Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your big column? Best Shots has you covered, with a look at the latest books from across the industry! So let's kick off today's column with Battlin' Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at Green Lantern...
Green Lantern #35
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Rob Hunter, Batt, Mark Irwin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
When Geoff Johns departed Green Lantern, he left behind a string of epic stories, far-reaching in their scope and grand in their production. Under Geoff Johns, Green Lantern felt as vast as space itself. So when Robert Venditti took over, he had to do two things: take the series on as his own and put his individual stamp on it, and keep it feeling as ambitious as Johns had.
“Godhead” is where he makes such a mark.
Continuing from Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead #1, Green Lantern #35 brings the Corps face to face with its new and indifferent nemesis, The New Gods. Tonally, these New Gods are terrifying in their apathy. They’re an enemy unlike anything the Corps has faced during Venditti’s tenure, and the writer captures the aloofness of his villains with a harrowing space battle that leaves several corps members dead, and many more mutilated.
The opening shots of the comic set the timbre of the issue as a disembodied arm floats amid globules of blood. This is a darker tone Venditti has given Green Lantern as of late, but the methodical nature of Venditti’s storytelling gives the issue a sinister feel. Hal Jordan does his best to maintain his usual casual candor, but the swiftness with which he’s defeated gives a sense of urgency to what the series has in store for its intergalactic police force.
Furthermore, the direness of the situation is exemplified by Venditti’s climax, a final page that speaks of an alliance that is both necessary and foolish, and one that shows the desperation which Jordan and the corps immediately feel. This heightened seriousness is due to how callous Venditti makes the New Gods. You can sense the earnestness of the storytelling, and the pacing makes the comic completely engrossing. Every step in the issue is deliberate and confident, and you can see that Venditti is in complete control of his story, and he clearly has a plan. It’s been a while since I read a Green Lantern comic that left me amazed and giddy by the end.
Surprisingly, Billy Tan’s art isn’t as clean as it normally appears. This may be due in part to three sets of inkers because the art of the pages is inconsistent. Some of the illustrations are crisp and sharp while others are muddled and stained as if the inks bled into each other. Alex Sinclair does what he can with the colors but the overall darkness of the issue limits him to a meager palette. The best parts of the issue are close ups, but few appear. Instead, to really capture Venditti’s story, Tan has to rely on panel full pages at the expense of clean imagery.
Regardless, Green Lantern #35 is a slow burn. It begins with violence and ends with desperation. Bringing in the New Gods is a stroke of genius as it opens up the grandness of the story, finally having a similar feel as Johns’ “Rebirth,” “Sinestro Corps War,” or “Blackest Night.” If the series lives up to its promise, Venditti will earn his spot alongside Johns, and show people that as a Green Lantern successor, he is more than worthy.
Moon Knight #8
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
I was worried about Moon Knight when it was announced that Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey would be moving on after six issues. Mainly I was worried that the title would lose the manic energy that it displayed or perhaps become a pedestrian version of itself. Fortunately, Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood, armed with the secret colorist weapon that is Jordie Bellaire, assuaged those fears with their first issue together and look to continue their vicious streak with Moon Knight #8, an issue that touches upon the ruthless and unstable personalities of the lead character as well as expands his world through sparse exposition. Moon Knight #8 may have a new look, but it still displays the same attitude.
Keeping “Season One’s” format of one-and-done stories intact, Moon Knight #8 finds the Lunar Avenger defusing a hostage situation in New York’s One Freedom Tower, though his methods of de-escalation may be frowned upon in most, if not all, hostage negotiation training centers. Moon Knight, in just its short time on shelves, has been known for displaying a flair for narrative and artistic turns, and in issue eight, Wood, Smallwood, and Bellaire work in tandem to deliver a pretty choice bit of comic book storytelling. As Moon Knight (or one of four other personalities that he identifies as) scales the tower and infiltrates the building, the action is presented in ever shifting perspectives, such as hostage’s camera phones, live news feeds, and the building’s closed circuit security cameras. Smallwood lays out each of these pages with tight, static still frames, that trade the dynamism of earlier issues with a sense of claustrophobia that works very well in the issue’s favor. Chris Eliopoulos also outdoes himself on this issue, as the text of the first eighteen pages demand’s the eye’s attention from the bottom or to the side of the panel. Formatting a comic like this is a huge gamble, as most times it tends to lose the kinetic energy that you usually get from traditional panel layouts and transitions, but for this story, which aims to be a comment on the 24-hour news cycle and our obsession with documenting our own lives through our phones, the spartan panel layouts work very well.
Though Greg Smallwood’s panel layouts are as economical as you can get, the artwork within those panels does not disappoint. Employing the mammoth talent of colorist Jordie Bellaire, Smallwood displays much more confidence with issue eight than with the previous issue, which looked fine but was a bit too much of a Shalvey riff for my tastes. Smallwood’s work on Moon Knight #8, however, looks more like a cross between the work of Shalvey and the work of Daredevil’s Chris Samnee, which as far as comparisons go, is pretty damn great. Smallwood uses each static panel to display just how fast and deadly effective Moon Knight is in the field, all while transmitting his actions down a video phone or a CCTV camera. Jordie Bellaire is fantastic as well, rendering each panel in either a steely blue-grey, or soaking the action on the streets below with garish reds and blues as police lights constantly flash. Bellaire is the only real connective tissue we have to the first “season” of Moon Knight other than the Declan Shalvey covers, but I can’t imagine the book being colored by anyone else. Her colors slot effortlessly into the pencils of Smallwood, giving Moon Knight the artistic edge that we expect from the title.
While I’ve expounded quite a bit thus far on the artwork and layouts of Moon Knight #8, Brian Wood’s script delivers a tightly contained story that takes the title just a few steps further than Ellis’ “Season One” did. Throughout Spector’s rescue of the hostages, he and Detective Flint, Moon Knight’s handler of sorts, are in constant communication with each other, however, it seems that Moon Knight doesn’t quite have as firm a grasp on who exactly he is throughout the mission. From page to page, Moon Knight is going by a different name, or aspect of his personality, and in a rare moment of lucidity, he asks Flint to contact his doctor, the unnamed woman we saw all the way back in issue one. Wood uses this audience surrogate character to illustrate just how unstable Spector is, while Smallwood telegraphs these turns with subtle changes to Moon Knight’s costume from panel to panel. After the footage of Moon Knight’s violent rescue of the hostages goes viral, Flint is promptly sacked a warrant is issued for Spector’s arrest, leaving him without his police safety net and leaving him, once again, alone with his own crowded mind. This small, but effective, narrative turn gives Wood and company some very interesting places to go in future issues, setting up almost a mini-arc going forward. Khonshu help the poor sod.
Moon Knight fans rejoice, your favorite lunatic is in good hands. After a shaky start as well as the daunting task of filling some enormous shoes, Moon Knight #8 looks to be the start of a confident and entertaining continuation of what was started with the first set of issues. Wood, Smallwood, and Bellaire seem committed to delivering comics that are wholly their own and resisting the urge to ride the coattails of what came before. Moon Knight, as a title, is still tightly plotted, more than a bit violent, and pulpy as all hell, and really, isn’t that all we wanted in the first place? If Moon Knight #8 is any indication, we are in for a solid Season Two.
Gotham Academy #1
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl, Geyser and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
A constant refrain in the comic book community is that publishers need to vary their output in order to gain new readers and keep the medium alive. That’s easier for indie publishers that aren’t as beholden to “the way things are” like the Big Two are, but it’s clear that they’re at least trying. For DC’s part, they’ve doubled down on their Batman-related output and rather than necessarily push any one character, they’re attempting to broaden the market for genre fiction within the superhero genre, specifically within the Bat-verse. Case in point: Gotham Academy is an attempt to teenaged mystery story set in a boarding school in Gotham. The connections to Batman are a bit tenuous, but the premise is outside the norm for the New 52, maybe in hopes that it’ll be enough to bring readers in. And it’ll have to be enough because Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher don’t give us much in the opening issue. Lucky for them, they’ve got artist Karl Kerschl along to provide some excellent visuals but there is no meat on these bones.
Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher are by no means bad writers. But Gotham Academy is built to make it clear that it’s filling a void first and meant to maybe be a good comic book second. The narrative focuses on Olive Silverlock, a returning student to Gotham Academy who is tasked with showing the new girl “Maps” Mizoguchi around the campus. Of course, it’s only fitting that Maps is Olive’s ex-boyfriend’s younger sister and that allows Cloonan and Fletcher to dig right into some mopey narration. For all the heroics that Olive might display later, she comes across as drab and disinterested. “I feel like I’m stuck inside these old buildings. Stuck with people who don’t understand me. Or even like me. But there’s nowhere else for me to go,” she narrates. It gives some shades of many of John Hughes’ Molly Ringwald characters as she’s continually misunderstood.
But unlike those works, the central “problem” is nowhere to be found in this story. There’s a bit of a mystery involving Olive and Batman. There’s a bit about a ghost haunting Gotham Academy (supernatural occurrences don’t seem unlikely, even if the headmaster bears an uncanny resemblance to Ra’s Al Ghul). Readers may be into young Maps’ youthful exuberance but chances are they’ll be just as bored by her as Olive seems to be. The book leans pretty heavily on regular school story tropes, but that’s to be expected. Cloonan and Fletcher seems to want to capture some of that Buffy/Veronica Mars vibe in this first issue and that’s a respectable goal, but there’s just not enough here to make me care about the characters or their plight, whatever that may be.
Karl Kerschl is the real star of this issue, and ultimately, he’s the reason that I’ll come back for Issue #2. The colors by Geyser and Dave McCaig are a bit too dark for my tastes, but Kerschl’s cartooning really cuts through those problems. (I know, I know. “Too dark” in a book named after Gotham seems like an oxymoron, but here we are.) Olive and Maps have become fast fan-favorites, largely due to the look of this book. There isn’t anything like this coming out from DC, and the way this book swerves away from the house style that the publisher has cultivated in the New 52 is appropriate. By expanding the kinds of artists that they employ, DC has made it easier to sell readers on certain kinds of stories. Kerschl’s blend of almost Disney-esque characters and fully realized backgrounds make Gotham Academy feel pretty instantly recognizable, like you’ve just been away for a while rather than being introduced to something new. Kerschl’s storytelling helps the script out immensely. By giving readers consistently entertaining and engaging visuals, Kerschl’s is able to keep the pacing of the story up and help smooth over some of the book’s narrative flaws.
Gotham Academy is a step in the right direction for DC and for superhero comics in general but the creative team, specifically the writers, are going to have to give us more if they want us to keep coming back. So far, we’ve gotten a somewhat derivative story set-up with little in the way of direction or characterization coupled with mostly gorgeous artwork. It’s not a terrible base to start from and the general comics buying public seems to agree. But a notoriously fickle audience could turn pretty quickly if the creators aren’t able to deliver.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
After the intensity of the first arc, Nailbiter #6 takes a quieter approach in introducing this plot’s developments. This issue acts as a one-off story to set the stage for what Williamson and Henderson have in store for us this go-around, and while it’s just a bit calmer than the ever-thickening mystery we’ve gotten used to, Nailbiter #6 still keeps the same elements of intrigue surrounding Buckaroo while adding some perspective on how the town’s legend affects outsiders, as well as how deeply it affects its denizens.
Our titular Nailbiter and the greater mystery Finch and Crane have been investigating take a break this issue as Alice narrates her own experience in Buckaroo. Teaming up with Crane, the two confront a pregnant woman named Mallory, who is determined to have her baby in this town, believing its influence will make him or her into another Butcher. At the get-go, Mallory’s a perfect fit for what we’ve gotten to know in Buckaroo — her motivations, her speech, and the look in her eyes really sell the notion that the legend of the Buckaroo Butchers has a bigger radius than we know.
As Mallory tells Alice her grandiose schemes, artist Mike Henderson leads us gracefully and gruesomely through panels to illustrate her visions. Even with less serial-killing happening in these pages, Mallory’s delusions allow for Henderson to depict some gore that still continues to surprise — and that’s saying something, after we’ve witnessed burning corpses, severed limbs, and gnawed fingertips. Guzowski’s colors assist in making this scene in particular stand out with sudden splashes of red against a blank background, nestled maliciously between pages of Buckaroo’s perpetual gloom.
Having Alice tell the story this time in Nailbiter allows us to have a deeper look at someone who has seemingly played a smaller role in the story thus far. Alice’s brief appearances have given us glimpses as to who she is and what she’s all about—we’ve seen her angsty, unsympathetic towards certain deaths in town, and recently with a peculiar interest in Buckaroo’s resident murderers—and Nailbiter #6 shows us there’s still more to her than what we’ve seen. Giving Crane some of the spotlight builds on to her characterization and relation with Alice as well; Crane hasn’t been so nice to Alice, and their interactions in this issue shed some light as to where that animosity stems from. It adds substance to both their characters and gives them the power to strongly carry this story together.
As we reach the end of Alice’s narration, things seem to suddenly wrap up a little too neatly, and it somewhat lacks the punch earlier issues have had and what we’ve come to expect from Nailbiter, but it isn’t wholly bad; as we’ve seen, nothing ends neatly in Buckaroo, and even this all-is-well feel shows shades of malice elsewhere and paves the way for things we have yet to learn about another of Buckaroo’s residents. Mallory’s obsession with having a child born in Buckaroo reiterates and solidifies the idea that the town produces serial killers, and perhaps there is more truth to that than myth in this story. As the mysteries in Nailbiter unravel, more are created, and it’s clear Williamson and Henderson have so much more to tell.
Justice League 3000 #10
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
This issue of Justice League 3000 is what Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis have been leading up to since the series began. The Justice League, after having lost one of its founding members and learning the dark truth of its existence, faces off against a group of god-like villains known as the Five, a cadre of evil that could wipe the League from existence with something as simple as a thought.
Unfortunately, Giffen and DeMatteis show us that god-like powers are nothing against villain egotism.
First the good. Howard Porter spends the majority of the comic trying to keep up with Giffen and DeMatteis as they bounce from moment to moment with flimsy cohesiveness. When he gets the opportunity, though, Porter draws some outstanding imagery. The splash page at the beginning of the issue, an intricately detailed view of Camelot’s throne room, is a plethora of magnificent detail, even down to fine etchings on the armor of Camelot’s knights.
Similarly, Porter’s Etrigan is a beast, an imposing figure inked in lush detail and brought to life due to Hi-Fi’s vibrant colors. The character is only teased by Giffen and DeMatteis, but even in this single shot the comic makes me excited to see the larger role Etrigan will play in Justice Leage 3000. Porter also makes sense of the battle at the end of the issue. Here, the pacing is at its best with each panel crafted in a way that makes the fight cinematic. Batman’s battle with Convert in particular is a show of Porter’s skill at translating action into coherent and exciting visuals.
The story, though, is a pacing mess. Giffen and DeMatteis want to cover a lot of ground in this issue, for example the introduction of Camelot 3000, the Demon Etrigan, and the finale of this drama with The Five. The comic starts solidly enough as the League reveals its plans to King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Sir Galahad - leaders of a kingdom currently engaged in a battle with Etrigan - but quickly devolves from there. Scenes shift at a frenetic speed with weak transitions in between. The abrupt changes are jarring enough that I had to flip back and forth a few times to make sure I wasn’t missing a page, and the finale is so rushed that Ariel Masters’ final statement fails to elicit the excitement it should, partially due to an attempt that humor that elicits little more than an eye roll.
Plus the villains the League is battling could soundly defeat them with the mere blink of an eye. But for as much as Giffen and DeMatteis built up the enemy to be a terrifying threat, they’re defeated because their egos get in the way of their abilities. Also, they seem to accept this reality as part of their personas. Giffen and DeMatteis go out of their way to remind readers that even though the Five could wipe the League from existence, they’d rather not use their powers because of the pleasure they would get from physically defeating the heroes.
Given the megalomania exhibited by these characters in previous issues, the sudden change of heart doesn’t sit well with me. This kind of carless writing is frustrating because it doesn’t advance the characters at all. They come together in a way that makes them more like the actual Justice League, but they are only able to win because their enemies were too conceited to display their full abilities. It’s a cop out, and it’s cheap, and it diminishes the growth the heroes have shown over the course of the arc.
Justice League 3000 is a series of inconsistencies. When it takes a step forward, it takes one back as well leaving it feeling stagnant rather than fresh. I’ll admit that I’m interested to see what else the series has in store, especially given all of the loose threads it leaves in its wake, but the writers have to get a grip on their storytelling tactics, especially with how much they have yet to cover. If the final page is any indication of the direction of the series, Justice League 3000 has a lot of story to tell. I only hope its future outings are better than this.
Men of Wrath #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ron Garney and Matt Milla
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Marvel/ICON
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Jason Aaron great-great-grandfather once stabbed a man to death in an argument over sheep. For Aaron, it’s the kind of thing that stayed in the family blood, enough for him to make a point of it not only in the introduction of the Southern Bastards collection, but as the opening sequence of his new series Men of Wrath as well. If it’s a case of history repeating itself, that’s kind of the point of this new book, where the sins of various fathers continue to roll on down the generations in increasingly destructive fashion.
Isom Rath replaces Aaron’s forebear, overcome with rage in 1903 at the actions of a fellow named Grievers and kills the man in front of his son. Cut to the present day and Ira Rath is a hitman for hire, regarded by most as ruthless. If further evidence of that is needed, his introduction sees him unrelentingly doing away with a husband and wife, before seemingly doing away with their infant as well. (A tofu steak dinner says this plot point comes back later in the series). After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Rath is approached for one more job that ties directly into the bloodlines that have defined him his entire life.
It is difficult to not see this as a deeply personal musing for Aaron, if not so much in subject matter, at least in theme and his curiosity around his own ancestral heritage. Aaron notes this himself in the back matter, commenting “Whatever was passed down to me from Ira Aaron... down through the generations... I’m now passing on to you.” Involving the reader directly in the tale in this way might just be a kind of catharsis for the writer, a man who has been arguably writing about tough men struggling with their familial ties at least since 2007’s superb Scalped. In this sense, Men of Wrath isn’t so much going over old ground as it is a variation on a theme that galvanizes Aaron’s work.
Aaron once again teams up with frequent collaborator Ron Garney, a union that first began in 2008 with Wolverine, a visual nod to which can be found in an armed robber’s choice of mask later in the issue. Garney’s pencils are both haunted in the flashbacks, and haunting in the present, the majority of the issue playing as a darker version of the events that played out in the opening scenes. Matt Milla’s colors delicately reflect this, using brightly lit pastels the moment it all went wrong for the Raths, and immediately contrasting this with the substantially dimmer shades as Ira first takes the stage. Indeed, Ira appears entirely in silhouette in his first panel, and remains half in shadow for many of his subsequent appearances.
The issue begins with a quote lifted from Bruce Springsteen’s 1995 song “The New Timer” from the album The Ghost of Tom Joad, itself a reference to a character originally from John Steinbeck’s 1939 classic The Grapes of Wrath. That song and album told parallels between the Dust Bowl period and the 1990s, in the same way that Aaron draws comparisons between images over a century apart. It perfectly sets the tone for a series that promises to be another of Aaron’s musings on the nature of hereditary violence in America.
Written by Robert Napton and Seamus Kevin Fahey
Art by Christian DiBari
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Image and Top Cow are no strangers to horror, and the opening shot of a woman with giant hedge shears readying to attack a man tied to a tree leaves us in very little doubt that we’re in slasher country. Keeping with this tradition, the “Cutter” of the title refers to the nickname that’s attached to the killer. What remains unclear in this debut issue, the first in a four-issue mini-series, is whether it will be the kind that set VHS bargain bins ablaze in the ‘80s and ‘90s, or something a little more sophisticated.
The former seems to be the driver of the plot, at the very least, as small town murder is connected to happily married Jeremy and his connection to the victims. A deed that he and his friends committed in their youth appears to be coming back to haunt them. It wasn’t last summer, but someone appears to know what they did, because said friends are falling like leaves under the mighty chop of the killer’s hedge trimmers. There is something that Jeremy is holding back from everyone, including his heavily pregnant wife, and this would appear to be not only the secondary mystery of the book, but the apparent motivation for the killer as well.
For a first issue, it doesn’t so much set up a mystery as shamelessly wave both arms in its direction, signaling us in a direction that is clearly either the obvious answer or a less-than-subtle red herring. A sheriff almost willfully ignores clues for the purposes of delaying the riddle for a few more issues, ignoring enough circumstantial evidence to at least keep Jeremy overnight on the reasonable suspicion of his involvement in the crime. A clueless cop is a just fine as a staple of the genre, but when it simply another machination of the plot to keep this from being more than a one-shot, the book begins to lose its grip on suspense.
DiBari’s black and white art is effective, but it is also incredibly inconsistent and far too thinly sketched for the atmosphere that Napton and Fahey are attempting to create. The opening sequences promise true terror, the twisted and gnarling trees and the sharpness of the blades offer a tangible violence, in a set of panels that are masterfully laid out. Yet elsewhere in the book, details is lacking where there should be more, and other panels (such as the killer’s self-harm) shy away from the detail a little more (especially given that “cutter” also acts as a double-meaning for this self-mutilation). Indeed, most of the sequences involving the killer have a lighter touch to them, almost as if glimpsed through a brighter bulb, and to DiBari’s credit this gives them an otherworldly quality. Yet as the issue builds to its cliffhanger, some of the sketchy details make it difficult to place what it is we are meant to be focusing on, and this is at the detriment of the story.
Cutter has all the potential of pulling a dramatic twist out of its tool shed, although by the end of the first issue the first big twist is something we’ve seen in a score of 1980s slasher flicks. Yet giving the book the benefit of the doubt and assuming it doesn't go down the obvious route of revenge horror, it might just be worth a second visit next month, even if it’s just to conclusively see where it is going.