Best Shots Comic Reviews: GRAYSON #1, THOR AND LOKI #1, More

Interior from Grayson #1
Credit: DC Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for some reviews? Best Shots has your back! So let's kick off with today's edition, as we take a look at the first issue of Grayson...

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 David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The name's Grayson. Dick Grayson. And he's DC Comics' latest superspy.

With the Batman's belfry getting a little overcrowded with proteges past and present, I can understand how DC has chafed a little at Dick Grayson's presence, particularly when you have Jason, Tim, Damian, Barbara, Kate and Stephanie all in the mix, too. But comic book continuity abhors a vacuum, and the outcry following Dick's death would be both understandable and overwhelming.

The solution? Keep the character, see where else he might fit. And thus far, I think the character's inherent likability - not to mention some striking artwork from Mikel Janin - makes this a decent launchpad for a very different spin on Nightwing.

Tim Seeley and Tom King's plot wisely keeps the navel-gazing and monologing to a minimum, throwing Grayson right into the thick of things, just where he belongs. Our hero is a showman, first and foremost, and it's refreshing to see someone really enjoying their jobs - if not the mission of clandestine organization Spyral, at least the methodology. Seeley also supplements the acrobatics and fisticuffs with a little bit of Spyral technology, including mind-altering "hypno" implants and paralytic agents dropped into someone's wine. It's these small touches that really help differentiate Dick Grayson from his other Bat-peers, giving him a modus operandi that helps him stand on his own two feet, rather than just being "another" Bat-book.

The other fun thing about this book is the supporting cast. Helena Bertinelli is a seductive foil for our by-the-books hero, a seasoned espionage agent as opposed to Dick's comparatively happy-go-lucky mentality. (It's also interesting how Dick is always drawn towards characters that inherently have their act together more than him.) And - spoilers ahoy - the enemy that Seeley pits Grayson against is a smart twist. I hope that the Midnighter will continue to go head-to-head against Grayson, as he both flirts with the Internet's sexiest superhero while also trying to take his head off.

But for all my talk about Tim Seeley, the real superstar of this book is artist Mikel Janin. I love the smoothness of his lines, reminding me a bit of artists like Barry Kitson or John Cassaday. Janin's action beats are the best parts of the book, like the way he breaks up a six-panel page where Midnighter blocks a punch, Grayson counters with a left hook, and Midnighter responds with a viscious headbutt. Of course, there is still room for Janin to grow - I don't think he quite has Grayson's acrobatics down yet, as there is a ton of unused space above our hero. (It's also a slight misstep from colorist Jeromy Cox, who "strobes" Grayson's tumbling with red, making the afterimages difficult to make out.) Yet Janin really gives this book its identity, particularly making pages with the telltale "Spyral effect" look groovy and dangerous.

Sometimes you need to do something completely different to get out of a rut. Grayson is a prime example. I don't think anything about Dick Grayson as a character screams "secret agent," but he does possess a certain malleability with his skill sets that makes him a fun protagonist to read no matter what his setting. Combine that with some strong supporting characters, a fun mystery driving the plot, and some superb artwork, and Grayson's first mission is a resounding success.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin: Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #1
Written by Jason Aaron and Al Ewing
Art by Lee Garbett, Simone Bianchi and Nolan Woodard
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Remember Fear Itself?

Stay with me, I’m making a point.

Fear Itself, the underrated and quite insane Marvel summer event of 2011, yielded a glut of crossovers that ranged from the great (Cloak and Dagger! The Deep!) to the forgettable (Fear Itself: Spider-Man). Original Sin reminds me a great deal of Fear Itself. It's an insane comic book event and it has yielded a great deal of crossovers that have dipped into current titles as well as offering tie-in miniseries. Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm is one such miniseries. It is a mini that aims just a bit higher than your normal, run-of-the-mill crossover. Al Ewing and Jason Aaron, Marvel’s current Asgardian scribes, aim to not only tell a compelling story with Tumblr’s favorite brothers since Supernatural, but they also aim to find a place for Marvel’s recently debuted angelic superstar, Angela. While this first issue is very much a first issue, it still offers an interesting hook that should entice regular readers of the solo Loki and Thor titles to give it a look.

The Tenth Realm #1 reveals exactly where Thor went after the Orb's detonation of secrets over in Original Sin. Thor promptly soars into the chambers of the All-Mother to demand answers; his head filled with images of war, death, and a secret realm of warriors, long since sealed off by his father. Al Ewing, already a deft hand as Asgardian hijinks over on Loki: Agent of Asgard, throws himself into the scripting of Thor, working off a great launchpad from Jason Aaron. Thor is looking for a big win not only after the reveal of the Tenth Realm, but after the devastating events of the last arc of God of Thunder, giving the self-righteousness that Thor displays an extra layer of melancholy underneath. Thor has a sister, and she lives - Seven Hells, he is going to find her to die trying! Ewing also makes this a true crossover by quickly pairing Thor off with Loki, who is also still reeling from recent events in his own solo title. It is always fun to see Thor and Loki palling around together, but Ewing couples the fun banter with the emotions that these men are feeling underneath. Ewing pairs them together as equals instead of rivals, which has been done to death both in comics and on the big screen. This makes for a compelling, if not a bit talky, first issue.

Handling the visuals for the majority The Tenth Realm #1 is Agent of Asgard wunderkind Lee Garbett accompanied by the rich colors of Nolan Woodard and a striking two page splash by mini-series co-artist Simone Bianchi. While the A-Ha t-shirt that Garbett drew Thor wearing in the pages of Agent of Asgard was great, it is even better to see him really dig into drawing Thor and his glorious exploits. His emotive style fits Thor like a glove as he displays all the power and vulnerability that we love seeing from the big galoot. Thor displays a wide range of emotion in The Tenth Realm #1 and Garbett handles it all very well. Thor displays shock, righteous anger, and majesty all in the span of a few pages and every panel works. Lee Garbett is quickly establishing himself as one of Marvel’s new rising stars. Rising along with him is colorist Nolan Woodard, who gives The Tenth Realm a rich and eclectic color pallet. The battle between the hosts of Asgard and the forces of the Tenth Realm are colors with a shimmering gold and pale pink, highlighting the strangeness of the secret realm. I feel confident recommending this book to fans of Agent of Asgard just for them to see Garbett and a colorist cut completely loose.

Crossovers can been forgettable at best and frustrating at worst. That said, Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #1 aims to be that rare crossover that transcends the huge title card that its cover carries and tells a story that feels like a compelling extension of the titles it branches from. Al Ewing and Jason Aaron infuse just enough of their own work from their respective solo titles to make this debut issue feel more than a sum of its own parts. While The Tenth Realm doesn’t wow like the solo titles it springs from, it still offers an entertaining tale of two brothers going on a strange adventure all in the name of family. Now all we have to do is wait until Loki screws it up.

Credit: DC Comics

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Justin Partidge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

If you read criticism of serialized television, you will notice a certain term that seems to repeat. The term is “table setting,” a device utilized in adaptations like Game of Thrones and highly serialized dramas. It basically means that certain episodes exist only to service what comes before. The action of “table setting” episodes are usually sparse, and don’t really aim to propel the plot forward as such. They aim to shift the characters and actions into place solely for the purpose of payoff further down the line in the series; as if seating them and the plot at a table in precise positions. American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 is one of these table-setting episodes in the form of a rollicking comic. Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuerque, and Davd McCaig are still playing their cards close to their chest, yet seem dedicating to delivering a gorgeous-looking yarn filled with teasing hints and wonderful character moments.

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 opens with a teasing glimpse at the cruelty of the Grey Trader, this arc’s big bad, in 1811. Snyder then quickly snaps back to present day (the 1960's) picking up with the last issue’s cliffhanger of Pearl’s home for wayward vampires under attack by some sort of Vamprnado, which sounds just as horrifying as you think. American Vampire has always been one of most serialized offerings from Vertigo Comics, and Scott Snyder continues this cable TV-drama style four issues deep into Second Cycle. Snyder deploys bits and pieces of Lost style hints, secrets and flashbacks throughout Second Cycle #4 that shift the narrative into a place of either payoff or further tension, which more than makes up for the real lack of action in this issue. Here the characters, looming dread of the new threat, and the narrative are the stars in the place of set pieces. While Scott Snyder delivers yet another inventive horror moment with the twister made up of a disturbing new breed of vampire, he seems to have much more fun reuniting Pearl and Skinner and displaying Pearl’s fiercely protective spirit in the face of terror. This is a human drama that just happens to be about vampires.

Adding visual drama to Second Cycle #4 is the amazing art team of Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig who give American Vampire their all month after month. Albuquerque and McCaig consistently deliver one of Vertigo’s signature looking books. American Vampire more than fits the description of an “auteur book” as the art style and scripting bears a close resemblance to the first issues of the previous volume. Albuquerque draws Pearl as same woman we met in Issue #1, yet she is hardened and shaped by the tragedy and horror she has endured. The same goes for Skinner Sweet, now a scarred and haunted old gunslinger. Rafael Albuquerque draws Second Cycle as if not a moment has passed between this volume and previous one. If this was your first taste of the American Vampire title, you would never know there was a lengthy hiatus in the middle of the series. Second Cycle #4 looks precisely like every other issue of American Vampire drawn by Albuquerque and colored by McCaig; gorgeous.

This brings me back to the point about cable television dramas. American Vampire strikes me as one of the next great creator driven serialized comics, like Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man before it. Think about it, we are four issues deep into Second Cycle and it hasn’t lost much, if any, of the spark of the previous volumes. Snyder has deepened the already rich cast of characters, as well as working well with the new 60's setting. Albuquerque and McCaig haven’t lost a step in delivering beautiful and terrifying visuals. This creative team is doing things that some writers and directors dream of doing; they are delivering a consistent and compelling narrative, month to month. Television aims to refine it’s style and narrative as seasons go on, but in the mercurial climate of comics, we rarely get singular and prolonged artistic statements. Thankfully, in the recent market, titles that fit this description are starting to thrive and be noticed thanks to a receptive readership. American Vampire: Second Cycle is one of those titles. Issue #4 of this current volume looks and reads exactly like the issues that were published in 2010, and that is more than worth your attention.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man 100th Anniversary #1
Written by Sean Ryan
Art by In-Hyuk Lee
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

With its 100th Anniversary specials, Marvel has an interesting dichotomy on its hands - namely, to put out books that feel revolutionary enough to take place 25 years from now, while also holding true to the spirit of the comics that came out all those years ago. With the 100th Anniversary of Spider-Man, Sean Ryan nails the latter more than the former. In certain ways, it feels almost like a mathematical equation, in the fact that the conclusion looks correct, even if it lacks that narrative spin to keep us interested.

To his credit, Ryan cheekily starts off this issue as "Part Eight" of an arc called "Great Power," in which the Kingpin takes over a "Techno-Symbiote" suit to do battle with our friendly neighborhood web-slinger. What Ryan gets right - at least in the embryonic stage - is the idea of having too much power. But it's all implied here, as the actual meat of the storyline turns into a metaphor about luddites versus technophiles - there's a clever beat where Ryan reveals that no one in New York City knows where north is anymore, since they have automatic cars that do their thinking for them, but it's just a hint of worldbuilding rather than something really satisfying. Without that nod to humanity's overreliance on technology, this could be any other Spider-Man/Venom fight, and that makes this comic a little underwhelming.

Artist In-Hyuk Lee has the right tone for this somewhat bleak future world, although he doesn't quite have the design chops to really seal the deal. Like the story itself, Lee doesn't really do anything to make this new Venom seem very different than the previous one, relying on the standard big muscles/big teeth design that has informed the character for 25 (!) years now. That said, Lee does excel in the action department, especially considering that Spider-Man isn't even in costume this entire issue. There's a great beat where Lee has Peter running along a wall, dodging searchlights and exploding helicopters with gusto. One could easily accuse Ryan of padding his comic with silent action, but Lee winds up saving the day.

What's so fascinating to me about this comic is that while Ryan's main story feels a bit lackluster, he absolutely nails the epilogue. Superhero stories like Spider-Man's have always been cyclical, and the fact that Ryan distills Peter's recurring arc of assuming his power and then, usually through tragedy, remembering his responsibility is a great way to make that "100th anniversary" feel even more poignant. Looking at the art from Lee reveals some even more heart-breaking details, all of which feels like something we'd see in Spider-Man's bittersweet future.

In the case of the Fantastic Four 100th Anniversary, Jen Van Meter essentially created her own new team, tying into the Marvel mythology and adding something new to stand alongside those titans of yesteryear. Maybe that's some metacommentary, considering how much stuggle there has been to make the FF really sing the past 10 or 20 years. Peter Parker, however, is still a popular, bankable, unkillable brand - but when you're really only doing one issue of a hypothetical future series, why not go totally crazy? Why not take Spider-Man to places we've never even seen before? Ultimately, this comic's heart is in the right place, but - perhaps like Peter Parker himself - this book doesn't quite have the imagination to take that potential as far as it can go.

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 Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

There’s a great line in this book from Deadshot that reads, “Now? Now I don’t know what’s going on.” Well I agree with you completely, Floyd. I don’t know what’s going on either.

I did, however, manage to glean something from this first issue of the Suicide Squad reboot. First and foremost, Amanda Waller (bless her) no longer heads the group. She has instead been replaced by an ambitious, ginger-haired individual by the name of Victor Sage (Whose name of course brings up its own... Question): young, hip and apparently more in tune with what the people want to see. What the people want to see, according to Mr. Sage, is a different team, so he rearranges the roster to make it as confusing as possible. Now we have not one but two psychotic women whose lives revolve around their obsessions with the Joker, two highly skilled assassins whose names both begin with references to death and, last but certainly not least, Black Manta, who is, well, just kind of there.

I don’t understand why this particular group was formed or how they could ever function successfully as a unit. Amanda Waller doesn’t understand that, either. Deadshot doesn’t even understand what purpose he serves on the team — he voices as much. Harley and “the girl” (seriously, can someone give her a proper name?) are at each other’s throats before the first mission briefing can even commence. Deathstroke feels that he’s above the rest of the group. Black Manta is… just Black Manta, I guess. It’s a mess of a team with no redeeming qualities that I have a hard time believing could ever evolve or grow together, given the unfortunate set of personalities and behavioral issues it has to deal with, and the gimmick of conflict gets tiresome 10 pages in. There is no real comic relief, either, so this comic really boils down to a mix of major and minor league bad guys blowing things up under the guise of government direction.

There is a painful lack of diversity in the lineup, with character tropes repeated to a point where the comic itself acknowledges the flaw. Joker’s Daughter, especially, seems out of place. What exactly does a teenager with anger issues contribute alongside a number of established super-villains and mercenaries? How on earth did she manage to pull a Mountain and crush a man’s skull with her fist? At this point, it just feels like she’s been injected into the book to force a sense of purpose and relevance in DC’s universe. I’d much rather have King Shark back.

Even with the worst team, an interesting mission would have served to at least partially redeem the book’s faults, but we’re not offered that either. It’s not a do-or-die mad dash to save a baby or take down an important target, but rather the vague instruction of “go mess with the Russians because they’re getting cocky. Maybe steal some secrets and off their huge oil CEO while you’re there.” Again, this essentially leads to a montage of everyone charging a building with machine guns and explosives in tow without any substance that would compel a reader to pick up the next issue. There are only so many Michael Bay-style visuals we can take before a comic becomes boring.

On the topic of visuals, the art isn’t especially enjoyable. Roberts doesn’t render movement very well, a skill that would have been incredibly useful in a title that seems to rely on action over plot. The characters look like they’re posing instead of actually engaging in combat, for example, and males have traditionally refrigerator-shaped bodies that reference an old-school, and not necessarily flattering, style. Expressions also seem limited to line-heavy faces of consternation or smugness, which combined with the aforementioned limitations give scenes a very '90s-esque vibe. Deadshot’s chest pouches didn’t help.

All in all, this was a strange book. While it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever read, the cast of characters, art and general storyline make it hard to see any potential in future issues. I’ll be honest and say that the only redeeming quality was the very end, if only because I desperately hope those Rocket Reds will actually do some damage to this ridiculous team.

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