Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's regular edition! So let's kick off today's column with Marvelous Marlene Bonnelly, as she takes a look at the latest issue of Marvel's newest movie stars, the Guardians of the Galaxy...
Guardians of the Galaxy #17
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Nick Bradshaw, Michal Oeming, Walden Wong and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
We have a Guardians of the Galaxy movie in theaters and its comic book counterpart ongoing in print—what a time to be alive! In this latest installment of Bendis’s run, we start with a scattered team and end with a reunited one, with lots of adventuring in between. There isn’t as much of the usual space-gun-slinging in this issue, but it still makes out well with only minor pacing and story issues.
I have to say, Peter Quill has a way with words. He manages to pry one ugly sentence out of his father’s mouth and just minutes later the entire kingdom is trying to tear down J-Son’s door? That takes skill. Things kick into overdrive after that, with Peter and Captain Marvel (she just happened to track his whereabouts, stick with me here) zipping off to find the rest of the Guardians. Those Guardians, meanwhile, are fighting their own battles—literally, in the case of Gamora and Drax. Distributed among their enemies to be punished for their crimes, our lovable space rebels face unique challenges and, in some cases, certain death. Thankfully, Star-Lord is on his way.
A few pages in, when the art changes from Bradshaw’s rounded edges to Oeming’s sharp corners and deep shadows, the pacing spins out of control. This is an issue that could have easily been told in two parts if only to expand the pivotal battle sequence. So much anticipation had been built around Drax and Gladiator’s inevitable fight, but the final showdown is a little disappointing. The promise of something even remotely like an even match is cut short with a cheap move on Gladiator’s part and the following rescue operation. Rocket’s reappearance moments later isn’t much more satisfying, and the fact that he doesn’t remember anything of his capture negates the fear he felt and the juicy character development hinted at in issue #16.
Still, these are the Guardians of the Galaxy. That title automatically implies substantial suspension of disbelief, so I can’t be too upset that the Kree were so quick to change their tune regarding Rocket without conducting a formal investigation, or that a battle-thirsty Gladiator didn’t pursue an injured foe, or that the Brood couldn’t possibly think of a more creative method of disposing of Groot. In the end, the silly band of misfits is back together again and we’ve had our fill of witty banter and spaceships. It is refreshing to see each character carve out a bit of page real estate on his or her own, though rushed, and the story does manage to reflect its campy foundations while moving the team along toward the next event.
Bradshaw and Oeming’s art also make the adventure fun to read, despite how vastly different their styles are. The contrast is actually complementary, and I was delighted that each artist was featured in equal measure. Bradshaw leans more traditional, with thinner linework and smooth, pleasing shapes. Oeming’s work is blockier, with an emphasis on the use of black to create depth and exaggerated body proportions. I especially enjoyed Oeming’s work, since he has a habit of highlighting the background behind panels featuring single characters and adding an extra, dynamic flair to scenes. Together with Ponsor’s colors, which tied both styles together perfectly, Bradshaw and Oeming’s art made for very strong visual cues and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Now that we’ve finally moved away from the trials of the X-Men on earth and have delved back into the stories of the Guardians and their efforts, I’m really enjoying the run again. They have an obvious goal in mind - finding Thanos - and that helps establish a sense of consistency despite the fact that they keep getting sidetracked. It’s not hard to root for these guys or to want more of them; I finished this issue feeling anxious to read the next part of their journey, which means Bendis and company did something right.
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 Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
It's been over 25 years now since Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth revitalized a forgotten DC property called The Sandman. It was a trademarked name and we all know how that game is played now; to maintain some rights over the publishing name "Sandman," DC would have to actually put out a comic book called “Sandman.” In 1989, Gaiman and a bevy of artists began a 75+ issue story about family, responsibilities and the clashes of the two. Gaiman, following in the obvious steps of Alan Moore but also Marvel writers like Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart, wrote a long story about the sacred and the profane, the godly and the humane, that expanded our vision while asking us to look inward to see what we really are. A lot of that wasn't apparent during the whole run but it came out over time. The Sandman wasn't always the greatest comic book but it was one of the most ambitious during its time. Gaiman dared to dream and dared us to join in that large dream. Reaching the midpoint of his return to the realm of dreaming in Sandman Overture #3, the dream and the dreamers are nowhere near as grandiose as they once were.
The second issue of Sandman Overture left off on an interesting note as Dream and a feline version of himself left on a journey to have a conversation with his/their father. Another aspect of him, this one a plant, had been killed in the first issue and Dream was going to find out who did it and why. In this third chapter, Gaiman and artist J.H. Williams III get lost in the story as the two Dreams continue their walk through the cosmos, picking up and orphaned child who is unironically named Hope. Along the way, Williams III gets to continue being one of the hardest working artists drawing comics right now. Every page is a medley of panels and styles as he crafts his images around the story. From Kirby gods to Moebius landscapes, Williams III uses style as any other tool in his toolbox. The decision of style is a decision of storytelling as he changes his layouts and lines to illustrate more than Gaiman's words; he's using style to tell you how you should be reading this comic.
Gaiman and Williams III put a lot of work into this issue that's ultimately a collection of B-sides of Gaiman's previous Sandman work. The feline aspect of himself recalls an old issue about the dreams of cats. The three Fates show up in this issue, the three who wove the strands of Dreams life through to "The Kindly Ones." Dream tells Hope the story of an old love and the origins of his ruby and the gates which guard his kingdom. Gaiman has stated that this series is his chance to tell a story that fills in some blanks in Dreams story and this issue ends up filling in the blanks of the blanks that this series serves. Gaiman's writing here appeals to the fanboys more than anyone else, trying to expand the world around his favorite author's creations. In this case, his favorite author is himself and he's telling the stories that meaninglessly expands on the worlds that don’t need any expansion.
Missing from Gaiman's story is the more personal side of Dream's story. In ways, we know where this miniseries is going; we're on the slow march to 1989's The Sandman #1. That's the problem of prequels but there are plenty of ways to get around that. But Dream's story was about him learning to take personal responsibility for his actions. We saw that story always reflected in the other characters in the old series. Whether it was Lucifer or Barbie or Destruction or Lyta Hall, there were always supporting characters that brought Gaiman's stories down to relatable and human levels. The main supporting character in The Sandman Overture #3 is just another version of himself. It was a gimmick that worked excellently in the last issue but falls flat here. Dream just ends up talking to Dream about things that Dream already knows. And even when he introduces a new character, she's hokey enough to have the name "Hope." These aren't supporting characters who help define Dream's story; they're simply tools that move the plot along without providing any depth to the story that Gaiman is telling.
Sandman Overture #3 has a lot to live up to with 75 issues of history that have already told the story of Dream. Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III know that history and are trying to fill in the cracks of that story. This issue is that filler. It's full of those patented Gaiman magical stories and J.H. Williams III wonderful artwork but it is ultimately empty because Gaiman has no need to retread old ground and doesn't have anything new to build here. Sandman Overture #3 contains things we've seen in both creators works before. It was wonderful the first few times but here it's just a repeat.
Secret Avengers #6
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Nick Fury's in a coma. Phil Coulson's AWOL. And now the Black Widow has been sucked into a portal for places unknown.
Are the Secret Avengers on the ropes? Or is Ales Kot just letting them get their licks in before coming back with a vengeance, rope-a-dope style? Right now, Kot's plan is unclear - and admittedly, as single issues go, this sixth issue is starting to slow down the series' momentum a bit.
Part of the reason this is is because Kot has to focus on, well, his three least-developed characters: his superheroes. Nick Fury is off the board, put in a coma from an acid attack last issue, Coulson is a MacGuffin for Hawkeye, and Maria Hill is reduced to just doling out the orders to get everyone else moving. That's not to say that Kot doesn't have plenty of fun with the Black Widow, as she and Spider-Woman try to defuse a bomb-laden bullet train (all while nodding to the fact that this plot sounds strangely familiar to Steven Seagal's Under Siege 2). Pitting Widow against Lady Bullseye in a Mortal Kombat-style rivalry is probably the best moment in the book - that said, it also feels like some low-calorie fighting that doesn't quite live up to some of the previous issues.
The actual tone of this issue feels particularly interesting. This is Kot leaning into the full-joke aspect of Secret Avengers, which feels like it fits in the general humorous Marvel vein of Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. That said, it might also be a little too clever for its own good - Hawkeye talking about how he stays in his goofy Matt Fraction character like Stanislavsky is a little too meta, and the swerve at the end of the book feels, well, a little unearned. That's not to say that Kot doesn't have some good character moments, however, such as Spider-Woman's ongoing communications with Vladimir, a sentient bomb. But this might be a little too jokey, at the expense of the actual black ops stuff this team is supposed to be doing.
The artwork by Michael Walsh does feel a bit sketchier than his usual, but his page layouts still are superb, and colorist Matthew Wilson pulls more than his fair share in keeping the book's energy up. The Black Widow-Lady Bullseye sequence reads a little unfinished in terms of the inks, but other sequences, like MODOK looking over the corpse of the robotic Fury (no relation to the guy with the eyepatch), look particularly eerie and detailed. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me is the way that Walsh handles Spider-Woman, who winds up being the most expressive character in the book, even with giant lenses covering her eyes.
There's something to be said for loyalty - that when it's earned, it's hard to shake. Of course, there are a lot of bad comics out there that also have survived based on this presumption. But in the case of Ales Kot and Secret Avengers, the past five issues have been great - this sixth issue has merely been good. I'm not sure where this series is going, and oftentimes I think that's a good thing. But here, the twist is so out of left field that it's unclear what kind of book you're going to get into next month. For me, I think Kot has earned enough goodwill to take the plunge - but for those who have been skeptical, this strong issue might not be strong enough to challenge their convictions.
Justice League #32
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Nick Napolitano
Review by David Pepose
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Like Freud once said: Sometimes a Justice League comic is just a Justice League comic. And as far as this issue goes, it's a solid - if standard - foray into team superhero dynamics. Geoff Johns doesn't quite stick the landing in terms of reintroducing the Doom Patrol as a viable side team, but he does juggle his cast of characters decently, allowing some of the dangling threads post-Forever Evil carry this book along.
Pacing-wise, this book is a little bit jarring, as Johns establishes the MacGuffin early - namely, reminding us that Superwoman from the villainous Crime Syndicate is pregnant, presumably with alt-Kryptonian Ultraman's baby. Considering the uneasiness that our heroic Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship has caused within the DCU, there's already a lot at stake - but just then, Johns switches the focus point to the new-and-I'm-not-sure-if-improved Doom Patrol. This team feels more like supporting cast than a property that could theoretically stand in its own book, on its own two feet. Niles Caulder has always had a corrosive influence on the Doom Patrol, and in that way, Johns really does seem to relish this antihero - he's a bully, as you can see when he pushes Element Girl into joining the team, and his agenda featuring an out-of-control Power Ring bears watching.
Johns also seems to really get into the new dynamic of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold, two of the less-than-heroic recruits to the Justice League. Cold might be a little bit more milquetoast than we're used to seeing him, but it's interesting to see Johns take these two characters to a place they might feel uncomfortable. Lex in particular is always scheming, always has a trick up his sleeve, and just imagining what plans he has for the League is probably the most exciting part of this book right now. Cyborg and Shazam, Johns' other buddy pair in the League, also gets some good moments here, as they tag-team to take down Power Ring.
Doug Mahnke, meanwhile, is a known quantity here, and he remains the constant that keeps this series moving. With only Keith Champagne on inks, there's a consistency to the artwork that I think really gives the book some heft, even if the Lex/Captain Cold scene could have used a little bit more moody inks. Still, Mahnke really plays up how horrified Power Ring is as she's controlled by an extradimensional entity, and Mahnke's take on Element Girl has a nice balance between beautiful and outright strange. The highlight of the issue visually is Cyborg leaping in the air to take down his foe, providing a nice bit of action choreography.
That said, if there's anything that holds this book back, it's that it still isn't quite a Justice League story. Johns has experience juggling tons of characters - Justice Society is one that springs to mind - so it's a little disappointing that five members of the Justice League are just window dressing to the rest of the story. I get that there needs to be some set-up for Superwoman and for the Doom Patrol, but ultimately, the League needs to come first. High concepts are great and all, but the whole reason people buy this book is so they can watch their favorite superheroes team up. And in that regard - despite the interesting additions and distractions - this book doesn't really deliver. That said, there is plenty of superheroic soapiness to this book that keeps it from being a bore - I just wish that Johns would give a little bit more focus to his marquee characters.
And Then Emily Was Gone #1
Written by John Lees
Art by Iain Laurie and Megan Wilson
Lettering by Colin Bell
Published by Comix Tribe
Review by Edward Kaye
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Beyond the major publisher listing, the later pages of Previews are filled to the brim with indie and creator-owned comics. I often like to trawl these pages, looking for new and interesting titles to try out. There’s so many books listed that it’s hard to stand out from the crowd and get noticed. Despite the fact that my mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover, when I saw the cover image for And Then Emily was Gone I’d already mentally added it to my pull list before I even read the solicitation. Something about that eerie silhouette filled with odd-looking characters spoke to me and I was sold instantly. In an environment where the shelves are filled with dull cover after dull cover, we need more creative and attention-grabbing covers like this!
Behind that gorgeous cover, And Then Emily was Gone tells the story of former police detective Greg Hellinger, who is haunted by apparitions of monsters. When he’s asked by a little girl to find her missing friend, their investigation takes them to a remote community in the Scottish Orkney Islands, where all manner of disturbing and unsettling events are unfolding.
For a relative industry newcomer, John Lees really knows how to plot a debut issue. We start with an intriguing epilogue that gives us a glimpse of the horrors to come, all before being introduced to the protagonist and his mundane yet disturbing daily life. You see, he’s a washed-up drunk who hasn’t slept in five years and sees horrifying monsters everywhere he goes. Whether he's riding on the bus or drinking in a bar, he’s haunted by things no one else can see. How his life got into this sad state - and whether or not the monsters are real - is one of the mysteries that will hopefully unfold as the series progresses.
The issue is really well-scripted, with great, authentic dialogue. Often when a comic is set in Scotland, writers try to affect the dialect in the written speech, which usually feels awkward and clunky. Thankfully, Lees forgoes this conversion, which makes it much more accessible and easy to read. Exposition is conveyed mostly through dialogue, flashbacks, and a little bit of monologue. This all feels like a natural part of the story and never disturbs the flow of the narrative, as can often happen with a first issue. All in all, this is an almost pitch perfect opening chapter.
Artist Iain Laurie is again relatively new to the scene, with this being his first regular series. His style looks is like a bizarre hybrid of Paul Pope and Shaky Kane. Every single panel in the issue is unsettling in some way, even those showing seemingly innocuous items. His characters have freakish and twisted visages, with bulging noses, crooked teeth and puffy flesh. His monsters are grotesque and horrifying, like visions torn from the mind of a criminally deranged psychopath. Then his violent scenes are brutal, gory and unrelenting.
Laurie’s page layouts are really creative and there’s some beautiful composition going on here, with particularly interesting use of shadow and silhouette in key scenes. His inking is sort of heavy and loose, with few straight edges and some roughly filled black space, which just adds to the overall eerie quality of the artwork.
The finishing touch is a top-notch coloring job from Megan Wilson, who brings the pages to life with some really interesting color choices. In keeping with the grim setting, she uses a slightly muted palette with lots of subtle hues, but she counterpoints this with sparse use of bright yellow, red overlays and shocks of purple.
And Then Emily was Gone #1 is a creator-owned comic published by an obscure indie publisher and involves no big names. It’s probably not on your radar, but it really should be, because this is an incredibly strong debut that really left me flawed. Combining the best elements of horror and detective fiction, this sinister tale provides an intoxicating foundation for the creators to build upon in future issues. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, and I really need to know what is in that box.
Vertigo Quarterly: Magenta (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Although the "ideas" behind each of the nine short stories in this anthology hold a lot of potential, the content varies widely in terms of the execution of the storytelling in both the written and visual storytelling aspects. The standouts were easily Jody Houser and Nathan Fox's brilliant "Adrift," which tells the story of a Barbie-like doll coaching its owner's sister through the loss of her grandmother, and Ryan Lindsay and Tommy Lee Edwards' boxing noir story "Gloves" that feels similar to how Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli might have envisioned Battlin' Jack Murdock's revenge on his murderers. Other stories, however, were less successful due to unpolished artwork that did not convey story (plot or character emotion) in a clear manner or they were over-designed to a point where the panels felt static. While there are some stories that are "A"-grade quality, the overall inconsistency will no doubt make many readers hesitate when faced with the $8.00 price tag.