Best Shots Reviews: WINTER SOLDIER #1, GUARDIANS 3000 #1 Advances, More

Marvel Variant covers
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has an extra treat for you today, with two advance reviews from Marvel on top of the typical Monday spread! So let's kick off today's column with "the Man on the Wall," as we take a look at the first issue of Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier...

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #1
BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Marco Rudy
Lettering by Claytown Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Winter Soldier has gotten a promotion in recent months - not only has he headlined a super-successful Marvel movie this year, but now, thanks to the passing of one Nicholas Fury, Bucky has a much larger directive: protect Earth from interstellar and interdimensional threats. And just like this expanded scale, Ales Kot and Marco Rudy are certainly ambitious with their first issue of Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier, even if occasionally their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

With all due respect for Kot, the real star of the show - and where this book both succeeds and fails - is artist Marco Rudy. His twisting page layouts and painted colorwork is some of the most experimental and risky stuff coming from Marvel today. Sometimes his work, like a shot of Daisy Johnson aiming an alien sniper rifle, reminds me a bit of Marko Djurdjevic - it's iconic and clear, but with a sense of storytelling that's just Rudy's. But as the book progresses, Rudy's work gets harder and harder to follow - blame part of it on Kot's script, which jumps from place to place, but part of it is also the clarity of Rudy's colors. There's a character who, for example, screams about getting shot in the butt, but their face is only in the corner of one page - the character gets knocked down (I think) on the next page, but it's almost impossible to tell what happens, let alone who instigates the action.

The experimental tone is infectious in the storyline, however, as Kot continues to wink at readers with his surprisingly bright tone. Bucky and Daisy quip back and forth over not being sidekicks to anyone, and Kot's opening sequence, where aliens threaten to put Bucky's soul into "an animal that shall not possess a body that would give you an ability to realize your killing intent." (And Bucky then stealing an alien culture's sacred pig-animal, after a super-cool opening sequence.) Kot's sense of scale is great, too, as Bucky is already behind the 8-ball in terms of cleaning up Nick Fury's long-standing list of threats - we're in space, we see planets being born, we follow Bucky down to the depths of Atlantis. It's ambitious.

That said, the haters will rightly note that Kot is as jokey as usual, and that might not necessarily fit the tone of "interdimensional James Bond" that you might associate with this series. A gag with Namor, for example, feels tired the moment Bucky says "Imperius Sex," and a three-page interlude about a new planet winds up slowing down this comic's momentum big-time. Combine that with the aforementioned murkiness in the art, and things like the cliffhanger on the final page wind up not connecting with readers at all.

Bucky Barnes is a character full of potential, and it's encouraging to see a creative team like Kot and Rudy stretching themselves creatively on a property like this. That said, sometimes there are limits - sometimes you take a swing, and it doesn't always connect. That's not to say this is a bad comic - far from it - but you can't help but feel disappointed when a seemingly sure-thing creative team like this not score a home run.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians 3000
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Gerardo Sandoval and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

With Guardians of the Galaxy still dominating at the box office, it's a no-brainer for Marvel to create supply to fill the demand. And what better way to strike when the iron's hot than to bring Dan Abnett - one half of the writing team behind Peter Quill's ultra-lucrative team - and to bring the original Guardians of the Galaxy back to the fore? Unfortunately, at least at first blush, this is one Guardians spinoff that doesn't quite capture the other team's more irreverent spark.

There are three major flaws for this book, and any of them alone already would have hamped the launch of Guardians 3000: It's a plot we've already seen, with characters we don't really care about, with artwork that doesn't quite fit the tone of the book. All in all, diehard continuity aficionados will be thrilled to see these cult favorite characters back in the spotlight, but Guardians 3000 #1 doesn't look like a book that will draw in a broader audience.

Dan Abnett - yes, the famed Abnett of "DnA" fame, who co-wrote Guardians of the Galaxy with Andy Lanning - is an old veteran, and he knows that it's best to start a book off with action. And that he does - the Guardians are fighting for their lives against a Badoon ambush, but for the most part, he forgets to give us a reason to really care about these characters. Vance Astro, a.k.a. Major Victory, has a kind of earnestness to his leadership that makes him the clear favorite of the team, but our narrator, Geena, still feels like a bit of a cypher. Unfortunately, the characterization for the rest of the team feels too similar to Geena - they're there to display their powers and maybe get a line in here or there, but I couldn't tell you anything about their personalities. It's not a good way to start, especially considering how personality-focused the movie Guardians are.

For those who read the Guardians of the Galaxy anniversary special a few months back, which reintroduced this team as a pack of freedom fighters struggling against the timestream, Abnett has some interesting potential with his concept. Namely, that a never-ending battle might be good for readers, but it's hopeless, even existentially crushing for the people fighting it. What happens when you keep winning a war, only to have the universe revert back to the fighting? Abnett gets a really clever twist near the very end of the book, but it almost makes the first issue seem futile - not only have we seen some fairly generic fighting from most of the team, but now the scant plot progression hasn't really gone anywhere.

The artwork, by Gerardo Sandoval, is also going to be a mixed bag for many. He's definitely got an old-school vibe for these old-school characters - his style reminds me a bit of Humberto Ramos, but much, much more aggressive. His characters are ultra-muscled, hyper-rendered and larger-than-life (particularly the hulking Charlie-27), and that makes the action sequences feel particularly visceral. That said, it's far from nuanced, with many of his characters constantly gritting their teeth or having shifting anatomies - this is not a book you're going to be reading for the expressiveness or the acting.

Perhaps this is fitting - the original Guardians never achieved massive acclaim, and to be brutally honest, Guardians 3000 is mainly going to appeal to nostalgiaholics rather than new blood. There's tons of action and all the characters are introduced - thinly sketched, perhaps, but introduced nevertheless - and now that Abnett and Sandoval have delivered their frenetic first issue, they can potentially dive into their heroes and their unique high concept moving forward. That said, here's hoping that a rough first impression isn't going to tank this series before it gets the chance to grow.

Future’s End: G.I. Zombie #1
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Scott Hampton
Lettering by: Rob Leight
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

When reading a comic titled G.I. Zombie, you have to suspend your disbelief, just a little. This is easily done from the opening moments of G.I. Zombie, but while the story is a mix of fantastic situations and undead soldiers, it’s a bit too much story for such a small space, and the end result is a comic that feels like a missed opportunity.

Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti pen a mighty tale about infections, last second cures, zombie fighting, and reuniting with loved ones. But the story remains constricted by its twenty page length and what’s left is an issue that has a lot of cool pieces, yet none of which that are fully actualized.

The comic had me by page four where zombie soldiers, incapable of death and ready for a fight, parachute into battle. Gray and Palmiotti are clever this way, but this is also their ruin as the ideas they explore need much more space than what’s given in the comic and therefore much of their work is truncated, only scratching the surface of the story they could tell.

G.I. Zombie takes a well worn concept and runs with it, instead giving a zombie sentient control rather than making him a mindless beast. This allows for a unique storytelling perspective, especially when G.I.Zombie and his nemesis Gravedigger battle at the end of the issue. The comic has a lot of cool moments, and ones that make the lead character an hero to be reckoned with, particularly in the climax of the comic.

But the scope of the ideas is never fully realized, and Gray and Palmiotti leave me wanting more. The writers are hindered by the length of the comic so that each concept gets a little bit of daylight, but there’s not enough here to actualize each plot point. The comic concludes satisfactorily enough, and every thread is addressed, but Gray and Palmiotti show so much promise that I can’t help but feel cheated by the shortness of the issue.

Scott Hampton’s photo realistic art style works in the more fantastic moments of the issue as it adds a sense of authenticity to the tale. Several of the shots have copious amounts detail so much so that they lend believability to the story, regardless of its implausibility. Hampton, who also colors and finishes the issue, has a unique style to his backgrounds, one reminiscent of paintings so that even the most mundane shots harbor an artistic style distinct for the issue.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed G.I. Zombie, but also disappointed that the grandness of the story is never really captured. To be fair, Gray and Palmittoi are penning a single issue, so they’re operating with different rules. A story this good, though, needs either the space to stretch its legs, or an editor who will keep its scope from expanding outside of its confines.

Credit: Image Comics

Low #3
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Tocchini
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini hit their stride with Low #3. Remender’s writing is expressive but not over-blown in this story of a woman and her adult son who have to work together to survive. Tocchini’s rich artwork takes us seamlessly from an indulgent, futuristic city to the terrifying depths of the ocean. Low #3 gives us a lush adventure story and is a good place for new readers to jump on.

For thousands of years, humans have lived deep underwater to escape dangerous levels of solar radiation. Time is up for the domed city, where the air and the culture have become equally toxic. Stel and her son Marik are on a last-ditch mission to find a probe that has returned to earth with information. The mission doubles as Stel’s intervention for Marik, who is a self-pitying, guilt-ridden junkie.

Tocchini’s art makes each of the issue’s four segments distinct but also lets the story flow from one to the other. He toggles between blue-green highlights in orange-dominated panels to orange accents on shadowy blues and greens. In the beginning scene, Stel interrupts a crowded orgy to ask a senator for a small submarine. Tocchini uses apricots, pinks and tans to create a blur of bodies melting into each other and into the draped cloth around them, and we register that the end is nigh for this city. By the end of the issue when the story opens back out to the ocean, Stel and Marik are small figures in orange suits moving through a dark blue expanse.

Remender’s writing is strong in this issue because he is manages the characters’ emotions well. In Low #3, he tugs on the readers’ heartstrings less violently but more effectively than he did in the first two issues. In the first issue, I thought he went overboard in showing us how happy the family was before tragedy struck. In the second issue, Marik’s dissolution felt jarring after the wholesomeness of the first issue. In the third issue, Marik’s problems make more sense against a backdrop of citywide hedonism — and we can see that he is just an ordinary self-centered addict. Stel’s mix of sadness and sweetness is tempered by her will to survive and her tough love for Marik. Their frustration with each other is on a level we can understand from real life, even though they are in an extraordinary situation. Now that they are confronting each other, they also balance each other. When they yell at each other we can understand why each one is frustrated, and there’s some catharsis that they are both getting yelled at.

The energy level of the issue keeps building until the visual release of Marik and Stel coming out of their small pod into the gorgeously painted ocean. Tocchini’s art really soars in this underwater world. As Stel watches Marik swim, she has a nuanced emotional moment that doesn’t feel sentimental or heavy-handed. Stel has been an emotional character from the start, but this issue let me feel things alongside her for the first time. With Low #3, Remender has proven that he can write about family dynamics. It feels like there is a long, satisfying adventure story ahead of us now, and new readers can jump on here and understand the gist of the story.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Storm #3
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Scott Hepburn, David Baldeon, Jordi Tarragona and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Strong and beautiful and fiercely independent, Storm is usually an enjoyable character to read. Her adventures can range from sneaking around under the New York City subway to blowing back a tsunami on foreign soil, and that versatility is interesting. Even more interesting is her struggle with identity, a reoccurring theme in her self-titled series. Pak writes her as trying to find a balance somewhere between regal goddess and “bad girl,” an X-Man who understands the importance of politics but who also embraces the necessity of taking autonomous action when necessary. Up until now, each issue has offered us a glimpse of this struggle and how Ororo manages it, more often opting to stay true to herself and her moral compass than what is expected of her from her peers.

Unfortunately, Issue #3 doesn’t continue that trend to the same degree. Previous installments accomplished something — they made Ororo think about her power, her actions and how they would affect others. She had to make difficult decisions that ultimately allowed her to grow in confidence. Her visit to Kenya, on the other hand, felt like filler. Though she did think about the consequences of her power, that conflict was glossed over. The dialogue in this issue wasn’t particularly captivating, either, and the motivation behind her visit wasn’t creative. We’re already well aware that Storm can use her abilities to help villages and towns facing hardship, especially drought—that’s Ororo’s thing and we’ve seen her do it countless times before. If she doesn’t learn anything valuable from the experience, seeing her do it again isn’t satisfying.

The most exciting part of her trip this time around was Forge, a character whose presence did little other than rile her up for a page. While it was great to see him partially resolve some of the tension that had been haunting his relationship with Storm, their interactions didn’t read as important or impactful. At most, I saw their discussion as a chance to showcase Storm’s wisdom, which she did have in abundance. She drilled into Forge’s head that the Kenyan people had to learn to help themselves, not let others dictate how they would solve their problems. At the same time, the previous issue featured Storm going out of her way to do the opposite: she ignored what was politically sound and, rather than let humans tend to their own issues, she chose to intervene and take charge of the situation for their benefit. In this, Ororo came off a little hypocritical.

That said, this issue certainly wasn’t awful. Rather than moving forward and redefining herself, issue #3 had Storm moving backward and revisiting her past, which I understand can be necessary for growth. It’s very possible that Pak believed settling an old grudge with Forge and shedding the “goddess” persona Kenyans once worshipped were important milestones in Ororo’s development, though I still wish there had been more to the story for us, as readers, to sink our teeth into.

The art, too, was beautiful, though a big departure from Ibanez’s work in Issues #1 and #2. Hepburn and Baldeon’s faces are a little softer, their lines a little less defined. The styles are different but no less pleasant; Ororo maintained a strong form while conveying fluid motion, and the drastic changes in weather were well rendered. One scene had Storm lit by her own lightning bolts, fists clenched and teeth grit, and it was a powerful image made even more powerful by Rosenberg’s stormy colors, which gave way to the hopeful pinks and yellows of a sunrise pages later. It was then, at the end of the book, that we got a very different picture of Storm, hands on a shovel, ready to work and contribute in an entirely human fashion. The contrast leads back to her versatility, which I hope will be further explored in future issues — less saving villages and more exploring Storm.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Groo vs. Conan #3
Written by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier
Art by Sergio Aragonés, Thomas Yeates and Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Of all the unlikely crossovers that comics has presented us over the years, from Star Trek/X-Men to the infamous Archie Meets The Punisher, Dark Horse’s Groo vs. Conan is perhaps the most welcome. Two warriors proud, completely unlike in dignity, have met in battle over the last few months, and much head-scratching and hilarity has been had in that time. As the series reaches its penultimate issue, one of those great comic book “why not?” moments transcends the notion of it being a one-note joke and pushes the boundaries of meta storytelling.

Interweaving three stories, Conan and Groo’s respective worlds react to the assumed loss of their champions. While Conan’s supporters mourn his apparent passing, Groo’s extended family celebrates his absence with gusto. Of course, neither warrior is dead, and the reality is that Groo continues to confound Conan with a complete lack of a logical bone in his body. Meanwhile, in the “real world”, Groo creator Sergio Aragonés continues to wander New York in a demented haze, his experiences at a medieval fair impacting not only on his creation, but on society in general.

Groo vs. Conan is legitimately bonkers, and that’s just half of its charm. If the meeting of these two incongruous characters wasn’t nuts enough, the audacity of the creators to insert themselves into the narrative makes this something more than a nostalgic mash-up. It’s not the first time this has happened, with Grant Morrison famously arriving as a godlike avatar into his Animal Man run, but this is almost the antithesis of that. It’s a creator free-roaming throughout the open world game of his own imagination, the realities of the day-to-day matching his own strangeness. Groo isn’t Aragonés' avatar, it’s more like the other way around. Aragonés also enjoys poking fun at himself: in previous issues it has been his accent, and here it’s for constantly being mistaken as the person who draws the Spy vs. Spy comics.

At least part of the comedy in the book comes from the contrasting art styles. Thomas Yeates’ super-serious Conan style shares panels with the highly cartoony etchings of Aragonés' inimitable craft, familiar to readers of Mad Magazine. That the two work so well together on a page is remarkable, or perhaps it is just indicative of how well the creative team have sold the spirit of this series. Other pages are explosions of pure Aragonés, and a sequence set inside a kind of renaissance fair is like having a dozen Mad margin illustrations hurtled at you simultaneously.

Yet through all the non sequiturs and madness, there is still a core story that drives the historic meeting of Groo and Conan onwards. With the issue ending on a cliffhanger of proportions most dire, readers are left with a legitimate desire for more, a rare feat for books that tend towards the self-referential gags. What could have easily been a one-shot has maintained its humour and pace throughout, and is heading in the right direction to be a memorable series overall.

Pellet Review!

Catwoman: Futures End #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s hard to remember a time when Selina Kyle was just a bad guy. Sure, she has always stolen rules but it was inconsequential to what Batman storyline was going on at the time. Here, in her Future’s End tie-in, Selina is the new crime boss of Gotham it fits like, well, a leather catsuit. What’s refreshing is that, in contrast to the other tie-ins, writer Sholly Fisch has predicted a pretty reasonable fate for Catwoman. No venom serum, cybernetic enhancements or general bleakness. It feels like a very natural progression for the character. Although Fisch has a great handle on the character’s voice, the story feels a bit flat without the dramatic twist with Selina, essentially, sailing off into the sunset. With pencils by Pat Olliffe, this could be a great team on a regular Catwoman title.

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