Best Shots: PUNISHER, SMALLVILLE Season 8, more

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Best Shots for 8-24-09

By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings!  Your tons of BSEs and Best Shots Advance reviews from the past week were . . .

Punisher: Noir #1, review by David Pepose

28 Days Later #1, review by David Pepose

Superman/Batman #63, review by David Pepose

Archie #600, review by Henry Chamberlain

Blackest Night: Superman #1, review by The Rev. OJ Flow

Batgirl #1, review by Lan Pitts

Spider-Woman Motion Comic #1, review by Brendan McGurik

Daredevil #500, review by David Pepose

And the rest . . .

Punisher #8

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Tan Eng Huat

Coloring by Lee Loughridge

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Guns don't kill Avengers. Frank Castle kills Avengers.

That's the premise of Punisher #8, as you can tell that Rick Remender is having the time of his life blasting the World's Greatest Superheroes to Kingdom Come. And it's that enthusiasm that helps push this book over the line, with a rocking script trumping my misgivings on the art.

As you can see on the cover, Rick Remender utilizes his sinister sixteen undead villains as well as the Avengers of the 1980s -- and while the rationale for the Avengers' inclusion is a little flimsy, Remender has a rhythm with his choreography and dialogue that makes this issue roar. There's a real energy to the Punisher's fight against the Hood's forces, especially against the Fly. "Listen, please, I just wanna -- I wanna live, man," one of the villains tells Frank later. "Coming after me ain't no way to go about it," the Punisher replies.

The art by Tan Eng Huat, however, is a bit more of an acquired taste. At the beginning, Huat's pencils have a sense of speed to them, such as Frank dropkicking an enemy out the window. "It's my nature," he says, and it he looks damn good doing it. However, once the Avengers arrive, Huat's anatomies become a bit too distended for my liking, with the composition of the shots losing a bit of their style and thus dragging the script with it. Lee Loughride's coloring also isn't a great fit for Huat, with backgrounds popping more than characters.

But when it's all said and done, you have to respect Rick Remender's scripting -- it's through sheer willpower that he wins you over, especially with scenes involving side characters such as the villainous Hood or Frank's sidekick hacker Henry. It's all very suspenseful, and it brings us back to the main story with gusto. All in all, this issue is definitely a tangent which some could argue might even be self-indulgent -- however, if Remender is going to keep writing such great scripts, even with some inconsistent art, I'm more than happy to vouch for his flights of fancy.

Blackest Night: Superman #1

Written by James Robinson

Art by Eddy Barrows, Ruy Jose and Julio Ferreira

Coloring by Rod Reis

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Who would have thought a zombie Kryptonian could breathe so much life into a book? Apparently James Robinson and Eddy Barrows are feeling the pull of the Black Lantern Corps, because Blackest Night: Superman #1 is a book that feels epic in scale, giving Superman and the recently returned Superboy an opponent that's truly worthy of their mettle.

As you've likely seen in the previews, Robinson gives a great introduction that not only illustrates the idyllic, easy-going atmosphere of Smallville, but paints a dark picture of how Black Lantern Superman is not just a hostile foe, but a terrifying force of nature. Eddy Barrows does some of his strongest work in recent memory, whether it be an ominous silhouette flying through dark clouds, or seeing a couple at a drive-in look in horror at their impending doom.

But Robinson and Barrows -- along with colorist Rod Reis -- really shine in a battle royale between Superman, Superboy, and their undead adversary. Robinson throws a lot of panels onto a page, but Barrows really knocks it out of the park, giving a level of clarity that would do George Perez and Phil Jimenez proud. Little touches, such as the ground warping under Superman's feet as he prepares to take off after the Black Lantern add a sense of just how powerful these combatants can be -- this is a battle that could really break the world in two. And while there is one splash page that feels pretty awkward in terms of composition and anatomy, Barrows more than makes up for it by the number of iconic shots of the Man of Steel.

Yet Robinson also gives a horror vibe to all this by utilizing Rod Reis -- not unlike the Predator films, seeing our heroes suddenly become yellow or green or red makes you wonder not only what the Black Lantern seeing all this is about to do, but also what's going on in the heroes' heads. A panel of a red Superboy raging at the Black Lantern's hostage, while Superman holds him back in a heroic green pose. Indeed, Robinson goes a step further than his colleague, Geoff Johns, by having Superman exhibit not just one, but multiple colors simultaneously -- and that gives readers a bit to chew on, reminding us why he is Earth's Greatest Hero.

This book may be 24 pages, but the scale and pacing which James Robinson uses here makes it feel like a much longer book. While World of New Krypton may have its fans, it's nice to see Superman back in the red-and-blue duds, doing what he does best -- saving the world from powerful threats both from Earth and from beyond the stars. With a truly powerful combatant who's all too willing to exploit Superman's sense of loyalty and family, the creative team behind Blackest night: Superman #1 has truly sold me on a spin-off that I would ordinarily have left on the shelf. If the rest of the Blackest Night tie-ins can reach this level of craft, DC will definitely have a huge hit on their hands.

The Art of Top Cow

Published by: Top Cow

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

Ever since the Top Cow imprint was founded in 1992, it has earned a reputation of having some of the most outstanding art in comics, sometimes to the detriment of its stories, if you listen to some critics.  That audacious artistic legacy is on display in this handsome hardcover, coffee-table sized offering from Top Cow.  In over 350 sumptuous pages, the finest Top Cow artists and their work are on display.

The book begins with a look at the characters who make up the Top Cow shared universe including Witchblade, The Darkness, Cyberforce, The Magdelena, Hunter-Killer, and Weapon Zero.  These include various images from covers, galleries, and interior works.  Each work is noted with where the piece first appeared as well as the artist(s) credits.  Leading things off is the Witchblade work of the Micheal Turner who left this world all too soon and all too young just over a year ago.  Other notable Witchblade artists include Francis Manapul, Frank Cho, Josepth Michael Linsner, Stjepan Seijic, and Top Cow Founder Marc Silvestri.  Several of the pieces throughout the book give a side-by-side comparison to the black and white/pencil and color versions of the piece.  There’s also previously unseen sketch work of some of the Top Cow characters such as early concept designs of the Cyber Force team.

I can’t think of any other studio or imprint that’s done more to highlight breathtakingly beautiful female characters than Top Cow and the examples are here for all to see from David Finch’s striking android Aphrodite IX to the Holy Warrior Magdalena to Kenneth Rocafort’s exquisitely stylish Madame Mirage.  The book also features art from titles outside the shared Top Cow universe including Wanted, Impaler, Common Grounds, The Freshmen, Pilot Season, and much more.  

The book is printed on high quality, thick glossy stock and is perfect for the collector.  It even comes with a Marc Silvestri Witchblade print that can be removed.  The only weakness is that it assumes the reader is familiar with the various characters.  I short introduction to each would have helped.  Well worth $50 but can be had at places like Amazon.com for much less.  

Wet Moon, Book Five: Where All Stars Fail To Burn

Written and Drawn by Ross Campbell

Cleo's diary pages by Jessica Calderwood

Design by Ross Campbell & Keith Wood

Edited by Douglas E. Sherwood & James Lucas Jones

Published by Oni Press

Review by Henry Chamberlain

Ross Campbell has accomplished with Wet Moon, a cartoony narrative grounded mostly in reality, what is a fully realized world much in the same spirit as Strangers in Paradise and Love and Rockets. Wet Moon shares with these landmark character-driven titles a focus on spending time with each character to learn who they are one detail at a time. For instance, the character on the cover of Book Five is Trilby and during the course of the book, we learn who and what matters in her life (her lover and school) and where she falls in with the rest of the crowd. All in all, she is not the most outspoken character but, in her own more reserved way, her needs and desires are just as compelling and ring as true as anyone else in the series. It's as a tableau of art student life, with its lust to be different and push boundaries, that Wet Moon excels.

Wet Moon is made up of a lot of offbeat scenes that stick with you over time. For example, in the just released Book Five, there's a moment when one character spots someone who could be her more out-going twin but is too unsettled to do more than stare at her doppelganger; theres' also this scene with a minor character who steps into the bathroom while another character is using it and  apologizes for her mistake only to have it turn out this is a mistake she keeps making on purpose; then there's this shadowy little character we meet earlier in the book who emerges, like a ghost, through another character's bedroom floor, feet first, and once her head pops out, she bares hideous fangs.

Mixing the everyday flotsam and jetsam of life with a good dose of the supernatural, Wet Moon brings to life a cast of characters that are parts goth, punk, art student and all-around outsider stewing in the heat and humidity that is the Deep South. Most everyone has at least something pierced, preferably lip or nose, and most have weird/cool permanently dilated pupils the better to see the world off kilter. To be eccentric and unconventional is the norm here and, when that's not really enough, you have a character like Fern take over who is the real deal in more ways than one. Tucked away in the nether regions of the bogs and swamps, Fern lives in a haunted mansion that seems to be fully functioning and possibly includes a servant or two. She is nearly skeletal and is missing one arm. Her head is shaved and she prefers to walk about naked. All the art students in town know her and hang out with her at the mansion from time to time but no one really knows who or what she is.

Book Five begins with an assault on one of the main characters, Natalie, that results in her face being slashed with a knife by this slovenly minor character. The mystery may not be so much who did it or even why she did it but how Natalie copes with the event. Throughout, she seems to favor keeping her cool at all times and adjusting as best she can although there are times when she is overcome by her new fate as someone treated as something less than who she is simply because of how she looks. What has happened to Natalie touches just about everyone in this small inter-connected community although, as far as Natalie is concerned, she would rather withdraw from too much attention and makes plans to move out of the dorm and find her own apartment.

Ross Campbell's has a way with women characters and provides them with earthy and thoughtful dialogue. This led to him being chosen to create Water Baby for the DC Comics line geared toward young women, Minx. For that book Campbell had been concerned that he might have made his two lead female characters a little too  sexy until finally settling in with a feeling that he did the best he could. There are plenty of sex issues at play in Wet Moon, with characters seeking answers with the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. But, in each case, each character's story is dealt with compassion and authenticity for a group at a crossroads ranging in age from 15 to 24.

One issue that comes up, for example, is when a same sex relationship doesn't seem to be working out, one female character tells the other female character that maybe she really isn't into girls leaving the rejected lover wondering if that could be true or if it's just a head game.

Or there's the case of one female character who declares herself to be bisexual but is put down by her sister who doesn't support her choice:

Cleo: I'm bi, I think...Maybe kinda leaning toward the girl side...?

Penny: ...Come on, shut up. "Bi" girls are jus' confused. Just pick one.

Each situation is handled with care by Campbell and does not come off as gratuitous. There are no sexual ties between two young men in Book Five but maybe that's something for another time. That said, what Campbell has done is remarkable and a vision that has been years in the making. Whether or not you have any connection to art school, if you enjoy character-driven comics then Wet Moon is something you'll want to check out and the current volume is a great place to start.

Pellet Reviews!

Mighty Avengers #28 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): There's a lot going on in this book, and you have to give it points for ambition. However, Dan Slott and Christos Gage's book starts off a little slow -- with exposition about the Unspoken -- at the expense of the real draw of this book: reuniting the Young Avengers. It's looking like they'll get more of the spotlight next issue, but the introduction definitely sapped a lot from the book, which had an interesting take on DC's Great Ten with a Chinese super-team battling USAgent and Quicksilver. Penciler Khoi Pham's page composition also hobbles the book -- it doesn't really feel like he's swinging for the fences here, instead taking a bit of a literalist approach to the script rather than adding his own energy and charm to the book. Some moments, though, like the Collective Man crushing USAgent's shield, are a good start -- now I'm just hoping that the promise that Slott and Gage are setting up actually pays off in the next issue.

Best Shots Bonus DVD Review

Smallville Season 8 DVD Review

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

Grade: B+

Rated: Unrated

Cast:  Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Erica Durance, Aaron Ashmore

Writer:  Various

Director: VArious

Distributor:  Warner Bros. Entertainment

Date of Release: 8/28/09

Season 8 of Smallville was at once amazing, momentous, and frustrating.  It was amazing in that who would have ever thought this show would make it to eight seasons.  Heck, for that matter, who would have ever thought it would make it to a second season when it started out.  It is a tribute to the show’s writers and actors that they’ve been able to keep the show fresh and progressing while still keeping it in a relatively small box.  While most of the action takes place outside of Smallville these days, it still has maintained its roots.

I mentioned momentous and that may be an understatement.  This season saw the departure of Lex Luthor and the introduction of Tess Mercer as the new head of LuthorCorp.  Lana Lang returns and we also get appearances by The Legion of Superheroes, Zatanna, Maxima, and most importantly, Doomsday.  

Season 8 opens with the aftermath of the destruction of The Fortress of Solitude.  Lex and Clark are both missing.  Green Arrow, Aquaman, and Black Canary are searching for Clark while Tess utilizes LuthorCorp’s resources to search for Lex.  Chloe, now with a supercomputer intellect thanks to Brainiac, is held captive in a LuthorCorp facility that is using her to track down the Clark and the other heroes.  Thus begins a swiftly-paced season that throws everything at Smallville fans.  We’ve come a long way from the meteor freak of the week type episodes!

Episode two introduces paramedic Davis Bloome, who will later be revealed as Doomsday (more on that in a bit) and episode four introduces Maxima, who, just as in the comics, has come to Earth seeking a Clark as her mate and leaving a trail of unfitting suitors in her wake.  

No episodes of season eight are more important than the two in the season’s center.  In “Bride”, Chole and Jimmy are getting married in Clark ’s barn…and nothing says romance like hay and farm implements…when Doomsday makes his first appearance, kidnapping the terrified bride.  “The Legion” arrives in the next episode: Rokk (Cosmic Boy), Imra (Saturn Girl) and Garth (Lightning Lad) who assist Clark in trying to find Chloe and free her from Brainiac.  Clark begins to realize just how important he will be to the future of not only the Earth, but the entire universe.

Much has been made over how Doomsday was used.  In the comics, Doomsday wasn’t created to kill Superman, he was created so writers could have a death of Superman story to sell a gazillion issue and garner worldwide press interest.  Doomsday’s background was not filled in until a few years later.  At least in the series there was a greater effort made to tie Doomsday to Clark through their Kryptonian background and I applaud the effort.

So what is frustrating?  This season gave us the Legion of Superheroes, more involvement of the JLA and John Jones, Zatanna, Maxima, Doomsday, heck even Lana returns and gets superpowers courtesy of the Prometheus technology…and yet Clark is just still the “Red-Blue Blur”.  I could understand the “no tights no flights” mantra in the beginning when Warner Bros. was protecting the Superman franchise but what is there to protect now?  Superman Returns was a disaster and WB is still trying to figure out what to do next.  The fact of the matter is that Smallville is the best thing to happen to the Superman franchise since Christopher Reeve first donned the cape over 30 years ago.

I’m not saying you have to put him in the suit next season and have him zipping around Metropolis but it’s time to start progressing in that direction.  Smallville has had its worst ratings the last two seasons and this year it moves to Friday nights, traditionally one of the weaker nights for TV ratings.  Clearly viewers are becoming disenchanted and it would not surprise me if season nine is the final one.  WB needs to use Smallville to springboard into the next Superman film.  If nothing else, the final scene of the final episode of Smallville MUST have Clark don the cape and tights.

DVD Extras

Audio Commentary on two episodes including “Legion” featuring comic writer Geoff Johns who also wrote the episode.

Deleted scenes:  The are ten episodes which feature unaired scenes

“In the Director’s Chair”  Behind the Lens and Calling the Shots with Allison Mack”  This featurette looks at the episode entitled “Power” where Lana gets her powers from the Prometheus technology.  Allison Mack moves behind the camera for her debut as a Director in this key episode.

“Smallville’s Doomsday: The Making of a Monster”  This featurette examines how the production team brought Doomsday to life and adapted his origin to fit within the Smallville Mythos.

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