Best Shots Comic Reviews: GRAYSON #1, DAREDEVIL #5, More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Grayson #1 cover
Grayson #1 cover
Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #1
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After Nightwing’s disappointing conclusion, a new series starring Dick Grayson devoid of traditional superheroics seemed risky. After all, what would the former Boy Wonder do when removed from Batman’s supporting cast or the familiar cityscapes of New York or Gotham? Then the cover of issue #1 was revealed, and Bruce Wayne shed a single tear over his former partner wielding a gun. A gun! DC could take away Superman’s briefs, but Dick Grayson holding a gun? The audacity! But Tim Seeley and Tom King make this one work. By taking Dick out of his familiar locale, they allow the character to step out of Batman’s shadow and forge his own path.

The superspy genre doesn’t suit everyone, but for Dick Grayson it makes a lot of sense. He’s been expertly trained and he has no powers, so automatically he’ll be at a disadvantage against superpowered threats. It’s not really a change from his dynamic as Robin or Nightwing, but working in strange places removes the possibility that Batwoman or Batgirl or Red Robin might show up to help out. Seeley and King go full tilt with the Mission Impossible/James Bond approach, complete with disguises, enemy agents and illicit dealings. But just because it’s a clandestine mission doesn’t mean that Grayson doesn’t get his punches in. There’s plenty of action to go along with Grayson’s more subtle dealings from fighting on top of a train, dealing with some super powered cargo and the appearance of a rather unexpected member of the DC Universe. (Kudos to Seeley and King for the clever inclusion.) Through it all, a familiar Dick Grayson is present. Now that he’s not bogged down by a dreadfully boring supporting cast, he’s getting the chance to (forgive the pun) spread his wings. Seeley and King stick close to what we’ve always known about Dick: he’s a pretty great crime-fighter all on his own and significantly more fun because he doesn’t have all of Bruce’s hang-ups. And they deliver that in spades.

Concept is just as important as execution with most debut issues and Dick’s connection to Spyral quickly takes on a life of it’s own. Within one issue, Seeley and King put together a fun little one-and-done mission but raise much larger questions about Dick’s involvement, his partner and his employer. Spyral has always been a bit of a morally dubious organization, and here we’re given glimpses of the direction that the writers want to go. And it’s an effective bait that isn’t too over-the-top and has clear stakes. Dick Grayson will never fully get away from the superhero set, but you don’t need to separate him entirely to do something new with him. The angle that Seeley and King take here could have lasting implications across the DCU and that makes Grayson even more exciting.

But all of this great work would be for naught without the sublime artwork of Mikel Janin. The artist cut his teeth on Justice League Dark at the launch of the New 52, and those readers were treated to an exciting mix of clear storytelling ability, extremely strong character renderings and a knack for dramatic flair. Janin draws some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen in a while and the best part is that he plays to the strengths of his characters. Dick Grayson’s highly acrobatic style is contrasted with the others that he encounters and it makes the fight scenes much more effective. On some level, Janin’s style is akin to Steve McNiven’s. There’s a premium placed on efficient linework and panel design. Plus the characters maintain incredible consistency in both expressions and anatomy throughout the issue despite different a myriad of different looks. Janin’s a star, and anyone who doubted it before would be remiss to pass on this one.

Grayson is off to an excellent start. A strong narrative vision, couple with good character work, a refreshing change of scenery and a great visual style make it a clear cut winner and already one of DC’s better books. Hopefully, the creative team can really up the ante in the coming months but judging from the early goings, that should be a problem. Seeley and King have done a great job bouncing back from their issue of Nightwing and are poised to have even more success than that book did. Mikel Janin is only just beginning to show us what he can do and that’s a scary thought. Look out, All-New Marvel Now!, Grayson might be the breakout hit of the summer.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #5
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Sometimes it's hard to be a comics fan.

Weeks like this really put it into perspective. You've got people calling for Rick Remender's head on a plate because of a scene in Captain America. You've got crossovers and creative team switch-ups and relaunches that often lead to disappointment or, if we're lucky, just diminishing returns. You've got creators and corporations fighting over rights and royalties, you've got rewrites on Ant-Man and delays on Star Wars, and heaven help you if you actually read the comment section of a comic book site! With all that hitting you, week after week, sometimes it's hard to get yourself excited about what's coming out in stores on a bright summer Wednesday morning.

And that's why I'm thankful for books like Daredevil #5.

Because they remind me, at the end of the day, exactly what I love about this industry. This is a comic that doesn't just have the high-flying action of a superhero book (although it does have that in spades). It's not about expressive, exciting art (although Chris Samnee definitely delivers on that score). This comic ultimately is about friends helping out friends, providing a brighter, more optimistic, ultimately kinder story.

From the first masterful two pages, Waid's central concept is a good one - how Daredevil faked the death of his best friend, Foggy Nelson. Since his cancer diagnosis last year, Foggy has evoked some of the most visceral cliffhangers of Waid's run on the book - and with this change in status, Waid has been slowly incorporating a very relatable story. What would you do a superhero, watching your best friend get sicker and sicker? If he wasn't just betrayed by his body, but betrayed by your crusade, a target for any criminal organization out to stick it to the Man Without Fear?

In the case of Mark Waid - and perhaps more importantly, Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez - to go against the grain, and inject a little bit of light into what could easily be the most depressing of depressing Daredevil storylines. Waid never lingers too long on the side effects of Foggy's chemotherapy, and Samnee and Rodriguez wisely place Foggy and Matt into a bright afternoon at Central Park, rather than a moody sunset or a claustrophobic night. But Foggy's concern and frustration is apparent, and with good reason - he's not just uncertain about Matt's shaky plan to fake his death and move him to San Francisco to continue his cancer treatment unmolested, but he's uncertain about his future. "Who's even gonna notice?" Foggy says. You can't help but feel for him.

And that's when Waid kicks it into high gear. Having worked in comics for as long as he has, Waid has a real encyclopedic knowledge of all of Marvel's most random characters - but his real gift lies in putting a nice new spin on these lackluster losers from yesteryear. It also doesn't hurt that he has one of the best visual storytellers in the business executing his scripts. Samnee's designs for the villain really steal the show here, as he tears through trees, buildings and parked cars with so much glorious shrapnel it's hard to take it all in. What's also great about Samnee is the way he lays out his pages and panel compositions, so that every page has one (or sometimes even two) strong focus panels, even when he's cramming together six- and sevenl-panel pages. And Samnee's expressiveness never falters, whether it's seeing all the weight Foggy has lost, or the smile on Matt's face when he pulls a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Seriously, I needed a comic like this. Daredevil #5 straddles a great balance - it's uplifting without being totally unrealistic, and there's just the right mix of bitter and sweet to tell a story not just about continuity gymnastics, but about the all-too-human struggle a member of the Marvel Comics family is undertaking. It's gravy that there's a giant robot and superheroics in the mix. But seeing a story with writing this perfect and art this solid makes you stop and think. It helps put things in perspective. It reminds us why we opened up these funnybooks in the first place. And I think it's the kind of story I think this business could use a lot more of.

Credit: DC Comics

New Suicide Squad #1
Written by Sean Ryan
Art by Jeremy Roberts and Blond
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

The Suicide Squad, or the even more exploitative and awesome-sounding Task Force X, is one of DC's blockbuster concepts. A group of semi-reformed villains are taken off the grid by the U.S. government and sent on intensely dangerous missions in order to gain their freedom if they survive long enough. As Sage says in this very issue, “You couldn’t screw this thing up even if you tried.” This isn’t true in the slightest. New Suicide Squad #1 is a monumental screw-up. This debut issue stays true to the core concept and the ever-shifting nature of the roster, yet offers a tone-deaf story with bland, almost banal characterizations.

New Suicide Squad #1 opens with a teasing flash forward of this new team in action against Russian police, which Sean Ryan quickly cuts away from, downshifting the momentum and settling into an introduction to the team’s new handler, Victor Sage - a familiar name that I can't imagine won't get some follow-up soon. Sage, an unrepentant douche, is New Suicide Squad’s sole bright spot - Ryan writes Sage as a swaggering, preening corporate climber who instantly sets about dismantling the team and replacing them with edgier, deadlier new members, like Joker’s Daughter and Black Manta. Sean Ryan and Sage seem to be all about chasing the audience of the mid-'90s with this team. Surely if it worked then, it should work now, right? Dead wrong. Ryan really never gives the team much personality to distinguish them as separate members of a team. Yes, Deadshot is the slacker/jokester of the group, Deathstroke is the bullish quasi-leader, Harley and Joker’s Daughter are relegated to a cat fight as to who the Joker loved more, while Black Manta just really stands around and holds up a wall, being textbook enigmatic. They are five characters in search of a personality beyond their garish costumes. At least Sage as a spark of arrogance behind his eyes - no such luck for Task Force X.

As Sage sets about building and road-testing his new, hip team, he sends them on a mission into Moscow in order to recover the specs for a top-secret project the Russians are working on and to destroy the floor in which the research and top Russian officials are housed. This is a ridiculous enough mission for the Squad to tackle, even though it makes almost no sense, tactically. Sage oversees this mission with Amanda Waller at his side from the confines of Belle Reve. The New 52's treatment of Amanda Waller has been hard enough and New Suicide Squad #1 offers no real upswing in terms of her characterization. She seems to only exist to keep the lights on at Belle Reve, get talked down to by Sage, and remind readers that the new members don’t have the regulatory explosives implanted in their necks, like the original members of the team. Sean Ryan gives us a script that reads like a bad cover band sounds. Sure the lyrics are correct, but the feeling is long since gone.

Offering clunky, yet serviceable pencils is Jeremy Roberts, supported by colors by Blond. Roberts and Blond do what they can with the tin-eared script from Ryan, but still, the characters seem stilted. Roberts stages the final concurrent scenes (Waller and Sage in her office and the assault on the Russian federal building) with alternating panel sizes; the fight in wider, cinematic panels and the conversation in thinner, compacted panels. While this visual shifting adds a bit of forward momentum to the book, which it sorely lacks in the opening pages, the fight comes across as muddled, while the conversation gets the lion’s share of the intended urgency. It is a jarringly weird climax for the issue. The fight itself is told in drips instead of a deluge of visual storytelling. Roberts delivers one neat little panel transition involving Harley tossing a grenade up and hitting it with her trusty baseball bat, giving us a jolt of exciting action as well as a flair of personality from Quinn. Sadly, Roberts's stilted and needlessly sparse action panels drag the final pages back down again. These jagged scenes do lead up to a truly goofy and awesome final page cliffhanger, but much of what proceeds rarely wows or elicits much visceral fun.

Most times the Suicide Squad, much like Parker Lewis, can’t lose. We, as readers, can’t get enough of anti-heroes. The Suicide Squad has always been a team made up of volatile A-personalities who have to learn how to survive together. New Suicide Squad #1 isn’t a team, it's isn't even a time bomb - it's just mediocre. Sean Ryan and Jeremy Roberts have plenty of time to right the ship and could quite possibly offer us a second issue next month that garners a metric ton of goodwill back, doing justice to the characters and giving readers an entertaining entry into the Suicide Squad canon. But New Suicide Squad #1 is neither entertaining or true to the characters it portrays. This is New Coke X when you asked for real cane sugar Dr. Pepper. Sage may think that you couldn’t mess this up if you tried - he's just lucky he doesn’t have to read his own comic.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #29
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen, Marte Garcia, Jason Keith and Wade Von Grawbadger
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The X-Men has always been about family. And while the X-Men, and mutantkind as a whole, has explored a multitude of issues in stories throughout their history - issues like identity, gender, sexual orientation, and poverty - the main theme and through-line that always comes to the surface in X-Men stories is the theme of bonding together as something more than just a team of superheroes. They protect one another much like a tight-knit family would, they bicker and scream at each other like families do, but above all, they accept each other, faults and all, like a perfect family would. All-New X-Men #29 finally gives us this new All-New line-up its defining issue as a family and it is a joy to behold.

All-New X-Men #29 finds our fresh-faced team finally turning the tide against Xavier, Jr. and his nefarious Future Brotherhood, who we have learned may not be as nefarious as we once assumed. Brian Michael Bendis, a deft hand at team books, slams the pedal down from the opening scene and never lets up until the last page. Bendis presents us X-23 and Young Jean as the real heavy-hitters that we all know that they are, as they decimate Xavier, Jr. both physically and mentally. Bendis has been slowly ratcheting up Jean’s power levels from the start, allowing her moments of vulnerability and triumph in equal measure. Now in All-New X-Men #29 we get a huge hero moment for Jean as well as Laura fully accepting her place on the team after a shaky start. The All-New X-Men have slowly but surely established themselves as formidable team, but Bendis clearly wants Jean and Laura to be two heavy hitters, which, let’s face it, is their rightful place on a super team.

Bendis also uses this issue to mine a bit of pathos from the newly freed members of Xavier, Jr.’s rag-tag Brotherhood. After Xavier and Raze are defeated, his minions are freed from their mental control, and are justifiably angry and horrified at their own actions against their race. It is an unlikely bit of emotional territory to explore, but Bendis handles it with grace, instead of a heavy hand. These panels are few, but effective. Bendis also can’r resist playing a classically Uncanny story trope, as Xavier, Jr. writes a letter to his future self as he sits in a S.H.I.E.L.D. cell. It is exactly the kind of Claremontian jiggery-pokery that I have come to love and expect from All-New X-Men. While Uncanny X-Men has the market for ponderous and self-serious X-Men stories cornered, All-New X-Men #29 is another high velocity, slightly goofy, yet highly readable entry into the series.

While Bendis has been firing on all cylinders with his scripts for All-New X-Men, it is the team of Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia that make this comic a must-buy month after month. The funny thing is that All-New X-Men #29 isn’t even this team’s best issue of the series to date. That said, #29 is still a visual feast, page after page. Immonen’s anime-like panel construction, coupled with the lush colors of Garcia and guest colorist Jason Keith, topped off with the heavily defined lines of Von Grawbadger make All-New X-Men look better than some movies produced this summer. Immonen really doesn’t break the mold here visually, though he plays with point of view once beautifully with a shot of the X-Men and Brotherhood almost suspended in mid-air, going upwards as they fight, but #29 shows that this art team is capable of amazing things even when they aren’t shooting for the moon, which they have hit on more than one occasion.

Though the Fantastic Four has taken the moniker of “Marvel’s First Family,” the X-Men is and will always been synonymous with family when I think of Marvel. After many shaky first encounters and initial friction between members it seems that the New Xavier’s School has finally become the family that we all knew they could be. All-New X-Men #29 finally presents us as an audience a firm ground for the characters to grow from leading into future issues. The All-New X-Men have been proven in battle, time and time again, but now they have proven themselves to be something much more powerful than a super-team going forward - they are finally a singular family unit.

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