Best Shots Reviews: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #15, RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #5

DC Comics December 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #15
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Valerio Schiti and Richard Isanove
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“It is true? Were you just in outer space?”

“Yeah."

“What was that like?”

“Food sucked.”

If Brian Michael Bendis has a singular talent as a writer, it’s about channeling a character’s voice. It’s the reason why his run on Ultimate Spider-Man was so revered - while more traditionally stoic characters like Captain America can wind up sounding samey or wooden, if there’s a speech pattern for him to work with, Bendis is alway able to pick it out and play it to the hilt.

And I’d argue there’s no voice in the Marvel Universe more distinctive than the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing. Which makes Guardians of the Galaxy #15, a standalone interlude featuring Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, one of the best comics Bendis has written in months.

Which is saying something, considering this book takes place on Earth, has none of the Guardians cast members, and generally services the continuity of the Iron Man titles than anything else. But because Bendis’s take on Ben feels so textured, so lived-in, the characterization winds up giving this issue a lot more heft than you might expect. Back on Earth after an interstellar sojourn with the Guardians, the Thing has a lot of adjusting to do - he’s got no clothes, no money, no phone… and it just so happens that Doctor Doom is running around as the Infamous Iron Man, too. “No he ain’t and no he ain’t,” says Ben. It’s the kind of answer only he could give.

A character like Benjamin Grimm might have seemed like a weird pick for the Guardians of the Galaxy - and you’d be forgiven if you wanted to dock points off this issue, since it really only deals with the Guardians in a tangential fashion - but you can’t help but feel for the big lug when New York civilians give him a spare set of clothes and a couple of pizzas free of charge, or when he gives a dainty little wave right before he knocks a rampaging Whiplash into next Tuesday. This story might feel a little formless in terms of its overall plot, with Ben bumping into Bendis favorites like Maria Hill and Mary Jane Watson, but the sense of humor and emotion makes this comic still pack a surprising punch.

And it seems that the return from space is a good change of pace for artist Valerio Schiti, as well. Having worked with Bendis as long as he has, it’s perhaps a given that Schiti’s layouts expand and contract nicely to fit with the sometimes talky scripts, but the expressiveness that Schiti gives his characters makes this issue an extremely engaging affair. Despite being a geometrically-shaped rock monster, Ben Grimm has so much personality in every panel, from the way he smirks at Hill when she says she doesn’t eat pizza, to the sadness in his eyes when he watches the Human Torch soar overhead. Colorist Richard Isanove balances the energy of this comic perfectly, giving Schiti’s characters weight and depth that never comes at the cost of clarity.

Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy #15 might not necessarily be a great Guardians issue, but that doesn’t stop Bendis, Schiti, and Isanove from producing a genuinely good comic in its own right. Ben Grimm is one of those timeless Marvel characters that comes with a solid, unmistakable voice and characterization, a character that can easily be the heart and soul of any team they’re a member of. With this issue, it looks like Ben is saying a goodbye to the Guardians, but this creative team proves that you don’t need to have space opera to feel like an alien on your own planet.

Credit: DC Comics

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Dexter Soy and Veronica Giandi
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There’s something to be said sometimes about simple things done well, and Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 feels like a fitting example. Out of all of the titles out of DC’s "Rebirth," it’s not the flashiest in high concept or the most ambitious in stakes or execution, but thanks to Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy, and Veronica Giandi simply committing to producing some fun superheroic action, Red Hood is beautifully rendered book is you really shouldn’t sleep on.

It doesn’t hurt, by the way, that this book is extremely accessible. Even if you don’t know anything about Jason Todd trying to infiltrate Black Mask and his gang, you can pretty much dive into this book cold, just knowing it’s a team book featuring Red Hood, the axe-wielding Artemis, and the blockheaded bruiser Bizarro. The plot is simple - time-honored, even - but Lobdell knows that these characters work just as well fighting one another as they do playing nice as a team, so he just shakes them up like a bottle of Coke and waits for the whole thing to explode.

And it works nicely - having Jason and Artemis both get their hits in as the possessed Bizarro goes amok serves as a nice bit of tension, utilizing Superman’s nigh-omnipotent power set as a challenging obstacle to overcome. While one can critique some of Lobdell’s individual lines of dialogue (or the use of a “techno-organic virus” as kind of a nebulous device to make the plot move the way he wants it to), when you get down to the brass tacks of pacing a fight comic book, Lobdell certainly is more nimble and quick-footed than some of his more ponderous, exposition-heavy peers. Rather than dwell too deeply into backstories or how the Outlaws got here, Lobdell would rather have Jason leap and dive around the room, or have Artemis hit someone so hard that shockwaves appear.

And you know what? For a book like Red Hood and the Outlaws, that’s exactly the right instinct to have - especially when you have artists like Dexter Soy and Veronica Giandi on board. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again - if you need just one reason to justify Red Hood and the Outlaws’s existence, it’s to have seen Soy’s tremendous evolution as an artist. Pairing him up with Giandi’s colors, Soy’s artwork no longer seems garish and overrendered, but instead fluid and bouncy, with some fun beats swiped straight from first-person shooters, letting readers get inside the Red Hood’s head as he fires away with his twin .45s. There are shades of ‘90s-era Joe Madureira artwork to Soy’s style, but for a book like Red Hood, that style works well to play up the grittiness and attitude of these characters.

And “attitude” is exactly the word one might use when summing up Red Hood and the Outlaws. It’s not about creating heady premises or redefining the comics sphere, but instead just delivering some good, old-fashioned fisticuffs, about having men and women with superpowers beat the tar out of each other, and look fantastic while doing it. While Red Hood might be thought of as too “low brow” for some superhero snobs, the artwork alone makes this a fun diversion for action fans.

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