Best Shots: Secret Warriors, Jonah Hex, Destroyer and More

Best Shots: Secret Warriors, Jonah Hex

War of Kings #2

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War of Kings #2

From: Marvel Comics

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning

Artist: Paul Pelletier

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

It dawns on me with this issue of War of Kings how important every creative element in a comic is to the overall feel of the book. Sometime what really helps to sell a story are the small touches, like letterer Joe Caramagna’s use of two different colors for the interior monologues of Gladiator and Crystal; or the intense font he uses to express Vulcan’s rage. These touches combined with a tightly paced script and some great artwork equal must-read entertainment.

As Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning continue to explore the conflict betweenthe Kree/Inhumans and the Shi’ar Empire they do so with a lot of emotional weight thrust upon the shoulders of key members of the various factions. Crystal’s realization of the greater need is executed perfectly and contrasts nicely with a prior scene detailing the pandemonium that followed the Shi’ar’s initial attack on her wedding.While Crystal’s narrative takes up a majority of this issue, DnA expertly pepper the issue with significant developments not only in the story but the characters as well and no character benefits more than Gladiator.

While Vulcan continues to act out his childish rage, Gladiator’s realization that only wanton destruction seems to sate his anger wasboth a somber and haunting moment. Somehow through a combination of the words spoken and the efforts of the artists one gets the impression that Gladiator is about to come into his own as a character. The final scene of this issue is not only a great cliffhanger it is a possible moment of growth for a character that has devoted his life to one single purpose.

Speaking of a well-rendered Gladiator, Paul Pellitier proves not onlyhis ability to capture the quiet moments but also manages to displayshis talents detailing action and movement. The battle between the Starjammers and the Shi’ar is quick moving but detailed just aseffectively as the moment when Crystal realizes how important Ronan isand accepts her role as his bride. The entire emotional spectrum is on display this issue and Pelletier capture them all expertly.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Chorus Sentries as, not only are they a nice idea built upon the echo weapons of Maximillian, they perfectly capture the serious nature of a newly focused Black Bolt. I’m sure Rick Magyar put in overtime on the inks this issue as there is a considerable amount of art on each page, but he pulls it all off effortlessly and never overwhelms the art. Wil Quintana’s colors add a nice moodiness to story but never come across as overly vibrant.

It is obvious a lot of effort went into the creation of this book andthe reader is the clear winner. While I may not be reading all the tie-ins for this event it is nice to see that War of Kings is really staying focused on telling it’s own story without making the reader feel as if they may be missing something.

Secret Warriors #3

Secret Warriors #3

From: Marvel Comics

Writer: Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Stefano Caselli

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

While I appreciate the effort of the creative team in their endeavor to build upon the Hydra/SHIELD connection I can’t help but feel like thestory is mainly standing still and focusing on the wrong character. The overall concept of Secret Warriors is intriguing yet three issues inand I’m starting to wonder if this title is really as fulfilling as I was expecting. Thus far the big mystery revealed in issue one has beena fascinating twist, but the story in general is somewhat frustratingas the writers focus on Nick Fury is unfortunate because there seems to be no development of his character.

Is it possible for a writer to be too clever for his own good? I’m not trying to be harsh as I sort of understand what Bendis and Hickman aretrying to accomplish, but the execution seems to be wanting. There is an inordinate amount of posturing going on throughout this issue and it becomes a bit distracting during Fury’s rendezvous with Contessa Allegra de Fontaine. The James Bond/Mr & Mrs Smith moment isinteresting in theory but the execution was mundane and entirely too long. Fury as a character is an interesting person but as a lead character in the current Marvel Universe he seems completely out of place and his inability to see his team for what they are, inexperience kids, goes a long way to enforcing his myopic worldview and that seems to be the story direction. There is no character growth, nomoment of self-revelation, nothing, just Fury being Fury and that gets old quickly.

Don’t get me wrong I thought the series started out strong but then we had the thud of a cliffhanger from issue two combined with another thudof a cliffhanger this issue and I find myself wondering exactly what the writer is using as a hook to maintain reader interest. Another thing I find lacking with this series is any real characterization in general of the actual Secret Warriors. Each character is a basic pastiche of established trope, whether it is superhero or teen angst,and the story suffers for it as the reader feels little empathy for what happens to the characters.

The art by Stefano Caselli continues to be the highlight of the series as he not only has the ability to rend emotion but also convey action.Yet much like the script the art is barren of any personality. Backgrounds are all but nonexistent and I continue to mistake Daisy for Maria Hill. Daniele Rudoni’s colors are improving issue to issue but he still has an over-reliance on the airbrush effect and his propensity tomask entire scenes with whatever color passes for a background is really an unfortunate direction as the technique provides for little distinction between foreground and background.

I really want to like this series and I would really like for it to succeed as it is a great series in which to introduce new characters. Unfortunately the execution of the last two issues has been lacking and proves why Nick Fury is a better character in small doses and those around him are much more interesting.

Haunted Tank #5

Haunted Tank #5 of 5

Written by Frank Marraffino

Art by Henry Flint

Colors by Lee Loughridge

Review by Brendan McGuirk

I really didn't want to write about Haunted Tank until I was good and ready. I'd enjoyed the previous issues, sure, but I didn't feel like I had truly gotten a grasp on the “why” of the series. It wasa clever setup, sure, and it was well drawn and paced, and it was different from anything else on the stands, but I struggled to widen the scope of the series, and better understand it. With its final issue, though, it solidified itself as the year's shining Vertigo miniseries.

For a book that set itself to the backdrop of the Iraq War during itsearliest stages, the series was free of much controversy. Unlike many war comics, it never rang as an anti-war comic, or a protest book. It did take a look at the hardships of ideological wars, but it did so ona broader scale than any one war. It featured a quietly diverse cast of fully realized characters, and managed to present what felt like an overall authentic slice of modern warfare. Except for the ghastly CivilWar-era general. That was less authentic.

This final issue finally gave the story of how the Confederate General Stuart came to be an ancestor of African-American Sergeant Stuart, andit was as domineering and jarring as one might expect. It was this revelation that finally sold me on the angle of the series.

To me, General Stuart's dark legacy of reckless aggression acts as a personified echo of America. Understand, it is not my contention that this is in any way an anti-American story, but it is an attempt to reconcile our historical heritage with our role in the modern world. By inspecting our history, and putting a face on America's greatest shame, and greatest betrayal of its own ideals, it extrapolates the conflicting identity at the center of a fight for freedom. It is about the conflict of individual's shortcomings when they are are meant to be harbingers of ideals. In many ways, to my reading, it is about the impossibility of winning a war; sure, you can finish a war, but to win it requires individuals to internalize new ideologies in a way that simply doesn't happen. General Stuart lost the Civil War, but he never stopped fighting it, and he never learned the lesson it taught the rest of us.

Ultimately, this was the story of the U.S. taking of Baghdad, and a family's awkward reconciliation. Any subtext is just gravy. It is important not to put this story in a box. The issues it addresses, implicit or explicit, are treacherous ones, and ask questions without answers. But that is the responsibility and right of great fiction.

And that's what I'd call Haunted Tank.

Destroyer #1

Destroyer #1 of 5

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Cory Walker

Colors by Val Staples

From Marvel MAX

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Destroyer begins in the most apt way- with a fist slammingthrough a henchman's face, and an eye flying towards you, the reader. Keene Marlow is Destroyer, and he destroys, though not as well as he used to. Taking the “mature” content in an unconventional direction, Destroyer is among the rare geriatric superhero types. Don't misconstrue, though, that doesn't preclude him from being one of the baddest *$#@*%@ers that ever lived.

This book is brought to you by the creative team of Invincible, under the MAX banner. Counterintuitive though it may be, I think this for-hire work may offer a creative freedom that even Image lacks. I'm not sure the over-the-top uber violence and more than colorful language would fly under the Image banner - not because Image would refuse to publish such a book, but because retailers would likely be much more reluctant to give shelf space to something so risky without the brand-assurance Marvel MAX offers. That doesn't mean it couldn't have been published by Image, but it may be better served overall here.

Invincible fans won't be disappointed with this book, even if the two have almost nothing in common. They share the most important traits - it is a story without limits, and it is set to a world of great depth and history. This could be the usual Marvel U, but clearly Destroyer has experience enough of his own adventures to live in his own corner of heroic brutality. And where Invincible is the story of a young hero finding his stride, Destroyer is a story of a man looking to finish up his life's work.

This opening issue introduces us to Destroyer, shows us his world and family life, and sets up what looks to be his final adventure. Facing his mortality, as all people inevitably must, Destroyer seeks to tie upall the loose ends of his life. And that may actually mean tie up theloose entrails of his enemies, which, as one might guess, is presented stunningly by the art/ color combo of Cory Walker and Val Staples.There are plenty of unanswered questions, (such as why he chooses to wear a Skrull-mask while crime-fighting), but there is no doubt that all will be addressed in due time. With original characters and innovative setups, it is comics like this where Kirkman's talent shines.

Long story short, Destroyer is old-school in a way you've never seen. Dig.

The Crush

The Crush

Written by Michael Gallinari

Art by Lee John Cutrone

Review by Erich Reinstadler

College.

Love.

Lust.

Crushes.

College or not, we've all had a crush on someone at one time or another. Sometimes, it ends well. Friendship and/or romance. Sometimes, it ends with a restraining order. Other times, as in MichaelGallinari's The Crush, welllll..... I'm not going to talk about that. Instead, I'm going to discuss the actual book.

The Crush is a self-published debut comic from the team ofwriter Micheal Gallinari and artist Lee John Cutrone. The tale of unrequited love is slowly making a name for itself, including being picked up for sale by Kevin Smith's Jay And Silent Bob's Secret Stash. A copy was sent to me, and after reading it, I felt I should get word of this book out.

A simple tale at heart, The Crush is about the delusions a person goes thru when he falls in love (or something vaguely love-like, anyway).The thought process that makes a guy think that everything he says isso urbane and witty, as if he would have been part of Dorothy Parker's Algonquin Round Table had he been around at the time; the insane fantasies a person will imagine when he thinks he's found the perfect partner, and just needs to convince her of that. "Will I be her cowboy?" "Will I be the brave adventurer?" "What do I need to do to win her heart?"

In the end, it's a quiet, honest story about the stupid things people say and do. It doesn't have a beginning, it doesn't have an ending.It's a simple slice of life tale that almost every one of us can relate to. I would encourage people to find this book. Gallinari and Cutrone struck a chord in me with their story, and I have to believe that I won't be the only one to feel this way.

Jonah Hex #42

Jonah Hex #42

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray

Art by Jordi Bernet

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"It ain't the speed of a man's hand what kills ya... It's tha' bullets." -- Woodson Hex

Issue #42 of Jonah Hex epitomizes why I enjoy this series to no end and can assure you that I'll be faithful to it as long as writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are at the controls. Adding to the success of this particular issue is the artwork of Jordi Bernet,one of the better artists in the Jonah Hex rotation. An origin story of sorts, "Shooting [Into] the Sun" gives us a compelling lookback at Jonah's childhood and a clear idea how he became the ornery cuss who has yet to be bested, at least with the context of this series.

The story gets under way in a Colorado town with Jonah in yet another dire situation, giving the appearance that he's about done for in a three-on-one duel where he's been given an unenviable handicap. Taunted by his would-be assailants, Hex has two perfectly good guns to workwith, but he's also got a ball and chain shackled to each wrist, makinga quick draw anything but a given. This prompts Jonah to recalling his formative years as a child, getting the sort of tough love from his father that one would be more likely to receive at Guantanamo or North Korea. Simply put, Jonah's father is a brutally mean son of a bitch,and he's bound and determined to make sure that the son he never wanted in the first place doesn't grow up weak. Pa Hex puts his son through a grueling battery of challenges to toughen him up and sharpen his reflexes. At the young age that he has to go through all of this, God only knows if Jonah would've even come out of this alive, were it not for the periodic intervention of his infinitely more loving and forgiving mother.

Gray and Palmiotti's script is full of dramatic heft, effectively detailing the complicated relationship young Jonah had with his father. Clearly the tutelage Pa Hex gave his son proved effective, and the writers do a good job bringing the story full circle to the "present day" with Jonah Hex and his cliffhanger-like situation. The gang that shackled him was involved in a poignant occasion years earlier with both generations of Hex, but the trio end up being on the business end of daddy's training. Bernet's art is classic, with a timeless feel that works for this story and this series on multiple levels. Personally, I love the Alex Toth vibe he gives the material. Any time Bernet gets to work on Jonah Hexis a highlight for me. This was a standout issue in one of DC's best books, and any occasion that provides insight into the toughest gun inthe West is welcomed by this reader.

Astonishing Tales #3

Astonishing Tales #3

Writer: Many, but for this review Jonathon Green

Art: Many, but for me, Fiona Staples

Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

The only reason I picked up this book was for Spider-Woman. To be honest I skimmed the other stories (another Wolverine story? Blah!) pausing only to look at the interesting art by Nick Pitarra for theMojoworld tale (which is fresh and quirky). But for me, Spider-Woman was the main draw.

I’m a huge fan of the lady and couldn’t be more excited to see her return to the spotlight in New Avengers a few years back - and I was super bummed out when Jessica Drew was revealed to be a stupid Skrullall along. So obviously I can’t wait for her new series! Although Spider-Woman is one of many female versions of an existing male hero I would argue that amongst all her peers (She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel) she is the most original, the one who’s vastly different from her male counterpart, the one with the most unique history that stands separately and apart from Spider-Man.

The short tale featured here, written by Jonathon Green, is a nice throwback to the classic Private Eye Spider-Woman back in the 70’s. Green crafts an extremely well written, moody story, rich in first person characterization, that moves quickly and smoothly. Almost too quickly as I found myself wanting more. The art, by Fiona Staples, worked perfectly with the sparse colors and dark tone of the story and I have to give kudos to the creative team in delivering a story that resonates despite it’s short length. Now I super can’t wait for her news series!

But I must ask though, what’s up with Spider-Woman’s booty shot cover? Is thisMaxim magazine? And what’s up with all the latest comic covers today featuring lady superheroes twisting like contortionist, head careening around their shoulder, going into battle ass first? Is everyone creating comics today big time ass men? I’m just asking, ‘cause we sure wouldn’t see Spidey going into battle ass first on the cover of one of his comics, would we? I say what’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander! To keep it fair we should get a Spider-Man coverthrusting his bulging crotch into the readers face. Now that is something I would buy!

Prince Valiant: Far from Camelot

Prince Valiant: Far From Camelot

Written by Mark Schultz

Illustrated by Gary Gianni

Published by Andrews McNeel Publishing

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Here’s an irony: as I get older and crankier (hah!), I find most adventure fiction overblown and self-important. I barely read any superhero comics or see many action movies any more. Yet I find myself more and more intoxicated by classic adventure fiction, or at least stories that build on the traditions of classic adventure fiction. Case in point, Prince Valiant: Far From Camelot, a book-form collection of the Prince Valiant Sunday pages from Nov. 21, 2004, to May 18, 2008, is one of the most solidly entertaining and purely fun comics I’ve read in a long while.

If you have much experience with Valiant’s adventures, there’s probably not much here to surprise you. Schultz and Gianni aren’t re-inventing the wheel – they’re just running on treads that haven’t been used much lately. His wandering spirit running high, Val sets out from Camelot, with his son Nathan along as his squire and apprentice, to indulge insome derring-do knighting. What follows involves battling sea monsters; Val’s kidnapping, escape but honor-bound binding to a cause; his efforts to lead disparate factions of soldiers and pirates; travel to two continents; and fighting mystical and military threats that test the spirit of a true hero.

Far From Camelot’s lack of pretension is a huge asset. Schultz simply relies on a strong plot, inventive twists and his understanding of folklore and Biblical mythology to put Val into situations that require cunning and strength to overcome. Though the answers aren’t  always obvious in the short term, Val’s determination and unwavering honor provide inspiration to his allies and the book’s readers alike.The characters the cross Val’s path all push him in different manners, showing his fickle humanity while still leading to a deeper understanding of the nobility and honor that drive him.

Probably the most impressive aspect of Schultz’s script, however, is how he balances the structure of the once-weekly page against the continuing story. Brief recaps top every page, but nothing is so heavy-handed that it becomes distracting when read in book form. To keep the Sunday readers engaged, the pace is brisk, with some character insight, astonishing threat, unexpected twist or epic battle on literally every page, yet the narrative never feels rushed. It’s simply moving confidently and inexorably to the next link in Val’s fate.

Ace artist Gary Gianni captures everything in stride, with cross-hatched details that places readers firmly in Val’s archaic time period. Gianni makes excellent use of each page, framing every panel for maximum drama. His ability to convey movement is simply superb, his use of shadow adds depth and weight to every image. Perhaps most impressive, Gianni makes everything – Norse longboats, crocodiles, African kingdoms, sea monsters, Val’s beloved Camelot – look as if he’d actually witnessed it himself.

Prince Valiant’s been adventuring for seventy-two years now, first under the guidance of his creator Hal Foster, then following the lightof the father/son tandem Cullen Murphy and John Cullen Murphy. MarkSchultz and Gary Gianni are only the third creative team to tackle the legendary Sunday hero, and if Prince Valiant: Far From Camelot is much to judge their efforts by, the Lord of Thule is in great hands. Adventure comics are rarely this much fun.

The Beats

The Beats: A Graphic History

Written by Harvey Pekar with Nick Thorkelson, Paul Buhle, Nancy J.Peters, Penelope Rosemont, Mary Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, JoyceBrabner, Trina Robbins, Gary Dumm, Jeffrey Lewis & Tuli Kupferberg

Illustrated by Ed Piskor with Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, SummerMcClinton, Peter Kuper, Mary Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, Anne Timmons,Gary Dumm, Lance Tooks & Jeffrey Lewis

Published by Hill & Wang

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Well, if you’ve spent any time reading about the major figures of the Beat Generation of writers who revolutionized literature and large swaths of American culture in the 1950s and 60s, there’s probably not much here that you don’t already know. If, however, you’ve heard then ames, maybe read a book or two, but you’ve never taken the time to really understand the figures and the historical significance of  the movement, this is probably a valuable book for you.

The first half of the book is composed of three longish biographical essays, entirely by Harvey Pekar and sometime collaborator Ed Piskor, about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Pekar doesa fine job balancing his affection for their writing against their (at least in the cases of Keroauc and Burroughs) personal problems. Because their lives crisscross many times, Pekar jumps into Ginsberg’s career mid-stream, building off elements introduced in the opening Keroauc chapter. When he comes back to touch on previously shown moments in the writers’ lives, it’s to enforce a specific point or to remind you how influential a moment was. We’re reminded – repeatedly – how many talented writers, for example, attended the famous public reading ofGinsberg’s “Howl.”

The latter half of The Beats has Pekar, Piskor and various other contributors (including, fans of first-hand authenticity take note!, City Lights’ Nancy J. Peters and poet Penelope Rosement, a friend and collaborator with several latter-era Beats) offer quick – 2-6 pages – bio sketches of other Beats (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, etc.) and important Beat moments and institutions (City Lights,Women of the Beat movement, Jazz and Poetry). Due to the page limits, none of these passages are extremely detailed or penetratingly insightful, but they serve to round out and illuminate the portrait crafted in the opening chapters. The full scope of the Beats and their impact on American culture is felt full force.

Pekar’s a direct writer, coming right at you with all the pertinent information, and Piskor’s clear – if stiff – artwork suitably captures the likenesses and mood of the historical moments. It’s somewhat dry reading. Ultimately, though it’s not essential reading (several critics have questioned its historical accuracy), and it’s not redefining comic books, as a historical document chronicling an important part of literary history (and an expansion of comics as a vehicle for historical documentation), The Beats: A Graphic History is a solid endeavor.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Flash: Rebirth (DC Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): Sinceit was announced that Barry Allen was returning, I have been awaiting it with breathless anticipation. As it turns out, I should have breathed. After his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen would make some appearances in flashback issues, but not in "current" continuity. Eventually, he returned (we thought) in the pages of The Flash, in one of the finest arcs Mark Waid ever wrote. As we found out,that wasn't Barry Allen, but a young Eobard Thawne AKA Professor Zoom - AKA The Reverse Flash. Barry did appear twice in Geoff Johns' run on  The Flash, indicating that he would return a total of three times, when he was most needed. Then came Final Crisis, with the single most underwhelming return in comic history. Now, Geoff Johns has Barry Allen in his hands, and delivered... a stunningly mediocre first issue. The book starts interestingly enough, with someone carrying a lightning bolt staff killing a pair of possibly corrupt police scientists, recreating the accident that gave Barry his speed, and claiming repsonsibility for Barry's return. It sadly went downhill from there, with a lot of slightly-not-in-character talk from, well, pretty much everyone who has been a Flash or worked with a Flash. And then there was Barry's characterization, which was very much out of character. Itseems that he resents being returned to life, but since he's back he'll just be The Flash and do his job. A sadly disappointing book.

Savage Dragon #146 (Image Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): When last we saw Dragon, he was the sole survivor of a bomb blast in his police station. Countless Detroit officers killed in one fell swoop. When writing and drawing that, Bay Area resident Erik Larsen had no way of knowing how close to real life his story would become. As with the Oakland and Pittsburgh Police Departments, the surviving Detroit PD officers in his book are dealing with their losses as only they can. Dragon chooses to take his aggressions out on anyone foolish enough to break the law. Another character uses a psychiatrist to come to a very unexpected decision. Unfortunately for Dragon, that person's decision comes at the worst possible time, as organized violence hits him where he lives. Good book, obviously leading toward something great.

Justice Society of America #25 (DC Comics; review by O.J. Flow): So it seems to me that there is the DC Universe and there is the Alex Ross DC Universe. Call me crazy, but for months now I had the assumption that the Black Adam version of Mary Marvel (seen in 52) was somehow going to figure into this "Black Adam and Isis" epic. No, she never does. Instead it's another example of Ross, for the cover ofthis issue, going with a version of a classic character that he felt more comfortable with, I assume compromising with editorial that instead of illustrating the recent S&M Final Crisis version that does figure into Part 3, "Family Feuds," that he'd do her up in the more modest bad-girl costume if he couldn't work with the trademark Marvel Family red and gold. This felt like false advertising in anotherwise decent issue of JSA. At risk of being presumptuous, I thought this storyline was going to bring some much needed stability to Billy, Mary and anyone else flowing with the power of Shazam, but things are even more unsettled by story's end, despite the return ofthe old wizard. I would've preceded the word "return" with "welcome"were it not for the fact that while Shazam is back, he's a total dick to everyone. Considering everything fell apart due to his absence, he's pretty unforgiving considering the circumstances. Though one hero that does manage some redemption is Atom Smasher, and I appreciate what writer Geoff Johns has done with the character. It's also welcome to see that despite his imminent departure, Johns is preserving the"Society" concept for the new writers to maintain. The JSA, as opposed to the newer generation Justice League, works best as a true superhero movement. The next creators on this book have a pretty expansive array of toys to work with, to be sure. Hard to believe that the JSA will be "Johns-free" in a few short weeks, but it's been a rewarding last few years. He, along with the reliable Jerry Ordway, proved that you actually can go home again.

Jersey Gods #3 (Image; review by Brendan): The first few issues of Jersey Gods, I felt like I was missingsomething. Sure, the art was top-notch, (and I mean absolutely TOP notch), the covers were killer, and the interstellar conflict seemed appropriately grand, but it just wasn't clicking for me. The characters were flat, I thought, the dialogue felt stilted, and it just wasn't ringing true. With this issue, I got it. It was supposed to be a bit stilted, and a little off. It was that somewhat unbelievable veil that matched the story to the classic, Kirby-esque sensibilities of the art. The melodrama of the situations, and the utter ridiculousness of the culture of the gods that have descended upon fair Jersey are the only way to channel the influences this book seems to be paying homage to. This book isn't strictly retro, the aspects of modernity are plentiful, but it takes a hint of nostalgia to fully appreciate thisbook at its best. I'm glad I stuck around to figure that out.

Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! #4 (DC; Reviewed by Lan): This is sadly the final issue of this arc. I could honestly watch Cap and Black Adam slug it out for a few more issues. I understand that Mike Kunkel is working full time at Disney and doing his own thing, it's just a shame this book is not monthly. I love the way the paneling style just flows; it almost makes it look like a cartoon, which Kunkel excels at. I digress, in this issue Captain Marvel and his sister Mary finally thwart Black Adam with the help of the Wizard. The Marvel family tricks Black Adam into fighting the sin of Selfishness and eventually turns him back into Theo Adam. Quickly, the Wizard makes him forget all what has transpired and with the assist by Mary, makes him think that his favorite animals are unicorns and how he loves to blow bubbles. Simple Kunkel sense of humor, and it pays off. The one  gripe, besides the book not being monthly, is the huge error on the front page. Wisdom of...Samson? Oh well, I'll chalk it up to exhaustionon Kunkel's part, but his editor should have caught that. I'm hoping these issues are coming out in a trade format. At least that way, my Christmas shopping will be a lot easier. SHAZAM!

The Boys #29 (Dynamite Comics; Reviewed by Richard): As much asI have enjoyed The Boys since it began publication I have to say I amquite annoyed that I did not get the throw down I was expecting between the G-Men and the Boys as the story comes to a fiery conclusion. The usual over-the-top Garth Ennis script is to be found within these pages and he does a thorough job of hammering home the idea that the G-Men are nothing more than a superhero cult with its own child molesting father figure. Darick Robertson's art continues to display the raw energyof Ennis’ script and perfectly captures the carnage wreaked by Vought and his black ops team to the complete dismay of Billy Butcher and the rest of his team. This show of force by Vought is a sure sign to Butcher that the rules have changed and it should be interesting to see how this development affects the next storyline.

Invincible Iron Man #12 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): It amazes me what a great character Iron Man has become under the guidanceof Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. Not only is Iron Man’s plight fascinating but the series co-stars never get slighted in the amount ofattention paid to them. From Pepper Potts ill fated attempt to avoid the clutches of HAMMER and Norman Osborn to Maria Hill’s confrontation with the Controller, Fraction does a commendable job of balancing IronMan’s past with his present and future while constantly maintaining a sense of forward motion within the context of each individual story. Larroca’s art continues to impress and provides for some great visual moments, especially Iron Man’s confrontation with Namor as he continuesto elude capture lest Osborn gain access to his memories and the secrets they contain.

New Avengers: The Reunion #2 of 4 (by Brian Andersen): You know, I enjoy this series. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it after thefirst issue, seemed like lots of fighting and plot setting-up-ing, but after this second installment I feel officially won over. I admire allthe fervor and vigor writer Jim McCann’s puts into the story. He deftly balances high-tech gadgetry, the emotional give and take between the two stars, with all the exciting international spy intrigue. I might be in the minority here but I’m happy to see Mockingbird back. I always loved her confidence, loved her when she was on the West Coast Avengers team - she might not have been the most powerful member but she was ever present, ever ready to join in any fray - and I always loved her terrific connection/chemistry with her (ex) husband (and I super, doubleloved her fabulous bell sleeves on her old costume! More women should rock the bell sleeve look). The starling final reveal at the end of this issue – that their reconciliation before Mocks died was effected by her Skrull impersonator and not the real deal - was pitch perfect. I’m excited to know more about Mockingbird's time during her Skrull-napping and to see what her place in the Marvel U will be. A good, smart, enjoyable comic.

Noble Causes #40 (by Brian Andersen): Farewell dear, Noble Causes. What a bummer that this great, indie series has ended. For those who never picked up the book, you really missed out on more twists, turns, shocks, spills, and emotional whollops than your average comic book series and ending that makes the readerflip the final page looking for the next page saying “And what happened next?” What a perfect ending for a soap opera comic of the highest order - leave your devoted reading wanting more. That is the testamentof a great story, when a book ends leaving the reader wanting, wishing, hoping for more. Knowing the Faerber Universe at Image comics the Noble Family will return and we’ll (hopefully) know which woman Dr. Noble picked. Until then, we can only wonder and dream. Great job Faerber! The Nobles might be gone but they are not forgotten.

In Case You Missed It...

Dark Reign: Elektra #1

Writer: Zeb Wells

Penciller: Clay Mann

Inker: Mark Pennington

Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

In case you're wondering -- yes, I know this book didn't come out this week.

When I hit my LCS to get a copy of Flash: Rebirth for our Best Shots Extra review, Elektra was sitting in the "This Week" counter. Seeingthe Newsarama preview earlier in the week, I decided to take a peek...

The book, like Elektra itself, leapt off the counter and mugged me. I never thought I'd willingly buy an Elektra book before, but I couldn'thelp myself. It held me hostage. As I sobbingly gave the cashier my debit card, all I could ask myself was this:

How on Earth did a low-level, blip-on-the-radar tie-in starring Elektra get to be this GOOD?

To be honest, I'd be disparaging the talents behind the book if I attributed its success to any one person. For starters, writer ZebWells is a master of timing and tone -- the rhythm of this book is pitch-perfect, and establishes both the deadliness of the protagonist, the voice of her persecutors, and ominous sci-fi atmosphere of HAMMER's flying helicarrier. Furthermore, Wells breaks down the barriers of "realism" by inserting tons of smart, high-concept technology, which effectively streamlines the story while giving the reader both exposition as well as a literal look inside Elektra's head. And all this with exactly one line from the protagonist herself. All I could ask myself was -- after seeing Elektra get captured, get interrogated,and begin her daring escape, all capped off with a great iconic splashpage -- this much story took place in only 22 pages?

Yet I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge artist Clay Mann, who shows in this issue some extremely inventive storytelling -- his use of nearly-identical panels to contrast the helicarrier's transition from SHIELD to HAMMER was incredibly subtle, but when I noticed it upon a second read, I was just blown away. With Wells' taut script, Mann does much of the heavy lifting, and does it with style: even nuanced detail like Elektra's smile when she recalls a years-old kill was hauntingly beautiful, and really did a lot to make Elektra -- a character that seemed so one-dimensional in the past I never thought I'd buy a bookwith her name on it -- a compelling character to read. Mann's art isaided by the able inks of Mark Pennington, and the great color workfrom Matt Hollingsworth. (Bonus points again for Wells for giving Hollingsworth a great reason to go hog-wild with the colors.) But to behonest, the real heroes of this book are most likely editors Warren Simons and Alejandro Arbona -- anyone who can have the foresight to put together a team like this deserves some praise.

In short, while this issue only sets up Elektra's escape and new status quo, this is certainly an eminently readable book in its own right.With Wells' eye for the fantastic and ear for dialogue, aided and abetted by Mann's clear storytelling, this comic shoots way over any expectations you might set for it. I never in a million years thought I would say this, but... Elektra: Dark Reign is what comics should be every single month. So do yourself a favor, and pick this book up. I know I will. Congratulations, Marvel -- you just won yourself a convert.

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