Best Shots: Wolverine, Supergirl & More

Best Shots: Wolverine & More

Wolverine: Weapon X #2

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Best Shots Extras for this week were . . .

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3; guest review by Russ Burlingame

Uncanny X-Men #510; review by Troy

The Complete Dracula #1 by Troy

And now, on to the rest . . .

Wolverine: Weapon X #2

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Ron Garney

Colorist: Jason Keith

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

He's the best there is at what he does... but no longer.

What happens when Wolverine is no longer unique? Okay, that question could arguably have been raised at any time in the past 12 years or so, but Jason Aaron and Ron Garney are exploring the question with Wolverine: Weapon X, and it's a fun read if you're looking for some straightforward adamantium action.

Now, I'll start off by saying that this work isn't quite as energetic or raw as Aaron's work on the grindhouse thriller Ghost Rider, but Aaron still has a gift for getting the real "voice" of his characters down pat. The issue starts off with a great scene at the San Francisco Post, where reporter Melita Garner tries to dig deeper on the mysterious mutant Wolverine. Now, comics as a whole kind of gloss over how newspapers work as a whole, so it's nice to see a bit more veracity in Aaron's tale, down from the tone of the editorial meeting all the way to a reporter's reaction to a newbie trying to move in on his beat.

The rest of the issue builds up to Wolverine's confrontation with the mercenaries behind Blackguard, who turn out to have implemented many of the procedures from Weapon X. Of course, Aaron gives his own nasty spin to weaponry, including laser claws and bullets that are "designed to release 38 different kinds of cancer into his system. It don't kill him, it'll certainly slow his ass down some." Yet Aaron distills Wolverine to his truest characteristics: this is a guy who is too tough to give up. "Let's see how good they are at regrowing heads," Wolverine says.

Garney, meanwhile, is somewhat hit or miss. As a penciller, I think he's great, evoking a style not dissimilar to the Kuberts. His choreography and page breakdowns are really great, and especially an iconic shot of Wolverine looking straight up as his attackers. As an inker, however, I think Garney is kind of his own worst enemy, as his finished product looks a little murky, a bit too drenched in shadow. Jason Keith, however, does some great work, especially with his use of eerie, florescent greens -- it's an inspired choice, and helps set off friend from foe.

While this issue leads to an oft-repeated and often-enjoyed set-up -- Wolverine on the run from a horde of superior attackers -- I think that not only was this a fun issue, Wolverine's rallying against Blackguard will be a blast. That said, part of me feels almost like Jason Aaron has been holding back -- but even if that is the case, Wolverine: Weapon X is still a mean, lean ride that is a much better book than many of its competitors.

Supergirl #41

Supergirl #41

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Fernando Dagnino & Raúl Fernández

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

With big epic multi-part stories, comics books have occasionally been guilty of denying the reader of some resolution in the story's finale ("Battle For the Cowl," arguably, has been the most recent offender, never mind some recent bigger crossover series). Supergirl #41, the final chapter of "Who Is Superwoman?" is guilty as charged, yet the storytelling, drama and action here is so compelling that I was easily able to suppress my "WTF?" reflex. Granted it was only the last page of the previous issue that revealed the true identity of the mysterious Superwoman, so you can pardon writer Sterling Gates for only just now starting to examine the deep implications that the identity of this antagonist means for not only Supergirl, but the bigger Superman family. If you're just joining the party now, or waiting for the trade, understand that I have no intention of blowing any major plot developments from this issue, but the cat's out of the bag on Superwoman's identity, so Spoiler Guards are up in that I will certainly cover what's been revealed in chapters prior.

So this Superwoman, once looked at as possibly an ally, only to reveal her true colors as a ruthless agent under the direction of General Sam Lane, is none other than his own daughter, Major Lucy Lane. Yeah, I'd say that's a big deal. Considering her complicity in aiding Reactron and Metallo way back during "New Krypton" when the northern Kryptonian settlement was ambushed and Supergirl's father was ruthlessly murdered -- the fact that Superwoman's the sister of Kara's cousin Kal-El's wife -- it stands to reason that a holiday family gathering will never be the same again. While Gates addresses this quandary through the internal monologue of Supergirl, there are no easy answers found here, and by issue's end it only gets devastatingly more complicated. As suggested before, I couldn't have been blamed for feeling like Part 5, "Daughters of Krypton," stiffed me after sticking it out all this time, but the ultimate question found in the story's title is in fact answered, and the tragedy that occurs here only serves to make Supergirl more compelling and more of a must-read a month from now.

Speaking of tragedy, it is unfortunate that Jamal Igle was nowhere to be found in this fifth and final chapter, but them's the breaks. Fill-ins happen, though editorial should figured out a way for Igle to at least get the story's final chapter, even jumping him ahead on the material if necessary. Fortunately DC's own solicitation was inaccurate, saying that the ironically monikered Talent Caldwell was handling the assignment in #41. Sorry, but I am certain, based off the little he contributed a couple of issues ago in a few fill-in pages, that he would've done this riveting final chapter's script a serious disservice were he given the full assignment. Rarely do I get excited to be introduced to an artist for the first time in a book of such importance, but penciller Fernando Dagnino (assisted with lush inks by Raúl Fernández) did a tremendous job illustrating the wide range of intense scenes found throughout Supergirl #41. Depending on what artist Ivan Reis (not sure what he's doing post-Green Lantern once Blackest Night wraps) has lined up in the future, Dagnino should be on speed dial should Reis ever need a breather and DC's looking for artistic consistency. Dagnino brings a slightly more exaggerated look than Igle would've with the same material, though the transition manages to be fairly seamless.

And what Dagnino and Fernández capture best is a Supergirl unleashed as she pulls no punches against her tormentor for the last few chapters. The writer and artist team successfully infuse "Daughters of Krypton" with considerable gravitas (along with some twists with the effective supporting cast). To a fault, the Girl of Steel is a force to be reckoned with. Motivated by vengeance, not to mention righteous indignation over this Superwoman co-opting the El family shield, Major Lane doesn't stand a chance once a chink is found in her armor. But one thing that is getting stronger and more fortified is this series. A most solid component to the Superman line, Supergirl is doing its part to maintain the "New Krypton" epic as something that will endure, and the fifth and final chapter of "Who Is Superwoman" is a winner.

Punisher #5

Punisher #5

Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Jerome Opena

Colorist: Dan Brown

Publisher: Marvel

Review by David Pepose

Frank Castle might not have superstrength or invulnerability, but he does have two better superpowers in his corner: Rick Remender and Jerome Opena. Seriously, these guys hit so many home runs, it's a wonder Marvel hasn't tested them for steroids yet -- and this issue continues their pattern of swinging for the fences.

This issue, jumping off the innovative splash page of last issue, has the Punisher squaring off against the Hood directly. Remender starts the book off with a smart twist, incorporating violence, subterfuge, and the Ant-Man helmet in an incredibly tactical manner. What's great is that Remender manages to meld the uncompromising military mind of Frank Castle with all the off-the-wall technologies of the rest of the Marvel U using a nice style of dry humor. Using a Noisy Cricket-esque ray gun to blow a hole through a casino, a sexy elevator attendant replies: "Figured you'd have a bigger gun. Don't worry, bet you know how to use it, sweetie." "Just learned," Frank deadpans.

Yet Remender is able to also delve a bit into Frank's character, as his onetime assistant Microchip makes an offer from the Hood: to resurrect the Punisher's wife and kids. At first, you wonder if this will be it -- if the enemy has finally found Frank Castle's one weak spot. The ending is fitting, as the Punisher raises his gun: "Maria wouldn't like me making deals with devils on her account." And it all leads to a great setup on the part of the Hood, who has some unexpected powers and soldiers that could put Blackest Night to shame.

Now, I can't say enough good things about the work of Jerome Opena. His use of shadow is spectacular. His composition is superb. His images are both iconic and action-packed. He works great with colorist Dan Brown, who helps give this book some great mood. And he and Remender fit a lot of story into 22 pages. There's no denying it: Opena and the Punisher are made for one another. And as I said last month, the fact that Opena is inking himself -- and looking this good -- and doing this on a monthly basis... I'd say this guy deserves a raise, but that might take him away from this book.

So seriously, Marvel -- do what you have to do to keep this team together, and to keep this book going. I never thought I would be a Punisher fan -- even in the glory days of Garth Ennis -- but Remender, Opena, and Brown walk the line between guns and capes with panache, making a high-quality book that is difficult to ignore. In short, readers: with some strong art and a fun, action-packed story, if you're looking for a new series to pick up, make it Punisher. You won't regret it.

Killapalooza #1

Killapalooza #1 of 6

Written by Adam Beechen

Art by Trevor Hairsine

From Wildstorm

Review by Brendan McGuirk

I have to tell you, I have an aversion towards musicians. In the artistic hierarchy of the world, music is the universally recognized and celebrated form, and comics, despite their ever-growing cultural cache, are still relatively ghettoized, at least when speaking to overall popularity. Music geeks are geeks, but not my kind of geeks. It is a totally irrational, unfair outlook, but still, it is what it is.

Imagine my surprise in loving this comicbook about a band. With a name reminiscent of a potential lifestyle consequence, The Clap is not your normal, run of the mill rock band. Half Josie and the Pussycats, half The Authority, Killapalooza tells the story of the world famous rock band, who use their worldwide celebrity to camouflage their true profession as the planet's premiere hired mercenaries. Though bandmates Axe, Amp, Ass, Skin, and Ivory's true aim is to pull off hits that don’t quite qualify for Billboard’s charts, their neurotic dynamic is still that of a classically flawed band. They represent the hodgepodge of imbalanced egos and indulgent ne’er-do-wells audiences have grown so familiar with thanks to Behind the Music. And true to the conventional formula, they are a band that is bursting at the seams, on the precipice of their inevitable breakup. It’s all very familiar, until we are reminded that beyond all of this fame and fortune, these guys are badass killing types.

Like a good piece of music, all the factors work together harmoniously in this book. The primary aspect of note to this comic is the real innovation behind the thinking. Comics are rife with ensemble-driven action books, but by casting the roles this series along rock band archetypes Beechen and Hairsine create something refreshingly original. Adam Beechen proves his worth as a genuinely funny writer. Comedy has long been a chief tool of the writer’s success, beginning with his work on AiT’s Hench OGN, but Beechen does more than just come up with a few quipy one-liners; he actually sets up funny situations and clever relationship models. He’s not telling you a funny joke, he’s telling you a funny story- there’ a difference. Trevor Hairsine shines in his most noteworthy original work since Cla$$war. There is an edge to his line that just screams rock and roll. His characters are dirty, but good enough looking to be believable as worldwide sex symbols. There is also something about the way he draws hair that intimates high fashion. That suggestive style is just as important to the effectiveness of this story as his ability to convey high-adrenaline action, which he also handles capably. The collaboration is a success.

Insecure, self-important, and spoiled rotten, The Clap is everything a band should be. Half of the band is in love with one another, half are in love with everything on legs, all think they are the singular, key factor in the group’s overall success. Just as they are all preparing to go their separate ways, the hard realities of their rock-star lifestyles catch up with them. As happens to many bands, their creative desires take a back seat to their contractual obligations. At each other’s throats, the band is forced to cross lines they had previously avoided, and do it in the name of the label. For a group of hired killers, the most surprising thing in Killapalooza will be if they don’t kill one another.

Invincible #62

Invincible #62

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Penciller: Ryan Ottley

Inker: Cliff Rathburn

Colorist: Fco Plascencia

Publisher: Image

Review by David Pepose

Despite this series' lush visuals and bright colors, Invincible #62 is tense, uncompromising, and far from painless -- indeed, this issue is an unexpectedly brutal beatdown and a half.

Well, perhaps I should emphasize the "half."

This issue starts off with a mighty "Kra-koom!", as the battle between Invincible and the Viltrumite enforcer Conquest begins. With Earth already shaken by the hordes of parallel-universe Invincibles attacking a few issues back, Invincible has already taken his fair share of hits, but Conquest takes the violence to a whole new level, as he challenges our hero to a no-holds barred battle.

Now, we've seen Ryan Ottley throw down in the past, but this issue is still an exceptionally well-drawn piece of work. The fight has great choreography and composition to it, especially when Invincible is nailed in the eye. When will Mark decide to drop the lenses on his costume? They always seem to inevitably get ground into his eye sockets! Yet his emotions also ring true, and really make the character of Conquest compelling -- there are a few subtle expressions that I think will make sense big time in future issues. The colors by Fco Plascencia are also great, giving this issue a vibrancy that elevates Ottley's artwork and makes it really pop.

But Invincible #62... well, it still feels kind of like half an issue. While Kirkman's writing is great and seems to be setting up some interesting possibilities for the next few issues, the ending of this issue comes a little abruptly. Considering this is a guy who managed to pack in an entire summer crossover into one issue, I'm kind of at a loss as to why there wasn't more story here. Because I know Kirkman can bring the goods, I'm just hoping this isn't a sign that his promise to hit deadlines in 2009 hasn't impacted this issue (or future ones). And while I've given a bit of exposition in this review, the uninitiated may notice a lack of exposition of previous issues.

I know that Kirkman, in his letters page, argues that this issue is meant to be an "impactful" introduction to Conquest, where actions mean more than his words. And while I love fight scenes as much as the next guy, this issue, as an independent work, feels more of an appetizer than a fully-fledged meal. But all things considered, I do think this Conquest storyline is going to be an engaging one (so long as it can differentiate itself from other times Invincible has squared off against Viltrumites), and I think reading it as a whole, this issue will be a really fun chapter in this arc.

Witchblade #127

Witchblade #127

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

Conflict is inevitable. Here we have a continuing installment of the ongoing saga "War of the Witchblades." Last we learned, aspiring dancer Dani Baptiste (daughter of Sara's police captain) has the light half, while Sara Pezzini wields the dark half, possessed by an entity known as Tau'ma (pronounced TOWW-MA). The issue opens up with a man praying to God for help, however Sabine (one of the Angelus) shows up and toys with the man's faith, for mere amusement no less. She is quickly informed that Sara is alone and without the "aid" of Tau'ma. So Sabine and her cronies fly out looking for Sara.

Meanwhile, back at Sara's apartment, Dani uses her key to get in and finds Sara's boyfriend/partner Patrick Gleason waking up on a recliner. After a quick "hi/how are ya," they discuss Sara and how she's changed and how they're both worried. Dani tells Patrick that the Curator told her that she has to take the Witchblade from Sara. That's pretty direct coming from a guy who speaks in riddles. Just as Dani goes to check up on Hope, Sara walks in.

*cue dramatic music*

Right off the bat, there's something. . . off about Sara. She's short with Patrick, she can't remember where she was last night, she's even ruder to Dani. Hell, even her baby daughter knows something is wrong as she wails when Sara snatches her from Dani. Then, Dani tries to talk to Sara and explain that there is definitely something wrong and the only way to fix it is for Sara to give her the rest of the Witchblade. Needless to say, Sara isn't having any of that. She lunges at Dani out the window and the two bearers have a brief skirmish. Sara, goes on rants of hate and violence, while Dani is trying to calm Sara down and assure her that something is terribly wrong. It ends on a pretty good cliffhanger, but I won't give away the details.

Ron Marz continues to hammer out solid story with great pacing and flow. Stjepan Sejic's art has grown on me since I was first introduced to it. The detail from the Angelus' armor to Sara and Dani's Face/Off pose, it's all pretty immaculate. I was really impressed with the fast pace of the fight scene at the end. There is one minor hiccup with the paneling structure, but nothing to take you out of the story, it just may have you scratching your head. This issue is nearly flawless and gets the ball seriously rolling with this arc.

Grunts TPB

Grunts

Writer: Shannon Eric Denton

Artist: Matt Jacobs

Letterer: Denton and Depasquale

Colorist: Denton, Spikes, Polston, Badilla

Arcana Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

You might have heard about this book being optioned for the big screen. In a nutshell it’s a story of a squad of GI’s stumbling upon a Nazi Super-Soldier project during World War II, and then a flash forward to present day where the surviving Joes deal with the repercussions of sixty-odd years of bio-engineered weaponry in the streets of Chechnya. There’s a supernatural element to the Nazi ubermenschen that carries on later in the Russian program, and while the artwork intimates something zombie related, it’s never fully explained nor explored.

This book was an interesting read and has to be evaluated three ways: once for the World War II chapter, a second for the modern age chapter, and a third for the nine short stories written and drawn by various artists that sit as an intermission of sorts between the other two chapters. The opening chapter, when our infantry first encounters the Nazi super-soldiers is a throwback to the days of war comics, written in such a you-are-there way that a reader almost feels compelled to shower off blood and dirt after each issue. DC’s Sgt. Rock is practically high literature in comparison. The artwork by Mr. Jacobs is certainly gritty and raw, and he makes no attempt to shy away from depicting war is hell, although I would have preferred him to be less cartoony in his eviscerations and detonating skulls. Mr. Denton’s script quickly grabs fourth gear and doesn’t let up, but switching points of view between the Nazis and the Americans doesn’t work so well, especially when the transition occurs mid-page. I think picking a side and riding it out would have made the book’s first third a tighter read.

What it certainly could have used was an editor. Typos happen, sure, but more than a handful (in both English AND German, the latter of which’s dictionary should have been consulted more than a few times instead of just winging it) which plagues this book is just laziness. A little research would have helped, as well. One of the characters is a Miss Tamsen of Queen Alexandria’s {sic} Imperial Military Nursing Service, who introduces herself as Colonel, which is incorrect; her title would have been Matron or Chief Principal Matron.

The last third of the book, the modern day conflict on the streets of Chechnya between our stalwart heroes and the spectre of the bio-weapons program of yore plays like a typical action movie and ends with the sequel in mind: “Someone just started World War Three and forgot to send the invitations. Move it out, grunts. We got us a war to find.” While it’s fast paced and GOOD, it’s not GREAT. As before in the dubya two chapter, it’s real men fighting monster types, but we never really get to the bottom of the whys and whats of the matter. Once more there’s that illustrative allusion to zombies, but it never gets explored. The artwork is better in this chapter and less cartoony, but why the helicopters used to insert the grunts aren’t drawn as Blackhawks is beyond me.

The middle portion of the book, the short stories about the Grunts themselves written by a squad of various writers and artists, is a headscratcher. While the title is Grunts, the book is sold on the “army regulars meet supernatural soldiers” premise, so I was expecting in these tales more color on the Grunts and how their experience with the Nazi “monsters” changed them, or maybe where and what they’ve done for sixty years since the first encounter. Instead, the stories play as an unnecessary homage to weird war tales of old. It’s awkward and breaks the story’s momentum. I think originally this section was meant to be published separately, and Grunts would be better for it.

It will be interesting to see what the screenplay will look like, given the lack of focus on the supernatural element in this comic. This is a decent read and on paper an interesting premise, but the execution could have been better. Still, for the combat action done Roger Corman-style junkie, it’s worth picking up.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Captain America #50 (Marvel Comics; by Brendan): The anniversary of the big, round number is one of the comic traditions I enjoy most. Who doesn't enjoy a good excuse for a celebration? This anniversary is especially of note, considering that Ed Brubaker's Captain America run has now starred Bucky as the lead for exactly as long as it starred Steve Rogers. The fact that people are still reading Captain America twenty five issues after the original died is a huge testament to the resilience of this title, and the deftness of its torch- passing. Given that, it is fitting that this issue focuses on Captain Buckmeirca's birthday. Bucky has long since represented the consummate sidekick, even when his was a cautionary tale in the Marvel U. His name alone evokes that of an underling, but by reliving the few birthdays he celebrated as a hero, one realizes that Bucky is a junior to Captain America, and no one else. Birthdays are also a clear demarcation of progress, and Bucky has clearly progressed very far from his days as the Winter Soldier. In terms of plot, this issue is more reflective than consequential, likely saving the big bang sequences and revelations for next month's issue 600, but it is a satisfying read. Luke Ross submits strong work, but it is Frank D'Armata that has made this book the consistently gorgeous package it has been. Marcos Martin also provides a charming, almost storybook retelling of the myth and history of America's Living Legend. It is gorgeous work. Captain America #50 isn't cataclysmic or Earth-shattering, but it is a perfect example of what has gone right in this series for five years.

Gigantic #4 (Dark Horse; review by Brendan): I'm still a very big fan of this series, but I though this issue's art was a clear distraction from what's been a sublime series. Eric Nguyen is still credited as the artist, but with the “art assist” credit going to John Cottrell, the book comes out uneven. In fairness, it is mostly consistent in style with the prior art, but there are unfortunate discrepancies with line-weight, shading, and detailing. All that said, Gigantic is still really good comics. The plot has just enough depth to continue justifying a book where huge mechanical warriors beat the crap out of one another for our entertainment, which is really more than enough. We even get new, ultra-brained foils as additional visual candy. This issue closes with a monster twist, and even with some quibbles over the art, Gigantic continues to be the best book about mech-combatants, invasions, and ratings on the stands.

Wheel of Time #0 (Dabel Brothers; Review by Lan): As a HUGE "Wheel of Time" fan, anybody who wants to adapt James Rigney Jr.'s, aka Robert Jordan's, epic fantasy series will have to do a lot to impress me. This attempt by the Dabel Brothers is an okay start. Not mind-blowing, but not having me want to use balefire on it (that's a reference for all the WoT fans out there). Now when I bought it, I thought I was just going to get a straight adaptation of the prologue from the first book, "The Eye of the World," entitled Dragonmount. In actuality, it's that AND and some of the story from "EotW," which was re-released as two separate books aimed at a younger market, with larger text and a handful of illustrations. One of these included an additional prologue entitled "Ravens," focusing on Egwene al'Vere, which is what shown in the comics. Chuck Dixon's adaptation is pretty good, almost word for word from Jordan's works.The main complaint I have is the art. The panel construction is a little sloppy and all the male faces look alike. I know Rand from his red hair, but that's about it. There is room for improvement and time will tell if that comes to fruition. I'd recommend it for people who have been curious about wanting to get into the series, it explains the backstory pretty well and will hopefully continue to do so. I recommend that WoT fans like myself give it, at least, a try.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT . . .

Potter’s Field HC

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Paul Azaceta

Colorist: Nick Filardi

Letterer: Ed Dukeshire

BOOM! Studios

Review By: Jeff Marsick

This book came out last week but it deserves some attention. When it comes to telling a hardboiled tale, Ed Brubaker’s got the genre in a full-nelson, and his Criminal is typically the benchmark against which crime comics are measured against. If Mark Waid keeps writing books like Potter’s Field, however, even the maestro of noir may have to step back and take some notes.

Hart Island in Long Island Sound is home to Potter’s Field, a final resting place for New York corpses who pass from this life to the next, who have been denied the very dignity of identification in their final hour. All they get is a number on a nondescript marker, their life reduced to nothing more than an address that no one will ever be concerned with calling upon.

Enter the enigmatic John Doe. This is one cool cat: part Jon Sable, part Equalizer, and when push meets shove, two parts Richard Stark’s Parker. For reasons we never suss out, he’s on a mission to bring names to the nameless, and he’s built himself an army of confederates to aid and abet his efforts. His allies not only keep him informed and provide a litany of services as favors/debt reimbursement, but they also maintain a layer of separation between Doe and any potential threats. Unfortunately, every chain has at some point a weak link, and when a redhead exploits John Doe’s, he just might end up interred with those he investigates. The third act of this book is high-speed and doesn’t fall upon easy contrivances to resolve. It’s every bit as good as Richard Stark could have written.

I love Paul Azaceta’s style and it works fabulously with this book. It helps that his writer is Mark Waid, who knows when to back off and let the artwork carry the panel. As for Mr. Waid, much has been made of his recent Irredeemable book, and while I think that project is good, Potter’s Field is better. This is a beautiful hardcover, with a nice introduction by Greg Rucka, and worth every penny of the cover price.

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