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Interior from Rocket Raccoon #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Rocket Raccoon #1
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Jeff Eckleberry
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Perhaps it's fitting for the Fourth of July weekend for Marvel to launch its own Rocket.

Positioned to become Marvel's gun-toting spin on Mickey Mouse, Rocket Raccoon has been getting tons of push since the announcement of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film - and in the hands of Skottie Young, that faith is well-rewarded. Crackling with energy and roguish charm, Rocket Raccoon #1 is a great way to get introduced to a rising star in the Marvel pantheon.

From the very first page, you get a good handle on Skottie Young's sense of humor, with his horn-shaped spaceships or Rocket infiltrating a prison wearing a human-shaped suit (or pressing a detonator with a "pinky out click"). It's the small things that really sell Rocket Raccoon, as Young never lingers longer than he has to, always quick to fire another joke, over-the-top expression or shot of ultraviolence to keep the action moving. His cartoony, often exaggerated Rocket is a perfect emblem of what to expect - a small, scrappy guy with a permanent smirk on his face and an oversized weapon in his hand. Of course, Young is also a consummate cartoonist, particularly the sly nods to Image's Southern Bastards or Marvel's own C.B. Cebulski on the backs of some bikers' jackets.

Tonally, you can definitely see a lot of similarities to Marvel's own Deadpool in Rocket Raccoon, but with one major difference - Rocket isn't immortal, he doesn't have a healing factor, he just has his own agility and quick wit to get him out of the frying pan and into the fire. It also helps that he has friends - Young never lets the rest of the Guardians overwhelm the series, but it's nice to see that Rocket doesn't operate in a vacuum, as cutting back and forth between Rocket and Star-Lord escaping their own individual perils provides a funny explanation on why Rocket is on his own. And while it might take a read or two to get it, the idea of Rocket's past catching up to him is quite funny - if the overall villains of the piece are who I think they are, this comic is about to get a whole lot funnier, fast.

Skottie Young has been an auteur with a far smaller audience than he has deserved, as he's toiled away happily with his Oz books. I think that's all about to change, as a new wave of fans are going to be introduced to Young's exaggerated, funky cartooning. There's more personality and energy on one page of Rocket Raccoon than in six months of some other series, and it's that sort of charm offensive that makes this series already the Guardians book to beat.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #13
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Mikel Janin, Guillermo Ortego and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Batman Eternal has been a weird creature, lately - not because of any weirdness in the high concept, but in the execution. Despite the title, this book actually has very little to do with Batman himself, focusing instead on the cops, crooks and spin-off vigilantes running around in Batman's wake. Thankfully, the art is solid and the pacing is strong, making this series have a visceral appeal despite its flaws.

In certain ways, this comic actually reminds me a lot of The Dark Knight, in the fact that there is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on, and it's not just the city holding its breath while the Batman takes control. The real stars of this comic are former Commissioner James Gordon, as he shares an unsettling conversation with his thought-to-be-dead (and definitely sociopathic) son James Jr., and rookie Jason Bard, who is filling in Harvey's Dent's "white knight" role as a cop who is determined to clean up the streets of Gotham, no matter whose feathers he ruffles. With James Tynion IV on scripting duties, it's nice to see characters figure things out using something other than their fists - it's almost refreshing the way that Tynion makes Batman seem almost superfluous in this issue, as there's a clear boundary for what a vigilante can and cannot do.

It doesn't hurt that Mikel Janin is on board for the art, as well, getting more and more expressive every issue he turns in. Particularly when we watch Stephanie Brown blow some air out of her cheeks as she hides from her criminal father in a library, Janin is reminding me more and more of Kevin Maguire - and that's a good thing. His characters are very clean and broad, and while that doesn't necessarily lend the sort of nightmarish atmosphere we'd tend to expect in shadowy Gotham, it does provide a very accessible platform for readers. While this issue doesn't really provide much opportunity for Janin to display his action chops, he does have a nice moment as we watch Red Robin descend into his secret bunker with a cocky grin on his face.

That all said, Tynion and company have a good foundation to work on - now they just need to have a stronger hook to really make the product sing. To use The Dark Knight comparison from earlier, there's no Joker here to knock our socks off, and even Batman himself only gets a couple of panels (and even those are basically to add window dressing to other characters). There are no big set pieces here to grab our attention - and sorry, Janin doesn't quite sell the blowing up of a house to be any more exciting than how I'm describing it - and without one of those, it's easier to write off a book that bounces from character to character without any real release or catharsis.

Still, I have to give Batman Eternal credit where it's due, in the fact that this book has really been good at fleshing out Gotham as a character - something, I would argue, that Scott Snyder in particular has tried to do ever since he joined the Bat-books back on Detective Comics. With some strong art and a lot of ambition with its cast, Batman Eternal is definitely starting to shape up.

Credit: Image Comics

Southern Bastards #3
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's that old phrase, "speak softly, and carry a big stick." Southern Bastards #3 follows up on something like that, as Earl Tubb finds the infamous stick that his father beat people up with - and uses it on Coach Boss’s two main deputies as payback for Dusty Tutwiler’s murder. He offers himself to onlookers as a starting point for change in the way Craw County is run. No one comes over to his side, but at the end of the issue, Coach Boss’s guys cross a line that might change people’s minds. The story feels more allegorical than it did before. Even though the art is still evocative, it feels like the creators aren’t fully cutting us in on their own catharsis.

Jason Aaron and Jason Latour are a forceful team with story that would be alive without pictures and pictures that could tell a story without words. Latour makes the characters imposing and immediate with hands as expressive as faces, and faces so expressive you can hear how people talk from the way their lips pull away from their teeth. Aaron’s dialogue sounds like how people really talk. He doesn’t skimp on colorful dialect but his writing is clean and not at all hackneyed.

This team set my expectations high in the first issue when they were able to tightly piece together action and memory while also giving the story long moments to breathe. In the first issue, it was Dusty and Earl’s talking scenes at Boss BBQ that made me think this book would be a heavy hitter. Dusty was flawed and pathetic, but he engaged Earl with eye contact, earnestness, and a totally believable connection. Their interaction felt so real and small-town, down to every subtle detail, that I credited Aaron and Latour with a deftness that’s gone missing now that Dusty is dead.

In Southern Bastards #3, the physical confrontations keep rolling in as Aaron and Latour deepen the sense that Earl, his dead father and the county are an unholy trinity. There’s no way to know where one begins and the other ends. With Dusty gone, it’s starting to feel like we are dealing with symbols instead of human beings. Earl is still a stranger to us. Earl’s memory of his father is a mirror image of himself. The county is painted as mawkishly evil, and we don’t see the real lives of its people. We can enjoy watching some crooked goons get whaled on by a righteous old man, but we’re still left out of a closed system made up of two ciphers and a caricature.

At the pace we are learning about Earl, I don’t think we will ever know him. We know he left for war, never wanted to come back, and feels he repeated his father’s mistakes. That was all easily implied and easily believed from the beginning of this story. Earl was gone from Craw County for four whole decades and we don’t get to see who he tried to be, or what identity got stripped away once he was back in the county. We only see Earl’s irises once in issue #3 and his one-sided conversation with somebody’s voicemail just reminds us of his lack of connection with anyone, including us.

Southern Bastards doesn’t have to be just a tall tale or an awesome spectacle. It could be more. The story isn’t that far-fetched; small towns get this dark. But it’s not scary unless we can see who is scared and why. I think Aaron and Latour are capable of showing us Craw County in a way that would make this story as personal to us as it is to them. They have said their comic book is influenced by Southern literature, and I think it has the potential to be Southern literature.

Credit: Dynamite

Doctor Spektor #2
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Neil Edwards, Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

While the first issue of Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult reinvented the character as an occult investigator turned reality television star and media mogul, this second issue packs in the paranormal activity and hops around even more than the last issue did. There are some enjoyably disturbing elements to the zigging and zagging, but at the end of the day it’s a bit frenetic. Beneath the noise, this issue emphasizes relationships and makes the title character more likable, but forgettable art bogs down the writing and keeps this from feeling like a great comic.

Despite the wild, psychedelic covers of Christian Ward, the interior art by Neil Edwards is much less adventurous. Sometimes it even feels apathetic. Maybe the team was going for a noir look because of the detective aspect of the story, but it looks bland instead of classic. The way Edwards draws Adam Spektor doesn’t suggest depth or mystery. Spektor’s small-nosed, even-featured prettiness recurs across the other characters’ faces, and everyone in the story has the same eyebrows. The lack of detail in the backgrounds of the panels seems less like an aesthetic decision and more like Edwards just didn’t bother to put any detail in. Jordan Boyd’s dark, flat colors further drain the panels of vitality.

Waid and Edwards do work together well to lay out a complicated story clearly. Two issues in, the plot is basically all twists. The gist is that Adam Spektor is having a paranormal, transdimensional existential crisis so ornate that it is dragging the people closest to him into its vortex. The source of the madness is the mystery that the story lays out, with some office politics thrown in.

With multiple versions of people and reality, the story still cuts back and forth easily. Simple time labeling (“Now” or “55 minutes ago”), the presence or absence of a raincoat, and a timeshift denoted by faded coloring all help (although the faded coloring also adds to the impression of dullness I mentioned earlier). Mostly, I think Waid is just good at picking his moments to switch, and uses dialogue to orient us without being clunky about it.

The best thing about the second issue is that Adam Spektor gets easier to take. In the first issue, he just seemed like a slick, self-centered guy who was having a bad time. My lack of sympathy deepened when Abby was recruited to be the loyal help meet to his troubled genius. But in the second issue, Adam Spektor gets so thoroughly rocked by life that I started to like him more. A glimpse into a possible future for he and Abby as an old married couple made me look at their work relationship as the rocky beginning of something that could be good. So far it’s a bit of a watered-down Tony Stark and Pepper Potts pairing: He’s a snarky mogul who takes her for granted, and she’s an organized redhead who will be the best thing that ever happened to him. Their partnership has a spark to it, and it is interesting to watch them bond over their co-worker Lenny, who may or may not be dead.

Despite the lackluster art and the feeling of being pummeled by plot points, I still want to know what happens next in Doctor Spektor. At this point the crazy new occurrences cancel each other out and the story feels like it’s treading water. If Waid can handle his own tangled puzzle, he needs to give us the feeling that we’re moving in a clear direction in future issues.

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