Best Shots Reviews: MIDNIGHTER #1, STAR WARS #6, More

Marvel June 2015 Solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a ton of reviews from the industry's biggest publishers. So let's kick off with today's column, as we take a look at the first issue of Midnighter...

Credit: DC Comics

Midnighter #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by ACO, Hugo Petrus and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

He's cybernetically enhanced. A black ops spy with a taste for violence. He thinks fast, talks fast, and can beat you senseless before you even knew what hit you. He's fearless and precise, because he has a computer in his head that lets him see every move you're about to make.

He's the Midnighter. And based on this first issue, he is assuredly going to knock you out.

If you haven't heard of Steve Orlando or ACO yet, get ready, because this is a career-making debut issue. Even if you have no idea who the Midnighter is - or like me, was skeptical of the ultra-violent, leather-clad Batman pastiche - this is as action-packed an introduction as you're likely to find. Orlando stages this comic like a Bond movie, brash and fast-paced, as we not only watch a mysterious assailant attack the interstellar outpost known as the God Garden, but we also get to see the Midnighter brutally take out a restaurant full of Modoran guerillas.

There's a kind of balls-out intensity to Orlando's writing, whether he's peppering his scenes with fun weaponry names like the Manticore Drone or the Hermes Harness, or channeling his inner Warren Ellis by giving the Midnighter some homicidal one-liners. It gives this book a ton of energy, and makes it a real treat to read.

But this comic isn't just about the flashy action - Orlando also imbues the Midnighter with a real sense of melancholy, as he pines over his ex, the Superman homage known as Apollo. What's great about this book is that it doesn't present Midnighter's sexuality as anything taboo - it's not a punchline like the way it was originally introduced - but instead as something as raw and visceral as the rest of his life, particularly in the way he hooks up with the book's everyman, an IT guy named Jason. All this gives the Midnighter a bit of that depth that's eluded him in the past - he may not have dead parents to humanize him the way Bruce Wayne does, but I think we can all relate to wanting to hit the town and meet somebody special.

But the art - man, this art is some of the more spectacular stuff to come out of the DC stables these days. ACO reminds me a lot of artists like David Aja and Andrea Sorrentino, which is likely the main reason why Midnighter #1 reminded me so much of Brubaker, Fraction and Aja's first issue of The Immortal Iron Fist. ACO stacks his pages with a ton of panels, and while that might be off-putting for inexperienced readers, it leads to a deep, rich reading experience from the very first page. ACO's sense of scale and composition is immaculate - a page featuring the Gardener floating unconscious in space is flat-out gorgeous - and I love the X-ray effects he throws in to show just how badly the Midnighter is hurting his foes.

There aren't many books out there that I'd call perfect, but when you can see 10 steps ahead, it's perhaps not surprising that The Midnighter earns that praise. This book looks great, reads great, and is easily one of the best debuts from DC since the soft relaunch of Batgirl. If you've been skeptical about this character - and believe me, I was one of them - get ready for a spectacular change of heart.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #6
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the big pleasures I've always gotten out of the Star Wars trilogy has to be the growth of Luke Skywalker from naive farmboy to lightsaber-wielding Jedi knight. Say what you will about the Ewoks, but I always got a thrill during Return of the Jedi when Luke strolled into Jabba the Hut's palace like a boss. So with that in mind, there's a lot to like in Star Wars #6, as Jason Aaron and John Cassaday treat readers to a dream rematch (or would we call it prematch?) between Luke and that fiercest of bounty hunters, Boba Fett.

Aaron doesn't hestiate to drop us right in the middle of the fight, as a blinded Luke scrambles to survive, after Fett has tracked him down to Obi-Wan Kenobi's house on Tattooine. Given his evocative design, it's no surprise that Fett has inspired so much mythology outside of the original Star Wars films, and you can tell how much fun Aaron has finally giving that masked man a voice. There's a real no-nonsense, blue-collar sensibility that you can hear, similiar to Geoff Johns' Captain Cold or Ron Perlman. (I can dream-cast, can't I?)

But what's great about pitting Luke against Boba Fett is that Aaron has an opportunity to further flesh out Luke's journey as a hero. Throughout this series, Aaron's really ratcheted up the tension, which is no small feat considering you know that all the main characters are going to be alive by the time they hit Empire Strikes Back. Luke is absolutely green at this whole freedom-fighting business, but Aaron continues to hint at his future as a badass - even blinded, Luke's not going down without a fight, utilizing not just some lightsaber skills, but even a quick burst of the Force. It's this kind of magic - coincidence or not - that evokes greater things, and makes for a thrilling read.

The other thing that makes this book feel so potent is the artwork. It's a shame that this is John Cassaday's final issue, because he's made this book feel as life-like and tonally true to the films as any artist possibly could. He's got some great beats here, whether its Luke and Fett both reaching for a lightsaber, or the way he absolutely nails Harrison Ford's likeness as Han finds an old bottle of Corellian wine in one of his stockpiles. While sometimes his Luke can looks a little distorted with his expressions, Cassaday is still one of the most cinematic artists of his day, and he makes this book look absolutely spectacular - a final page featuring Darth Vader, for example, is probably the most thrilling image featuring the character since Empire Strikes Back.

The one thing that holds this book back, however, is the subplot, which features another romantic interlude between Han Solo and Princess Leia. While the bickering between the two was always a source of comedy for Star Wars as a film series, this sequence just doesn't fit in. On one hand, it does fit the Lucas films - it just happens to fit some of the goofier, weirder beats of the original trilogy, like the same vein of the Ewok city. There are going to be fans who lose their minds over the identity of the bounty hunter tracking Han down, but the cynic in me can't muster up the enthusiasm. If this was really a game-changer for the newly streamlined Star Wars universe, do you think they'd be announcing it in a comic? Ultimately, the appeal of these books is to show the continuing adventures of characters we already love, but it's understood that Marvel is going to have to leave the original trilogy more or less sacrosanct.

While the B-plot may be a bit lacking, there is a lot to love about Star Wars, even as this issue is bittersweet when you realize that John Cassaday is riding off into the binary sunset. In many ways, the future of this title is at stake, as it relied so much not just on Jason Aaron's voice, but Cassaday's skill at realizing it. But for six glorious issues, a real dream team has brought Star Wars back to life, and they deserve plenty of accolades for not just accepting this high-wire act, but for totally sticking the landing. May the Force be with any artist who has to follow up on this virtuoso effort.

Credit: Image Comics

The Covenant
Written by Rob Liefeld
Art by Matthew Horak
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Obviously, Rob Liefeld is a divisive figure in comics, inspiring either hero worship or total vitriol with as little as a single tweet. It’s fitting then that he would decide to tackle a biblical story in his new book The Covenant, as it’s a subject sure to inspire similarly strong reactions. The Ark of the Covenant is one of the great artifacts of Judeo-Christian lore and it’s been used in storytelling before, perhaps most famously in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Liefeld, with the help of fledgling artist Matt Horak, looks to create something of an Old Testament-style Ocean’s Eleven in order to that follows the great heroes of the Israelites as they try to steal the Ark back from the Philistines. But what Liefeld and Horak are attempting to do and actually accomplish are two vastly different things.

The problem with the script is that it’s so wrapped up in explaining things that it never really gets going. Liefeld is very concerned with giving us enough backstory as a means of giving the story weight, but it’s not like most readers don’t understand the concept of the Ark. To have a MacGuffin explained in such great detail doesn’t make us care more about it, it only drags out the pacing and siphons any bit of entertainment from the story. Liefeld has enough potentially compelling characters from Old Testament that digging into them instead of the Ark would have given the book a leg to stand on. Instead, we get quick one-sentence descriptions of each of them while the Ark has pages dedicated to it. The book lives and dies with being filled with introductions, but never gives us enough plot to move the narrative to move the plot forward.

To make matters worse, Horak’s artwork is stilted and lifeless. It’s impossible not to recognize some of the similarities between Horak and Liefeld’s artistic approach, but where Liefeld tends to sacrifices realism for dynamicism, Horak pulls back. The result is something that looks more anatomically correct but it feels bereft of a strong style, so the book ends up looking more like a Sunday School coloring book (albeit a violent one) than a comic book with ay kind of storytelling power. The world of the story is not enhanced by Horak’s work and his character designs are completely forgettable. There’s a certain obsession with mid-range shots as well, which makes the pages feel crowded and claustrophobic. On any shots that are pulled out a bit, the inking is too heavy and it obscures the panels’ subjects. Liefeld took a chance with a fairly unknown artist, but it looks like he still has a lot to learn.

The Covenant isn’t an offensively bad comic book - it’s just an unrefined one. Horak’s art feels amateurish at some points, and that’s not particularly encouraging. Liefeld’s scripting is utilitarian and dull. The sum of those parts is a boring book that stands out against Image’s other offerings because it lacks the imagination and flair that those books possess. The concept at the title’s core is somewhat interesting - the Ark is a compelling artifact on it’s own and a biblical heist sounds like fun - but Liefeld and Horak aren’t able to fully realize the concept in this issue.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Beyond #1
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With Batman Beyond #1, the Paul Dini and Bruce Timm version of future Batman is brought into the DC Universe proper, but with changes that mark him Batman in name only. Gone is the Neo Gotham of the series, or even the DC Digital series. Instead, writer Dan Jurgens kicks things off with an almost clean slate as Tim Drake now dons the digital cape – make that wings – and cowl. Spinning out of both Convergence and New 52: Future's End, Batman Beyond #1 shows a very grim and driven Tim Drake doing his best to fulfill his promise to the now-dead Terry McGinnis. He shall protect, and perhaps even prevent, the destruction that has befallen the Earth of the future and save Neo Gotham, which still exists thanks to some special scrambling that keeps it hidden from Brother Eye.

If you're confused by that opening, don't worry, Jurgens does a strong enough job in revealing the keys points of the past without forcing the reader to hit the back-issue bins. However, in his attempt at bringing the reader up to speed, some of the primary focus and drive of this debut issue gets set aside. This issue really is all about the set-up and introducing both Tim and the reader to this all new Neo Gotham. Jurgens does his best in allowing the reader to learn of this world along with Drake, but it happens at the cost of overall pace. There is a lot of exposition in this book, and it's hard to find a focus to latch on. Also, Jurgens doesn't quiet seem to have Drake's voice locked in yet. This is a character that never really found his tone after the New 52 and this debut issue isn't helping matters. As it stands, this Tim Drake speaks like a slightly less brooding Bruce Wayne. And while that is a fun concept to explore, it doesn't feel earned in this issue.

Still, from a visual stance, there is a lot to like about this book. While Bernard Chang hasn't fully captured the energy from the animated series, he is getting darn close. Which is all the most impressive when one considers the static nature of the medium. It's unfortunate that Chang is only provided a few pages with which to showcase his strong grasp of movement and action. Although most of the book is planned out in rather traditional panel design, Chang still takes the time to break the negative space and provide some much needed energy to an exposition-filled issue. His tighter facial expressions also have just the right amount of detail to drive home the emotional moment, without relying on heavy dialogue. This small bits of detail are well augmented with colors by Marcelo Maiolo, who takes the opposite approach and really lays the primary colors on thick when Chang's pencils tighten in close. It's a great contrasting style that adds a nice depth to a scene that could have easily wallowed in the bleakness of the environment.

However, at the end of the day, Batman Beyond #1 is simply missing that key element that made the animated and DC Digital series so fun. Like it or not, Terry McGinnis has always been DC's answer to Peter Parker, a teenager gifted with great power and decides (from guilt or purpose) to make the world better. And while the series could get dark from time to time, there was always the brighter day waiting beyond those deep purple Neo Gotham nights. That sense of underlying goodness feels missing in this new Batman Beyond. With that missing feeling goes much of the core enjoyment of both the series and character. Considering what Tim Drake now faces in the future, it seems unlikely that we'll ever see a return to humor and high adventure that was always the benchmark of the Dini and Timm series. As it stands, this just reads like another Batman book, layered with angst and regret. Not something we really need more of.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Armor Wars #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Marcio Takara and Esther Sanz
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

James Robinson and Marcio Takara introduce a world of corporate espionage and mechanical warfare in Armor Wars #1, a Secret Wars tie-in that doesn't quite fulfil the potential of its intriguing premise.

Somewhere on Battleworld lies Technopolis: a high-tech dystopia whose citizens rely on Stark brand armor to survive. Baron Tony Stark rules over Technopolis, but he is beset on all sides by the rival corporations of his brother Arno (yup, Iron Man 2020's been reimagined here) and a certain Mr. Wilson Fisk. With tensions at an all-time high and a dead super-hero at Tony's feet, it won't be long before Technopolis descends into all-out war...

The concept of Technopolis is relevant and compelling (the corporate strongholds of Google, Apple and Facebook immediately came to mind), and the idea of everyone zooming around in their own personalized Iron Man suit is a fantastically fun concept in itself, but Robinson fails to fulfil the potential of this unique little sector of Battleworld.

James Robinson's script is simple and repetitive. His main conceit, that of a technological war of corporate espionage and armored warfare between brothers, is compelling, but he struggles to flesh it out into anything meaningful. Characters constantly repeat that they're forced to wear armor to save their lives, that nobody can remember a time when they didn't have to, that Arno is a very bad man, but it's meaningless chatter. Robinson fails to tell us the “why” behind all these questions, and as a result it's very hard to be invested in the story he's trying to tell.

Elsewhere, a plotline involving a small company pioneering a new form of armor is by far the most promising and well-realized. Stark's talk of acquisition and protection perfectly illustrates their world in a way that the rest of the book completely fails to communicate.

Marcio Takara's subtly manga-influenced artwork works well with the setting, making Armor Wars' smog-covered dystopia a mash-up of Marvel and Akira or Ghost in the Shell. It's not an overpowering influence though, as Takara's style is a confident 50/50 mash-up between an American and Japanese comic book aesthetic. His iron-suited Spyder-Man looks more Iron Man than Spider-Man, a solid design change when the Iron-Spider and Dustin Weaver's Aaron Aikman: The Spider-Man both linger in recent memory. There often seems to be a lack of detail between Takara's thickly inked lines, a problem which isn't helped by Esther Sanz's simplistic and often haphazard coloring. Takara seems to block out his own pencils with intrusive inkwork, and Sanz's combination of liberal color gradients and flat blocks of color make Armor Wars #1 an inconsistent looking book from page to page.

At its core, Armor Wars #1 is little more than a set-up for an impending murder mystery. Robinson's world-building is more than a little clumsy, although there are a few moments here when the setting really shines. Marcio Takara's artwork is similarly troubled. His stylish pencils seem choked by overzealous inkwork and ham-fisted color. All in all, Armor Wars #1 is a book with a solid concept hampered by poor execution.

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