Best Shots Reviews: LANDO #3, BATGIRL #43, FIGHT CLUB 2 #4, More

"Drive #1" cover by Antonio Fuso
Credit: Antonio Fuso (IDW Publishing)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Lando #3
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Lando Calrissian has it all - a loyal cyborg friend, a winning smile, a killer cape, and now a sleek pleasure cruiser filled with Sith artifacts. Lando #3 finally reveals exactly what Lando and his crew of misfits have stolen, and it's out of the frying pan and into the fire for the galaxy's second-most-dashing rogue. Writer Charles Soule, aided by the fluid pencils of Alex Maleev and the rustic colors of Paul Mounts, delivers an action packed third issue that feels like a blockbuster despite only having one real action sequence. Along with this fantastic action beat, Soule also allows the audience to spend a bit more quality time with the series’ current big bad, bounty hunter Chanath Cha, as he hones in on the trail of our scoundrels. Lando #3 doesn’t bring everything to a head just yet, but it feels like a can’t miss issue thanks to Soule’s whip smart plotting and the art team’s slick eye for blocking.

Picking up after last month’s cliffhanger, Lando #3 finds our anti-heroes facing down two deadly members of the Emperor’s personal guard as Lando’s cyborg partner-in-crime Lobot attempts to recover from the wholloping he received from hacking into the ship’s secret hold. Soule keeps this third issue moving at a very deliberate pace, allowing Lando and antiquities dealer Sava Korin Pers to deal with the problem that’s in front of them - getting Lobot to a bacta tank before he loses himself to his implants, while twin martial arts masters Aleksin and Pavol handle the more pressing (and deadly) problem of the killers in red.

Soule doesn’t play this moment as Lando turning tail and running, however. He understands that Lando is a born gambler who knows only how to play the odds, and Lando facing down two members of the Emperor’s personal guard with no one but an antiquities expert by his side isn’t exactly the safest bet. More than that, Soule taps into the deep well of humanity hiding beneath Lando’s sly smile. While Lando is compartmentalizing the problems that face him, he is still deeply concerned for Lobot and wants to get him healed. This isn’t just a matter of self interest - it's also a matter of doing the right thing. Lando may be a scoundrel, but he isn’t some nerf-herder that will leave his friend to a fate worse than death. As for Aleksin and Pavol? As Lando says right before they leap into the fray, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them happier.”

The twins’ prowess in battle, briefly glimpsed in the first issue, is displayed fully here, and thanks to Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts, it is well worth the wait. Anchoring Lando #3 as the issue’s main action set piece, Charles Soule smartly gets out of Maleev and Mounts’ way and allows them to block the absolute hell out of this silent, yet visceral fight scene. Displayed in long, panoramic panels that spread themselves over both pages like widescreen displays, the Twins and the guards parry, guard, and slice away at each other through two double-page splashes of action. Though this action beat is Lando #3's main selling point, Soule and the art team also pull the curtain back a bit on the series’ other pressing mystery - Chanath Cha.

Switching gears from the crimson and pale blue-tinged panels of the Imperialis, we are transported to a classified Imperial ship dock where Chanath Cha is given a ship with a sassy droid at the helm, whom he almost instantly dismantles. Chanath is still Lando’s major ace in the hole mainly as he walks that line between mysterious and cool, but Soule even goes a step further by allowing him a few choice gags, sidelining Lando as the series’ main jokester. Maleev and Mounts’ eye for scene construction also pays dividends with these scenes too as Chanath and the decapitated droid O-66 verbally spar in the cold vacuum of space and in the orange and green glow of the ship’s consoles. These scenes are played mostly from Chanath’s behind and in sporadic close ups as he fusses over the controls in pursuit of our heroes. Lando #3 proves that not only has Soule not lost a step now that he’s operating in a galaxy far, far away, but also that Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts are just as keen as they were years ago and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

Lando #3 has a lot of layers hiding underneath it’s slick surface. While the issue’s widescreen action beat is definitely something that can get readers in the door, Lando #3 also ratchets up the tension of the chase and delivers a grounded, human take one of Star Wars’ most intriguing characters. Lando #3 is the kind of issue that makes you wish that this series was an ongoing instead of just a miniseries. Charles Soule, Alex Maleev, and Paul Mounts have tapped into a character set and tone that could sustain multiple arcs, but for now, we have three solid issues starring a band of scoundrels and one hell of a long con. That’s enough for now, but you can’t help but feel greedy for more.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #43
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart
Art by Babs Tarr, Michel Lacombe, Juan Castro and Serge Lapointe
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Good art, at the end of the day, is all about contrasts. I'm not always talking about color - sometimes all you need is something incongruous. Take Batgirl #43 for example - after several satisfying done-in-one comic books, this series has taken an engrossing turn to detective fiction, with a mystery surrounding everyone near and dear to Barbara Gordon.

It's also a story about rampaging tigers mauling start-up employees.

It's that X-factor - that crazy burst of memorable color - that makes comics like Batgirl #43 such a fun read. And not only because of the gonzo high concept - in many ways, this comic winds up feeling so satisfying because we're starting to see this creative team really settle into their groove. The first few months of any series can be a burst of creative fire, but the real measure of any team's success is consistency. And that's a quality that Batgirl has in spades.

Since the soft relaunch of this series, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr have taken great pains to diversify Barbara Gordon's supporting cast, and with this issue, all that work is beginning to bear fruit. With a tiger epidemic spreading across Burnside, this creative team is not only able to show off the crazy action sequences, but they draw in all these characters they've established so far. Batgirl's weapons designer, Qadir, is suspected in one of the attacks; meanwhile, Babs' roommate, Frankie, itches to get into the field, forcing Barbara to parrot the same lines that Batman and even her father did in the early days of her crimefighting career. It's all about that contrast - turning the tables on characters either philosophically or situationally. For my money, the best contrast has to be Fletcher and Stewart's new and improved take on one-time Batwing Luke Fox, as he becomes a surprising new love interest for Babs. The heat between the two is immediately apparent, and it's a subplot I eagerly await Fletcher and Stewart to follow up on.

Artwise, Babs Tarr and Michel Lacombe are really playing nicely off one another, and it's that team-up that I think has really demonstrated Batgirl maturing into a sustainable title. Tarr and Lacombe's layouts are as strong as I've ever seen them, packing in a ton of information without ever seeming cramped or overstuffed. In particular, I love the animated way Tarr lays out the fight sequences, down to the tiger's surprised reaction when someone stops him from mauling a programmer. (Colorist Serge Lapointe does a fantastic job with these sequences, with Batgirl's trademark purples playing off nicely against the bright blue backgrounds.) But given the big moments for both Frankie and Luke, Tarr does a superb job in introducing them - when Frankie meets with the accused Qadir wearing a surprising new accessory, she's absolutely magnetic, with some lush inking that really makes these pages pop.

If there's one thing that Batgirl #43 does right, it's making sure that you not only care about Barbara Gordon, but that you pay attention to her vibrant supporting cast, as well. Like I said before, it's the contrast here - it's not just the headlining character who's important, but the people around her, as well. With some beautiful artwork and some really engaging characterization, this tiger-centric book isn't just good - it's grrrrrrrrrrreat.

Credit: David Mack (Dark Horse Comics)

Fight Club 2 #4
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Art by Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

“That this borders on being too meta,” argues a member of Write Klub in Fight Club 2 #4 when Marla Singer turns up to ask author Chuck Palahniuk where her son is. “Here,” he responds dismissively, handing her a piece of paper. “Don’t call unless the plot lags.” Palahniuk isn’t the first person to insert himself into his own comic book story, but he might be the first to do so in order to casually turn away his own creation with a "get out of jail free" card. What was only hinted at in previous issues comes to pass in this outing, as Palahniuk continues to build his Stephen King mythology by way of H.P. Lovecraft.

Flipping the concept on audiences, we now witness the world of Fight Club through the eyes of Tyler Durden, who has been "trapped" by erstwhile narrator Sebastian during the intervening years. As a treat for readers, this pushes Marla to the forefront as she goes on a tour of the various clubs inspired by the original Fight Club. We get the first inklings of her own plans afoot, along with a broader sense of the world Palahniuk is unfurling. In true metafiction fashion, it’s as if his brain has exploded (like Sebastian’s did in the first issue) and we now just have to ride the shockwaves of the collision of his world with ours.

With Palahniuk operating in his full stride, this issue is not only one of the most self-referential to date, but also the most gleefully anarchic as well. Hyper-aware that his beloved creation has become for many a one-dimensional reference, he riffs on that through a series of disposable clubs. There’s Bite Club. Pint Club. Film Club. Some that we simply can’t repeat the names of here. Taking readers on a twisted pleasure cruise through their nostalgia, he revels in having a prematurely aged little girl demand blood-soaked rebel insurrection in the Congo as her final make-a-wish request.

In every comic book, your mind unconsciously creates the movement between each of the panels. Cameron Stewart draws those bits in-between, transporting the abstract into something more tangible. From the explosive sex scenes - lit on fire by color artist Dave Stewart - to the glorious piece of violence that is deliberately “censored” by a familiar (albeit blood-splattered) Comics Code Authority logo, it’s an art style that reaches out and pulls you in by the unmentionables. Bloodied teeth sit on top of the art, as it devolves into punk pulp while Sebastian gets the snot pelted out of him. This is what comic book art looks like when it is being used in its most undiluted form.

Relying partly on your remembrance of the original work, as well as on the bits you only half-remember, it’s entirely appropriate that the familiar face (or what’s left of it) that turns up in this book is the very same one that Sebastian wanted to destroy because it was beautiful. Palahniuk might be talking directly to us with these final pages, indicating that if anybody is going to take the last few punches at the beauty that is Fight Club, it’s going to be him.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel Zombies #3
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Kev Walker and GURU-eFX
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After spending the last two issues of Marvel Zombies knee-deep in the dead, Elsa Bloodstone has no time for jokes. It sucks to be her then, because she's about to stumble into Marvel's go-to guest star for the 2010's... Deadpool! Yes, “Zombies + Deadpool” is a combination that'll either send you flying into the comic book shop with cash in hand, or cause your eyes to roll so far back into your head you'll be staring at your own thoughts. Thankfully, Simon Spurrier knows how to wield the sometimes grating Merc with a Mouth, slotting him imaginatively into a guest slot that never threatens to derail Marvel Zombies' consistently high-quality script and artwork.

The horde of zombie villains have captured Elsa Bloodstone's unlikely new companion; a small bald child who is more special than she initially seems. After stumbling upon the zombie hideout, Elsa soon finds the secret to their unexpected intelligence: Deadpool brains!

Simon Spurrier's done quite well so far, building on Ellis and Immonen's trigger-happy version of Elsa Bloodstone and cementing her in a volatile and zombie-filled Battleworld domain. Spurrier's a master of the quick wit, and he slips into Deadpool's voice as comfortably as a well-tailored suit. Characterisation-wise, he nails Bloodstone's interior conflict between her impossibly harsh upbringing and her new-found fondness for that strange little bald girl. You can really feel Elsa rip herself in two as she repeats her father's sociopathic mantra about the weak and feeble, knowing in her heart that it's a load of nonsense. There's a measure of catharsis here for Elsa, setting up the final showdown next issue.

Kev Walker continues to illustrate Elsa's journey in an appropriately blood-soaked and decrepit manner, covering every possible nook and cranny with cracks, rust and mold. As has been the case throughout this series, he simplifies his style for character portraits; complimenting Spurrier's knack for the comedic with exaggerated and cartoony expressions. The differentiation in style between Walker's rotting, hyper-detailed living corpses and his animated heroes adds an element of contrast between the living and the dead that can often get lost in the predominantly mud-slicked aesthetic of the modern zombie story.

Colorists GURU-eFX dust off the old faithfuls for Marvel Zombies #3, splashing orange and teal all across its pages. Elsa's fiery presence is depicted visually as a red-hot force that blazes across a spooky moon-lit nightscape. Inker Jason Gorder casts a thick line around Walker's emotive faces, picking out the grit on zombies' withered husks and underlining Elsa's scythes of red hair. Gorder's pitch-black inks work well with Walker's artwork, drawing your eyes up to Elsa's stern visage and establishing her ferocity and stoicism.

All-in-all, Marvel Zombies #3 is another solid instalment of a miniseries that's been well-worth reading since page one of #1. Simon Spurrier's script is quick-witted, well-paced and full of heart, whilst Kev Walker's confident lines adeptly illustrate Elsa's zombie-infested corner of Battleworld. Let's hope next month's finale sticks the landing.

Credit: Antonio Fuso (IDW Publishing)

Drive #1
Written by Michael Benedetto
Art by Antonio Fuso, Emilio Lecce and Jason Lewis
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Riding in on the tail of the hit film and the novel that inspired it, IDW Publishing's Drive has the potential to be an exciting new spin for action-packed crime comic books. Unfortunately, as far as this first issue is, "potential" is the best word I can use to describe it - much like the movie itself, the pacing on this wheelman's journey is glacially slow, but without the magnetic charm of the film's soundtrack (or Ryan Gosling, for that matter) to give this book its voice.

Like Jason Statham's Transporter, James Sallis's hero, the Driver, is a career criminal in every sense of the word - while cars may be his calling, he's not out to flaunt his skills or to tempt fate. He's a well-oiled machine, one with a penchant for perfectionism and some ironclad rules to keep his hands clean. "It's not attitude. It's principle," the Driver says. Unfortunately, it's also a type of stoicism that may keep new readers away - while writer Michael Benedetto does a great job of illustrating the steps this Driver goes through as he prepares for his next job, like selecting and upgrading his wheels, there's not a lot of reason to latch onto this guy as a character.

Part of that is because of decompression - this story basically ends just as things start to pick up, when the Driver's latest job takes an unexpected turn. But some of the low energy here is also because of translating a motion picture into the static, silent nature of comic books - you don't have the haunted soulfulness that Ryan Gosling projects on this characters - and part of that is also a drawback to artist Antonio Fuso's style. Like I said before, there's potential here - it just still hasn't quite been tapped yet. Evoking artists like Jock or R.M. Guera, Fuso has a scratchy, shadowy style that works wonders for establishing atmosphere, but it doesn't help with the fine detail work that goes into each character's expression.

In other words, while we definitely get the sense that Los Angeles is not a place to be trifled with, there's no "acting" by any of the characters, as they just present with varying degrees of grimaces. Additionally, this book's biggest draw - namely, the chase sequences - feel a bit too static, and while watching an overturned car frozen in the air does build some nice tension, other sequences, like the Driver trying to spin his car exactly as planned, feels a little retrograde. What is decidedly not retrograde, however, is the electrifying color palette by Jason Lewis, who absolutely sets the tone for this book visually. With some hot pinks and aquas, Lewis is definitely the MVP of this first issue.

Ultimately, I wouldn't count out Drive just yet - now that the world has been established, there's plenty of places for Benedetto and Fuso to go, and hopefully they'll put pedal to the metal and really ramp things up. But as far as this first issue goes, it's undeniably a slow start - and with so many other options on the stands, hopefully Drive's goodwill at the box office will keep its comic book counterpart from being left in the dust.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson
Art by David Lopez and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Sometimes, event books can swallow their tie-ins, making reading the main comic essential for a story that should really stand on its own. Secret Wars has been a bit of an exception. The very nature of its premise, with dozens of alternate universes smashed together, means that the tie-ins can be largely separate from the overall story if desired. Unfortunately, some series can lean too heavily on the overall premise, losing their own momentum in the process. This is the flaw that befalls Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3.

The script by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson feels attached at the hip to the event's Doom-centric premise, with much of the drama revolving around Carol’s distrust of her Baroness and what that may mean for the origins of her powers. The issue picks up in the aftermath of the Carol Corps being targeted by the Baroness’ forces. Carol and her team secretly plan an escape for themselves, along with Rhodey. These plans offer one of the main draws to the book: Carol’s leadership. DeConnick has always emphasized Carol’s assertive nature, and in these moments, the issue shines.

Unfortunately, these moments are fleeting. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3 is more preoccupied with getting to the action. There’s nothing wrong the action itself, but it’s hard to buy into the stakes when the plot is so bound to the Battleworld premise. What makes series like Where Monsters Dwell and Master of Kung Fu shine is that they take the event’s scenario and create their own isolated story within that world. Even titles like Siege, which embeds itself in the world of Secret Wars, largely come up with a story that could be refitted into a regular title, making it easier to buy in. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3, however, is stuck with a premise that reminds readers of the world they’re experiencing, and that makes it hard to ignore the transitory nature of the event.

While the story is a bit lackluster, artist David Lopez and color artist Lee Loughridge turn in some great work. David Lopez has always had a versatility that serves the story. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3 involves both character work and aerial combat, and Lopez excels at both. Aerial dogfights are hard to nail on the page, the three-dimensional combat can often appear disorienting, but Lopez gives the scenes a real spatial geography and depth with his choice of angles and perspective. Colorist Lee Loughridge uses ambers and cool blues to create a mood in each scene, and the darker hues really fit the on-the-run story. Letterer Joe Caramagna does a nice job balancing the use of effects. In action-packed comics, one runs the risk of letting the sound effects overtake the artwork. Caramagna embellishes his letters in the flow of Lopez’s art, and the result is action that feels kinetic and lively.

Ultimately, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3 is an above average book, but it doesn’t quite enter “good” territory. While the art is fantastic, the story is hindered by its overreliance on the makeup of Battleworld, diminishing the stakes. Fans of Carol will still find plenty to enjoy, but new readers are likely going to be underwhelmed by this outing.

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