Best Shots: Streets of Gotham, Dark Avengers, much more
Best Shots: Streets of Gotham & more
Best Shots for 7-20-09
By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com
Your Host: Troy Brownfield
Greetings! Your BSEs from the past week were . . .
And now, the rest . . .
Batman: Street of Gotham #2
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs
Co-feature written by Marc Andreyko; co-feature art by Georges Jeanty & Karl Story
Published by DC Comics
Review by THE Rev. O.J. FlowI'm still not 100% completely sold on the idea that an all-new Batman title was necessary, but if this is how I have to get my fix of Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen, so be it. Am I the only one who finds it odd that Bruce Wayne is out of the picture for the foreseeable future and all of the sudden there's three DC books with "Batman" at the front of the title? Good thing all of the books have rock solid storytellers, and Batman: Streets of Gotham is rising to the fore in a hurry. "City of Fire" wastes little time setting up the crisis that unfolded at the conclusion of the series debut. I actually skipped out on Battle for the Cowl earlier this year, and I appreciated the fact that some criminal alliances that were apparently established there were not fully necessary to follow the current activity in the Dick Grayson era. Firefly has decided to use resources provided to him by Black Mask to create his own symphony of flames throughout Gotham City. Firefly clearly doesn't discriminate as scores of victims all over the city spontaneously burst into flame for the pyromaniac's entertainment. Also not sure if te brutish "Abuse" figure was someone familiar to Bruce Wayne in his Batman guise, but I feel less concerned knowing that the new Batman and Robin are as in the dark as I am. Compounding this calamity for Batman and his supporting team is Thomas "Hush" Elliot becoming a problem for them again. The nitpicky side of me came out in this instance because it seems like every time they've shown Elliot under "house arrest" in a Wayne Foundation safehouse, the security of the situation develops cracks in a somewhat convoluted nature. Previously we see Elliot getting visited by Damian Wayne, and we know nothing good can come from that, and here we find he somehow gets the materials to pretend that he's simply another victim of the citywide attack on the city. His ability to use the Firefly's scheme to plot a relatively easy escape reeked of convenience. Alfred, I love you, but you know better. Taking care of Gotham City in flames, of course, is Batman and Robin, and they seem to be getting along a lot better than we've seen of late in Batman and Robin. As good as that book is, not to mention this one, this disconnect from one title to the other is really the reason why I question the need for so many Batman titles. I know the global economy has had readers tightening their belts, but I'd be more than happy to pay for upwards of $4.99 for a Batman book that essentially combines the work found here with Morrison & Co.'s assignment along with the Manhunter second feature. Speaking of which, I am liking the work offered by Marc Andreyko, Georges Jeanty and Dexter Vines. I'm one of the people you can blame for failing to get onboard this heroine's previous volume (thus leading to its cancellation), but her presence here makes picking up Batman: Streets of Gotham all the more worthwhile. I can't speak to how this new storyline compares with her ones past, yet Kate Spencer seems to be doing a respectable job fitting in to Gotham City scene fresh off the recent power shift. The art by Jeanty and Vines is sufficiently buoyant while staying grounded by the gritty coloring of Nick Filardi. Going back to the book's main story for one last moment, writer Dini impressed me with the unconventionally dire situation he created for our heroes no sooner than they handle the more immediate situation of a "City on Fire." It's not often that a press conference announcing an absurdly generous act of charity can render the superhero community powerless, but the effectiveness of this underscores the creative success that Batman: Streets of Gotham is proving to be so far, early in its run. Maybe it really is an essential Batman title. Wednesday Comics #2
Creators: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Paul Pope, Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred, Walter Simonson, Brian Stelfreeze, Dave Bullock, Vinton Heuck, Dave Gibbons, Ryan Sook, John Arcudi, Lee Bermejo, Ben Caldwell, Kurt Busiek, Joe Quinones, Eddie Berganza, Sean Galloway, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Kyle Baker, Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert, Karl Kerschl, Brandon Fletcher, Dan DiDio, Jose Luis-Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nolan
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Last week, I couldn't help but be enthusiastic about Wednesday Comics #1, Mark Chiarello's platform for some of the best and the brightest of comic book art. But even as I respect the idea, in certain ways, this book hits a slight slump in its sophomore issue, with some of the stories having to catch their breath as they begin their overall setup.
One of my favorite stories in this issue is the first one, with Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Batman. While the story still feels a bit nebulous -- and Batman himself is never actually seen in this page -- I found myself unexpectedly digging Eduardo Risso's portrayal of Bruce Wayne, who begins wondering about billionaire widow Mrs. Glass. Unlike some artists' propensity to draw Bruce as a generic black-haired figure, Risso's Bruce has some real character to his design, with some blackened shades, a widened nose and some pouty lips. The only problem I had was the end of the page, where it was very unclear to me if it was Bruce or the nebbishy lawyer who saved Mrs. Glass's life -- but all in all, it was some good mood and pacing.
Another story with some interesting emotion is John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo's Superman, as the Man of Steel visits the Dark Knight to get some advice on his alien heritage. I'm conflicted a bit by this -- on the one hand, Arcudi writes some terrible dialogue for Batman, as he angrily suggests that Superman take "super-prozac, or something." But on the other hand, Arcudi has an interesting line from Superman, an earnest alien, to his all-too-human companion: "What on Earth made me think I could talk to you about this?" Lee Bermejo's art is what really impressed me for this story -- but he is given a flat-tire in the print version by the washed-out colors. However, this is not colorist Barbara Ciardo's fault: seeing the story on USA Today's web site looked spectacular, but a printing error washed everything in the nastiest of greens.
But probably the best comics of this week's run are Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook's Kamandi, Kyle Baker's Hawkman, and Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck's Deadman. Whereas last week Sook's work felt a little too static for my liking, his work really gets a nice edge, with the introduction of Prince Tuftan of the Tiger Nation. The inks just look a tad more sketchier than last week -- almost a hint of Andy Kubert -- and I think it really looks great. Hawkman, meanwhile, balances a hint of goofy character design with some striking realistic artwork, which ends with a nice Frank Miller sort of line: "Your companions are dead," Hawkman says, after literally throwing terrorists out of an airplane. "The rest of you will envy them before I'm done with you." Colorist Dave Stewart continues to impress over with Deadman, as the undead acrobat argues with his benefactress Rama Kushna over the life of an innocent. The art by Dave Bullock has a nice Darwyn Cooke-style feel to it, that has both some great emotion and dynamicism.
Unfortunately, some stories are still building up steam toward a full arc. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's Supergirl looks as charming as ever -- especially as Supergirl bites her lip and tells reporters "I'm gonna put a stop to it" -- but part of me was hoping that we would get a little bit more character moments (especially with Krypto the Superdog and Streaky the Supercat) and a little less flying around and chasing. Meanwhile, Paul Pope's character designs with Adam Strange are interesting, but this particular part of the story felt a little too talky and static for me -- that said, I know that not every page can be swashbuckling action, and I have the feeling it will pick up. Similarly, Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred's Metamorpho strip hits a bit of a slow patch, as Allred's splash page of the team exploring the island just doesn't really grab me. Finally, Ben Caldwell I think acts as his own worst enemy with the layout of his Wonder Woman strip, as the cluttered panels make his cartoony designs and bold color choices extremely difficult to take in.
All in all, after last week's strong opening, it's not a surprise to see that the second issue of Wednesday Comics had to scale back a bit -- even as some stories try valiantly to keep the energy at a frenetic pace. That said, I'm still confident that no matter what your tastes -- whether it's the more realistic style of Bermejo to the pop art of Paul Pope, or anything in between -- as the stories progress further, this series will pick up in the next few weeks.
Writer(s): Harris, Braun, Woods, Kleid, Dubay
Artist(s): Alexander, Torres, Gutekunst, Churilla, Barta, Toth
Letters: Nate Peikos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
Dark Horse does horror comics well, producing a more upscale species of the genre than the majority of its contemporaries who seem to prefer grandiose splatter over good storytelling. I’m a big fan of the old Creepy and Eerie series (and if you like horror, you owe it to yourself to get the hardcover collected editions that are just gorgeous) so when I found out DHC was resurrecting the black and white title, excitement abounded. Upon cracking the cover, however, that exuberance quickly faded as Eddie Izzard would say, like a flan in a cupboard.
The issue starts off strong enough with The Curse by Joe Harris and Jason Shawn Alexander, a—snicker—creepy tale of an overworked and underpaid average menial who discovers that he has Proteus-like reality warping abilities. It’s a curse handed down from generation to generation and with each successive step the line between what’s really real and what the cursed wants you to THINK is real gets harder to distinguish. Jason Alexander’s artwork is great stuff, and this is easily the best of the book.
Hell Hound Blues is hard enough to take seriously when you see the artwork by Angelo Torres, but throw in over-the-top dialogue and a character who just seems to be yelling all the time and you’ve got something that’s too long on set-up, too predictable in its climax, and ultimately too silly to belong in this book. Chemical 13 tries to marry zombies with a Nazi concentration camp, but does it so blandly that the story comes across as insultingly exploitative. All The Help You Need is an ambitious mash up of Stephen King’s “The Long Walk”, his “Quitters, Inc.”, and the “What’s Cookin’” episode from Tales From The Crypt that could be so much better but instead disintegrates under the weight of all that it resembles.
The other bookend, Daddy and the Pie is the issue’s other decent story, but it’s a reprint of a 1977 story drawn by classic creepist, Alex Toth. Maybe that’s a portent of what it will take to keep this title afloat: reruns and remakes.
One original story, one reprint, and an inside cover by the incomparable Bernie Wrightson aren’t enough to justify the $4.99 cover price for this book. The title may be Creepy but the content is merely common. My recommendation is to Skip It.
A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor
Written and Illustrated by Rick Geary
Published by NBM
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah
Rick Geary’s latest true-crime account chronicles one of the many tragedies of earliest Hollywood. Geary’s been recounting and recreating well known and sordid murders for years. His last book charted the abduction and murder of the Lindberg baby. This time, the silver screen of the roaring Twenties comes under his gaze.
On the morning of February 2, 1922, film director William Desmond Taylor was found in the parlor of his home, having been shot fatally in the back. Geary effectively breaks the book down into six chapters. The first sets the stage, giving background on the establishment of the film community in southern California and quickly overviewing several of the early scandals that plagued the upstart city. Geary then quickly moves onto the discovery of Taylor’s body, a walk-through of Taylor’s last night alive, a biography of Taylor’s pre-Hollywood life, the suspects in the murder and why the murder was not solved, and finally, the eventual fate of many of the players in the case during the years afterward.
Geary has a masterful ability to lay out the known facts, casually walking readers through the supported truths and innuendoed rumors. He quickly alerts readers to strange and inexplicable events – such as the false doctor who attempted to convince those present on the morning the body was discovered that Taylor had died of natural causes. This man quickly disappeared before real authorities could arrive and was never seen again, Geary tells us and the man fades that quickly from the narrative. Other suspects with more solid histories are explored in greater depth. Rumors are considered and discounted.
In the end, Taylor’s murder remains unsolved, and Geary does not attempt to provide any false closure. He simply offers what is known and some of the more notable legends surrounding the case, and then he leaves the reader to speculate and consider.
In addition to presenting all the evidence in a clear and precise narrative, Geary’s art is perfectly suited to this type of factual accounting. His representational pen-and-ink drawings couch the events in historically accurate and detailed drawings of the world and times of the murder. He’s able to capture likenesses without being slave to or tracing photographs, as characters emote a full range of emotions throughout the reconstruction. He’s a splendid visual storyteller, moving his “camera” around to capture aspects of a crime scene perfectly. Hand-drawn diagrams enforce key points, such as the approach the murderer likely took to Taylor’s house or the angle of the bullet when it penetrated the victim’s coat and vest.
Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor is another winning true-crime volume from Rick Geary. No surprise there, as Geary’s made a long and successful career of this type of comics. Taylor might not be remembered as famously as other early screen icons and their scandals, but Taylor’s murder remains an unsolved crime of Hollywood’s scandalous history. Rick Geary steps through the decades past and takes readers back into the wild and mysterious times of the early film industry, when an Irish immigrant, New York stage actor and British army lieutenant named William Deane-Tanner could recreate himself as a famed and adored film direction William Desmond Taylor, and the tragedy that followed.
Hero House, Vol. 1 (Published by Archana Studio, Reviewed by David Pepose): Despite the relatively low-level high concept -- superhero frat struggles against being shut down by its evil school president -- this book actually is better than expected. Part of this is due to the artwork of Mike Dimayuga, whose emotions really shine through, even if all the details aren't quite there yet. The one thing I was most surprised with was the fact that the superhero action, lovingly portrayed by Twisted Toyfare writer Justin Aclin, occasionally felt superfluous -- the more interesting part to me was the fact that the school president sent failing speedster Nate to infiltrate the Epsilon Epsilon Psis in order to bring them down from within. Aclin does find a neat way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even if it isn't 100 percent properly telegraphed, but the story sort of falls apart afterward, devolving into a superpowered free-for-all. In short, this is somewhat of an underachiever that could make its way to greatness.
Dark Avengers #7 (Marvel; review by Troy): While I did enjoy Cyclops standing up to Norman, the majority of this issue felt rather flat. Luke Ross isn’t a bad artist, but the visuals in this one came off as rather bland when compared to the other issues of the “Utopia” storyline. I suppose that it was inevitable that the Dark Avengers and Dark X-Men would clash, but instead of the suspense of that being slowly build-up or rolled out, the teams are having a go at one another by issue’s end. I hope that business picks up in the next part, because it didn’t seem like much happened here.
Buck Rogers #2 (Dynamite; review by Troy): I’m just totally digging this book. Scott Beatty is doing a great job of taking the substantial history of the character and his various iterations and using them in creative and entertaining ways. The ongoing juxtaposition between the future-action and flashbacks as device works well now; I imagine those elements will get more sparse as the book goes along. Artist Carlos Rafael renders it all with gusto, and the old school should surely shed a tear at the outfits that Wilma uncovers. Just a great, fun book, gang.
The Walking Dead #63 (Image; review by Troy): Kirkman and crew take a bite (no pun intended) from the Ennis/Dillon playback at the end of this issue, but I have to say that the shock reveal of the nature of this new threat to the group makes perfect sense. “Fear the Hunters” as an arc has gotten some decent promotion, but new readers would simply find what old readers already know: Kirkman has this world down. He’s created some exceptional characters, and you can tell that as a writer he inhabits every single one. The dialogue, the reactions, the drama . . . it all makes perfect sense, built as it in on the conflicts that came before. For your bonus reading pleasure, this issue is a flip-book that contains a B&W version of Chew #1, Image’s riotous, hot-selling new title. The best part? Two books in one here are still only $2.99.
Multiple Targets: Blackest Night #1
Blackest Night #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
For me, the biggest surprise with Blackest Night #1 is that while it has been built up for months in the two Green Lantern books, with this opener Geoff Johns has really established that the Black Lantern Corps is not just Oa's problem -- it's the entire DC Universe's.
He opens up with a quick streamlined description of all four of Earth's Green Lanterns, showing just how different they all are from one another. Yet these very different people are linked by a few common traits: their mythic power rings, an unwavering sense of heroism, and losses both personal -- such as Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Jade -- as well as planetary -- such as John Stewart's failure to save the planet Xanshi. With Johns typically erring toward many word balloons and captions, it would be easy for these pages to be muddled, but penciller Ivan Reis is a consummate storyteller, being a master of composition, action, and emotion -- like American Express, Johns really should never leave home without him.
But at the same time, Johns reminds us that the Green Lantern series isn't the only book that he has guided. His scene with the JSA just feels "right," as Damage broods over the assault that mangled his face. Yet even characters that Johns hasn't used -- whether it be Tempest or Alfred Pennyworth -- feel natural, whether it be Garth's devotion to his fallen mentor, or Alfred's horror that Bruce Wayne's remains have been unearthed. The real coup in this, of course, is Barry Allen, who looks like he will really share the spotlight with Hal in this war of the undead -- while Johns is still fleshing out Barry's character in his own limited series, I haven't seen a team-up that has felt this right-on since Mark Waid's take on the duo in the Brave and the Bold.
Now, while I dug this issue -- as well as the surprising turns it took at the end of the issue -- there were a few scenes that were a bit less strong than the others. While Johns' character-building is impeccable, scenes recapping the War of Light felt a little nebulous -- it wasn't a problem for me, as someone who has been keeping up on Green Lantern for the past several months, but I could foresee new readers glossing over them a bit. The other stumbling block was a bit of a schizophrenic take on Hawkman and Hawkwoman: their overall conflict felt natural, but the thrust of the conversation oscillated between Ray Palmer and their own love lives in a sort of choppy manner. Yet the conclusion of the Hawks' story was surprising in its intensity, and definitely let readers know that the gloves are off in this Blackest Night.
For those of you who have been salivating over the Black Lanterns since 2007, this is definitely a strong start for what could be doomsday for both the Green Lanterns and the universe at large. With the setup finally reaching its conclusion -- and with Geoff Johns being aided by some artistic partners that can really sell this book for all it's worth -- the dead are finally rising from the grave to stalk the living. And even as no one is immune from the Black Lantern's touch, I can't wait to see how Hal, Barry, and the rest of the DC Universe will strike back.
Double-Shot Pellet: Blackest Night #1 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): If DC insists on their universe revolving around epic crossover events on an annual basis, then I'm going to be inclined every now and then to compare some of the bigger ones with each other. If I'm going to bust out the hard earned cash, they should allow me that conceit. With that, I have to say that I got more out of this debut issue of Blackest Night than I did the entire run of Final Crisis, and there is a single clear cut reason for that: in page after page, I felt an emotional connection to many a character in this first chapter.Having now had a few days to digest it, I am amazed how much it reminded me of Identity Crisis for all the right reasons. Geoff Johns takes opportunity after opportunity to involve a bevy of DC's shining stars in what has the potential to be the greatest Green Lantern tale ever told, and not once does anyone feel marginalized. Superman and his immediate family get a mere two panels to pay respects to the dearly departed Jonathan Kent, and not once did I feel that the sentiment conveyed was disingenuous. Same goes for similar instances with Firestorm, Aquaman and others. Going back to the FC comparison, in one of the book's more compelling scenes featuring Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, a 5-page sequence (aided by an astounding splash page rocked out by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert, the duo turning in superlative work front to back) added more depth to this Flash's return than Morrison & Co. offered in their ill-conceived epic (not to mention, regrettably, The Flash: Rebirth so far, so don't call this a Johns puff piece). For the first time in 2009 it feels like Barry cares. No doubt that Johns, Reis and Albert have a lot to juggle in a story where it would appear that everyone has been affected by great loss, and if this mind-blowing start is any indication, this may very well be the Year of the Green and the Black.
In Case You Missed It...
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Pat Olliffe and Andy Lanning
Colors by Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
With wedding bells, a new enemy, and the rememberance of Ben Reilly in the Spider-Man books, what's the verdict for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36? In many ways, the best way to describe this book is as "comic book comfort food" -- while it's not going to radically change the comic book industry, it does have some solid if understated storytelling that has some nice moments of humor, loss, and a potentially promising new story arc.
The book opens up with a disorienting hook, as someone who looks an awful lot like Peter Parker is involved in a brawl inside a flaming building in Portland, Oregon. But before we see anything more than the attacker's surprisingly familiar face, we immediately cut back to Peter Parker, who's attending his Aunt May's engagement dinner at the Top of the Hub Restaurant in Boston. Of course, as the old Parker luck would have it, even in Boston he can't take a break without a supervillain attacking -- in this case, the Raptor, a guy with a mad-on for... well, I can't say without ruining the surprise, but needless to say, this could be an interesting story line or a Pandora's Box that Marvel may come to regret.
Looking at Marc Guggenheim's script from a more detailed perspective, there's some amusing gags, even if some of the dialogue feels a little average and certain aspects of the story don't make a whole lot of sense. I don't quite understand how the Reilly clan fits in all this -- did May somehow lose their numbers? Did Peter really not know about these people? -- and certain jokes, like J. Jonah Jameson Sr.'s randiness toward May, just kind of wore thin. The other problem I have with this is something that seems to be endemic of the entire Spider-line at this point: Peter can almost seem a bit petty sometimes, as he snidely calls Jay "Dad." "What?" Peter asks his saintly aunt. "It's too soon to call him 'Dad'?"
But other one-liners do fit, like J. Jonah Jameson Jr.'s offering Peter some wine: "You'll love it! Cost me four dollars a bottle!" And when Peter is suddenly dropped in front of some too-hot-to-be-your-cousin cousins, even he acknowledges how amusing yet awkward this is: "This is so wrong," he monologues to himself. "Seriously, it's grosser than Venom's toothbrush." Yet Peter's need for acceptance is also cleverly touched upon, as Raptor injures a few bystanders with some stray bullets, and then tries to blame it on Spider-Man's agility: "Oh no you don't, Stabby-McStabbs-A-Lot! You are so not blaming this on me!" Peter shouts. "I've got enough problems in the Big Apple without you making a whole other city hate me!"
Meanwhile, Pat Oliffe's art doesn't reinvent the wheel with his art, instead giving some old school storytelling in the style of Sal Buscema. It's not as high-flying or dynamic as some of the other Spider-artists (although a page of Peter falling off a building is pretty cool-looking), but certain scenes -- such as when Peter is suddenly confronted with the memory of a man long dead -- show some great emotion, even with Spider-Man wearing a full face mask. The colors by Antonio Fabela, while skewing toward the purple side of the spectrum, also lend an old-school feel, but on the plus side, all the art is clear, with Spider-Man popping off the page where he should.
For me, one of the most charming parts of the book has to be the location. As a former Midwesterner who's spent the last few years living in Massachusetts, Marvel's New York-centric gags at the Red Sox Nation's expense definitely induced a few chuckles. "Yeah, give him a wicked beat-down!" one civilian yells -- when Spider-Man offers to take people to the hospital, another person says, "Screw the hahspital. You go whip that jerk's butt." And throughout the scene, someone repeatedly yells, "Jeter sucks!" But accent jokes aside, with nearly everyone in the Marvel U set in New York, it's nice to see how the character of a new location impacts a hero -- in this case, Boston actually being a town that appreciates Spider-Man for the hero he is.
While some people may write this off as "typical" Spider-Man fare, I'll be honest in saying that with all the experimentation in Marvel's line-up -- not to mention Spider-Man himself over the last few years -- some familiarity isn't always a bad thing. This issue probably won't blow you out of the water, but it has just enough of what makes Spider-Man a viable series -- just enough humor, just enough action, and just enough weight -- to be 37 pages of some nice comic book comfort food.
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