Best Shots Comic Reviews: ROCKET RACCOON #2, GRAYSON #2, More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Rocket Raccoon #2
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Jeff Eckleberry
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Who would have thought that an anthropomorphic space raccoon would be the breakout character of 2014? And yet, Rocket manages to shine even among a cast as endearing as the just-released blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. With art that is at once energetic, a little gritty and still kinda cute, combined with a script that captures the bristling magic that fans have come to love about Rocket's personality, Skottie Young has turned in another excellent chapter of Rocket Raccoon's solo series, rightly borrowing a page from the film, taking Rocket through a prison break that brings him out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Rocket Raccooon is a little guy with some big problems. It turns out that, despite his insistence to the contrary, there may be another one like him somewhere out there in the galaxy. What's worse, this someone is framing Rocket for murders he didn't commit - let alone get to spew his catchphrase over! On top of all of that, a veritable army of his jilted ex-girlfriends are hot on his trail. So how does Rocket expect to escape all this? Well, by turning himself in and getting sent to the highest security prison in the galaxy, of course. Young perfectly captures the feeling of a madcap caper, telling more story in a single issues than some writers get out in an entire arc. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Young has complete mastery over his storytelling, finding the perfect short hand to convey Rocket's brief jail stay.

Young's writing is solid, channeling the abrasively charming Rocket of the past few years into a perfect storm of attitude and Disney-esque caricature. But it's his art that will bring you back again and again. Young turns out wacky and grotesque aliens with perfect aplomb, balancing his brushy line work with a cartoonish energy. There is a particular double page spread, highlighting Rocket's escape, that is simply masterful in execution, reading almost like a Calvin and Hobbes strip in space. Further, Jean-Francois Beaulieu's colors are positively electric, giving the entire affair the feeling of neon lights and carnival rides; a perfect aesthetic for the unsavory and still somehow innocent corner of the galaxy which Rocket inhabits.

Still, Rocket Raccoon #2 isn't perfect. As much fun as it is to follow Rocket into Devin-9, the maximum security prison planet, the exact reasons why and wherefore aren't particularly clear. Rocket seems to want to get in just to break out a contact that will lead him to someone with more information about the charges against him, and while it's a raucous, riotous good time, it took some re-reading to fully grasp that caveat. Further, Young's art falters with Rocket's getaway scene, with the vehicle he's in seeming undefined and the action consequently feeling somewhat rough. But despite these small issues, Rocket Raccoon #2 still has more than enough popcorn-movie fun and cartoon comedy to warrant the price of admission.

While his star has certainly been on the rise for the last few years, Rocket Raccoon has never had a higher profile than at this exact moment. And for many fans, that's hard to believe. But with Skottie Young turning out comics like this, which capitalize effortlessly on Guardians of the Galaxy's box office pull, and the cantankerous charisma of its most unlikely star, it's easy to see why Rocket has stolen our hearts. Maybe he just wants them more than we do.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #2
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Guillermo Ortego, Juan Castro and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Super-spydom is a better fit for Dick Grayson by the minute, as Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin knock their second issue of Grayson out of the park. By putting Grayson in the crazy, Fleming-inspired world of Spyral, the creative team gets all the benefits of Batman and his sweeping mythology while also trying something new.

Part of the charm in Tim Seeley and Tom King's story is that they leap into the storyline fast, and they readily acknowledge the influences on their sleeve. Following an assault on another Spyral operative, Grayson and the Huntress are tasked with picking up a cybernetic stomach from an unknown party - a party who winds up having some distinctly dangerous metahuman powers of their own.

There's a lot to take in - particularly since Seeley and King have to also remind us of Grayson's ties to Batman, his new archenemy the Midnighter, as well as Spyral's ongoing investigation to learn the secret identities of the Justice League - and to their credit, Seeley and King never linger a second longer than they need to. The result is a fast-paced thriller that gets us right where we want to be - in the thick of things. In addition to the rollicking action, the inner workings of Spyral have their own flair, whether it's the Huntress teaching her students the art of the crossbow, or the kooky, sinister preening of Mr. Minos, "The Man With The Labyrinth Face." Having him own up to the series' '60s-Fleming vibe is a big reason of why it goes down so smoothly.

The other reason this book works is because of artist Mikel Janin, working seamlessly with inkers Guillermo Ortego and Juan Castro, as well as colorist Jeromy Cox tying it all together. Janin has the smoothness of a Barry Kitson with the off-kilter panel compositions of an Andrea Sorrentino or Yanick Paquette - and in this second issue, he's smoothed out all the kinks in the action. Bodies fly in the air like artfully composed ragdolls, and watching Grayson swing a roundhouse kick or Huntress throw a left hook is superb. Jeromy Cox is the unsung hero of this book, embuing Grayson with an unorthodox, trippy color palette, especially the '60s-style spirals that are thrown in every so often.

While the most stringent of critics might feel that Grayson himself gets a little bit of short shrift in this second issue, there's no denying that the new playground he's in is way more fun than even Gotham City. The supporting cast, the crazy spy environments, and the superhero-enfused gizmos make Grayson way more entertaining than it has any right to be. With action, charisma and some superb-looking artwork, Spyral is definitely the hip new place for DC Comics.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #32
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, John Dell and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Just when you thought there was only Peter Parker... Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man, makes his triumphant return. In a marketplace now saturated with Spider-Men and Spider-Books - we've got Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099 - it might be tough for Otto to stand out. But to Dan Slott and Christos Gage's credit, this book does stand out above the rest, providing a much larger scale than any of the other Spider-books on the stands.

Unfortunately, it also takes half the book to get there.

Plotter Dan Slott continues to play it smart with his continuity, sidestepping Octavius's pesky "death" problem by placing Superior Spider-Man #32 after the events of Superior Spider-Man #19, in which our feckless antihero is swept up in a temporal implosion accident at Horizon Labs. Considering Otto had teamed up with Miguel O'Hara - the Spider-Man of the year 2099 - back in our present, it's a nice bit to have Otto whisked away to the far future. But 2099 is also where Slott and scripter Gage stumble a bit - there's a lot of talky set-up before we get to the main event, and even with Guiseppe Camuncoli's masterful artwork, having Otto raiding Alchemax and Stark/Fujikawa feels like a mindless montage rather than anything particularly engaging. It's plot-driven storytelling rather than character-driven, but without a lot of smart gags to play off, even 2099 feels a little stale.

Thankfully, the second half of the book does change this. Without giving too much away, Slott and Gage tie into their Spider-Verse crossover early, and it's clear that Otto has a big role to play. There's a delicious irony in having one of Spider-Man's greatest foes become the key to his salvation, and once the creative team opens up their cast of characters, this comic suddenly lights up with potential. The action beats feel stronger, the characters are more endearing - and there's that potential of seeing Otto Octavius play off some very interesting co-stars. The biggest compliment I can give this issue is that it finally, unequivocally sells Spider-Verse as a concept - which is already interesting, considering it's so close to Spider Island as a concept already.

The artwork by Guiseppe Camuncoli is what keeps this book afloat during the slow first half and lights it up when it rallies by the end. Admittedly, his double-page spread of Otto raiding Alchemax looks great, pouring on a ton of speed to Otto's movements (even if his composition makes it somewhat onerous to follow on a panel-to-panel basis). Another page of Camunoli's that really stands out is when Slott and Gage start to run out of room - near the end of the story, when Otto has to leap through a portal to escape an attacker, Camuncoli jams in a ton of detail, reminding me a bit of Humberto Ramos but with a much cleaner style. Inker John Dell deserves a lot of credit in that respect, as he takes a much lighter touch on Camuncoli's pencils, giving it a more animated feel. That said, sometimes colorist Antonio Fabela alternates from low-energy, almost muddy colors, then overwhelming the readers with super-bright yellows and orange.

Combine that with an eight-page Spider-Verse backup drawn by Adam Kubert, and there's a lot of bang for your $4.99 in Superior Spider-Man #32. The thing that holds this book back is an extremely slow start. That said, once Slott and Gage start getting warmed up, you feel more potential in this comic than we've seen in probably a dozen issues of Spider-Man. And that's a good thing. I can't grade this comic based solely on what might be in the future - which, as a 30-page book, contains probably 10 pages of filler - but I can say the future is looking hopeful for the Superior Spider-Man.

Credit: Image Comics

Nailbiter #4
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John H. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For three issues now, Nailbiter has been all about the creepy tone and atmosphere. Were writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson happy to maintain that mood, this comic would already be a winner. It's a series that's quite comfortable sitting in the realm of David Lynch, with just a hint of direction from David Fincher. Then came Issue #4 to remind the reader just what happens when you get comfortable with a setting, no matter how weird it might be. And that is one hell of a reminder. To quote from a movie that really has nothing to do with serial killers, Nailbiter just went to 11.

Army interrogator Nicholas Finch and Sheriff Crane find themselves, literally, neck deep in the serial killer graveyard, getting closer to the truth behind the secret that is Buckaroo, Ore. All while the killer known as the Nailbiter finds a strange ally in the local jail. And while all of this moves the story along and keeps the readers interest, it's the second half of the book that gets the blood pumping. It's difficult to review sections of this comic without ruining the truly shocking and wonderful moments. Still, Williamson has pulled off quite the literary coup with Issue #4. To be blunt, there is a lot of exposition happening in this issue, most of which exists to move the story along to the next stage. It's a step that almost all event driven narratives have to endure, but so few pull off in such a strong way. Williamson has a clear understanding of the most basic rules of comics, a rule that many up and coming creators would do well to remember. He gives the reader a dramatic reason to turn the page, be it via dialogue or visual cues.

Which brings us to artist Mike Henderson. A book like Nailbiter could easily fall into simple panel layout that just moves the story forward. A style that would be understandable when you consider this is a title that falls just a bit into the realm of horror. A genre that is notoriously hard to pull off when you can see what's coming with a simple shift of your vision. Instead, Henderson shows the reader moments. He takes scenes that would normally demand page after page of action and movement, and simply smacks you upside the face with the key moments. It's jarring and wholly appropriate for the kind of story both he and Williamson are crafting.

His line work also lends itself to the demented nature of the town. Indeed, there is a subtle change in the main characters appearance the longer he stays in the town. Whether this was a conscious choice by Henderson, or simply a factor of his growing as an artist, it's a welcome look. If there was one negative critique on the visuals, it would be Adam Guzowski on colors. Up till issue #4, his work has been solid. In this issue, there is a flatness that takes away from Henderson's inking. While by no means egregious, there were enough moments where the color tone simply didn't match with the emotional content of the scene. Still, when both Henderson and Guzowski are on, this is an art team that's crafty one nasty and creepy little book.

The best books work when they take the expected and turn it on its ear. Yet still managing to do so without breaking the line of believability. Nailbiter #4 does so with such ease that I can say with confidence that we are no longer in the hands of stable individuals. And when you're hanging out in a town like Buckaroo, Ore., that's exactly who you want guiding you. Nailbiter is yet another hit in Image's growing catalog.

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