Best Shots Reviews: JLA #6, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5, DARK KNIGHT III: MASTER RACE #2

"Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2" variant
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Bryan Hitch (DC Comics)

Justice League of America #6
Written by Bryan Hitch
Art by Bryan Hitch, Daniel Henriques, Andrew Currie and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

During his tenure on  Justice League of America, Bryan Hitch has proven himself a remarkably canny writer, having taken the best qualities of writing partners such as Mark Millar and Warren Ellis to create a streamlined and iconic version of DC's best and brightest.

But with Justice League of America #6, we finally get to see Hitch flex his strongest muscle - his uncanny ability to blow stuff up.

Reading like a four-color Michael Bay blockbuster, Hitch makes this sixth issue feel incredible, paying off threads from the previous four issues (and a fill-in) and ramping up the stakes. Putting together time travel, religious zealots, vampiric Kryptonian priests and a whole miniseries' worth of explosions, this series feels like the event that Secret Wars and Convergence only wished they were.

From the very first page - with Aquaman glaring at us to "get out of my city" - this chapter is defined by its intensity. Switching up his Leaguers, Hitch makes every character seem imposing and powerful, which is good, considering the priests of Rao are invading Atlantis, Themyscria and the Fortress of Solitude. Thanks to Hitch's photo-realistic style, these crowds of people look positively overwhelming, and they're just the start of the League's woes. Hitch has such a great sense of timing and pacing with his artwork - a moment where Superman eyes up Rao and says, "Best you got?" is a moment for the ages here.

That is, until Rao punches him through a mountain.

If there was one word I would use to sum up Justice League of America, it would be "big." Hitch uses this 22-pager to his advantage, oftentimes letting his pictures do the talking, with double-page spreads of exploding planets and crumbling mountaintops. But it's not just big set pieces, but big ideas. The time travel element of this book is a smart one, and it allows Hitch to give some substance to all this combat, and gives each of the Leaguers a different threat to test their characterization. The Flash, one of the more cerebral Leaguers, has been thrown back to 1960s Chicago, where he learns of an impending crisis that could lead to the "end of forever." Green Lantern has been sent back 250,000 years to learn the brutal secret history of Krypton - a Prime Directive-style test that speaks well to Hal Jordan's hotheadedness in the face of his sci-fi origins. Hitch constantly makes smart choices like this with his characters, and that deliberateness gives this series some serious heft.

Of course, with these bursts of action, you can't help but feel that this particular chapter might feel a little short, and you wouldn't be wrong. Hitch basically invented widescreen comic book storytelling, and that can lead to a little bit of compression, since we're typically only checking in with one Leaguer at a time. There are a few moments of confusion when it comes to the settings, particularly as Hitch bounces between Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Superman - when the former two wind up in the same spot, the reader might just do a double-take as easily as they did. That said, you understand where this chapter fits in the greater whole - read at once, this is going to be a marvelous crescendo in this story arc.

Geoff Johns may be doing some great continuity work over in the main Justice League title, but Bryan Hitch is certainly giving him a run for his money with this epic telling of DC's mightiest heroes. Hitch has long been known as a bombastic artist, but it's been especially great to see him growing into his own as a writer, as well. This take on the League rings as true as it does powerful, and that surefootedness leads to one spectacular comic.

Credit: Alex Ross (Marvel Comics)

Amazing Spider-Man #5
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Marvel’s “Peter Parker as Tony Stark” experiment continues on, and five issues in, I’m still not really buying it. It’s important for characters to change and grow over time, but Peter Parker hasn’t been able prove that he can be a capable high school science teacher. How are we supposed to believe that he can run an international tech company? Dan Slott’s clearly playing the long game once again, in terms of drawing out the real threat. But I wonder if he’s rushing to get us somewhere. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art lacks the severity that it usually has under other inkers, which is a shame as that’s something of his calling card, and it can’t prop up a ho-hum script.

This is definitely what a Spider-Man book is in 2015. With so many other Spider-people swinging around, going on adventures that would be more typically described as “Spider-Man” stories, there’s not a lot of room in the Marvel Universe for ol’ Webhead. It doesn’t help that the beats of the story are uneven as well. The Zodiac never seems like a worthy adversary, and their general facelessness makes them one of Spidey’s least memorable foes. The Parker Industries angle is one we’ve seen before - from the same writer no less - and it didn’t work that time around as anything but a source of tension. It wasn’t particularly compelling, but at least it gave Peter something to do out of the costume. Slott tries to use it to fill the same role here, but his efforts fall flat because we don’t actually think that Peter can succeed. Peter Parker doesn’t work very well in a “top dog” capacity, and while there’s some fun to be had in seeing him juggle his professional and superhero lives, this issue lacks stakes.

I usually like Camuncoli’s work, but Cam Smith’s inking seemed a little bit light here. The less defined linking definitely opens up the page more and draws some attention away from the very square features that Camuncoli usually employs in his character designs. I think his action work has been getting better, but he doesn’t get much of a chance to flex that muscle. Smith’s inking definitely allows for Camuncoli’s expression work to play a little less seriously and more in tune with the script, though. Camuncoli displays a penchant for wide panels and as a result his pages lack any real originality in the panel payout department. It’s not a bad-looking issue, but it doesn’t wow me the way Camuncoli has in the past.

Amazing Spider-Man is a fine book, but maybe it’s time for some fresh blood. By taking Peter out of his element, the writers have definitely opened up the story possibilities, but they’ve also moved away from some of the things that make him unique. The back-to-basic approach has been done time and time again, but if New York can have the Avengers, Fantastic Four and many other heroes, I think there’s room for more than one webslinger. There are still ways to make his adventures unique without rehashing old stories or forcing him into another character’s general concept. There are worse books you’ll read this week, but if you’re looking for a more classic Spider-Man yarn, you might want to look elsewhere.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
Credit: DC Comics

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

No matter the reality, Batman has plans within plans. Picking up directly after last month’s arrest of the new, less experienced Batman, Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2 is slowly starting to reveal those plans as well as its gritty plot. While Carrie Kelley languishes in a Gotham city lock-up, the Atom attempts to do what Superman could not: restore the Bottle City of Kandor to its proper size. Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello slowly introduced readers to the new status quo in the debut issue, but I#2 dispenses with the introductions and cuts right to the quick with a fast-paced, character-focused installment that thrills in a way the debut issue didn’t. DK III shows that while Frank Miller may be advancing in age, but is still capable of lean and mean Batman stories.

Picking up 27 days after the imposter Batman’s arrest, this second issue wastes no time advancing its character arcs, as well as introducing a formidable new villain into the Dark Knight universe. In Gotham City, Commissioner Yindel questions Carrie three times a day for a solid month, hoping that she will crack. The circumstances around Bruce Wayne’s supposed death at the hands of Lex Luthor feels as brutal as Miller ever was, while Miller and Azzarello also manage to hook us emotionally as Carrie sits by Bruce’s bedside, as he regales her with tales of the World’s Finest and his war on crime before slipping quietly into the night. This sequence is aided by some tight grid work and a harrowing splash page dominated by a fading EKG monitor from Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and Brad Anderson, DK III’s not-so-secret weapons. However, we know the Batman and we know that even a good man doesn’t get a death that easy.

After spending the first half of this issue with Carrie, DK III #2 shifts into its B-story, which is severely on-brand for Miller. The Atom, working in tandem with Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter Lara and a representative from Kandor named Baal, finally perfects technology that will allow the citizens of Kandor to return to normal size under a yellow sun. However, Quar, the leader of the Kandorian pilgrims, has different plans for the bottle city and his new home - plans that include genocide and conquest. DK III might have started focusing on the gritty streets of Gotham, but this second issue shows that Miller and Azzarello have much bigger plans for this miniseries. Not only does this second half ring true to Miller’s bombastic violence and sense of scale in the DC universe, Quar’s introduction touches on part of what made the original Dark Knight feel so vital: impossible odds against Batman. While the Caped Crusader is missing in action, an army of Kryptonian rebels just made landfall in the Fortress of Solitude. The only way this can end is with blood. While the original Dark Knight led up to encounter with the Last Son of Krypton, DK III seems to be leading to a throwdown to make that one look like a mere street fight.

As this second issue marches reader to war, it has three silver bullets named Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and Brad Anderson loaded into its arsenal. Kubert’s traditional, yet energetic grid work is on full display in DK III #2, made even more rich and detailed thanks to Klaus Janson’s heavy inks and Brad Anderson’s Batman: Year One-like color scheme, but that isn’t even the best part. Kubert even manages to throw in a striking Sin City homage in the interrogation scenes, some vibrant displays of violence, and a grisly splash page of the strongest of Kandor standing over the chaff of the bottle city. Kubert’s dynamism is emboldened throughout by Janson and Anderson who showed us just the bare minimum of their partnership in the exposition heavy first issue. Even if DK III was the head-scratcher that Strikes Back was, we would at least still have some gorgeous pages to pour over. Thankfully DKIII: The Master Race #2 delivers on both fronts, scripting and artwork, to climate in a fun, two-fisted experience.

The Batman may have some more nasty surprises in his utility belt, and by the looks of things, so does Frank Miller. The debut issue may have left readers cold but Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2 brings the heat back to Miller’s Gotham City along with a stocked bench of talent. Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and Brad Anderson have all locked in a quick step with this second issue and deliver an experience that feels rollicking instead of self-important.

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