Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN #31, FANTASTIC FOUR #5, NIGHTWING #30, More

Nightwing
Nightwing #30
Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: DC Comics

Batman #31
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With only two issues left before the grand finale of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's epic retelling of Batman's origin, Batman #31 does two things well: First, it helps provides the necessary setup for the final showdown with the Riddler, and second, it tells a really entertaining Batman story with some really compelling visuals.

The story itself brings Batman, Jim Gordon, and Lucius Fox together in a final attempt to shut down the Ridder and wrest control of Gotham from the enigmatic madman. Once again, readers get to see this down-to-earth, prototypical Batman in action – both in a battle of wits against Nygma and a test of his physical prowess against the machinations of the vibrant villain as he looms over a big screen monitor. There is a certain flair of self-assuredness and amusement in Snyder's dialogue and Capullo's facial expressions for Nygma that, for my part, quickly recalls Frank Gorshin in appearance and tone his take on the Riddler in the 1966 Batman TV series. Even the trap the Riddler has set for Batman is vaguely reminiscent of something Adam West might have encountered even if it is darker in nature – chalk that up to Miki's brooding inks, which helps create the mood in Riddler's death trap. There is just a sort of classic feel to this story all the while retaining a certain modern, grounded sensibility to it that all comes together in the form of a really entertaining Batman comic.

However, it is the secondary thread Snyder has running through this issue that stood out to me. We see an adolescent Bruce being badgered by his teacher to answer a question in front of the class, which makes use of terminology related to the firing of weapons. Unwittingly, his professor triggers memories and emotions related to the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and it is here I found what is arguably the most visually compelling panel of the entire book. The panel switches perspective, and instead of seeing the entire room, readers now see the setting through the eyes of the traumatized young Bruce. I won't spoil it, but it's absolutely haunting to say the least. Snyder's two short lines – spoken by the teacher – seem to have made a thorough and indelible impression on the boy-who-would-be-Batman. Capullo and Plascencia again demonstrate this uncanny ability to punch readers in the gut as Capullo sets up an otherwise typical classroom picture while Plascencia absolutely changes the tenor of the moment through his ghost-like coloring and jarring speckling of blood. It's not hard to see each one of his classmates as representative of Gotham as a whole; it gives readers a little insight into traumatized mind and soul of Snyder and Capullo's Batman and what would eventually lead him to take up the cape and cowl a few short years later.

A final point about this issue is worth raising as well that is out of the creators' hands: Colorist credit, of which of none appears on the cover and a diminished amount is found on credits page (in significantly smaller font size and separated from the rest of the creative team). Here's the problem. Scott Snyder doesn't need to tell his readers we're looking at both a literal and figurative twilight – the moments just before Gotham's Dark Knight will cast his shadow over Gotham in the form we've come to know, love, and even fear. Instead, colorist FCO Plascencia subtly cues the reader into this moment with his graduated coloring from one panel to the next as the action progresses. Moreover, we know when the Riddler's back in control of the moment and page when the garish green and purple colors fill the panels violently grabbing our attention. Yet, as Batman's victory over Nygma becomes more assured, the skies slowly grow darker, signaling a shift in power that we will see unfold by the next issue. These are valuable storytelling techniques that, when combined with the rest of the creative team's efforts, make for a compelling narrative and visually arresting comic. While I hesitate to offer suggestions for change in a comic, this is one oversight that needs to be corrected given the impact this team member has on the poignancy and storytelling of this issue (and series as a whole).

Overall, Snyder leaves enough hanging in the air to ensure readers will come back for the next issue, but there are also enough satisfying elements to the book that will keep the audience from feeling left in a lurch. And without a doubt, Batman #31 will continue to remind readers why Capullo, Miki, and Plascencia are one of the best artistic teams in superhero comics today in the way they bring their respective talents together to help convey the tone, atmosphere and action that Snyder is writing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #5
Written by James Robinson
Art by Leonard Kirk, Jerry Ordway, Mike Allred, Phil Jimenez, Chris Samnee, Jay Leisten, Rick Magyar and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Fantastic Four's greatest nemesis might not be Doctor Doom or Annihilus. Turns out, their biggest problem might be an enterprising lawyer and their own bad history. While the Fantastic Four have long been seen as the squeaky-clean heroes of the Marvel Universe, that image of a superpowered Kennedy Camelot is a bit of revisionist history. Utilizing continuity to its fullest extent, writer James Robinson teams up with a murderer's row of artistic talent to drive some very convincing nails into the coffin of Marvel's premiere dysfunctional family.

Robinson has an interesting premise for this issue - namely that the Fantastic Four are on trial. It's not for any one particular incident - this is no Civil War - but instead a history of negligance and bad behavior that has long been ignored (or played for laughs) in this title's history. It's an inversion of the usual "hero on trial" story, in which the sum total of their good deeds is presented in the style of It's A Wonderful Life. On the contrary, Robinson weaves a story that tells us of every demonic possession, every screwed-up science experiment or lost Ultimate Nullifier (!), and every Ben Grimm property damage-causing temper tantrum - and shows us the consequences.

It's a premise that will have its detractors - especially the diehard Fantastic Four fans who have already been turned off by his by-the-numbers plots the past four issues. But like a Reed Richards equation, I do think the math adds up, and I think Robinson is mining this for all its worth. Will the Fantastic Four wind up overcoming this character assassination, and wind up becoming bigger and better as a result? That remains to be seen - indeed, the FF don't feel like much of a presence in their own book, with chief prosecutor Aiden Toliver stealing the spotlight as we take a stroll down Memory Lane. The tail end of the book, featuring the Future Foundation, has a bit more spark to its characterization, even if the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility holding those kids seems almost cartoonishly evil. And I will say that Robinson's idea of Doctor Doom as a begrudging hero is a nifty one, even if it robs the character of a bit of his malevolent energy.

What might go overlooked in this book is the art. And there is a lot to unpack. There's a smorgasbord of art styles in this giant-sized issue, including Jerry Ordway going a nice old school take on the Invisible Woman's possession by Malice, to Mike Allred presenting the FF's larger-than-life battle against Galactus, to Phil Jiminez's majestic take on the rampaging first appearance of the Inhumans. Perhaps my favorite part is getting not one, but two scenes by Chris Samnee, as he presents a clean, compact version of Fantastic Four #1, as well as a montage of the FF against Doctor Doom that even evokes that master of the form, Mike Wieringo. Regular series artist Leonard Kirk will likely get overlooked here, which is a shame - he varies up the panels of this courtroom drama nicely, and his take on She-Hulk actually is the most expressive parts of the book, reminding me of an expressive, cartoony Stuart Immonen vibe.

While the trial of the Fantastic Four might not be for everyone, I will say I'm liking the execution that Robinson has brought to this issue. And as someone who's given him his fair share of criticism, I'm not saying that lightly. This giant-sized issue is exactly the kind of thing a giant-sized issue should be - it's part glorious recap with a diverse crew of artistic talent, as well as a monumental issue that spins the FF into an entirely new direction. While the jury's still out on whether Robinson can turn his run into something for the ages, even the most skeptical of readers can admit that he acquits himself well with Fantastic Four #5.

Nightwing #30
Nightwing #30
Credit: DC Entertainment

Nightwing #30
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Javier Garrón, Jorge Lucas, Mikel Janin, Guillermo Ortego and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

While he may have started his career as Robin, the Boy Wonder, I never really knew a time when Dick Grayson wasn't Nightwing.

I started reading comics in the '80s and '90s. So while Tim Drake was the perfect sidekick and even an idealized version of the guy I myself wanted to be, I always viewed Dick Grayson was the big brother I never had. He'd keep my secrets safe. Better still, when the bullies came, he'd be the one that stepped in. So it's been a rough few years for me, watching attempt after attempt by DC Comics to bring Dick Grayson down. They've destroyed his city. They've made him a villain. They've nearly killed him in a Crisis. They've cancelled him and brought him back again and again and again. As maudlin as it sounds, when they couldn't break Dick's heart and soul, they went after his body. In Forever Evil, they succeeded. But deep down, we all knew it wasn't a real death. What was important was what came after.

Well, here we are.

Co-writers Tim Seeley and Tom King make an interesting choice with the opening of Nightwing #30. A flashback of villains to come is a little more than jarring when you consider all that came before, both with Nightwing's own title, the other various Bat-books, as well as Forever Evil. In fact, it was so jarring that I found myself wondering if there had been a printing error. And while that moment passes quickly, it's an extremely rough way to start a book when one expects a more personal beginning. With a much younger Dr. Leslie Tompkins as our focus, we learn of a global group of killers and the secret organization tasked with bringing Leslie's fledgling health organization down. Of course, this being a superhero book, not all is what it seems. And that's where Bruce Wayne decides the best way to stop this global threat is to beat the heck out of his one-time ward and partner, the recently dead Dick Grayson. I'm trying to do my best in laying off the snark, but this characterization is simply off, for both Wayne and Grayson.

I know most people like the cold and brooding Batman, but the painfully long fight scene between Bruce and Dick is tedious at best, and flat out nasty at worst. Worse still, the scene does nothing for Grayson's growth as a character. If anything, it's an even stronger reason for Grayson to never step foot in the Batcave ever again. While I initially wanted to call out Jorge Lucas on the art on this section of the book, there isn't a whole lot he has to work with. This drawn-out sequence of violent exposition provides little room for his pencils to shine. Indeed, I wish we could see what Lucas is able to pencil when given the room. Instead, the reader is treated with some bloody nastiness that only reveals the absolute worst in both Grayson and Wayne.

The lifeless fight between mentor and student is all the more awkward coming after Javier Garrón's opening pages. His exaggerated style feels more at home with DC's current Harley Quinn comic than this far more serious book. A style that feels even more out of place when you consider the moment is meant to capture the horror of war and genocide. Still, his lines reveal a strong understanding of movement and brings real life to the characters. Although for all the larger-than-life layouts in the opening pages, Garrón's style carries a strong emotional quality. As revealed during the rare moment of humanity while poor Alfred is trying to comfort his broken family. A moment that is rather callously tossed aside by Seeley and King.

The one standout moment in the entire issue comes in the final few pages. Mikel Janin on pencils and Guillermo Ortego on inks are a blast to read. While those moments are simply a montage to reveal Grayson's new world, they are exciting and dynamic. The lines reveal a character that is graceful, but with real power behind his movements. The panel layout shifts with the scene. One moment they are tight and organized in a subway, shifting to vertigo-enducing fluidity while fighting in a crazy blimp. It's some very solid art that I hope is a sign of what is to come when Grayson #1 hits the shelves next month.

It's wrong to assume we, as readers, know what's best for a title. A creative can defy expectations and still manage to tell an exciting and emotionally powerful story. But when you're dealing with family-shattering emotions, such as the perceived death of a friend, brother, and mentor like Dick Grayson, we deserve that moment. We may not agree with the choice behind the writers, but with compelling dialogue and reason, we might understand the choice. This just isn't the case with Nightwing #30. This is an issue that's just mean and nasty, offering the reader little hope for what is to come. I know it's never going to be sunshine and rainbows for any member of the Batman universe, but Dick Grayson and his fans deserved far better than what this issue provided.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhuman #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Joe Madureira and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It is a very, very tricky thing for a company to run two event comics at the same time. More often than not, one will get lost in the wake of the other, forcing an audience to choose with their dollars just which title to support. Marvel’s current Inhuman venture, already on shaky ground due to creative departures and a less-than-stellar first issue, had more than a few strikes going against its second installment. Thankfully, due to the strong personal style of Charles Soule and the engrossing visuals of Joe Madureira and Marte Garcia, Inhuman #2 finally feels like its own story, making a strong case for itself as a Marvel blockbuster.

Inhuman #2 finds our Nuhuman protagonist Dante wisked away from his home to New Attilan, a island in the Hudson fashioned out of pieces from their shattered city, positioned right next to the Statue of Liberty for an extra heap of delicious comic book subtext on top. Charles Soule instantly establishes the Inhumans' new base and position in the world around them, much like J. Michael Straczynski did with Asgard when it settled over Broxton. Clearly, the goal of this series is to establish the Inhumans as a major power in the Marvel universe and Soule, after a lengthy overture of a lead-up, establishes it from the first page, in order to finally give this event the momentum it needed.

Dante, our Nuhuman audience surrogate, is quickly paired with Gorgon, a mainstay of the original Inhuman lineup, in order to control his powers and to determine his place in Inhuman society. Soule has a ball with Gorgon, writing him as a swaggering, stern tutor to Dante. He’s a character that understands Terrigenesis and its effects on Inhuman DNA. He is also a character that understands that sometimes fire-based powersets have to be put out with a knockout punch before they reach critical mass. While Queen Medusa still takes up a major part of Inhuman #2, its great to see another original Inhuman featured to great effect. Soule writes Gorgon as a jesting, Slayer-loving taskmaster, dedicated to his people and culture, not only giving Dante a guide through his emerging "Inhumanity," but the reader another compelling character rich in Inhuman history to follow. Inhuman needed a ground-level B-story to contrast the Game of Thrones-level intrigue of Queen Medusa’s A-story - now it does, allowing Inhuman #2 to find its voice (and feet) after a lackluster first issue.

Queen Medusa’s thread through this second issue is where Soule capitalizes on the goodwill and momentum built with the inclusion of Gorgon delivering some great sequences stunningly depicted by the art team. As New Attilan rises, various organizations rush to gather Inhuman tech and genetic material to use toward their own purposes. Enter Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D., lending a helping hand toward Queen Medusa in her time of strife. The scenes between Steve Rogers and Medusa were some of the only scenes that felt important or energetic in #1, but here, supported by the active inclusion of a few new Inhumans including one mysterious devil-like Nuhuman from the Bronx, this team-up between Medusa and Cap feels urgent and earned. Medusa rebukes Cap’s offer at the beginning, thinking of her position as queen and how that would appear to her people, accepting aid from an outside species. She finally relents when pushed by A.I.M. attempting to secure a piece of her former palace, but its the perfect contrast to the story of emerging "Inhumanity" happening off panel. As Dante races to understand his "Inhumanity," Queen Medusa is racing to preserve "Inhumanity." It's heady stuff, but Soule renders and balances it all beautifully, presenting the Inhumans as the A+ characters than he and Marvel know they are.

Penciler Joe Madureira and colorist Marte Garcia also make a visual feast out of the pairing of Queen Medusa and Captain America, letting their exposition scenes hang with tension and their action scenes together explode with precise fury. Medusa’s powerset is one of my favorite power sets for artists to tackle, because their are many different ways you can depict it on panel. You can channel her fierce-yet-nurturing motherly aspects of her character like Mike Allred did in FF or, perhaps, render her as the beautifully eerie sovereign like Jae Lee did during his and Paul Jenkins' Marvel Knights run. Madureira and Garcia present her as a warrior queen, leaping toward the defense and protection of her people, cutting a swath through A.I.M.’s forces. Cap gets a few shining moments, too, including one distinctly Frank Miller-like panel of him jumping the in middle of a group of firing A.I.M. beekeepers, by Madureira’s tendency to spill panels across the page lends itself very well to Medusa’s deadly locks. Madureira’s Medusa is clad in armor and looks like she could strike in and direction and at any moment, bolstered by the thick, bold colors of Garcia. Medusa’s armor glitters with deep golds against her vibrant purple costume. Madureira draws everything to look otherworldly and Garcia colors it in kind. Inhuman #2 looks and feels alien in the best possible way. I predict that the scene of Queen Medusa bringing down an A.I.M. airship alone, while Cap and their support teams advised retreat will be the panel that launches a thousand Tumblr appreciation blogs devoted to Medusa. The creative team behind Inhuman finally understands what queens do. They rule.

When Inhuman and Inhumanity were announced, readers relished the idea of another facet of the Marvel universe, long treated as peripheral, was finally getting a place among the main continuity. After a less-than-earth-shattering opening salvo, it seemed that Inhuman looked to be another misfire of an event. Inhuman #2 puts most of those fears to rest, promising a glorious reign for the Inhumans as Marvel A-listers. Charles Soule, Joe Madureira and Marte Garcia have stepped out from the cloud of a weak first issue and found their work transformed and improved into a properly thrilling comic book yarn. The face of the Marvel universe is changing, and the future looks Nuhuman.

Chew/Revival Preview
Chew/Revival Preview
Credit: Image Comics

Chew/Revival #1
Written by John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Rob Guillory and Mike Norton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Chew! Revival! They're a weird combination, but hey, who ever said you can't zombie where you eat?

Put together as a $4.99 flipbook, fans of both series get two stories for the price of one, and while both stories do feel a little compact at 16 pages each, this experiment by John Layman, Tim Seeley, Rob Guillory and Mike Norton may be worth reading just for sheer spectacle's sake.

Both stories can be read interchangably, with neither one set in any particular continuity. Out of the bunch, Layman and Guillory's installment was my favorite of the two, as Layman plays up the comedy and the slapstick behind a case involving a "Reviver" chef and a severed hand. "We're here about a hand job," Tony Chu's partner Colby leers. Okay, I'm a 12-year-old, I laughed. Layman also does an effective job at showing how Chu and Reviver lead Dana Cypress may have a little bit of tension before they put their heads together to do their job. Guillory is the highlight of this issue, drawing a really kinetic villain as well as playing up a ton of gags at Colby's expense.

The second installment, featuring a more down-to-earth story from Revival's perspective, still works, although it lacks some of the energy inherent in Layman's comedic style. The plus side to this story, however, is that Seeley explains the nature of the undead "Revivers" a bit more in-depth here, which makes sense given that this feels like the "host" of the party. Norton's artwork is far more traditional than his Chew counterpart, although I'd say that does keep this story from getting too horrific, but I'll be the first to admit that it was harder to follow this story of ghosts and dead spouses than the three-armed zombie chef over on Chew's side.

At first, I had an issue with Tony Chu swooping in and saving the day over on the Revival side of the equation, but to Layman's credit, he does let the Revival gang take the collar over in his story. It does feel like a gentlemen's outing, but the one downside is it feels like it all ends a bit too soon. Once you establish these weird and contradictory worlds (in both stories, no less), there's not much more room for a lot of twists and turns, or even a lot of agency for Tony or Cypress. Still, you wouldn't think this weird combination is particularly palatable, but it's a nice hor' doeuvre for anyone who's looking to dig into either of these series.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #4
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramanga Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Ms. Marvel #4 picks up after Kamala had been shot attempting to stop Vick's robbery of his brother Bruno's convenience store (while shape-shifted into Carol Danvers' Captain Marvel form). We – along with Kamala – learn more about her powers while raising questions about the extent of her abilities at the same time. Moreover, we witness the moment when she begins to take her first steps towards being her own marvelous superhero self apart from the mold of Captain Marvel.

Ms. Marvel #4 introduces a number of superhero origin story tropes that readers will immediately recognize: From Kamala's construction of -- and first appearance in -- her own superhero costume, to the "call to adventure" with the moral obligation to adopt a pro-social mission for the benefit of all. We see all of this taken alongside her everyday challenges of keeping her identity secret and the inherent challenges that problem creates (i.e. sneaking out and around parents, maintaining friendships, and deciding who to share the secret with and who to keep in the dark). G. Willow Wilson weaves these elements together fairly seamlessly in this issue as she pays homage to the genre; yet, she also brings in a more contemporary sensibility to this story. There is the obvious fact Kamala must navigate her cultural responsibilities and religious precepts with her newfound life as a superhero, which we see in her choice of costume. Even still, Wilson finds moments to show Kamala's "inner geek" and how the young hero harnesses this part of herself to enhance heroic actions while battling the robotic sentries. She is neither slick or cool in the conventional sense; however, these are aspects of our heroes often eschewed in recent years but are exactly what made Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Peter Parker as well-loved and relatable in the months that followed his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. Maybe there are readers who will not relate to the struggles a Muslim teen navigating life in the United States, but certainly many of these fans will know what it's like to wish their "inner geekiness" could help them be somebody just like Kamala.

Artistically, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring and Joe Caramanga are working really well together in this issue. Here's the thing: It can be distracting when either the line artist leaves too little room for the letterer, the letterer poorly places speech bubbles or captions (which obscures the art), or the writer just adds too much text. Not so in this issue. As a result, each panel has the opportunity to breathe, and readers have plenty of room to pore over the artwork and take in the story without complication. Likewise, Alphona and Herring wisely know when to pull back on background detail to better focus readers' attention on key aspects of a given panel as well as dial up the amount of material as the tone and setting require. Moreover, I really appreciated the softer tone in Herring's color palette. This comic is less about in-your-face action and more about character-driven stories. As a result, a brighter, sharper set of color choices would be out of place. Instead, we get a comic that's visually easy to read with art that's equally enjoyable without being overworked. And don't forget the little easter eggs Alphona is regularly embedding in his panels, i.e. the magazines in the convenience store or the graffiti on the walls of the shack where Vick is being held, which are always good for a laugh.

The only criticism I have for this comic is really more of an uncertainty on my part than a hard and fast critique. Early on in the issue, Bruno and Kamala discuss her choice to become a hero, and it becomes very clear that their discussion elevates itself to one taking place outside of the comic and into genre of superhero comics as a whole. "Who cares what people expect? Maybe they expect some perfect blonde, what I need – I mean, what we need -- is you." Kamala – clearly impressed by Bruno's sudden soliloquy – tells him he can keep going, but he quickly realizes he's said too much. In some regards, this bit did feel a little "on the nose" and perhaps a brief instance of the author's voice creeping out over that of her character. Yet, it's also an entirely valid point. Readers do need heroes like Kamala. Still, the shift in tone was noticeable, and although it was not a major concern for me, some readers may feel the direct nature of conveying this sentiment is less effective.

Although I love my fair share of "grim and gritty" superhero comics, Wilson and Alphona continue to demonstrate with Ms. Marvel #4 that these costumed characters can also be upbeat, joyful and fun. Once again, don't miss this issue.

Batman Eternal #8
Batman Eternal #8
Credit: DC Entertainment

Batman Eternal #8
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Batman Eternal is chugging along and Batman is starting to understand how quickly gangster Carmine Falcone is working on gaining a foothold in Gotham. John Layman handles the scripting duties in this issue, and while it’s not as even-keeled as his Detective Comics issues, Layman does some nice work with some story elements. Guillem March brings this issue down though, proving once again that a revolving door of artists isn’t always the best way to tell a story.

Layman was known for a long time as more of a humorous writer because of his creator-owned title Chew, but his work with Batman over the past couple of years proves that he definitely has some dramatic chops as well. The pacing in the issue is really solid, and Layman gets to delve into a few story elements that we’ve only scratched the surface on. Batman isn’t aware of the new police commissioner Forbes’ role with Falcone, and he’ll have to come up with a new way to dispel this threat. We also see some work with the new guy on the force, Lieutenant Bard. In some ways, he’s kind of a Gordon stand-in but his lack of experience in Gotham gives the whole writing team an opportunity to explore Batman’s relationship with the G.C.P.D. when the “good cop” does have the rank to force any procedure. So Layman sets a lot in motion and introduces the idea that in order to save Gotham, Bruce will have to leave to find a solution. It’s not a new idea but taking Bruce out of Gotham hasn’t been as prevalent in the New 52.

March’s art is a mess. Batman is understandably angry. But his anger doesn’t play as well in the script because March’s awkward poses, vague facial expressions and an overall lack of consistency. He’ll turn in a great panel like the one of Stephanie Brown in the phone booth and then follow it up with an almost blurry medium shot. It also takes a lot of the drama out when even basic things like foreshortening are so inconsistent that the art becomes distracting. Comic book art doesn’t have to be realistic but it does have to maintain some level of consistency in style in order to tell the story and March doesn’t deliver here.

Batman Eternal might actually be a good story, but its weekly nature works against it. Not so much on the writing side, as the entire team are fairly capable. But the art really suffers by changing issue in and issue out. On some level, it limits what the artists can do because they don’t have the opportunity to lay the same groundwork that they would on a monthly book. Readers are forced to readjust to a new style and different storytelling tendencies. That’s great as a way to sample the line of Batman writers and artists that are currently working but it’s not conducive to this story. There’s more set-up in this issue but the plot is rolling forward. Since some issues thus far have felt rather plodding in terms of pacing, I’d call this one a net positive despite its artistic failings.

Doctor Spektor #1 cover by Christian Ward
Doctor Spektor #1 cover by Christian Ward
Credit: Dynamite

Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Neil Edwards and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Marshall Dillion
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Is it weird to say that all monster hunters kind of look the same to me?

I don't know. I'm not trying to offend. But even as a fan, it's just hard, sometimes, to tell each member of the Trenchcoat Brigade apart or to separate a Jason Blood from a Jim Corrigan. How often can you see Peter Cushing or Fright Night's Peter Vincent before they all start to blur together? But every once and awhile, a title comes along that completely inhabits the characteristics of the genre and gives you a compelling lead and cast, yet completely turns the concept on its head and gives you something better than gold: a fresh take. That title is the final Gold Key Comics debut, Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult, brought to you by genre writer extraordinaire Mark Waid. It's in this #1 that a whole new generation is introduced to their new favorite demon-fighting jerk, who may or may not have multiple screws loose.

Adam Spektor is insanely rich. From the very start, Waid never lets you forget this. While we are used to our monster fighters and supernatural detectives being all sorts of hard luck and strapped for cash, Waid establishes very quickly that this is Spektor’s job, and he is paid very well to do it. See, Adam Spektor has built a multi-million dollar media empire on the foundation of his monster hunting. His televised exploits are the highest-rated shows in their timeslots, and his company is ever-expanding into new facets of business and research. This isn’t a book about Rupert Giles toiling around in a dusty library. This is a book about someone like Tony Stark fighting vampires. Waid jettisons the baggage of Doctor Spektor’s original incarnation to give us a character wholly new to the genre. This isn’t a man who runs into a battle with some hobbled-together weapons; this is a man who gets chastised by the vampire that he’s fighting (on national television) for using jade, the rich man’s vampire repellent, instead of the pauper’s garlic. This same man is also someone who defeats the vampire by shooting him with harnessed sunlight from an orbital satellite hanging in space. Waid is clearly having a blast writing this, but its nothing compared to blast you will have reading it.

Waid, however, tempers the dizzying insanity displayed through the book with a genuine emotional arc for Spektor as well as a interesting and compelling supporting cast. Spektor is, of course, haunted by the horrors that he faces every day, as well as a mysterious ghostly woman that he “almost sees when he closes his eyes”. While Tony Stark would succumb to petulance or tinkering, Spektor locks himself in his bedroom and listens to talk radio critique his latest big win. Waid makes this feel like genuine narrative despair instead of just needless man-pain. Waid has already shown us the sizzle to this character in the opening scene, so he quickly serves up the steak of Adam Spektor soon after. Waid excels at this type of quick, compelling character work and his Adam Spektor is just another character that he’s done a great service to.

While he writes a great protagonist, Waid also insulates Adam with a great supporting cast too, in the form of his ever-suffering producer Lenny and Spektor’s new assistant, Abby Horne. This isn’t really a shock that the supporting cast of Doctor Spektor is just as compelling as Spektor himself. This is the man who made Foggy Nelson the star of Daredevil for a few issues recently after all, yet here, Waid uses Lenny and Abby to further establish the concept of Doctor Spektor as well as adding to the smoothness of the script. After opening with high-concept monster action, Waid uses Abby and Lenny to turn the comic into a Aaron Sorkin-esque television comedy for a few pages. After two weeks of working for Spektor, Abby, having memorized the lobby’s preview for the next episode that’s been playing like a audio Moebius strip, asks Lenny why Spektor plans to interview a small-time fortune teller after his record-breaking vampire fight episode. Lenny flatly replies that the budget episodes make the episodes with the higher-profile monsters possible. It's the supernatural as a reality show.

Waid also injects these characters with actual stakes in the story and in Adam Spektor, instead of making them simple exposition/joke machines. Though its never implicitly stated, you, as an audience member, feel as if Lenny has been looking out for Spektor for a long time and that Abby is on the cusp of something huge as Spektor’s right hand. This attention to the side characters just adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the high concept and compelling lead. Waid knows how to make a meal out of first issues, but here, he more than delivers a satisfying narrative as well as huge set pieces and visuals.

Speaking toward visuals, the script’s narrative heft is made all the more effective by the lithe, expressive pencils of Neil Edwards and the earth tones of Jordan Boyd’s colors. Edwards renders Spektor as a suspender-clad punk with '60s Brit Mod hair and an oozing confidence. This is worlds apart from the tweed-suited monster fighters that came before Spektor, but this look makes all the sense in the world in Doctor Spektor. Adam is a TV star, so Edwards draws him that way. Edwards also does an amazing job balancing the real with the fantastic, making each scene feel tactile even when there are ridiculous things happening in panel. All is quiet and normal until a cloaked vampire jumps out of the ground. Edwards seamlessly meshes classic horror genre visuals to the world of celebrity. More than helping with this tone is Boyd, whose flat, natural colors add a much needed look of post-production. While most reality TV looks gaudy and over saturated in light, Boyd colors Doctor Spektor like a documentary film, heavy on shadows and earthy browns and tans. Even the vampire, clad in a classic vampire costume, is colored with absolute seriousness with flashes of his golden medallion and deep reds underneath his cloak. It looks more like Road Rules and less like The Real World. This art team seems completely unified behind the concept of Spektor being a reality star and that just makes the art seem all the more cohesive.

When you are a huge fan of a genre, you feel as if you have seen almost everything that genre has to offer. You have watched countless hours of content and read every page you could get your hands on. You are jaded in your obsession. Its this feeling that makes Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult #1 feel all the more special. Mark Waid and his outstanding art team have taken bits and pieces from various inspirations and stories from the past and crystallized them through this reboot into something truly fresh feeling. We’ve seen the noble vampire hunter, we’ve seen the cynical demon fighter, and we’ve seen the distant practitioner of the arcane arts. We’ve never seen anyone like Adam Spektor. Now all we have to do it buy the ticket and take the ride with him.

C.OW.L. #1
C.OW.L. #1

C.O.W.L. #1
Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel
Art by Rod Reis
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

With a little bit Mad Men and a little bit Powers, C.O.W.L. #1 does everything it needs to to set up a noirish, superhero-filled Chicago - well, everything except give us a reason to root for the characters. Even armed with killer artwork by Rod Reis, this series doesn't quite bring the intrigue to back up the imagery.

The series, written by Nightwing alum Kyle Higgins and frequent writing partner Alec Siegel, starts off heavy with the action, pitting a group of fliers and fighters against a Communist supervillain. While there's some nice tension as the Communist starts indiscriminately shooting up a crowd, I think this early focus on the usual chasing-a-villain tropes undercuts some of the promise of this series as a whole. C.O.W.L.'s real "hook" isn't showing pulpy superheroes or the low-level gumshoes that have to run support for them - the real draw, to my mind, is this series is about the politics and backroom dealings that come with a superhero union. This has the potential to be some really heavy stuff, with absolute power corrupting absolutely. We do get some glimmers of this with Roger Sterling stand-in Geoffrey Warner, the head honcho of C.O.W.L. known as the Grey Raven, but it feels secondary to the superheroic and procedural aspects of this book.

That said, this book does perk up a bit when Higgins and Siegel introduce his street-level investigators, including the whip-smart John Pierce, who Reis draws with just the right amount of sinisterness that he seems like a wild card. Their struggles seem a little less one-sided than four superheroes dogpiling on one bloodthirsty Communist, even if Higgins and Siegel cheat a bit by giving at least one of the cops "anti-kinetic" powers to disarm (and defenestrate) a perp. (That said, these cops aren't all perfect, as a gag involving one of their kids throwing some shade at the Grey Raven feels a little too unbelievable to be funny.) But that glimmer of a more cerebral protagonist feels more apropros to the 1960s feel of C.O.W.L. - for some reason, all those dark skies and gloomy atmosphere doesn't scream "Superman" to me.

And that's all on Reis, whose evocative art style truly defines and elevates this first issue. Reis reminds me of artists like Bill Seinkiewicz with a splash of Phil Noto and even a little bit of Ben Templesmith, with lots of hard angles and dark blues. This Chicago certainly looks like it has some mean streets, with an almost overwhelmingly oppressive color palette. (Sometimes too overwhelming - there are plenty of sequences that are difficult to follow, including the first chase sequence, just because it's too dark to see what's going on.) Still, Reis really knows how to make you gasp, such as the way the villainous Skylancer is bloody and bloodshot lying on the pavement, or the way he radiates menace when the Grey Raven sits in his office. I have the feeling that however this series goes, Reis is going to get a lot of offers for more work, and he definitely deserves it here.

But that said, looks are all that defines C.O.W.L., and I don't think it should be that way. Higgins and Siegel have some real potential on their hands with their core concept, one that can prove to be smarter and more complex than the standard capes-and-tights or capes-and-cops fare. One might argue that the authors needed time for setup, in order to introduce their brave new world - but I'd argue right back that this world isn't enough to stand on its own. In today's crowded marketplace, one shot is not just all you get to make a good first impression - one shot is just all you deserve. The idea of C.O.W.L. is that there's a better way to do superheroics, and on that score, I'm in full agreement with Higgins and Siegel.

So why does so much of this comic feel like rehashing the same thing we've already seen?

In Case You Missed It!

The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1
The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1

The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1
Written by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin and Jesus Aburto
Letters by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There are certain characters that bring out the best in the creatives that handle them. Careers have been made with the use of characters that seem to shine just a bit brighter when being handled by deft hands that seem to understand just how and why these characters work on the page. In 1986, that character was the famous pulp avenger and grandfather to the modern superhero, the Shadow, and that creator was Howard Chaykin, the infamous rebel genius of the paneled page. Chaykin’s The Shadow: Blood and Judgment was hailed, rightfully so, as not only an elevation of the genre of comics into something bolder and more innovative than ever before, but a starkly entertaining re-imagining of the character of Lamont Cranston for a new audience as well as a springboard for Chaykin to move onto higher profile work, both for larger comics companies and in the creator owned realm. The Shadow gave Chaykin a platform in which to display his myriad of talents and now, almost 30 years later, Chaykin returns to the world of the Shadow, displaying the same talent and eye for the character that he presented then for a whole new audience of comic fans.

The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1 transports us to New York City, 1949, a city still reeling from the end of World War II. After thwarting a heist that aimed to clear out the United States Federal Reserve of its stores of gold, the Shadow stumbles onto a weird mystery that only he and his cadre of allies can solve. Yet after years of adventuring and daring do, Lamont Cranston has become more and more detached from the everyday world, especially concerning his gal friday, Margot Lane. Chaykin gracefully wades his audience into post-war America, expounding on the booming economy of New York with hefty chunks of exposition captions that never feel overwhelming as well as quick peeks of the New York we all know being built around the characters.

Chaykin has always excelled at writing period settings that never feel foreign or out of reach to a modern audience and The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow is just another well-researched example. It’s a feat in itself to write a period setting that feels both evocative and avoids the trap of being too arcane for a modern audience to connect with, but Chaykin is an old hand at stories like this. Chaykin smartly keeps the setting from dominating the story itself and instead allows for the characters to be enriched by the setting. While the considerable amount of narration and lack of action scenes may turn off the causal comic reader, fans of Chaykin and the character of the Shadow will feel right at home in the pages of Midnight in Moscow, which quickly establishes itself as yet another strong entry into Dynamite Entertainment’s pulp comic offerings.

The Shadow has always been a character that has been defined by his '40s setting, but Chaykin isn’t content with telling a story just about how much different things were then. He simply uses the setting to his advantage, offering up a pulpy picture of America and London on cusp of the Cold War and the technological advancements that came with it, sprinkling in interesting details like the technical aspects of pre-jetliner commercial airplanes as well as dark warnings about the coldly smoldering conflict to come in the narration. While these details enrich the story around it, The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow isn’t interested in delivering a history lesson to us kiddos. Chaykin and his team just want to tell another pot boiler of a Shadow story, and that’s exactly what Midnight in Moscow is. The period details and embellishments are just that. Pulp is still king here and Howard Chaykin can still write one hell of a pulp.

While Midnight in Moscow succeeds on the script front, it’s with the artwork that it really soars. Chaykin’s artwork has always been amazing to behold and he, arguably, is doing the work of his career over at Image Comics with Satellite Sam, but here Chaykin busts out of the black and white world of a television studio, delivering a rich looking picture of 1949. Armed with the dynamite colors of Jesus Aburto, Chaykin renders the Shadow and his world just as deftly as he did in 1986, as if he never stopped drawing the hero. Chaykin’s Shadow is otherworldly yet imposing as he lords over criminals in the opening scene in the Fed, leaping into the fray to dispense two-fisted justice to the wrong doers. Chaykin depicts him as more wraith than man, letting Cranston’s almost living cape envelop his arms and torso, his hands clutching dual .45s and his darkened body lit up by the blood red streak of the Shadow’s scarf. Chaykin also uses a few design flourishes to his advantage, like letting the Shadow’s signature laugh cut through these opening panels like a constantly running crawl of eerie news for evildoers everywhere. The Shadow has always cut an evocative and enigmatic profile, and Chaykin understands that fully. Rendering him as more thing than man just highlights the iconic look of the character and makes for a more than compelling look for the book as whole.

It’s an amazing time to be a Chaykin fan. With Satellite Sam hitting stands monthly, the release of his fabulously filthy Black Kiss II and the original graphic novel Century West last year, this is the first time in a long while that the name Chaykin has been seen on shelves on a regular basis. With The Shadow: Blood and Judgment, Howard Chaykin made his name in comics and then went on to revolutionize the medium in ways that no one could have possibly predicted. Now with The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1 Chaykin returns to the character that made his career in grand style, displaying that underneath the icon, there is still just an artist who wants to tell an entertaining story.

Cinematic Shot!

X-Men: Days of Future Past poster
X-Men: Days of Future Past poster

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult and Peter Dinklage
Written by Simon Kinberg
Produced by 20th Century Fox
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“We need you to hope again.”

It's been eight years since the unfortunate events of X-Men: The Last Stand, and while Matthew Vaughn's prequelized X-Men: First Class attempted to set things right, X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the essential X-Men movie. The thing about Days of Future Past is that it has a legitimate threat here: extinction. Previous X-films have been pretty much human versus mutant or mutant versus mutant, and while that's pretty much the basis for the X-Men at large, Days of Future Past is entirely its own animal, breaking away completely from what's been set before.

From the opening moments we see that this is not the bright, charming world of First Class - Days of Future Past is indeed the darkest timeline. Advanced Sentinels have wiped out large portions of the mutant population, and captured any humans who would have aided any mutants. We're treated to some of the most intense violence ever depicted in an X-Men flick involving team members getting pulled in half and decapitated, giving you the tense, claustrophobic feel of what the original story by Chris Claremotn and John Byrne was trying to convey decades ago. What it also does is introduce non-comic readers to the idea that X-Men are more than the saviors of mutantkind, but are also inextricably linked with time travel.

Originally, it was Kitty Pryde who went back in time, but here we have the more familiar-to-movie-audiences Wolverine taking her place. The movie takes no time getting Wolverine to pull a Dr. Sam Beckett, putting things right that once went wrong. Starting off as strong as it does, the movie's pacing hardly lets up. As mentioned, there seems to be an extreme urgency throughout the film and you can hardly catch your breath before something else comes along the way to knock it out once more. There are some quiet moments that catch the audience up on "Where Are They Now: X-Men Edition," and, unsurprisingly, most of them are dead. It's the slow realization that this movie is not playing around and invokes the horror of the original story.

There was a lot of speculation and of why and how Xavier is walking in some scenes and Beast looks human in others. I will admit, I had given a few things a quizzical look with some of the imagery, but in the end everything fell into place. The poster itself was one of those things with Mystique and Wolverine taking center stage, but one of the focal points of the movie was Mystique herself. Jennifer Lawrence embodies what Raven is about and finally walks that line between assassin and seductress, but also full of conflict. The performances are unlike anything we've seen, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continuing their designated paths that were set with First Class, with Hugh Jackman playing more of the comedic foil at times. McAvoy and Fassbender's exchange of dialogue on the jet is a great character moment that both shows Charles' hopelessness and Erik's anger, not just with one another, but the world at large.

The big breakout star was hands-down Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff. From the get-go, fans were not too kind to Peter's look as the would-be Quicksilver, but with one scene that sets off an extreme domino effect of interconnected events; it's definitely something that sticks with you. The visuals of everyone's powers are definitely the most impressive to date. Blink's portals were also a very cool high note, and we finally got to see Iceman's ice slide in motion. Warpath came across as the odd man out with his ill-defined powers, especially with the other team members having such strong imagery. I had higher hopes for Bishop, but this version seems tamed and held back. Here's hoping he gets another go and gets to go all-out.

Peter Dinklage's portrayal as Bolivar Trask is interesting, too. We're never really sure why he hates mutants or wants to oppress them, aside from him quoting Charles Darwin and fear that time is running out for mankind. I do like them splicing in bits of Mr. Sinister as he experiments on mutants and learns about them through science and genetics, basically what makes them tick. He's suavely sinister but not really a threat per se, but what Dinklage does to handle the character was captivating. Another great portrayal is Ian McKellan as the older, wiser Magneto. Even at 75, McKellan commands the small scenes he's in, adding a human nature to the sometimes inhumane side of Magneto. Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy share a compassionate moment of past and future self that shows Charles Xavier at his best and worst. I wish McKellan and Fassbender had a similar moment.

Much like Singer's last foray into the X-universe, there are a slew of characters to juggle but everything feels balanced. True, this is a Wolverine/Xavier/Magneto/Mystique movie with Beast in tow, but the blending of the new generation to the old favorites comes across seamless. Days of Future Past feels like the culmination of the past 14 years of X-movies. Sure, there are tons of cameos and easter eggs to look out for, which adds to the experience as a longtime X-fan, but nothing prepares you for the post-credit sequence that determines the next stage in the X-Men franchise. X-Men: Days of Future Past is big, bold and unrelenting. Fans who were disappointed by the shortcomings of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine get a second chance here. Days of Future Past is a story about redemption and ensuring the future is hopeful again for mutantkind. Like Professor X, this story is one that makes me hope again.

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