Best Shots Comic Reviews: HAWKEYE #19, SANDMAN: OVERTURE #3, More

Marvel previews for July 30, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Hawkeye #19
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and David Aja
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's been almost five months since we last saw Clint and his brother Barney, bloody and unconscious on their apartment building floor. This week's Hawkeye deals with the aftermath of those injuries, as the bros Barton figure out their new roles as deaf and wheelchair-bound, respectively. Released just a few weeks after writer Matt Fraction announced that he is currently writing his last script for the series, one has to wonder what the future holds for Earth's greatest sharpshooter.

The driving force behind much of this issue seems to be getting Clint to acknowledge his brother's attempts to sign to him, and accepting that he needs some help. There are flashbacks to their childhood where we see that Clint has been through this before, so it's all the more galling that it's happening again. He is laid very low by this turn of events, prompting Barney to try pushing him in the right direction with signs like, "Shower today, maybe?" In the Barton tradition, everything comes together towards the end after the two punch each other a bit. Such lovable scamps.

Critiquing the writing of a book written mostly in ASL panels and sentence fragments is problematic. Fraction certainly did a great job of laying out the script for artist David Aja to work with. The pacing is on point, the story is interesting, and the issue gives readers a chance to put themselves into the shoes of a deaf character. This is the kind of original, thoughtful writing and brilliant visual story execution that makes this creative team one of the best in the industry. They set themselves apart by approaching the story with a wide scope, and then narrowing the focus to one thing, throwing it into sharp relief. This time is was sign language, and it has previously been seen in Pizza Dog, a DVR player, Winter Friends, etc. How a story with so many disparate elements can come together so smoothly is truly a credit to these creators.

As promised in the solicitations, there is little dialogue in this issue, and quite a bit of sign language. Having at one time been a student of ASL myself, I was really looking forward to seeing how the creative team handled this. Drawing signs correctly is very hard to do, and I imagine working them smoothly into the context of a story is even more difficult. Aja really shows his drawing chops with these panels, with precise representations of both the alphabet and full ASL. The language relies heavily on facial expressions and extra body movements for tone and inflection, and it was heartening to see that they were both given due diligence. As always, the rest of the comic is rendered beautifully and the colors by Matt Hollingsworth are a perfect counterpoint to the mood of the visuals.

This book has been a consistently great read since the first issue. Fraction and Aja are a creative powerhouse, and with Hawkeye #11 recently winning an Eisner for best single issue, they've got the awards to prove it. Here's to hoping that, despite Fraction working on the series' final script, it's still a long way off.

Credit: DC Comics

Sandman: Overture #3
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

And then there were three.

Three Fates. Three adventurers. Three issues of Sandman: Overture. And it's clear that third time's the charm for Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III, as they weave together a dense, otherworldly chapter in Morpheus's quest to save the universe. Gaiman and Williams punctuate this story with tremendous bursts of imagination and world-building, but they also leaven their spectacle with some good, old-fashioned characterization. As armies from across time, space and imagination converge on the Prince of Stories, Gaiman and Williams deliver their finest chapter yet of Morpheus's latest adventures.

For those who haven't been paying attention, the first few pages might come as a shock, as Gaiman and Williams conjure up otherworldly armies with such electrifying artistry - aided by the superb colorwork of Dave Stewart - that it might almost be too intense for neophytes. But chances are, neophytes aren't getting into this series in the third issue, and in many ways, it almost feels like Gaiman is writing in a superheroic vibe rather than the literary vein that made the original Sandman so popular. Metal beetles, cancer barbarians, thunder warriors and the Green Lantern Corps set the stage for a battle that is sure to be cosmic.

But Gaiman quickly focuses his scale, and that's to this story's benefit. Perhaps the most charming thing about this portion of Sandman: Overture is that Gaiman is introducing more and more members to Morpheus's party. Last issue introduced the cat iteration of Dream - whose dynamic with the human Dream is a great way of showing the sparks that can go off with two very similar but also oh-so-slightly different takes on the same character - and now Gaiman has brought a more human, down-to-earth sidekick with Hope. Hope gets to ask all the questions that the rest of us might have, and in addition, the fact that the two Dreams are bringing a kid along automatically makes both characters much more likable and, more importantly, more understandable. Gaiman uses Hope's precociousness and curiosity to spin a short story about Morpheus's past, a tale of adventure and heartache that's shockingly effective, considering its short length.

Perhaps what makes this comic so evocative and so powerful is Williams's art. There's a surprising cohesiveness to his clashing, ever-evolving styles in this issue - everything comes together, but as you go from panel to panel, the individual tableaus really stand out. There's a sketchy, old-school vibe as Morpheus, Cat!Dream and Hope traverse an otherworldly desert, as Williams's panels shift and turn with the alien vegetation. Yet he also switches things up with a painterly style when Morpheus tells the story of his lost love, making a cosmic story of incoming war turn into, well, a fairy tale.

Now that Gaiman has laid out the groundwork for this war of the heavens, it's nice to see him take a more human focus, as Morpheus continues to attract allies for his quest. As a hero, Morpheus has always been constant, inscrutable - and for some, a bit of a boor. But by giving him very archetypical characters to join him, such as a strangely maternal beast and a cute, exposition-evoking child, there's something to be said for his steadiness. It's these supporting characters, not the fictional universe around them, that make Morpheus's plight suddenly much more compelling. Morpheus may be the bass note anchoring Sandman: Overture, but it's these new additions to the cast - and the masterful art that binds them - that make this comic sing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Cyclops #3
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Russell Dauterman and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's something magical about watching your kids grow up. And something equally as magic watching a comic book superstar explode off the page.

Was it only three months ago where Russell Dauterman blindsided everybody on a one-off issue of Nightwing? And only two weeks since it was announced that Dauterman would be taking over a heavily publicized Thor, complete with a brand-new female protagonist? It's always something to see the new "it" creator take the industry by storm, and Cyclops #4 is one hell of a platform for Marvel's next big artist to strut his stuff. Writer Greg Rucka does a great job at explaining the return of Corsair as he pens a bittersweet father-and-son road trip through space, but this comic - as long as he's on it - is Dauterman's, pure and simple.

Dauterman's style reminds me a little of Olivier Coipel with the page construction of Frank Quitely - his characters are clean and expressive, with a variety of different designs at play. (Seriously, the double-page spread with Scott recalling his trip with his father, takes a page out of the Brian Michael Bendis playbook and shows him how it should be done - lots of different creatures, bookended by some very telling details about the secrets Corsair is keeping.) Considering how this issue is actually just about Scott and Corsair - there's no enemies making an appearance here - Dauterman sure draws some action-packed sequences, with four pages devoted to a plane crash that are as potent and powerful as anything I've seen lately. For the last two pages, Rucka even dispenses with the dialogue entirely. He doesn't need it. In the hands of Dauterman, a picture says more than a thousand words.

With so many great visual beats in this comic, it's easy to forgive that storywise, well, this comic is actually pretty brief. That's not to say that it isn't worthwhile, however - it almost feels as an afterthought, the way that Rucka casually reveals so much of what we've been wondering about Corsair. Like, how did he come back from the dead? What's this mysterious drug that he keeps injecting himself with? And how does Cyclops see Corsair, considering how badly his dad failed his older, Phoenix-possessed modern-day counterpart? It's an info-dump, a lot of exposition, but because it's actually important to all these characters, it's more allowable to have these more sweeping monologues. There's no special tricks to how Rucka delivers this information - like any father and son chat, it's straightforward and to the point. It doesn't mean it's not heartfelt.

There's a countdown at the end of this comic, and in a lot of ways, it made me think about the countdown this series has before it changes hands. Dauterman is continuing his ascent to the A-list with Thor, while Rucka takes a bow to get back to his novels. While John Layman is just as smart a writer as Rucka, I'll admit that this title won't feel the same without the talents of Dauterman to surprise and enthrall us.

It's kind of like watching your child growing up - it's absolutely wonderful, but it doesn't last forever. So we better enjoy it while it lasts.

Credit: DC Comics

Bodies #1
Written by Si Spencer
Art by Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay, Phil Winslade and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Vertigo Comics has long since been the benchmark of what I enjoy to read as a comic fan. I remember taking a chance once on a weird little book called The Vinyl Underground, and nothing was ever the same for me and my reading habits again. Now Si Spencer roars back onto the Vertigo Comics scene with Bodies #1, a debut issue that gives readers just enough of a baited hook of a narrative while confidently playing with the very conventions of comic book storytelling itself. Four detectives across the gulf of time all discover a body lying in the middle of Longharvest Lane in London’s East End. Who killed this person, and why? And more importantly, how is the killer transcending the very fabric of time to carry out his grisly work? While Bodies #1 offers no real concrete answers just yet, it is a dizzying, entertaining read that meshes several different artistic styles into one deftly put together debut issue.

Bodies #1 presents a itself as an anthology book that has no intention of acting or reading anything like an anthology book. Each decade and lead character is given a strict six-pages to not only further the story but to introduce the lead character of that decade as well as display that decade’s artist. Si Spencer has enlisted a murder’s row of artistic talent for this detective yarn and each one dazzles in completely different ways, aided by the amazing colors of Lee Loughridge, who is currently giving Dead Boy Detectives a sumptuous color pallet each month. Meghan Hetrick is first up, rendering the exploits of D.S. Shahara Hasan in 2014 as she faces down racist protests groups and discovers our titular, decade-hopping corpse. Spencer starts us off with the familiar and a confident and witty protagonist right off the bat, giving the audience a steady jumping on point before leaping toward dramatic shifts in tone and genre in the other decades to come. Spencer writes Hasan as a right ass-kicker with a sense of humor as she works to keep her patch safe from racists and killers while recognizing the transparent ambitions of her superiors. Hetrick’s Pasqual Ferry-esque style lends itself very well to the present day setting, finding a bit of lyrical beauty amid the familiar setting. Hetrick’s characters are thick set, real looking people standing behind either their misguided convictions or their commitments to their job, like D.S. Hasan. This entire book could have been about Hasan smashing the heads of bigots and working the case and I would have been happy, but Spencer and the rest of the artists take it so much further, and that is where the real fun of Bodies #1 lies.

Just when you think the story is settled, Spencer cuts to 1890, featuring a moody introduction to Inspector Hillinghead, Bodies’ second lead, rendered with Mignola-like attention by artist Dean Ormston. Spencer gives us a second lead that is struggling against the limited thinking of his era; a stark contrast against the attention to procedure displayed in Hasan’s opening chapter. Hillinghead is a tweedy, Arthur Conan Doyle-like investigator, frustrated by the rampant classism and lack of scientific investigation that permeates his constabulary. Spencer adds a bit more intrigue to Bodies #1 in this chapter, moving beyond the body itself to reveal what could be a vast conspiracy spun by influential people standing in Hillinghead’s way going forward in future issues. Like any good mystery writer, Spencer deepens the well of suspects with each six page chapter, while adding layer upon layer of new ideas with each decade and lead. Ormston’s pencils are perfectly suited for the moody and grimy streets of London in 1890, as well as giving Hillinghead a truly singular and evocative look with his buttoned down black topcoat clashing with his perfectly rounded blood red spectacles. While Ormston delivers what could be the standout chapter of Bodies #1, Spencer still has miles - and years - to go with this story and with the next chapter we see just how far he is willing to go with this tale.

For Spencer's third tableau, we are introduced to the more-than-likely insane Detective Maplewood, a resident of Ongarvane (sound familiar?) in 2050 after London has become some sort of wasteland. After much internal debate, Maplewood remembers the word “corpse” after she stumbles across our temporal MacGuffin, and takes it upon herself to investigate. 2050 is written like a whimsical dystopia as Maplewood’s mind is clearly affected by whatever devastation has laid London to waste. She struggles to keep her thoughts clear by reciting the alphabet and a number sequence as she travels the streets in search of supplies and struggles to remember exactly what people did when they discovered a body in streets. Maplewood’s six pages are a welcomely bright change of pace from the somber looking previous chapters, yet Spencer doesn’t write Maplewood like a bumbling loony or play up her cognitive struggle for laughs. Maplewood is a survivor and she just wants to do the right thing, despite how difficult it is for her. She is just another compelling lead for Bodies, which has gone out of its way to deliver compelling leads throughout the eras it explores. These 2050 is rendered beautifully by Tula Lotay with an Annie Wu-like eye for clothing and expression, making these pages a complete 180-degree turn from the cranky period details of 1890 and the realism of 2014. Lotay presents a future that looks much like our world brought low yet it carries a psychedelic and hazy feel to it, much like the hard to grasp memories of Maplewood. The jarring, yet engaging shifts in look and tone propel Bodies #1 forward like a bullet train and Tula Lotay’s pages are arguably the bright and shiny climax of this debut issue.

Rounding out this first issue is a jaunt to 1940s London, as Inspector Charles Whiteman sends a violent message to the Irish community amid the horror of the Blitz. These pages are handled by artist Phil Winslade, who gives this period setting a slick, pulpy sheen that is perfect for the 1940's setting. Spencer sets up Whiteman as a man willing to commit heinous acts in the pursuit of his brand of justice as well as a man that may be not all he appears and in a time of spies and daggers in the dark, that makes all the sense in the world. Here Spencer displays his complete commitment to making Bodies as big and as genre-centric as possible. In the span of this number one he ticks all sorts of boxes for all sorts of different genres, but they all mesh together wonderfully into one big, strange, and enthralling story. Winslade nails the clothing and look of the 1940's as he brings it all home with intimate, yet grand feeling panels.

While each artist dazzles during their respective decades, enough can’t be said about the vast talents of Lee Loughridge throughout Bodies #1. With each artist’s work during their respective decades, Loughridge adapts and changes his colors in order to suit each six-page vignette. The 1890s are colored with heavy blacks, smoky grays, shocking reds, and sickly looking whites. 2014 is rendered with cool blues and grays highlighting the only modern setting of the issue. 2050 is saturated with gamey yellows and hazy purples to hammer home the new alien nature of the fallen familiar setting. 1940 closes out the book with a restrained and muted color pallet as Loughridge anchors himself back down employing standard blues, blacks, oranges, and heavy shadowing to hammer home the pulpy feel of the ending segment. Loughridge completely runs away with anything and everything the artists throw at him giving Bodies #1 a truly signature look while maintaining a constant visual throughline from beginning to end.

Bodies #1 is exactly the kind of book that one would want and expect from Vertigo. Nothing is ever what it seems to be at first within the pages of a Vertigo book and Bodies #1 is a perfect crystallization of that mentality. We have an seemingly impossible murder than spans decades along with a group of detectives, a few of which may be hiding things from everyone, including themselves, as well as hints toward a wide spread conspiracy and a looming event that may or may not be the end of the world as we know it. Bodies #1 aims to be a great many things, but above all, it is a wildly engrossing debut issue to what very well could be one of this year’s top works from Vertigo.

Credit: Image Comics

Low #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Tocchini
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

One day the sun will consume our planet and everything that’s ever made up human existence will cease to exist. And what is our legacy to this point? War? Famine? Art? Even while we know that our existence has an expiration date, our concerns are basic. They’re terran. The best we can do is hurl radio and TV signals out into the literal void in the hopes that some extraterrestrial being enjoys “Three’s Company” enough to take pity on us and save us from our fate. Nothing matters. And that’s where Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’’s Low begins.

Remender imagines that as this great cataclysm approaches, humanity takes refuge underwater to escape the growing intensity of the solar radiation coming from the sun. Society seems to have banded together in hopes of starting something new but without the ability to terraform a new planet, existence seems futile. That’s where the Caine family comes in. Johl and Stel, their twin daughters and their son are our point of view characters and how they stand in the face of The End is our hook. Or at least they should be. Remender doesn’t dig deep enough yet. We’re given a lot of setting and an inciting incident that should help catalyze the concept in future issues but creating a new world from scratch stagnates the pacing a bit here. Remender has gone on in interviews and in the back matter about how Stel represents an eternally optimistic point of view, one that has been fairly foreign to the writer in his own life but we only get glimpses of it here. Stel just isn’t fleshed out enough at this point to really give us a sense of her and if she’s meant to be a focal point moving forward, then Remender fails at making her memorable in this issue.

What works for Low is the setting and the story details that inform the world. The radiation has soaked the upper levels of the ocean and created massives monsters out of the creatures we’re used to seeing. All but two cities remain and no one currently living remembers what life on the surface was like. Human existence as readers know it is nothing more than a legend. Even the family name, “Caine,” is marked with a biblical context that suggests that humans (or at least this family) will never be able to yield fruit from the land. For all of Remender’s talk of optimism, he and Tocchini has created a world of great futility.

Tocchini’s artwork helps create this watery grave of a setting but the book is marked with inconsistencies in inking and coloring. Details are obscured by heavy inks on one page and then the color palette will drastically change on the next. Every time that Tocchini is able to build some visual clarity in a more expository moment in the script, it’s followed by a more action-oriented scene that would have been better served by an artist with a keener approach to details. It’s not that every little detail needs to be accounted for but there needs to be a balance. When a reader can’t tell the difference between a character holding something or stretching out their empty hand, there’s a problem. Tocchini relies on dynamic usage of his blacks to convey tone and mood but sacrificing clarity for those other aspects can hurt the story. Plus Tocchini had a huge hand in developing this world in collaboration with Remender. It’s frustrating at times to not be able to tell what we’re actually looking at.

Low has promise but it hasn’t been fully realized yet. Considering the larger than average size of this issue, it’s unfortunate that we don’t get a little more here. Remender has talked about how this book is a shift from his normal status quo, but so far the futility and negativity that exemplifies his past work is still on display - it’s just been presented differently. Whereas past works have featured pessimistic protagonists, this book’s pessimism is in its world. And maybe that’s why we see such a focus placed on the world in this first issue. It’s Creative Writing 101: “Write what you know.” It’ll be interesting to see how Remender cuts through that safety net with Stel, the proclaimed eternal optimist, in Issue #2, but this debut only hints at its potential.

Credit: Dynamite

Red Sonja #0
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Noah Salonga and Elmer Santos
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I love zero issues. More accurately, I love the idea of zero issues. Unless they are a part of a bevy of line-interrupting side stories, zero issues are perfect gateway drugs into the larger world of the character being portrayed. Recently, Dynamite Entertainment has used the zero issue format to introduce new readers to its thriving stable of characters and now it is the She-Devil with a Sword’s turn in the spotlight. Gail Simone, Noah Salonga, and Elmer Santos deliver a rollicking one-shot with all the trademark sass and blood that has made Gail Simone’s tenure with Sonja such a blast to read month after month. While Red Sonja #0 doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of comic storytelling, it certainly does its job as a solid introduction to Sonja and her smelly adventures.

Red Sonja #0 starts with a somber, yet slightly over dramatic funeral for Red Sonja as well as a ridiculous introduction to a hulk of a man calling himself Red Malak, who claims to be the husband of our titular badass. Malak is prostrate with grief over his loss, yet describes his bride as a lover of fine clothes and “dainty as a flower, that one.” Malak’s grief lasts for days and claims at least one life as he drinks himself stupid in the local longhouse, but is something else going on? Of course there is, as the Sonja that we all know and love is alive and well reaving on the coasts nearby, squashing an upstart organization of pirates, and she is none too happy to hear of Malak’s deception when she returns to the shores seeking ale, a bed, and a companion to warm said bed.

Gail Simone has been straight up rocking the Red Sonja monthly for Dynamite since she started and Red Sonja #0 is no exception. Simone’s punchy, fun plotting and sterling characterization are on full display in the pages of this zero issue as she injects a bit of fun wordplay into the opening scene between a prostrate Malak and the owner of the longhouse; wielding the word “literally” like a fine scimitar as the longhouse owner uses the gift of language while Malak takes everything at face value, thinking her spirit is literally right next to his heart and that their love actually did reach for the stars above. Simone actually taking the time to make an oaf like Malak sympathetic and worthy of Sonja’s fleeting attention if only for a moment. Simone still presents Sonja as the piping hot mess that we love in the regular series, but there is a bit of soft strength in Sonja that is displayed in this zero issue. She asserts to Malak that she “is no man’s poem” yet she takes the time to honor the oaf after the issue’s violent climax. Red Sonja #0 is a surprisingly emotional and funny introduction to Simone’s work on the character and more than worth the attention of completists and new fans alike.

Somewhat lacking when compared to the strong script is the pencils of Noah Salonga, who seems to give certain panels and pages a bit more attention than others. This isn’t to suggest that Red Sonja #0 looks horrible throughout, yet certain characters and scenes, like the opening funeral pages, look rushed and muddled while the tail end of the zero issue looks rendered carefully and thoughtfully. Some of Salonga’s facial work in the opening scene looks squashed and uglier than what one would expect from characters inhabiting a sword and sorcery story, but Salonga pulls up at the last minute with his deft rendering of Sonja in battle and in her cups, more than making up for a bit of stumbling in the beginning. Adding a lush polish to Salonga’s pencils is colorist Elmer Santos who uses a muted and grim color pallet to great effect. Sonja is colored in much the same way that she is over in the regular monthly, a shock of red atop a lithe and powerful pale body adorned with grim grey armor, but as Santos colors everything else a shade darker than it should be, Sonja dominates the panels she appears in as a genuine presence which is always nice to see. Santos gives Red Sonja #0 an earthy, lived-in feel that more than conveys the tone of Simone’s cheeky and engaging script.

Zero issues are always a gamble in the eyes of the average comic book reader. They either deliver a fun flight of fancy into the world of a character that is largely unfamiliar to them or a forgettable dalliance into a title that they don’t really wish to support past the issue they just purchased on a whim. Thankfully, Red Sonja #0 is of the former category, offering new fans a look into what everyone is talking about in regards to Simone’s Dynamite work as well as a substantial taste of Red Sonja’s badassery. Red Sonja #0 ticks all the boxes of a good one-shot while never sacrificing the charm or readability of the main monthly title. It is a rare thing when zero issues become solid and entertaining entries into the larger title, but Dynamite Entertainment seems committed to delivering quality with this recent rash of zeroes on the shelves.

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