Best Shots: Supergirl, Dark Avengers, Robin & More

First Look: Supergirl #38

Supergirl #38

Greetings! Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Supergirl #38

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Jamal Igle & Keith Champagne

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

This could change in a couple of months or so (I'm looking at YOU, Superman: Secret Origins), but I'm ready to declare Supergirl the best title in the Superman Family stable right now, and that seemed to be preposterous only a year ago this time. Shoot, this book barely had a half-dozen issues under it's belt before I gave up on it myself, but the current creative team paired with aligning the book with the major Superman books was clearly the way to go to make this book relevant. Right now Superman and Action Comics are guilty of recent issues with little narrative weight to them other than advancing things post-"New Krypton" as mere steppingstones to whatever Next Big Thing DC has in mind to get the Man of Steel off Earth for some significant stretch. Supergirl's best success is the way it seems to figuratively stop and smell the roses in terms of character development between the lead character and her expanding supporting cast.

All these suggestions I bring to you now are underscored in one way or another in Supergirl #38, Part 2 of "Who is Superwoman?" Early on we're given some good Jamal Igle eye candy in the form of a pretty serious throwdown between our titular character and the mysterious Superwoman, to date an enigma to all as to the true nature of her being. When we last saw Kara, she was en route back to Earth from the now spacebound New Krypton on a mission dictated my her mother, Alura, to track down Reactron, the man who recently murdered Zor-El. She was intercepted by Superwoman who emphatically demanded that she not step foot back on Earth and that she return to her makeshift homeworld. During their exchange of fisticuffs that kick off this issue, Superwoman proves herself to be more than Kara can handle, and she displays uncharacteristic powers in the process. No sooner does Superwoman get the upper hand that she's given marching orders that send her elsewhere. Really, the "Mystery of Steel's" allegiances are so varied, damn if I have a clue what her true origins could be.

And while "Who is Superwoman?" hits on several different plot points, writer Sterling Gates's script gives each scene a little more depth and emotional heft than we've seen in the other Superman titles of late. Most importantly, the supporting cast here seems to get more attention than in the other books. Ladies AND gentlemen, if you're looking for a comic book with multiple compelling female leads, all of the sudden Supergirl is the go-to title for your needs. From Lois Lane's sister Lucy, who, all of the sudden, is a force to be reckoned with, to the increasingly devious Cat Grant (and who might her "tiniest fan" be?), to the continually supportive Lana Lang, this is a great showcase for the fairer sex. Again, this is all given visual life by Jamal Igle with polished Keith Champagne inking.

Since this is February and DC's "Origins & Omens" theme is playing throughout their books right now, I do have to say that the backup feature found here is one of the better ones I've read. For one thing, it didn't feel like it was an arbitrary excuse to give us less of the main story that kind of brought us here in the first place. The "Origins & Omens" piece here does a good job of continuing the primary narrative in Part 2 of "Who is Superwoman?" ("Clashes"). The backups are usually quick, breezy reads, but this one is surprisingly introspective, a testament to Gates' great writing, aided here with artistic flourish by Matthew Clark. For real, Supergirl has never felt so vital, and I think editorial at DC and elsewhere should take note that characters and their respective books can be all the more essential if you take the time to assign them the right talent. I'm not sure that Kara Zor-El has ever had it so good.

Dark Avengers #2

Dark Avengers #2

From: Marvel Comics

Writer: Brian Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Reviewed by Richard Renteria

Here is the thing about Dark Avengers: as much as people may try to compare it to other villain-centric titles, there is one major difference that most people seem to miss. Unlike a title like Secret Six, I never find myself actively rooting for these Avengers. As a matter of fact, the title has the opposite effect in that I am rooting for the actual bad guy.

While I did have my concern that this series would focus on Norman and his Avengers going after wanted heroes, it is refreshing to see that the first antagonist these “heroes” will be going up against is one that has deep roots in Avengers lore: Morgan le Fay. One of the more interesting aspects of the story was Morgana le Fay’s motivation, as it was not based on a need for world conquest or universal domination, but rather a most basic of human drive: revenge. It’s a revenge I found myself looking forward to seeing her mete out, especially since her target is one of Norman Osborn’s own Cabal members.

Brian Bendis is a smart writer because he tells a story that the reader may not want to enjoy, but is a very enjoyable read nevertheless. By effectively utilizing some of Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolt concepts and then kicking it up a notch, Bendis is able to create some real tension, not only between the Avengers team members, but in their relationship to the Marvel Universe. By creating his own bastardized version of the Avengers, Norman has put the real heroes of the Marvel Universe on notice, and Bendis wisely intersperses moments that acknowledge reader concerns about certain characters, like the Sentry, and how they are portrayed, while hinting at yet to be revealed motivations.

While I may not have be excited by the art of last issue, I am happy to say that this issue Mike Deodato really lets loose on the pencils. Morgana’s battle with Dr. Doom is well rendered and adds some great visual element to the story. When the Avengers do end up on the battlefield, Deodato does an exceptional job of creating dynamic moments. I can’t be the only one who laughed when yet another Avengers jet was crushed in the jaws of a giant monster/dinosaur/demon. The colors by Rain Beredo provide a nice compliment to Deodato’s heavy use of shadow while adding to the overall tone.

As this title is not a limited series, it is hard to see where Bendis will be taking the team in future stories but if these first two issues are indication the premise does show promise. I definitely look forward to seeing what comes next from this title.

Robin #183

Robin #183

From: DC

Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Art: Freddie E. Williams II

Review by Mike Mullins

While I have been disappointed with the last issues of Nightwing and Birds of Prey, Robin ends with a solid issue that could be compared favorably with any other issue in the series. This issue leaves me longing for more while at the same time I feel that the issue has provided a conclusion to this period of Tim Drake’s life. The story has Tim Drake coming full circle with the start of his training depicted in the original Robin mini-series as he once again has to face Lady Shiva.

Where once desperation trickery was the only means that Tim could get to level the playing field with this deadly assassin, now Tim relies on planned trickery and the same detective skills that helped him deduce the identities of Batman and Robin years ago. Tim is aware of his limitations are a fighter, he’s good, but now world class, and is ready and willing to embrace the advantages that he does possess: his intelligence and detective skills.

The issue isn’t solely about Tim’s capabilities, it also shows where Tim fits in the extended Batman family. His relationship with both preceding Robins is shown with a keen understanding of how Tim feels about both Jason and Dick. After the scene with Jason, I very much hope that the Battle for the Cowl miniseries addresses the message that Bruce left for all three Robins.

The issue also depicts Tim closing this chapter of his life through Tim’s actions and not simply narration or abrupt finishes. Tim contacts Zoanne and Stephanie to ensure that he does the right thing and doesn’t abandon either one while also checking in on Detective Harper who has quickly become one of Robin’s closest allies. This is how people act when they are preparing for a big change in their life, and Tim is clearly prepared to change directions as shown on the last page.

The origins story goes back even farther than the original Robin mini-series and shows Tim dealing with his mom’s killer, the Obeah Man. The story is quick and logical with Robin showing that Bruce’s training is second nature to him as he quickly discerns his environment and surroundings and deals with the Obeah Man’s manipulations of his surroundings. The Omens page is obviously tied into the upcoming Battle for the Cowl storyline, but seems to depict all of the previous Robins while giving a clue to the identity of the next Robin.

If you are a fan of Robin or Tim Drake this issue is a welcome read and a solid finish to the series.

Amazing Spider-Man Family #4

The Amazing Spider-Man Family #4

From: Marvel; by Various

Review by Brian Andersen

This spider anthology is a terrific deal for its $4.99 cover price. You get 104 pages stuffed with four new, never before seen tales and two classic Spider-Man stories all rolled up in one multi-page, super enjoyable comic. This book is worth the cover price alone for the wide range of characters showcased; Aunt May and Spider-Ham being the two standouts for me.

In the second installment of “The Amazing Spider-Ma’am” adventures Peter Parker’s venerable Aunt May again takes center stage. Writer Abby Denson crafts a witty and creative take on Aunt May that, while spinning the classic character into sporting Spider-Man’s costume to fight petty crime, doesn’t force her to stray so far from everything we readers and know and expect for the old gal that the story becomes Spider-Clone level ridiculous. These playfully droll stories allow Aunt May to step away from the frail, ready-to-keel-over-in-a-heartbeat old bitty, to become a more confident, smart, heroic Golden Girl. Aunt May might not battle Venom or Dr. Doom, but she sure as heck stands up to everyday threats and unseen crimes in her beloved neighborhood. Here Aunt May engages her very first arch nemesis, the botoxed and bottle-dyed redhead Edna Blackquill. Their battle is not “the universe is in peril” important but it is a moral fight to protect the integrity of the “Greenest Block in Queens” contest. Which to the everyday person can seem as important as the end of the world. Edna isn’t as vile as say, Kraven the Hunter, but she sure is evil enough to mistreat her adorable doggie and force him to do her petty bidding via the threat of a dreaded muzzle! Filled with slapstick humor and sweetness to spare this story, drawn with the deft hand of Colleen Coover (who only seems to get better and better with each assignment), offers a wonderful new take on a classic, iconic Marvel character that is a clever and sweet breath of fresh air.

Hail the return of Spider-Ham! As a kid I adored the adventures of Spider-Ham and collected his series religiously, so anytime the spider-pig can rear his snout is a-ok by me. Written by the severely underrated Tom DeFalco, who is as iconic to Marvel as Aunt May, this cute and delightful romp into a near-forgotten corner of the Marvel U is a welcomed site. And how great is it to have DeFalco bring Spider-Girl, or Swiney-Girl, with him? I must give credit to DeFalco for sticking to, and always supporting, his Spider-Girl character through her multiple cancellations, and for now giving her new life in the Spider-Ham Universe. This short story is perfectly cheesy, awesomely goofy, and totally great. Everything a Spider-Ham comic is meant to be.

Marvel has so many amazing characters and concepts that not all of them can have their moment in the sun, but by printing an anthology book like this - even one that sticks to the Spider-Man Family of characters – gives these characters their chance to shine. We comic readers all have our Z-list characters that we treasure and adore, and while they might be nobodies to many, to us, they are adored friends we cherish each time they grace a comic book page.

Birds of Prey #127

Birds of Prey #127

From: DC

Writer: Tony Bedard

Art: Claude St. Aubin

Review by Mike Mullins

If you prefer Barbara Gordon as Oracle, skip this issue. If you felt the strongest aspect of Birds of Prey was the bonds of friendship built between the respective Birds of Prey, skip this issue. If you feel the final issue of a series should feel like a conclusion, skip this issue. That’s not to say that Tony Bedard doesn’t wrap up this series as well as can be done given the obvious goal of the last half dozen issues of BoP. On art, Claude St. Aubin is the latest to fill in since the departure of Nicola Scott. His art is better than serviceable, and I wouldn’t have a problem if he were to show up as fill-in artist here and there.

This issue feels like the setup for the upcoming Oracle mini-series and nothing more. That’s not to say that there are not great moments in the issue, particularly the depiction of how Barbara’s feelings towards the Huntress have changed 180 degrees since Helena joined the birds. The fight scene, which takes up the majority of the issue, flows well as it shifts from one locale to another, something that is often difficult to pull off smoothly. This still isn’t enough to make me look at this issue as a success, and I found the issue to be a letdown.

If you want a Cliffs notes version of Barbara’s life, Kevin VanHook provides it in the five-page “Origin and Omens” story provides it from before she donned the Batgirl costume through her disbanding the Birds of Prey while the Omens page shows her conflict with the Calculator and her staring at her Batgirl costume, all of which should be dealt with in the upcoming Oracle mini-series.

X-Factor #40

X-Factor #40

From: Marvel Comics

Writer: Peter David

Artist: Leonard Kirk

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

While X-Factor may not be the most action oriented title in mainstream comics, it is one of the most character-driven stories out there. X-Factor is not so much about people with powers helping the greater good, but how they survive with those powers. No character is more fully explored in this series than the current team leader, Jamie Madrox. If you were lucky enough to read the previous issue, then it will make sense why this issue focuses solely on Jamie Mardrox.

As with last issue, writer Peter David has asked readers not to spoil the surprise ending. I for one will honor that request, but I will say the final page of the issue, while not quite the shocker from last issue, was very effective as a cliffhanger. As with most of his run on the title, David does a commendable job of exploring the very complicated Jamie Madrox, who is currently trying to deal with fallout from last issue’s events by utilizing John Maddox, Jamie’s priest duplicate, as a sounding board for Jamie’s conscience. By utilizing the priest, David is able to really explore the anguish that Jamie is currently experiencing; his words to John are powerful and really go a long way to infusing Jamie with an emotional complexity that was missing from previous issues.

Peter David is really able to show how much he has adapted his writing style since his early Marvel titles. The emotional layers that he infuses Jamie with come across naturally and grow the character organically from the series early issues when Jamie was unable to show even the most basic of emotions. What really helps the story even more is some great art by Valentine De Landro, who does a good job of reinforcing the moodiness prevalent throughout.

Because the story really is an exploration of Jamie as a character, there is little room for any real physical action (which suits De Landro’s style perfectly). There are a lot of emotions on display throughout the issue and De Landro captures them all with ease. While the first few pages of the issues look a little hurried inking wise, it is a short term effect that is quickly fixed. Also worth mentioning are the subdued colors of Jeromy Cox that grace the pages perfectly conveying the atmosphere of the story.

There are not many comic book writers from the 80s that still manage any kind of real mainstream success, but thanks to his ability to tell a genuine story and adapt his writing style, Peter David seems to be experiencing a renaissance at Marvel Comics. Paired with some great art, X-Factor is definitely a book worth picking up monthly.

The Great Unknown #1

The Great Unknown #1 (of 5)

Writer: Duncan Rouleau

Artist: Duncan Rouleau

Letterer: Francis Takenaga

Image Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

The tankini, the Segway, and the double-sided lightsaber. Those were all my ideas. For real. Oh, don’t look at me like that. You yourself probably have half a dozen claims to someone else’s fame and twice that many waiting to be lamented after the infomercial airs. Zach Feld, The Great Unknown’s protag, feels our pain.

A drunkard and a boor drifting through life, buoyed by the pride of not being a contributing cog of society, Zach is also brilliant (just ask him). He’s a perpetual thinker, a conceptualizer, a planner. He lives with his parents and keeps the garage stocked floor-to-ceiling with long boxes of ideas ‘just days away’ from becoming reality. “I got highly sensitive stuff going on in there,” says he. “Real mind-blowing work that people will kill for.” Well, at least steal, which is a startling revelation of Zach’s when he begins seeing billboards popping up, soliciting his top-secret ideas. At first Zach thinks it’s all part of some grander intervention by his relatives to light a fire under him to actually do something with his life. But when an agent from the company IMind reveals that Zach’s very thoughts have been “compromised and taken” without his knowledge, a bigger conspiracy is suddenly afoot.

Duncan Rouleau (co-creator of the Ben 10 show on Cartoon Network) writes with an autobiographical tone, and at points when Zach launches into discourse with middle finger firmly extended, I wonder how blurry the line is between entertainment and catharsis. Either way, it’s certainly entertaining. The first eight pages are a little off-putting and on the first read comes across as apparently nothing greater than an aimless rant, but bear with it, for it all eventually fits. Comical, wholly cynical, with a cartoony style of artwork, this was a surprisingly enjoyable to a little known series. Especially enjoyable is the feature on the inside of the back cover, the “Salutes To History’s Unsung @$$holes”, which in this issue celebrates the centurion who ran Archimedes through.

I give The Great Unknown a Buy It Now rating.

Little Nothings, Volume 2

Little Nothings 2: The Prisoner Syndrome

Written & Illustrated by Lewis Trondheim

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The first volume of Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings, collecting a run of comics from Trondheim’s online web journal, was easily among the best comics of 2008. With the second book, Trondheim appears determined to guarantee himself a place on everyone’s Best Of lists on an annual basis.

The Prisoner Syndrome is mostly devoted to Trondheim’s travels, his escape from the prisons of everyday humdrum. Each of the book’s one page strips is a peek into the mind on Trondheim and the prism through which the world’s cultures unfold to him. Everything about the strips, the humor, the coloring, the observations about our cultural standards, is warm and inviting. Trondheim’s self-effacing wit remains strong.

Among the highlights are Trondheim’s sheer pleasure at a hotel serving breakfast until 2:30pm; the two-strip saga of whether a banana is a fruit (according to a tour guide in the Caribbean, it is not; when an online source contradicts, Trondheim blushes at his ignorance in the previous strip, then sets the punchline that he’d better consult a few more sources before posting a new entry); and Trondheim’s encounter with a very talkative man in the dentist’s waiting room.

The simple anthropomorphic characters exhibit a tremendous range of emotions and subtle reactions. By forgoing panel borders, Trondheim allows each drawing and each strip to spill over into reality, enforcing the truth of what he’s depicting.

With its quiet observations of life’s miniscule wins and losses, Little Nothings has become the most welcome, positive and anticipated book of the year. Trondheim’s established himself as one of the world’s great cartoonists, and this volume can only grow the legions of fans he’d earned around the world.


The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats Sell Out (Abrams; by Mike): This collection of one-panel gag strips by cartoonist Adam Koford simply isn’t aimed at me. The strips have a few clever moments, but gist of the strips seems to be based entirely in the “humor” of Internet memes (LOLCats) and Internet (that annoying Internet type-speak that makes the English major in me want to strangle its users). Koford has a few honestly clever gags, including warping the panels borders a few times. But most strips are simply unremarkable, only interesting if you really find their faux language clever or hilarious.

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch #100 (Archie Comics: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): 100 issues, 42 of which being the Manga-ized version of the classic character, and Sabrina’s current comic series draws to triumphant, yet sad close. Triumphant because, well, what a milestone! 100 issues is an achievement, not only for an American Manga comic, but also for a comic book starring a solo female character - how many comics starring a girl make it to 100 issues? We can probably count them all on one hand. Sad because, well, this awesome book, filled with so much energy and vigor, is over. The best thing about Sabrina has been the detailed and inventive mythology and ongoing storyline writer/artist Tania Del Rio has been able to weave throughout this “kids comic.” Sabrina might be considered a kids comic but it that never talked down to it’s audience, never fell into the too simple, empty, gag-only oriented storytelling, and always strove to give the reader a fun, intelligent read. And this final issue is no exception as it magically wraps up the entire 42 issue run leaving the reader both satisfied and wishing for more. So congrats and goodbye Sabrina and Tania Del Rio, cheers to your accomplishment.

Justice League of America #30 (DC; by Mike Mullins): The next time DC wants to do a theme that takes up six pages in a book, they should decide half a year in advance so that their writers can plan on the shift from 22 pages of story to 16 pages of story. As has happened with some other titles with Origins & Omens, the pacing feels rushed in Justice League of America 30. Even though I was familiar with some characters from the Milestone universe, I don’t know them all and most readers of JLA don’t know them at all. While depictions of Hardware and Icon as they interact with Hawkman and Superman, respectively, provide strong characterizations the rest of the Shadow Cabinet is barely touched upon. The fact that Batman knows Rocket but had no clue as to the identities of the Shadow Cabinet just two issues ago seems bizarre. The remainder of the issue goes by in a blur that doesn’t really answer many questions that are sure to arise, such as, “How did Dr. Light come to trust the Shadow Cabinet enough to go along with their plan,” “What happened to the candle that was the remains of the evil Dr. Light,” and “Since when could Superman do that?” The Origins vignette was uninspiring and the single Omens panel did nothing to whet my appetite for more issues of JLA.

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