit that I've never struggled to differentiate one mouse from another. Santos is able to render the multitudinous cast in distinct ways helping to keep each character interesting and yet, full of personality. One of the other aspects of this issue that really stood out to me as well is the richness of Santos's inks and Guerra's darker color palate in print format. I'm reminded of the way Batman: The Animated Series used the approach of layering its art on top of a solid black base, which lent a much darker, ominous tone to the artwork. Taking into account the events of this series, it seems a smart yet subtle approach to immersing the reader in this foreboding environment.

I can understand the difficulty newer readers might experience trying to pick up Mice Templar #10. It's a series that does need to be read from the beginning for readers to fully appreciate the events unfolding in this issue. Still, it is well worth readers' time (and dollars) to try and catch up with the previous issues and volumes.

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