Best Shots: Iron Man, Asterios Polyp, Marvel Divas & More

Best Shots: Iron Man, Batman and More

Batman and Robin #2

Hope you enjoyed the explosives. Here’s a look at our most recent Best Shots Extras . . .

Justice League of America: Cry of Justice #1, review by Jamie Trecker

Captain America Reborn #1, review by Brendan McGuirk

Greek Street #1, review by Troy Brownfield

Western, review by Jeff Marsick

And now, the rest . . .

Batman and Robin #2

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Frank Quitely

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"Intimidation is one thing, but there have to be limits." -- Batman (Dick Grayson)

I think we'll need more story arcs to speak of before declaring Batman and Robin an out and out success, but if issue #2 is any indication, I like its chances of enduring. Much like the new partnership between Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne, this series is no doubt a work in progress. I don't say that as a detriment, just so you know. One can't be blamed if they're inclined to compare this to their last great DC work, All Star Superman, and what impresses me the most is how the creative team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely infuse Batman and Robin with a greater sense of immediacy. As timeless as their non-continuity tales of the Man of Steel were, they also had more of a feel of aloofness that I've yet to detect here. Everything here feels infinitely more in the moment.

To no one's surprise, this young alliance between Dick and Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son crashes into the rocks before it even leaves the dock. Morrison creates more than one internal crisis for Grayson, as not only does his brash young charge fail to take some very necessary guidance, but he has yet to sell the Gotham City Police Department on his role as the Dark Knight. If he can't even get Robin to believe in him, who will? Fortunately for Batman, he does have one constant in Alfred Pennyworth, and the longtime servant to Wayne Manor gives Dick some exceptional advice as to how to successfully embrace the role of Gotham's greatest protector.

The villainous cast that Morrison has dreamed up certainly plays to Quitely's strengths. Quitely has quite the penchant for the ghastly and grotesque, and he hasn't even touched any classic members of Batman's extensive gallery of rogues! I was a bit disappointed that Professor Pyg, the apparent mastermind behind his crew's somewhat successful raid on the police department's headquarters, only garnered a mere panel in all of "The Circus of the Strange," and it's underscored by the idea that two-thirds of this story is in the books (if I did read it correctly, that this Quitely run is a 3-part tale). I was a little confused with the second to the last panel of the story with the explosion. Not exactly sure what's transpiring there, and I'm left wondering if we can expect much more insight to this sadistic adversary to Batman.

Otherwise, what's transpiring in this sector of the "Batman Reborn" universe is nothing if not exciting. Morrison has given things considerable dramatic heft, evidenced in Batman and Robin #2, and the art supplied by Quitely (aided by superb Alex Sinclair coloring) definitely sells it. Whatever it is they're producing, I'm buying.

Asterios Polyp

Asterios Polyp

Written & Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli

Published by Pantheon Books

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

So … we can all stop reading comics now, because David Mazzucchelli’s crafted the ultimate comic book statement. Just take everything on your reading pile right now and chuck it out. Asterios Polyp is the new standard bearer. Mazzucchelli has somehow managed to jam just about everything great about comics into 340 pages of humanity, soul-searching, graphic design, philosophy and humor.

Asterios Polyp is fifty years old, an insufferable know-it-all who just happens to be one of the most renowned architecture professors in the country. And he’s having a midlife crisis that just won’t quit. Mazzucchelli uses Polyp’s architecture background beautifully, often literally deconstructing characters down to their own “architectural” core – solid shapes and lines for Polyp; soft, nuanced cross-hatching for his adoring wife Hana; etc. – while crafting graphically engaging symbols and page layouts that dig into Polyp’s philosophies on life. Every element of the book tells you something about the characters; Mazzucchelli even creates individual fonts and word balloon styles for each character to capture the uniqueness of his or her respective voice. Watch Polyp’s solid, square balloons and speech in contrast to Ursula’s dreamy balloons or Stiffly’s slightly sloppy speech.

Technically, Asterios Polyp is an absolute tour de force, with a lesson in cartooning to learn on every page, but Mazzucchelli isn’t just showing his virtuosity as an artist and designer. By crafting a series of distinct and internally strong characters, Mazzucchelli enables Asterios Polyp to explore the human condition via his interactions with one of the most memorable casts to grace the comics page. Each espousing a distinct outlook on the world, every character reaches into Polyp’s soul to uncover a new facet of the character, his spirituality, his earnest, hardworking nature, his compassion, or his indifference and egoism.

There is a thread dealing with Polyp’s stillborn twin brother, a suggestion of missed possibilities, that is the book’s only slight misstep. It’s an intriguing idea, but is somewhat under-developed. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise borderline perfect book, however, and readers will find themselves revisiting Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp many times to uncover the layers and subtleties of this masterful piece of cartooning and writing.

Invincible Iron Man #15

The Invincible Iron Man #15

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: Salvador Larocca

Colorist: Frank D'Armata

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

The latest issue of the Invincible Iron Man is largely actionless, but it doesn't stop this issue from being one of the best of the bunch. While Tony Stark's endgame becomes more and more desperate, Matt Fraction, Salvador Larocca, and Frank D'armata really give the book a moody, sad atmosphere that leaves a lasting impression in its 22 pages.

This issue is largely an interlude, as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts reunite in the tundras of Russia. Yet after they share a romantic night, Pepper wakes up to a beautifully sad scene, with Tony writing notes. "You've kept the secrets of the whole world in your head, and now you're jotting them down on Post-Its?" Pepper asks. "Sloppy." The look on Tony's look says it all: "These are hardly secrets. More like... like 'here's how to use a screwdriver.'"

In this scene, Tony's struggle has suddenly become all the more real, a degenerative condition not unlike Alzheimer's. In a way, Tony nails it on the head: he truly is losing his greatest superpower. It's heartbreaking when a tearful Pepper thanks him for all the good that he's done, for her, for Rhodey, and for Happy -- and all Tony can say is: "Who's Happy?"

That scene alone is worth the price of admission, especially with Frank D'Armata washing things out with a cold gray tone. And while the other scenes don't have that emotional hook, they're still interesting to see. Salvador Larocca especially draws the heck out of Maria Hill, who has a haunted look in her eye as she hunts down the Black Widow. He works well with Fraction in this scene, as he quickly amps up the tension as H.A.M.M.E.R. drops in on Hill. With the conclusion of her mission, it's interesting to see how the Black Widow -- a great new supporting character for the new Captain America -- might be a viable character in this series as well.

All in all, Matt Fraction and company's greatest success with this issue is that it really makes it unclear what will happen to Tony Stark. Will he survive? And if he does, will he be the man he once was? It's this underlying tension that makes the Invincible Iron Man a series to read, and with a cliffhanger for next issue, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Marvel Divas #1

Marvel Divas #1 of 4

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Art by Tonci Zonjic

Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

I gotta say, I really, really, really enjoyed this book. I know from the second this comic was announced, right out of the gate, there were rumblings online. And like most things online, once one person trashes on something everyone else has to jump on the bandwagon. Posters complained about the semi-sexed-up cover (this cover is considered too sexy? Have they not seen the rest of the 99% of covers featuring a super-lady? This comic is tame in comparison) and quickly made the assumption that this book would be just a modern day spin on those horrible, sexist “bad girl” comics of the 90’s - a four color misogynistic mess if you will.

I have to say that just because the cover of Marvel Divas features a very va-va-voom Blackcat I don’t see the other women looking anything other than strong, confident, powerful. It’s not as if the ladies are striking the typical ass-first fetish pose that seems to be all the rage today. The problem, as I see it, is that once a book kicks the men to the curb and begins to focuse solely on the women it’s labeled misogynistic. After all, women read fashion magazines with sexy models busting out some crazy outfits, wearing next to nothing, and these magazines are perfectly fine, no one seems to find fault with Vogue. But when a comic book dares to break the mold by giving the women the starring role and triumphantly features them in your fairly typical heroic pose all hell breaks loose. It’s the typical ‘Madonna whore/Madonna virgin” complex. Only in comic books it seems a women can be sexy as long as she takes a backseat to the men (in a superhero team book) but once she gets her own title she’s supposed to be “Saint Superheroine of the Spandex Cross.” And if she doesn’t fit that box the book is exploitive.

Well, rest those fears complainers, because Marvel Divas is anything but exploitive. In fact, this comic is a witty, fun, divinely crafted look at the modern woman, with all the complications women face today - only these modern women can fly (well two of them anyways), wear skin-tight outfits, and can stand toe to toe with Captain America. From the very first page this comic steps far, far, far away from the trappings of showcasing a female superhero character as a sex-symbol. Instead of cheesecake we have depth, instead of misogyny we have celebration, and best of all, instead of stale caricatures we have well-rounded characters.

The basis of the story focuses on the friendship of four sort of C-List superheroines as they go about their lives, balancing fame, work, love, and their own feeling of inaccuracies in the face of the more A-List “Glamazons” – Emma Frost, She-Hulk, Storm and the Invisible Woman, natch. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa instantly gives each of the ladies their own unique voice, their specific role in the friendship and in their niche in the story. It’s easy to see that Marvel Divas pulls ever so slightly from Sex and the City, but you know what, who cares? What could have been just a comic book rip off of Sex and the City instead is a book that stands on its own by exploring a side of the Marvel U never really looked at: the romantic life of the female superhero.

As for the stars of the comic, there’s smart and confident Pasty Walker, aka Hellcat, who just finished her latest novel – one in which dares wonder if Tony Stark “sexiled” her to Alaska. (haha, what an excellent and way too perfect way to sum up her recent limited series and her brief intimate moment with Mr. Stark). We have tough, strong, Monica Rambeau, Captain Marvel/Photon (depending on what she’s going by this week, although here she’s called Captain Marvel), sassy, man-eater Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, and the sweet, lovelorn Angelica Jones, the one and only Firestar. The cliffhanger at the end of the books shows where this great series is heading - instead of fisticuffs and monologuing villain, we’ll get plenty of interpersonal soapy, sudsy fun. Yay!

Now certainly this book might not appeal to most of the male comic readers out there, because heaven forbid a straight male comic fan be caught dead supporting a book starring a female(s). It’s such a shame too, because what Marvel is doing here is branching out from the normal male dominated comics and giving their readers a fantastic book about smart, articulate, funny, enjoyable women. Surely any man can, and should, enjoy such a woman. What is odd to me is when internet posters say that they don’t buy a female centric book because “the books sucks.” Without giving a reason as to why it sucks. Well, guys, this book doesn’t suck, so put your money where you keyboard is and pick this comic up!

Uncanny X-Men #513

Uncanny X-Men #513

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

I haven’t been this into the X-Men since the late 80’s when Dazzler took on the Juggernaut alone, right before the X-Men headed off to Australia. Current writing superstar Matt Fraction has taken Marvel’s once flagship title, which has faulted a lot over the past few years, and completely and totally revitalized it with his snappy dialogue, many intriguing plots, and surprising twists and turns.

With this second chapter in the Dark Avengers/X-Men crossover, the tensions in the city of San Francisco reach a boiling point as the Dark Avengers try to calm the civic unrest left over from the Utopia one-shot, Emma reveals her membership in Norman Osborn’s evil Cabal and agrees to leading a new Dark X-Men team, Cyclops and the X-Men go on the offensive, hiding out in their new Marin/SF based headquarters, and seemingly human baddie, Simon Trask, appears to be more than just a human rubble-rouser. Like I said before: intriguing plots!

Although this issue seemed to be a bit too talky-talky, Fraction’s strengths lie in giving characters their moment in the sun, no matter how brief. Even a lesser known X-Character, like Anole, is given enough dialogue to not only make the reader want to know more about him but that also serves to move the story along. Fraction never to wastes his words or gives throwaway lines just to fill space, every time a character speaks it matters. Whether to be comic relief or to present a new angle or a different view on problem, Fraction makes sure each character is utilized, and utilized well. I will say that I was a bit surprised to see Cyclops go all Nightwing-y and do some crazy flippy-acrobatic move to escape capture. Since when did Cyclops join the junior X-Tumbling Squad? And how great is it seeing Cloak and Dagger back on the main stage? These two deserve to be in the Marvel spotlight and here’s hopping this is just the start of their return to popularity. They deserve it.

Overall this was another good issue, even though it does seem to be a bit of set-up for the upcoming battle between the Dark X-Men, the X-men, and the Dark Avengers. But every story needs to have its low moment, an exposition driven chance to catch its breath and prepare for the dramatics.

Witchblade #128

Witchblade #128

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

In Part 3 of War of the Witchblades we don't get another showdown between Sara Pezzini and Dani Baptiste. No, this more like the calm before the storm. When we left off, it looked as though Sara had been skewed by the Angelus Sabine, but of course the Witchblade has healing properties and Sara is brought back from certain death, if not still a bit psychotic. To make things worse, Dani has formed a sort of truce/alliance with Sabine and her companions. I'm forseeing some pretty big throw-downs in future issues to come.

The issue has some strong story points and great dialogue. It starts off with Sara's sister Jill getting out of prison and waiting for Sara, who of course never shows and she can't wonder why. Little does she know she has just been impaled and thought dead by fierce Angelus warriors. With Sara dying and Dani unconscious, the Angelus nab them and plan on taking the Balance, aka the Witchblade. All seems pretty smooth until Sara's boyfriend Patrick Gleason shows up and gives a clean headshot to one of the warriors.

Gleason attempts to threaten them more, but the Angelus quickly get the ball back in their court by telling Gleason he can only take one wielder, while the other stays with them. Gleason of course chooses the woman he loves, and the Angelus take Dani off. Once the Angelus departs, Gleason wastes no time trying to resuscitate Sara. When she revives, all she can think about is getting the other half of the Witchblade. She is cruel to Gleason and abandons both him and her daughter to go find Dani and restore the Witchblade that she thinks is rightfully hers.

Meanwhile, Dani wakes up and she finds herself surrounded by the Angelus. They lie about why she is there and they assume the role of saviors, explaining if they had not been there Dani would have been killed by the possessed Sara. Dani tells them to stay out of the way of Sara and herself since this is their war. Sabine gives her word that she and her warriors will do so, unless it looks as though Dani would need any assistance. Yeah. Right. People should know by now, just because the Angelus look like "the good guys" does not mean they are.

Cut to the Curator and him receiving an unlikely visitor, Tua'ma. Apparently they are brothers, but we really don't know the full extent or what that really entails. The Curator tells Tua'ma that he will not stop him this time from doing what he feels must be done. Sort of mysterious happenings going on, but the art is especially strong in the last few pages.

There are a lot of hints and possibly foreshadowing going on in this issue and it has a lot of steam and build-up. If you haven't picked up this arc yet, give it a try. It's self-contained to the Witchblade universe, so no worries about having to buy a plethora of books, and it is a solid read. Ron Marz is creating a slow burn with this issue that has tons of dialogue that I'm sure will have an explosive conclusion.

Escape from Wonderland #0

Escape From Wonderland #0

Writer: Raven Gregory

Artist: Daniel Leister

Letterer: Crank!

Colorist: Nei Ruffino

Zenescope Entertainment

Review By: Jeff Marsick

Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales franchise prides itself on being a twisted adult take on the classic children’s stories, but it’s minor league stuff compared to the psychotic mania that powers the company’s Return to Wonderland and Beyond Wonderland series. These books chronicle the lives of Alice Liddle and her brood, specifically her daughter, Calie. If you’re not Wonderland savvy by now, the Cliff Note catch-up is thus: in Return to Wonderland, mother Alice dove off the deep end of the sanity pool without her floaties and killed herself. Little brother Johnny blamed promiscuous pop and axed him forty whacks. Unwilling to see her brother incarcerated, Calie threw Johnny through the Looking Glass, a thermite grenade of sorts to seal the barrier between Wonderland and our reality as a way to keep the madness from bleeding over from there to here. An act of love and a ritual sacrifice. Two birds, one stone.

In Beyond Wonderland, Calie’s left California behind her, started a life for herself in New York City and got knocked up with her boyfriend, Brandon. While not as good a story as Return to Wonderland (although certainly more gory), the gist of the series was that Johnny’d become the new Mad Hatter and had found a way to log frequent flyer miles into our reality, whittling his way through Calie’s list of friends, eventually meeting his fate atop the Empire State Building in a Robert Towne-and-Dario Argento-do-An-Affair-To-Remember sort of climax. But as we’ve learned from all of those Freddy and Mikey and Jason flicks, true evil can’t ever stay beheaded, and in an improbable-yet-predictably-necessary ‘twist’, Johnny return when Calie gives birth to a little girl, Violet. Making like Rumpelstiltskin, he absconds the child to sate the hunger of the beast that is the realm of Wonderland.

Which brings us here, to this new series. Calie, now calling herself Carroll, returns to the house where all of the madness started, back Return to Wonderland, determined to trip on through the Looking Glass and rescue Violet. Zero issues are typically fluff pieces, all taste without any real calories, and usually skippable without detriment. This book isn’t really different, giving up only ten pages of original story and setup, followed by fourteen pages of Who’s Who-type entries on the big players in this game. But at a cover price of just a buck-ninety-nine, it’s worth it for a couple reasons. First off, Daniel Leister’s artwork continues to be the best by any artist on Zenescope’s bench (although his weakness is clearly hands; he has a propensity to draw strangely spindly and splayed digits, as if everyone has arachnodactyly), and the approach to getting Carroll to the basement whilst filling the reader in on the requisite backstory is rather neat. Scenes from the prior series are subtly overlayed on the current issue’s panels, creating the effect of Carroll walking through the ghosts of her past. It’s spooky cool and also serves to remove from writer Raven Gregory the burden of having to litter the book with droning exposition. Ten pages of tale portends that Escape to Wonderland is going to be more than just a story, it’s going to be An Event, one that Zenescope needs to inject enthusiasm and excitement back into their titles. Now, fourteen pages of character bios might be a turn-off to many, but the whole Wonderland world is so bizarre and the stories have been such a rollercoaster ride that in order to fully appreciate the series to come, you really need to get to know the principals. Again, it’s an issue that’s well worth the money.

If you’re Wonderland curious, this issue is a great jumping-on point.

Amazing Spider-Man Family #8

Amazing Spider-Man Family #8

Written by Marc Sumerak, Tom DeFalco, Joe Casey, and Tom Peyer

Art by Javier Pulido, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Chad Hardin, and Stephanie Buscema

From Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Amazing Spider-Man Family #8 marked the mighty Marvel debut for certified comics' royalty- Stephanie Buscema. Buscema is the granddaughter of famed Conan, Silver Surfer and How to Draw the Marvel Way artist John Buscema, but if you're looking for the chiseled musculature, and retro-Marvel house-style artwork perfected by her grandfather, you're barking up the wrong alley.

Stephanie's work is decidedly influenced by classic illustrative sensibilities, but presented through the filter of modern interpretation. Lavishly painted, her angular line and style more closely resemble 1950's commercial artwork than How to Draw the Marvel Way. Her knack for clear, concise sequential paneling, though, reveal her heritage as a natural cartoonist. She teams here with writer Tom Peyer to tell a What If/ Why Not story of a Spider-Man whose spider-sense betrays him, and whose like subsequently goes awry. Light, and tongue firmly in-cheek, the art style matches the story. It's full of Parker luck, and classic Spidey-style bewilderment. Everything that can go wrong for our fair hero, does. Peter even has his classic green chartreuse vest, so that's adorable.

This story amuses, and satisfies if only for its bold new voice. The most charming wrinkle of Buscema's contribution is the color palate. On pages where Parker is not draped in his webbed garbt, his trademark colors pop up some other way, either in backgrounds or the attire of supporting players. This device is a great, subtle way to keep the story 'on-topic,' at all times. The style and visual voice is singularly unique, and is sure to be a part of comics for years to come.

Being an anthology, there are other stories to be enjoyed here as well. Doubling up the Buscema percentage in this book is uncle Sal, who inks the DeFalco/ Frenz Spider-Girl story. These collaborations always make me smile, because they are essentially `comics as they were.' With classic Marvel dynamic posing, it presents a curious phenomenon of tales about the future, told in the style of the past. It doesn't make for the most challenging read, but it does evoke that nostalgia that comics do so well.

The lead story is a Marc Sumerak/ Javier Pulido/ Sinister Spider-Man joint. Set during the current Dark Reign, it tells the sorry state of the world as it is today. Vignettes always make for the best anthology-fare, as they so effectively convey the impact of the character in the world at large. This story basically shows the difference between a world where Peter Parker swings through the skies, and one where Mac Gargan does, through the eyes of an everyman. In heartbreaking fashion, it illustrates the difference between heroes and villains. Pulido and colorist Javier Rodriguez masterfully depict the last few years in the Marvel world as it descends to crime-by-law, equally capturing its highs and lows. This is a sentimental story, and you'll love it for that.

Finally, Joe Casey and Chad Hardin collaborate on a J. Jonah Jameson short. Set before his historic mayoral run, this story was actually a bit underwhelming. It was a decent showcase of Hardin and inker Mark Irwin's talents, featuring a little comedy acting and some action, but Casey left something to be desired in the script. We just don't really learn anything new about the Bugle big boss, and considering how prominently he is featured in the Amazing ongoing, that lack of depth is glaring. It wasn't outwardly `bad,' but one expects a bit more depth from the veteran writer.

No anthology bats 1.000, so given the strengths of some other stories, all is forgiven. Overall, this collection of comics is a good read, even if it has no connection to the regular series. In showcasing some established talent, presents some lesser-known quantities, and telling good stories about folks in webs, it does everything one hopes of an anthology.

Greek Street #1

Greek Street #1

Written by Peter Milligan

Art by Davide Gianfelice

From Vertigo Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

If you closed your eyes and imagined the quintessential Vertigo series, you'd get Greek Street.

Greek Street is a series that takes the great Greek tragedies of yore, and recasts them in a modern, seedy, urbane world, and yes, that does work as effectively as it sounds. It isn't quite “magic realism,” but the setup here does take our real world, and transform it onto a world of myth and tragedy. Assuredly, there will be some nefarious reason as to why the great tragedies are reconstituting themselves in our modern times, but honestly, just seeing the haunting recreations is enough to justify this issue. Those tales are resonant these thousands of years later for a reason, making them ripe for reinterpretation.

Gianfelice proved himself as an effective illustrator on Northlanders, and shows those same strengths here. His line is minimal, his `acting' is effective, and he proves more than capable of being more than a `period,' artist with his handle on the modern day.

This story is haunting, really. But it is also, very clearly, a very strong conceptual foundation for a series. For just four quarters, you can't ask for much more.

The Muppet Show #4

The Muppet Show #4 (of 4)

By Roger Langridge

From BOOM! Kids

Review by Brendan McGuirk

I wish this comic could go on as is, forever.

Roger Langridge has proven himself to be the most capable point-man on Muppets stories since Jim Henson himself. He's perfected the translation from screen to page, skillfully distilling the single pages-to- single scene formula. The characters sound like themselves, the jokes are as unfunnily funny as Muppets jokes are meant to be, and the cartooning is airtight. As he has throughout this mini, Langridge balances backstage antics with familiar recurring sketches to maximize Muppet comedic effect. If humor comics were always this well done, the genre would never suffer.

There are little hints to the complete package that this comic is, such as Langridge's knack for giving himself exactly enough space to insert word balloons, while still filling the panel with art. He'd be a capable cartoonist without the benefit of these familiar characters, but damned if he isn't well served by his own understanding of the balanced proportions of Muppet style irony and literal humor that are the trademark of the brand. Even his use of the ensemble cast reveals his pitch-perfect sense of how this comic should be done. This comic is as timeless as the Muppets themselves, and for that it should be celebrated.

If there's any justice, Langridge and the Muppets will team up again on a sequel project sometime soon. Either that, or somebody will have to send Sweetums and Miss Piggy to BOOM! headquarters to force the issue.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Secret Six #11 (DC Comics, Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Nicola Scott and Gail Simone are rocking this book out like no other. Simone is an ace when it comes to guffaw worthy dialogue, as even a small, seemingly pointless line serves to provide more characterization than most comics do in 22 pages. I loved seeing the Secret Six gang up on each other, take sides, and throw-down as they battled over whether to keep their agreement with the despot ruler they’re working for, or help Artemis and her sister Amazon’s go fear from their enslavement. I have no clue how Scott crams so much action and acting in her panels, but man, the lady can draw! Oh, and next issue features a P.O.’d Wonder Woman ready to unleash her fury on the Secret Six. Yikes! It’s gonna be awesome!

Wolverine: Weapon X #3 (Marvel; review by David): It's not a bad book by any means, but I think that the supporting characters are fleshed out to the detriment of the main character. Jason Aaron still is a master of voice and grit, but he kind of cheats his readers a bit after the cliffhanger on Issue #2. Ron Garney has a sketchier style than I'm used to, but it's certainly growing on me, especially with the colors from Jason Keith. It's a set-up issue that shows how deep the threat of Blackguard really is, but I think based on the power of Strikeforce X, we would have believed Aaron anyway.

Jonah Hex #45 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) Multi-part epics are pretty much uncharted territory for this series, though Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's first major foray into this concept is a winner so far. What's not uncharted is superior comic book storytelling. Of any genre, really. In Part 2 of "The Six Gun War," I'd have to say that the issue's most valuable player has to be Tallulah Black. Granted she's only a fictional character, but I can't imagine a whole lot of ladies who could essentially stave off a gang rape while chained up in captivity, all the while laughing off her would-be assailants. That, my friends, is hardcore. But not only does El Papagayo have Black to worry about, but Jonah Hex and El Diablo are now hot on the trail of the bandito and Quentin Turnbull (who was dumb enough to leave Hex to die alone, unsupervised) in Old Mexico. Jonah Hex has never lacked in artists who breathe life into Gray and Palmiotti's scripts, and Christiano Cucina, the talent assigned to "The Six Gun War," certainly keeps that streak of success intact. Cucina's style reminds me somewhat of Phil Hester's, and his gritty pencils and inks suit this tale loaded with an all-star cast very well. Figuring that this title is hardly a sales champ, it's to be applauded that DC is not fixated on the bottom line, especially if we have a Jonah Hex film to look forward to within the year. I'm just ecstatic that we're about to celebrate a fourth year of this excellent Western series. I'm not sure that there's been a bad issue in the bunch.

Double-Shot: Batman & Robin #2

Batman and Robin #2 (DC Comics; review by Brendan): This is good Bat-comics. After Grant Morrison's dense, allegory-soaked run with Bruce Wayne on the Batman title, it's refreshing to see that he can still tell a story through action first, and character second. It doesn't sacrifice all of its depth, though, as this is Dick Grayson's Batman: Year One. Unlike his mentor, Dick doesn't have the luxury of first adapting to the cowl, then taking on a protege of his own. Instead, he must simultaneously learn to be Gotham's hero and Damien's instructor, and just like Bruce, when Bruce was young, he's struggling with the role. This makes for fun soap opera. The Circus of Strange serve as the perfect foils to the Dick, the former carny, since they combine the historical origins of the former Nightwing, former Robin, and the dementia of the Gotham criminal crowd. It's a superb instance in which plot informs character. Frank Quitely's talents are on full display here, showing both the attention he pays to the slightest detail, and his sequential skill. Even the ears on Quitely's Bat-cowl show depth that reveal the brilliance in the artist's visual logic. As promised, his Batman is less of a brawler, and more of an acrobat who topples criminals with his majestic trajectories. Robin is a sadist with a penchant for brutality. As Circus of Strange member Triplet says, “So much for teamwork.” Quitely's paneling is in rare form, even for an artist of his caliber. Panels are tilted when the Circus is up to no good, which illustrates the imbalance of equilibrium that they seem to thrive in. In action sequences, panels are tilted into the third dimension, fostering a dynamic kineticism of both speed and power. Comics this good are exciting. The shining moment of this issue is Alfred acknowledgement of Dick as, at heart, a performer, who should thus be taking on his duty as Batman with that flair for the dramatic in mind. It's layers like this that make the Batman: Reborn books seem less like stunts, and more like genuine installments in great, ongoing superhero fiction.

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