Best Shots Reviews: DEATH OF WOLVERINE: DEADPOOL & CAP, HARLEY QUINN ANNUAL, More

Marvel previews for October 29, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Scott Kolins and Val Staples
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Wolverine may have been the best there is at what he did - but that didn't make him unique.

As a member of the Weapon Plus project, Wolverine was not only injected with an adamantium skeleton, but was unwittingly became part of a superpowered fraternity, one forged in idealism but quickly subverted into violence and terror. And in Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America, two of Logan's brothers-in-arms team up to ensure their friend is laid to rest. In the hands of Gerry Duggan and Scott Kolins, this one-shot reads much better than the entire Death of Wolverine storyline, mixing together humor, action and heart into a fitting send-off.

Writer Gerry Duggan starts us off with a great first impression, as his concept is super-smart - there's a knife with Wolverine's DNA on it, and Cap and Deadpool have to team up and destroy it before someone tries to clone their own Weapon X. Along the way, Duggan fills us in on what's going on in both Steve Rogers' and Wade Wilson's lives, and has them remember some surprisingly emotional moments with their fallen comrade.

One might think at first blush a team-up between the wisecracking Deadpool and the now-geriatric Steve Rogers would be off-putting - or at the very least played up for cheap laughs - and that might be Gerry Duggan's greatest victory here. Duggan treats every character, from Deadpool to Cap to Wolverine himself, with the utmost respect, taking what could be a one-note gag and making a strong story where the characterization stands on its own. There's some gentle ribbing between the pop culture-spouting Deadpool and clueless Steve ("The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!" Deadpool chants. "Yes. Just as I planned," Steve responds.), and that actually makes both characters seem incredibly charming.

It doesn't hurt that there's a ton of jokes and just the right amount of action in here, too. Duggan knows how to pace his comic, and instead of spending panel after panel of bland fight choreography, he peppers it with just enough intention that it really stands out. Beats like Deadpool bringing the smackdown with his personalized brass knuckles (and telling a pair of poor AIM goons he'll avoid their teeth, because he overheard them say their dental plan is "no bueno") are great, and despite his advanced age, Steve saves the day multiple times, utilizing a Quinjet better than I've seen done in years.

The artwork by Scott Kolins sells Duggan's premise, and it's because of his art style that this comic has so much range. Imbued with just enough energy by colorist Val Staples, Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America has a ton of warmth, depth and energy, and that only helps Kolins in terms of his expressiveness. Even with a mask, Deadpool expresses shock, humor and seriousness, and Steve Rogers' facial expressions are some of the funniest moments in the book. Kolins' detail work is also sublime, particularly when we see Troll dolls and car keys fall out of Deadpool's pockets when he's shot up by a drone.

Combine that with a shockingly deep finale, and Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America might be the best Marvel book out this week. It's a smart tie-in that doesn't just rest on its jokey laurels, instead elevating Deadpool and teaming him up with the most unlikely of allies. It's these sorts of pairings that make the Marvel Universe as rich and robust as it is, and Duggan, Kolins and Staples should be praised for putting together a comic as good as this. Even Wolverine himself would be proud.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Harley Quinn Annual #1
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by John Timms, Stjepan Sejic, Joe Quinones, Ben Caldwell, Kelley Jones, Paul Mounts, Rico Renzi and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Is Harley Quinn Annual #1 a cynical cash-grab, a comic book scratch-'n-sniff stunt meant to prey on collector OCD? Or is it an innovative, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink jam session that goes crazy with its structure to accomodate different art styles, different stories and even different ways to interact with customers?

Why not both?

Complete with its prominent "green" label on the cover, Harley Quinn Annual #1 is certainly the ballsiest book you'll find on the stands this week, and the goofy nature of this "smellable" comic makes sense when you're thinking about DC Comics' weirdest character. While this book doesn't always nail everything it attempts to do - particularly in the smell department - it succeeds far more than it fails, and you can't help but be charmed by the effort.

The story by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti already feels jittery and flighty from the beginning, as Harley is unceremoniously thrown back into Arkham Asylum in her quest to save her BFF Poison Ivy, and gets even more jumpy and schizophrenic to accomodate another four artists down the line. For most characters, there'd be a penalty involved, but for Harley, it's a style that fits. We bounce from a padded cell to sunbathing on a Brooklyn rooftop to being launched in an actual catapult. Admittedly, sometimes the dialogue feels a bit overwritten, and if you're looking for some deliberation and structure to your comics, you're in the wrong place.

Indeed, much of the "structure" to this comic is about the smells - and I'll be honest, while DC Comics gets tons of points for trying, when it comes to the scent department... well, this book stinks. While scratch-'n-sniff pads for a leather jacket or banana butter smell true to life, the pads for pizza (and its accompanying belches) are downright rank, and anyone who's lived even in the same building as a cannabis connoisseur is going to think something's fishy about the "hallucinogenic" pages. What's a shame is that just when Conner and Palmiotti are getting warmed up with all the smells, most of the scratch-'n-sniff pads go away with the guest artists, creating what feels like an incomplete experience.

However, while the lack of full and satisfying smellability - jeez, I never thought I would type that in a review - might be a bit disappointing, more discerning readers will likely forgive this book because of the high class of artists involved. John Timms draws a kinetic, cartoony Harley for the book's intro, and that's only the beginning. Stjepan Sejic makes a strong case for being the Big Two's next big headhunt, drawing a gorgeous Ivy and Harley as they hallucinate Swamp Thing and a giant sketchy bee. Joe Quinones, meanwhile, draws a fun three pages, complete with a joke about including Batman just to goose up the sales of original art, and Ben Caldwell and Kelley Jones get to strut their respective styles with an energetic feline superhero and a spooky trip into Jack the Ripper territory.

With all that in mind, it's a lot easier to forgive Harley Quinn Annual #1 for some of its stylistic sins, such as its random narrative and its low-brow jokes. At the end of the day, this book is about quantity - it's not about what it has to offer as much as how much. This might be crass and it might be a cash-grab, but there's something charming about just how many different, great things this annual throws into one stinky package.

Or maybe that's just the fumes talking.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Deathlok #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mike Perkins and Andy Troy
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Almost nine months after crashing the part in ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Comics has relaunched the cyborg assassin known as Deathlok. Yet even though the power's been turned on, this character still feels like he's in sleep mode. Nathan Edmondson and Mike Perkins bring a ton of potential to this character, but this first issue still feels more like a trailer than a full-on start to the story.

The problem being, of course, that we've already seen a teaser to this character back in June with Original Sins, as we saw medic Henry Hayes get activated as the sleeper killer robot Deathlok. This is more of the same here, as Edmondson injects the dichotomy of a peace-loving host with a murderous streak with something along the lines of The Manchurian Candidate. Simple code words turn this ordinary dad into someone who derails trains and assassinates problematic protesters in Venezuela. Edmondson's concept is solid, as he places Deathlok strictly in the real world, all while seeding his inevitable fight for freedom.

But I say "inevitable." That's this comic's greatest failing, and it's compounded by the fact we already saw a "teaser" to this character four months ago - this story doesn't really go anywhere. It's all set-up to a character that's pretty easy to distill, and while it's smart for Edmondson to set up the Black Tarantula as a political mercenary and an obvious archfoe for Hayes, we already knew about the violence in this series. Hayes' fleeting confusion about finding blood on one of his hoodies isn't quite enough progression to make this feel unique.

Tonally, the artwork by Mike Perkins helps put Deathlok in a dark, real-world sort of vibe - and ultimately, trades this book's energy for veracity. Perkins is very much in that same vibe as Steve Epting, Butch Guice and Luke Ross had with Captain America back in the Brubaker days, and he absolutely sells the reaction shots of hapless people being nailed in the jaw or riddled with bullets. That said, some of Perkins' compositions with Deathlok himself still seem a bit cramped or oddly angled, particularly the money shot of Hayes leaping off a derailing train. Much of this might have to do with the overly complicated Deathlok design, which feels half like metal exoskelton and half belt pouches.

What's interesting about Deathlok #1 is that in many ways it does feel like a television show - or at least one third of a television show. And it would have been riveting. There's a ton of action here, and the set-up that Edmondson is putting together has a lot of promise. But with a crowded newsstand, you need to deliver on that promise from the beginning - particularly for a niche character like Deathlok. Here's hoping that a slow start doesn't terminate this new hero before he even gets to begin.

Credit: Image Comics

Rasputin #1
Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“To your health, my friends. And to mine.”

Rasputin is about to die, and he knows it. Perhaps he’s always known it. Russia’s Mad Monk was a proclaimed holy man with alleged healing and prophetic abilities, and a duality that split him between advisor to the imperial family and being perceived as a salacious peasant. But in Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo’s reimagining of Grigori Rasputin, his mysticism is more than just speculative, and we are given a rather regal and articulate man who knows how his story will end and embraces the forthcoming events with a sip of wine.

Rasputin #1 is like the cold opening before the title screen, acclimating us into the story before the inevitable frenzy of Rasputin’s assassination. Grecian begins this series quietly and gracefully: foregoing dialogue, he gives Rasputin introspective narration that frames flashbacks of his childhood as we’re thrust from a brooding and confined candlelit setting to the vast expanse of Siberia. Rossmo’s opening panels, interlaced with Grecian’s narration, lead to a double-page spread where Rasputin is seated with his impending murderers, depicting characters that range from refined gentlemen to looming specters that each share an air of menace and mystery, while colorist Plascencia’s grim shadows dissipate into a warm glow before becoming bleak and frigid as we’re greeted by the icy gaze of a young Rasputin.

With such little historical documentation there is regarding Rasputin’s childhood, Grecian has the freedom to recreate his legend, reaching into uncharted corners of Rasputin’s past and painting a sympathetic figure. He uses this opportunity to embellish Rasputin’s mystical aspects, writing a fictitious and bloody account that reflects back to the man we see at the open and close of this issue. Though these scenes are nearly entirely exempt from dialogue, Rossmo is able to speak volumes through his art that varies from grand, energized gestures to subtle but telling facial expressions, beneath a dreamlike haze in Plascencia’s colors.

The scarcity of written word does cause Rasputin #1 to feel just a little too brief, but this first issue ultimately does not suffer too greatly from it. Calculated and reflective, Rasputin #1 is a beautifully executed prologue to the action. Grecian’s script is focused, establishing the beginnings of his trajectory towards a conclusion with which we have some familiarity—but how he takes us there and what he reveals along the way is where the thrill lives. This is the story of the beginning of the end of Rasputin’s life, and though it has outlines of one we’ve heard, Grecian has a clear vision of the Mad Monk that distinguishes his spin on the tale from the rest.

Rasputin #1 is a truly collaborative effort; Grecian’s narration reads like poetry, and Rossmo carries the narrative with ease from past to present while Plascencia’s colors guide us through the biting cold and brooding darkness. Grecian doesn’t throw us into the action right off the bat but instead pulls us in slowly and elegantly into the calm before the storm. It’s a powerful beginning and whether you had a prior interest in the subject matter or not, Rasputin #1 is a work of art.

Credit: Dynamite

Captain Victory #3
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nathan Fox, Jim Mahfood, Farel Dalrymple and Brad Simpson
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There are some books you should just be buying out of principle. And on the top of the list is Dynamite Entertainment's Captain Victory.

Forget that it's just solid sci-fi action. Forget that it's a new spin on a classic Jack Kirby character. This is a book with freaking Nathan Fox and Jim Mahfood. If you're a fan of electric, electic comic book artwork, you need to run, not walk, to your local comic shop and pick up Captain Victory.

Of course, it does help if you've been reading the previous two issues. (Do yourself a favor, read those, too. More Nathan Fox artwork, plus Ulises Farinas, Jim Rugg and Michael Fiffe. Seriously, a murderer's row of amazing talent reside in this overlooked book.) Captain Victory, the greatest military mind in the cosmos, is a man who cannot die - every time he does, his consciousness is jettisoned into a waiting batch of clone bodies. But when a malfunction splits his persona between a cocky adolescent clone and a heavily scarred "repair" copy, we have an adventure that criss-crosses space itself, alternating between a desolate, crime-ridden planet and New York City's Times Square - which in Joe Casey's hands is essentially the same thing.

With that recap all in mind, Casey does something interesting in this issue - yes, both young "Victor" and the scarred Victory clone both get their moments to fight, but the real focus on this issue belongs to Captain Victory's beleaguered crew. Major Klavus, with his black eyeliner and giant hair, barks orders and broods magnificently. But the real triumph of this issue is a scratchy, wildly energetic side story featuring Tiger Gunnery Officer Sergeant Tarin, as he investigates a possible Victory sighting in Zeneb Twelve. Drawn by Jim Mahfood, this sequence is superb, like a Sam Keith spliced together with a Damion Scott. Mahfood's long been known for his style of "visual funk," but he really outdoes himself here, whether it's with an oversized Lobo-esque hovercycle or a cross-section of a building that looks both effortless and immaculately detailed. Seeing Mahfood share the same space as Nathan Fox is worth the price of admission alone.

But even with such a stunning guest artist, don't think that Casey and Fox are small potatoes. Teaming up with the psychedelic colorwork of Brad Simpson, Fox draws some amazing sequences featuring the yound and old Captain Victories. Young Victor may have been taken out by the Drone gang last issue, but like Wolverine before him, they've taken their best shot - now it's his turn. It's a straightforward "Round Two" scenario, but Fox makes the fight sequence look so fluid, even the various panels seem to melt into one another. While Fox excels in the street-level violence Victor is embroiled in, he also gets a few pages to draw some of the more off-the-wall alien settings that the scarred Victory is hiding in. As our quiet hero battles a gigantic snail-like creature, it's hard to understate what an incredible range you're getting with this book.

While the artwork is definitely the main hook for Captain Victory, Joe Casey is laying down some interesting threads narratively. Last issue, we learned of a conspiracy within the Galactic Rangers, and it's a nice twist to see some cynicism injected into this Silver Age-inspired epic. Because so much of this book is action-oriented - and thus visually-oriented - Casey will likely take backseat in terms of the praise, but bits like the fishy Lieutenant Orca undergoing a telepathic search mission for the missing Victory keeps building up the creep factor. (Farel Dalrymple is another example of the right artist for the right story beats, beacuse Dalrymple has this clean, classic style that only heightens the feeling that something is amiss.) There's more to Captain Victory than his perfect blond features would betray, but for now, readers will be content with the teases Casey brings us.

I think in a lot of ways, Dynamite Entertainment gets a bad rap. They're known for their licensed books over anything else, and when you're printing out books like James Bond or The Green Hornet or Buck Rogers or Warlord of Mars, it's easy to overlook some truly artistic works being put out amid all the more overtly commercial work. Don't make that mistake. Captain Victory is easily the best comic that Dynamite is putting out these days, and if you're a fan of exciting, experimental comic book art, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up.

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