Best Shots Reviews: HOWARD THE DUCK #1, BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT #1, STAR WARS #3, DETECTIVE COMICS: ENDGAME #1

Detective Comics: Endgame #1
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings on this wonderful Wednesday, ‘Rama Readers! This is Lan Pitts heading up today’s Best Shot column as usual reviews editor David Pepose is headed west in search of glory, but he’ll be sorry he missed this one, so I hope you’re ready! “Powerslammin’” Pierce Lydon kicks things off by telling you why Marvel’s Howard the Duck is a perfect hit in his new debut ongoing!

Howard the Duck #1
Howard the Duck #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Howard the Duck #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Joe Quinones and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Waugh! Howard the Duck is back in the Marvel Comics spotlight after his star turn in last summer’s blockbuster hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. The combination of Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones proves to be the perfect fit for the duck detective and we’re treated to a book that’s incredibly fun and surprisingly laugh out loud funny. Marvel has excelled at expanding their line by heading off the beaten path and providing their readership with titles that vary in tone, content and execution. Howard the Duck is no different.

Howard the Duck is one of the House of Ideas’ foremost comedic characters so it’s only fitting that Marvel tapped Chip Zdarsky to write his ongoing adventures. Whether you know Zdarsky for his hilarious trolling of Applebee’s or his artwork on Sex Criminals, one thing is clear: he’s a pretty funny guy. And this script is packed with jokes. Duck-tinged pop culture references, reminders about Howard’s origins in the Nexus of the Universe and Howard’s own biting wit help the book carry along at a decent pace while also giving him a very distinct voice. Zdarsky is careful to not play Howard too close to the humor that’s present in other characters like Spider-Man or Rocket Raccoon. Howard’s got a little bit more of a chip on his shoulder than that and even though this title occupies a similar space as Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it is distinctly it’s own. The concept is pretty simple and that allows the humor to really breathe as well as incorporate a number of guest stars without feeling too overrun by them.Balance is the name of Zdarsky’s game and it’s all over this one.

Joe Quinones is an artist that has quietly bounced around comics the last few year, mostly lending his talents to covers for the Big Two as well as a few interior jobs. He really puts his visual storytelling prowess to work here though. Funny comics only work is the art is there to back them up. Quinones’ sense of panel composition and timing in perfectly in sync with Zdarsky’s script and the artistic embellishments he provides only enhance a really strong script. Quinones is able to add small moments like the webpage open on She-Hulk’s computer screen (aptly titled “20 Cats That Make You Forget You Live In A World of Super-Powered Wonder and Horror") into more standard layouts but then also eye for design explode onto the page as seen in a double page spread training montage.

Howard the Duck #1 might be the best superhero book on the stands this week and that’s nothing to quack at. It’s not concerned with crossovers or big events but even if it was, the creative team has created a unique lens to see those events through. Howard’s a very lovable curmudgeon that is sure to worm his way into the hearts of even the most hardened Marvel fan and it’s his view of the Marvel Universe that really informs the book. Combined with Quinones’ art and Zdarsky playful riffs on fan favorite characters (his work with Spidey is particularly funny), Howard the Duck stands to be a breakout hit.

Batman: Arkham Knight #1 cover by Dan Panosian
Batman: Arkham Knight #1 cover by Dan Panosian
Credit: DC Entertainment

Batman: Arkham Knight #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Victor Bogdanovik, John Rauch and Art Thibert
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Although renowned for its quality as a video-game trilogy, the Arkham series accentuates the darker side of the world's greatest detective almost to the point of unintentional self-parody. The Arkham Batman is a steroid-fuelled lump of armor and anger, a man who wouldn't kill you but would happily make you wish you were already dead. Ripped from the screen for this print collection of the first three issues of the digital first series; Batman: Arkham Knight #1 begins to fill the gap between the end of 2011's Batman: Arkham City and the forthcoming Arkham Knight video game. At 32 dense but inconsistent pages, Arkham Knight #1 is a great value book that ultimately falls flat.

Batman: Arkham Knight #1 is boilerplate Batman with one huge exception: the Joker is dead. Set immediately in the aftermath of his demise, Peter J. Tomasi immediately paints a picture of the Arkham vision of Gotham, or Arkham City as it was more recently known in this universe. As Bruce Wayne starts to plan for the future of the city, so too do the Penguin, Scarecrow and the Joker from beyond the grave. Meanwhile, a mystery man in a high-tech power suit stalks the Dark Knight with malevolent intentions. Yep, there's an awful lot going on here in this book's meaty 32 pages. Tomasi keeps things surprisingly well-balanced, preferring to dwell on one set of characters for a mere page or two before shifting focus to another part of the city. Naturally, this makes for a dense script, and letterer Travis Lanham does a fine job packing so many words into each panel without squeezing out the artwork completely.

Tomasi's characterisation seems a little inconsistent at times. “I so need a new butler.” remarks Batman on one page, as if he'd just slipped into the personality of an 18 year-old high school student from 1995. There is a stronger sense of humor here than I had expected from an Arkham tie-in. It doesn't always work, but when it does (Such as when the ordinary Bruce Wayne casually disarms a would-be mugger with a single foot and nary a glance.), it makes for an unexpected delight.

Arkham Knight's Alfred is an absolute riot, taking every opportunity to wake Bruce up with a series of ice-cold burns. “You're quite the comedian, Alfred,” says Mr. Wayne during the butler's very first Arkham Knight #1 appearance. “A life spent in the company of a fool will do that to you, Sir.” Checkmate Mr. Pennyworth. Indeed, the Alfred of Arkham Knight is quite vocally against the idea of Bruce skulking around in the night to bash together the heads of the underworld, and he makes a compelling case. It's a refreshing take on Bruce's butler, a far cry from the human-blanket that Alfred so often becomes in less capable hands.

Victor Bogdanovik's artwork is mostly acceptable. Thankfully, his Batman lacks the ugly heft of his video game counterpart. Bogdanovik's villains are suitably grotesque and he clearly delights in rendering the dumbstruck expression of a freshly-punched bad guy. On a less positive note, Bogdanovik's unmasked Bruce suffers from looking a little... simple. With a rounded chin that would put Buzz Lightyear to shame and sad puppy eyes, Bruce Wayne looks more harmless redneck than suave city sophisticate.

The all-star villain approach of the Arkham games is well-represented here, but average artwork and an overly verbose script make Batman: Arkham Knight #1 difficult to recommend, even if there are a few chuckle-worthy moments.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #3
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Star Wars will be forever synonymous with swashbuckling adventure and so far Jason Aaron’s Star Wars title has delivered exactly that. The third issue in Marvel’s original trilogy tale is the most swashbuckling and high flying issue yet and that proves to be both its strength and weakness. While Star Wars #2 delivered a truly harrowing issue long action sequence filled with more than a few narrow escapes and unexpected visual gags, this third installment offers little else beyond a breakneck pace of the Rebels attempting to escape Cymoon 1. Yes, Jason Aaron still displays a steady grip on the personalities of our ragtag cast and John Cassaday and Laura Martin are still firing on all cylinders with some truly striking visuals, yet Star Wars #3 still left me feeling a bit colder than I had expected. Sometimes wall to wall explosions does not a great comic make.

Star Wars #3 picks up seconds after last issue’s conclusion which found Luke, Han, and Leia commandeering various Imperial vehicles in order to escape from the large weapons plant after sabotaging it. Their escape was further complicated by the sudden arrival of Darth Vader, the breakout star of Aaron’s take on the original trilogy. As stated previously, the entirety of Star Wars #3 details the groups efforts to elude Vader and his forces in order to return to the Millenium Falcon to make a hasty retreat. Aaron manages to sneak in a few human moments between the characters amid the explosions and near misses, Star Wars #3 still ends up feeling a bit overbearing. It is refreshing to see Aaron not treating these characters like sacred cows, and instead treating them just like any other characters with real human concerns, but surrounding them with all sorts of hell breaking loose through the entire issue undercuts these choice character moments.

While the constant action may hamper the narrative, it allows for some amazing pages from John Cassaday and Laura Martin. Cassaday, an artist more than capable to handle all the visual demands of a Star Wars title, spreads the story out along widescreen panels containing all sorts of sumptuous details complete with a few hero shots of some of our favorite Star Wars characters. Cassaday also gets a special recognition for detailing Vader’s Force powers in a subtle way that I hadn’t seen before now. Toward the end of the comic, after our heroes have completed their mission and have escaped the planet, we are treated to a silent four panel grid of Vader walking through the burning wreckage of his former weapons plant. Cassaday renders this grid plainly and silently as Vader stalks from the burning rubble, waving away large pieces of tech with almost no effort at all. It is nice to see an artist presenting Force powers this plainly without any sort of SFX affectations or visual cues. John Cassaday shows us exactly what we need to see and nothing more and that gives Star Wars #3 the visual edge that it needs.

I wanted to be blown away by Star Wars #3 and that may have been my downfall. Aaron, Cassaday, and Martin have already done the impossible and breathed new life into one of fandom’s most sacred of properties and even managed to make it pretty fun to read for the most part. Star Wars #3 isn’t tough to get through or clumsy in its execution; it just feels like too much too soon. Aaron has always been a writer willing to throw characters and audience into the fire early on and forcing us to find our bearing amid the chaos, but why ruin the good thing that he had established character-wise with an issue chock full of explosions? I suspect that Star Wars #3 will be some people’s favorite issue of the series so far, and depending on your tastes, you wouldn’t be wrong, but for this reviewer, it would have made more of an impact on me if the characters had taken center stage like the previous issues.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics: Endgame #1
Written by Brian Buccellato
Art by Roge Antonio, Ronan Cliquet, and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

If your entire world was crashing down around you during "Endgame," what would you do? Writer Brian Buccellato explores this in Detective Comics: Endgame #1 through Lonnie, known by the hacker community as Moneyspider, the one who hacked into Wayne Enterprises' mainframe. This self-contained story gave us a nice glimpse into the chaos of "Endgame" as we root for Lonnie to save his mother from the Jokerized citizens of Gotham.

Lonnie might be a nice character--humble and kind-hearted--but it's tiresome to see the same tropes being used repeatedly: a Caucasian nondescript techie stumbles upon the Bat Family's operations and somehow gets pulled into the mix. They did that with Tim and Harper and now again with Lonnie. It would have helped if there was some diversity in the kids that Lonnie meets up with, but they all appear to be from the same ethnic and socioeconomic background. Yes, this is a self-contained snippet from :Endgame" and we can't expect writers to explore every facet of every character introduced, but the other kids--and Lonnie to a degree--didn't feel fully fleshed out. It's clear that Lonnie's supposed to represent us, the reader, to a degree, since his motivations and goals are both believable and universal: the world ending, have to save my mother. This gets us engaged and behind Lonnie, which ultimately adds momentum to the story.

The plot isn't exactly nuanced, but the straightforward and simplistic plot only serve to keep us engaged in the narrative. Buccellato sticks to his guns and gives us clear motivations and goals that make the story accessible. Despite being simple, the story is in no means plain. There's enough going on to keep us interested, and Buccellato is smart in including things like the teenagers protecting children and showing us the Bat Family fighting. Those instances keep us grounded in the "Endgame" setting, but really allows the new characters to breathe.

It's hard to remember, sometimes, that this is happening after the events of Batman: Eternal, especially since Buccellato uses Stephanie Brown as Spoiler to guide this group of kids through the minefield that's currently the streets of Gotham City. It is nice to see, however, that the Bat Family has Spoiler on speed dial, which is hopefully indicative that there are plans to use Stephanie after the events of Batman Eternal. Buccellato was smart to include Spoiler for two reasons. First, she's around the same age as the characters of the issue and is just starting out in her superhero career; second, she's still a fan favorite. While she's only used in the narrative as a means of driving the plot forward, her presence is appreciated.

The real star of the issue, though, is the art team of Roge Antonio, Ronan Cliquet, and Nick Filardi. Both Antonio and Cliquet, the pencilers, were able to make the book look similar enough that there wasn't any dissonance to speak of when reading through from front to back. The art style used in this book feels a lot like Marcus To's art in his Red Robin run (who coincidentally provided the cover to this issue). Since the book primarily features teenagers, it was important for the artists to capture that youthful quality and make the art breakdowns look dynamic and explosive. Antonio and Cliquet are able to balance between sprawling fight scenes and slower, contained moments. Filardi's colors help make the enormous amount of bodies and happenings distinct.

The bottom line for this issue is that, despite its flaws, it's still a fun read. The simplistic and driven storyline is engaging and has enough heart to make us feel for the characters, which is the most important part of any story. Hopefully this won't be the last we see of these characters, since they all have potential to be great. After all, if the world was ending all around you, would you be able to help save the day like them?

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