Best Shots: RUNAWAYS, THOR, So Much More

Best Shots: RUNAWAYS, THOR, So Much More

Greetings, readers!  First,  a look at Best Shots Extras from this past week, as well as some reviews from Blog@.

Trick ‘r Treat Graphic Novel (Wildstorm)

Green Lantern #46 (DC)

Die Hard: Year One #1 (Boom!)

Ball Peen Hammer (First Second)

Nancy Vol. 1 (D+Q)

And now, the rest!  I must pause for a moment and put in a welcome to another new team member: Corrine Vitek!  She’s going to lead off this week, catching us up with a review of the latest issue of Runaways . . .

Runaways #14


Written by Kathryn Immonen

Art by Sara Pichelli

Published by Marvel Comics

Recap and Review by Corrine Vitek

This issue concludes the current “Homeschooling” arc with more questions than answers.  I really think the cover of this one says it all.  But Marvel would never bring back a dead character, right?

This issue opens with the Runaways once again exhausted and homeless.  After their confrontation with the shadow governmental authority figures and the appearance of Hunter Stein (Runaways member Chase’s thought to be deceased uncle) which led to the destruction of their beachfront Malibu home in the last issue, the teens have nothing but themselves and their flying ship.  Their unity doesn’t last long as Chase, still reeling from the loss of dinosaur companion Old Lace, decides to take a break and leaves the group.

Things are complicated as Hunter Stein makes a reappearance, offering the Runaways the one thing they’ve yet to have – safety and a home.   Chase’s familial issues aside, Nico, appointed leader in this little group, refuses outright; but the others aren’t convinced.  When is it time to stop running?  But more importantly, can they trust him?  They don’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to parental figures - the last ones were bent on world domination.  While checking out one of his old haunts and reminiscing on his dead girlfriend, Chase (literally) runs into quite a surprise.  Could Gertrude Yorkes really be alive?  Chase certainly thinks so, leading him into doing something exceedingly rash.  

The issue ends on a cliffhanger, setting the stage for the next arc.  While I enjoyed the issue, it felt like most of it was merely backstory to upcoming plots.  Immonen is definitely setting things in motion here.  The action was minimal and character development a focus.  Chase has long been the Runaway’s resident whipping boy and this issue is no exception.  After everything he’s been through (watching his parents die, watching his girlfriend die, and the sudden emergence of his uncle), he deserves the growth.  Let’s take a moment to talk about the sudden (yet inevitable) reappearance of said girlfriend.  Gertrude Yorkes was consistent favorite from the Vaughn/Alphona run.  Her death was unexpected and devastating to many readers.  Can Immonen successfully bring her back in a way that satisfies the fans?  Is the Gert we knew even coming back permanently?  I certainly look forward to seeing how this plays out.   Like all things with the Runaways, this probably isn’t going to end well for our orphan crew.  

Sara Pichelli’s art puts effort into making the kids look young as they should and Immonen’s writing does a lot to convey the vulnerability of the teen characters.  There are a lot of subtle cues in the art that fans will have fun picking out.  It’s a nice mix of action with a heavy slant into teenage emotional drama.  At its core, this book continues to be more about the relationships than the superheroics.  Questions of unity and family are big, leading readers to wonder how these kids are going to keep themselves from splintering apart.

Thor #603


Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Marko Djurdjevic and Danny Miki

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

J. Michael Straczynski’s “Thor” has been at the very top of my Must-Read list since around issue 7 or 8.  His grasp of what makes Thor such a powerful character, combined with his ability to make him relevant to the reader never fail to impress, and Olivier Coipel’s art has never been better.  Marko Djurdjevic’s art, present in this issue, impresses me less than Coipel’s, but at its worst it is solid.  I do appreciate that Djurdjevic is the “go to guy” when Coipel’s art cannot be present.  It brings a sense of continuity to the title far less jarring than similar arrangements, such as the art team of Dodson and Land on “Uncanny X-Men.” 

Now, majesty is a big part of my life, and that is something that has been present in this title since page one.  Loki’s Machiavellian scheming is so ribald and complex, that it brings an almost Shakespearean air to the proceedings.  What we discover about his arrangement with Doom in this, the over-arching tale’s climax, is no less impressive than his previous villainies.  The Loki/Doom team up is as effective as any in Marvel’s history.  Drawing on their mutual distrust and thirst for power, it effectively grounds the story in the climate of Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, while remaining independent enough to be readable with no outside influence.  Loki has been just as important to this title as Thor, and why shouldn’t he be?  He serves as an effective opposite number, confounding and alienating Thor from his people not with physical might, but by a base intellect that rivals Thor’s physical prowess.  Loki proves once again in this issue why he is not simply a tricky rascal with no ambition beyond his cosmic pranks, but why he is truly a force of evil, to be reckoned as fiercely as his brother’s elemental fury.  It is hard for a character who has gone back in time to enact his own origin to top himself, but his dispassionate delivery of his own people into Doom’s hand places him squarely among the ranks of history’s greatest villains, both inward and outward.

Though Thor himself is seen only in the opening of this issue, his presence is felt throughout its pages, be it through the Warrior’s Three finally abandoning their kinsmen to follow their beloved Thor, or “William The Warrior’s” sense of duty to a people among whom he has no place.  While I believe that this character’s story will be finished in an eponymous special later this year, the events of this issue indicate to me that he will become one of the 32,498 characters (by my expert calculation) that have gained some measure of power by standing close to, teasing, meeting, or simply taking a look at Loki.  Parts of this issue feel slightly inconsequential, but the scenes that truly matter hit home so hard that they more than compensate for the more pedestrian elements.  Even the scenes that feel like they could be left out are punctuated nicely by JMS’s sense of humor, which is as present as ever.  The aforementioned Warriors Three do not fail to deliver some choice lines, and Donald Blake and Sif’s attempted ruse provides some much appreciated levity to a story that is otherwise full of downers.  The dialogue is spot on, bringing a weight to the Asgardian sensibility without alienating the reader.  As previously stated, Marko Djurdjevic’s art is decent, at times echoing Olivier Coipel’s lofty standard, but never quite impressing as the series’ regular artist.  In conclusion, while this penultimate chapter of JMS’s impressive run on “Thor” is hardly serviceable as a jumping on point, it is an essential part of a series that, when finished, simply begs to be collected in an oversized hardcover edition.

Hercules:  The Knives of Kush #3 of 5

Written by:  Steve Moore

Art by:  Cris Bolson

Colors by:  Doug Sirois

Letters by:  Todd Klein

Published by Radical

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

Hercules berserking his way through enemy forces?  Check.  Excessive gore merely for the sake of it?  Check.  Intimation that Atalanta prefers women over men?  Check.  Meandering plot that’s taken too long to develop and seems dragged out in order to pad the page count?  Check and check.  We’re halfway through this series and Steve Moore continues to phone in a mediocre script.

 The big event in this lollygagging issue is the infiltration of the Cult of Khadis by Autolycus and Iolaus.  The pair of spies ultimately find themselves at an orgy in Thebes where the identity of the villain Khadis is bared (literally), and it doesn’t take much to assume that the recurring hints at Atalanta’s predilections is going to play a major role bringing Khadis down in what’s left of this series.

Steve Moore seems to be purposely throwing words on a page just to fill in space, and I wish he’d be more of a storyteller, or at least let the artist SHOW the story.  As an example, in a fight scene Autolycus the thief is scolded by Meleager for stabbing the enemy in the back.  It’s not dialogue that’s important to the plot or the pace, and it would have been better to simply SHOW Autolycus being a cowardly fighter, instead of having it spoonfed to us.  His attention to details is flagging as well.  When the spies are in Thebes and Autolycus kills a masked Egyptian cultist, he tells his concerned partner that if the body is found no one will think to look for killers since “Once they take his mask off, no one’ll recognize him.”  So if anonymity is found in plain-face, why wear a mask in the first place?  At the orgy, Iolaus wants to partake of the food and drink, but daren’t take his mask off for fear that “If we take these masks off, they’ll see we’re not Egyptian.”  Yet your shirtless torsos and bare legs betraying your skin color and body type will be completely ignored, I suppose (not to mention that they are the only two at the orgy in masks…these two are probably the worst spies since Emmit Fitz-Hume teamed up with Austin Millbarge).

The artwork is bold and bright in color, which doesn’t serve the book well at all.  It’s a shame cover artists Clint Langley or Daryl Mandryk can’t do the interiors as well, given the dark, sinister, and brooding tones in their works.  Even the team of Bagus Hutomo and Leos Ng from Radical’s Shrapnel series would work better than the cartoony look the current team employs.  

This third issue has done nothing to change my recommendation to wait for trade, but only if you are a Radical completist.  There are better comics on the shelves to spend your money on.

Secret Warriors #8


Written by Jonathan Hickman


Art by Alessandro Vitti

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

For me, "Secret Warriors" has felt very much like a book constantly in a state of “almost there.”  The story is solid, and it is nice to see Nick Fury back in action, but every element, from the protagonists in Fury’s Caterpillar File to their enemies in Hydra seems to be staring over the precipice of greatness, not ready to simply fall in and be swept up.  I have never been outwardly disappointed with an issue of this title, but I’ve also never felt like I got everything I wanted after finishing an issue. 

The big reveals come often enough, but I feel like I’ve been waiting twice as long as I actually have to find out the small things, like the truth of Stonewall’s parentage.  Maybe I’m left a little cold by the last arc, the middle part of which I missed, as it took place in “Thunderbolts,” a title not normally on my list.  I would’ve made a point to read the issue, but did not realize how empty the story would feel without it.  I was honestly unaware how much of the story would take place in that title (something I’m not a fan of to begin with).  It feels like just as the Hydra arc was building up, Baron Strucker stepped in and literally passed the buck to Norman Osborn to step in as the antagonist for a while.  While Osborn’s willingness to deal with a villain on Strucker’s level is certainly some next level $#!*, it has moved the book squarely into the realm of “books in which Norman Osborn is making trouble,” which currently comprises approximately 2/3 of Marvel’s repertoire. 

If you thought Wolverine was overused, then please explain to me when Osborn finds time to take even a cat nap, let alone get a full night’s sleep or even “fight crime,” as the Iron Patriot. 

This issue fell flat for me, mostly because I did not read the middle part of the story, which is where most of the important action apparently took place.  There were several great moments, such as Phobos emerging from the LMD of Nick Fury, but honestly even that fell flat without the why’s and how’s of his presence inside a robot of his boss.  Ares’ “just this once…” moment in letting his son and his allies escape seemed a little convenient for a God of war.  While one could argue that he wished to allow his son to escape, the Hellenistic Pantheon are not known for their strong family ties, especially in the face of strong personal risk.  Other moments felt more in line, such as Ant Man’s betrayal, which was perfectly in character, and was one of the funnier moments of the issue. 

I imagine I will have a better view of this issue if I choose to seek out the “Thunderbolts” side of the crossover, but as it stands, this chapter is a weak link in a chain of stories that are still waiting to hit their stride, and having to reach for another book doesn’t do any favors.  On a personal note, Stefano Caselli’s virtuosic art has been sorely missed on the past two issues of this book.  Alessandro Vitti’s art provides a strong fill in, and his style suits a book of this genre well, but Caselli is simply on another level.  Jonathan Hickman seems to have ably moved into his gig as the sole writer of the title, but time will tell if he can break the barrier from good to great.  This issue is not a strong step in either direction, but feels more like a stopgap on the way to the story that matters.

Dead Future #1

Written by Martin Brandt II and Roberto Macedo Alves

Art by Paul Petyo, Martinho Abreu, and Roberto Macedo Alves

Published by Grim Crew

Review by Robert Repici

ADVANCE REVIEW

Without a doubt, the ever-evolving concept of what I like to call "Zombie Invasion" has come to play an extremely prominent (and perhaps definitive) role in our contemporary popular culture. Needless to say, it's a very interesting and intriguing craze right now. There's just something about stories that feature zombies taking over the world that appeals to a plethora of people in this day and age. I'm not one of them, but I do find it fascinating that some of the most popular and prolific zombie stories revolve around a wide variety of apocalyptic themes and ideas. Indeed, countless writers and creators have crafted stories that center on zombies and the Apocalypse, and it truly seems that these stories are really starting to spill over into every aspect of our popular culture. In addition, it's certainly no secret that zombies are not only regularly showcased in horror and fantasy fiction these days, but that they're also prominently featured in a myriad of different entertainment mediums in today's world as well. And, yeah, that includes the modern-day comic book medium. After all, the simple fact of the matter is that our contemporary popular culture's current so-called zombie craze has really taken the comic book world by storm in recent years. Hey, maybe it's infectious (no pun intended). Whatever the case may be, however, it cannot be emphasized enough that the reason why many of these zombie stories are so successful is that they're just downright entertaining.

And that finally brings me to the Grim Crew's Dead Future #1, the first issue in a zombie outbreak anthology that features contributions from writers and artists all around the world. Much to my surprise, this comic book provides a very different take on what has come to define traditional zombie stories. Needless to say, conventional zombie stories almost always revolve around the undead taking over the world and devouring the living. And, of course, the zombies are usually portrayed as mindless, decaying corpses that hunger for human flesh and human brains. As expected, all of those elements are present in Dead Future #1, but this comic book does a tremendous job of telling innovative zombie stories that are just as entertaining as many of their predecessors.

Dead Future #1 contains three short stories that all revolve around zombies and the end of the world, and each story brings a certain level of fun and excitement to the table. The first story, entitled "Real Monsters" and written by Martin Brandt II with artwork by Paul Petyo, centers on a young woman who is doing everything in her power to endure the zombie epidemic that has ravaged the world she once knew. As a survivor, it appears that she has grown accustomed

to the zombies, and she realizes that her life won't be in danger as long as she sticks to her survival routine.

Unfortunately, her world is turned upside down when a foolish frat boy comes by and messes up the rigid routine that she depends on for survival. Overall, this first tale is quite chilling, and it has a savage and sadistic twist at the end that really caught me by surprise. In addition, it should be noted that the artwork featured in this story is actually a unique blend of dramatic photography and conventional comic book illustrations that's unlike anything I've ever seen in a comic book before. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but it's definitely an inventive way to visually tell a story in the comic book medium.

The second story, entitled "Major Tom" and written by Martin Brandt II with artwork by Martinho Abreu, pays the obvious tribute to the fictional astronaut who appears in a number of David Bowie songs, and is definitely the strongest story in this anthology's first issue. The story focuses on an astronaut named Tom who sits alone at his communications console in an unnamed space station high above the Earth. Down below, the dead have risen and all hell has broken loose. Zombies have taken over the Earth and Major Tom can do nothing but watch as these menacing creatures ravage his home world. Without a doubt, this is a very interesting and innovative story that explores the helplessness of one man in outer space as he struggles to come to terms with the fact that there's nothing he can do to save his friends and family. As far as the artwork is concerned, there are some really strong and poignant scenes here, and the final sequence (which is done to the lyrics of Bowie's "Space Oddity") is particularly effective and powerful.

The third story, entitled "Non Mortuus" and written and illustrated by Roberto Macedo Alves, tells the tale of the first zombie infestation in the year 1492 as well as the secret origin of the zombie plague. Focusing on the corrupt nature of the Roman Catholic Church in 15th century Europe and featuring some clever cameos of famous historical figures such as Pope Innocent VIII, Rodrigo Borgia, and Machiavelli, this story can be considered to be a bit controversial, but it definitely provides us with a very interesting and original take on zombie mythology. From a stylistic standpoint, Alves' artwork in this story is both strong and dynamic, and his use of heavy inks effectively creates a grim and ominous atmosphere that really captures the story's dark tone.

All in all, Dead Future #1 is a great start to this zombie anthology series. Each story in this debut issue focuses on different themes and ideas, but they all manage to take us on a twisted and terrifying journey that's chock full of zombie goodness. And even though it truly seems that zombie stories have become a staple of our society in this day and age, none of the three stories presented here ever run the risk of being too derivative or predictable. Heck, to be completely honest, all three stories found in this issue are quite creative and compelling. If you're a devoted zombie fan, this is definitely a comic book for you.

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #1

Written by Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie

Art by Todd Nauck and Victor Olazaba

Coloring by Javier Tartaglia

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

What do you call a remake of a Clone Saga? Metatext aside, it's clear that even 15 years later, Marvel has something to say about the controversial storyline, trying to reclaim "the one that got away." As someone who had his comic book coming-of-age with the first issues of the original Clone Saga, I was both excited and apprehensive to see how this could have gone, unhampered by ambition and bloat. But in a lot of ways, in fact, the word "clone" feels fitting -- it looks a lot like the original, but it seems to be lacking the soul that made it the real deal.

That said, you have to recognize that it's still far too early to judge the story as a whole -- but in this sense, it doesn't really feel much like the Clone Saga of yesteryear. To recap: In 1994, Peter Parker was undergoing his long dark night of the soul, struggling under the weight of Harry Osborn's death, the violation of having his seemingly resurrected parents turn out to be killer robots, and, perhaps most importantly, taking the earth-shattering loss of Aunt May falling into a coma. It was an all-new, all-gritty Spider-Man, who all but abandoned the Peter Parker identity ... which made it the perfect opportunity for his clone, Ben Reilly, to resurface.

Instead, this issue takes the initial issues of the Clone Saga, and really works hard to compress a lot of story into 22 pages. Peter Parker isn't nearly as sulky as he was in the original -- and while that might cut the learning curve, it also takes a lot of the weight out of this story. It's hard to talk about cutthroat competition and the definition of humanity when both protagonists sound so similar. But if you can forgive that, there's certainly an old-school vibe to the writing, in terms of the soap operatic tone and Spidey's oh-so-slightly self-conscious exposition. And the ending -- in which Peter and Ben actually settle their differences -- is a really strong moment all round.

Artwise, Todd Nauck is a bit hit-and-miss. The first half of the book, he really sells the unique acrobatics of Spider-Man short, with the poses feeling stiff and the composition just not having a particular focus. Once Ben Reilly hits the scene, however, Nauck really loosens up -- considering this is a story that pontificates on "how it should have been," having Ben Reilly use some of the classic Spidey poses from that era looks great. The end sequence, involving a glue-like bio-bomb, feels a little too busy for my tastes, but a lot of that might have to do with the bright green coloring by Javier Tartaglia. I should also mention the lettering, by Dave Sharpe -- I'm not quite sure why this was, but occassionally the word ballons were way too small.

All in all, it's most interesting to see the introduction by Tom DeFalco -- it's clear that this is a story that he, Howard Mackie, and Marvel want to tell, to redeem this dark chapter in the Spider-Man mythos. And despite some misgivings I have with this issue, if Nauck can rev his engings further, and if DeFalco and Mackie can transplant the overgrown original Clone Saga with a more focused theme, I think Clone Saga could really transcend its inspirations. Otherwise, this remake of a remake might -- to use Marvel's terminology -- degenerate fast.

John Stanley Library: Nancy

Written & Laid out by John Stanley

Illustrated by Dan Gormley

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The second offering in D&Q’s “John Stanley Library” should feel very familiar if you’ve been reading recent Stanley reprints.  A young girl and her slightly slow male friend get in various misadventures.  No, it’s not Little Lulu and Tubby; this book chronicles the mischievous amblings of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy (whom Bushmiller introduced after taking over Larry Whittington’s newspaper strip, “Ritzi Fritz”) and her boy Friday Sluggo.

“Nancy” debuted in newspapers in the early 1930s, but had gained additional comic book stories by the late ’50s.  Legendary children’s comics author John Stanley came aboard to write Nancy and Sluggo’s stories with issue 146 in 1957, and D&Q’s new collection starts there and concludes five issues later.  To little surprise, the stories are delightfully entertaining, full of surprising twists and pristine artwork.

Each issue contains several short stories, one dedicated to Nancy’s erstwhile sidekick Sluggo, and the remaining pages focus on Nancy’s attempts to cook dinner, make friends with creepy Oona Goosepimple, and help Sluggo outwit his nemesis and bully Spike.  Operating within the confines of traditional standards for children’s comics, Stanley relies on snappy dialogue, creative plotting and anything-goes logic.

Illustrator Dan Gormley does a fine job laying out the action, but his stiff line work doesn’t provide the vibrancy of better Stanley strips.  The action scenes come across slightly forced, but Stanley’s layouts overcome Gormley's limitations, providing readers with all the information needed to get the gag.

Drawn and Quarterly and series designer Seth deserve some accolades for their fine design work.  These are charming comics, and the presentation – larger, off-white pages that preserve the historical quality of the stories, the striking cover, and a distinctive title page – matches the high quality of the comics themselves.  “John Stanley Library: Nancy” is a very strong addition to the Stanley Library, one recommended to readers who love charming all-ages romps and especially to any reader with children.

Diario de Oaxaca

Written & Illustrated by Peter Kuper

Published by PM Press

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

A warning: this book missed Diamond’s cutoff numbers, so you may have a hard time finding it in your local comics shop.  But it’s worth the extra effort to track down a copy.  Peter Kuper, co-founder and co-editor of “World War 3 Illustrated” and current author of “Mad”’s “Spy vs. Spy”, spent two years living in the southern Mexican state Oaxaca, arriving just in time for an annual teachers’ strike in the cause of increased wages to turn violent, leaving three people dead.

“Diario de Oaxaca” is Kuper’s sketchbook and journal of the events that occurred during his time in Mexico.  The political content is smaller than many readers will probably expect, but the strike ended shortly into Kuper’s tenure, so most of the material was created in the aftermath.  On the other hand, though the strike is ended, its shadow lingers over most of the book.

With not much in the way of traditional comics, “Diario” provides insights into the Oaxacan culture via Kuper’s expressive, collage-like sketchbook illustrations, which are offset by one- to two-page text journal entries that enable Kuper to expand on what he’s witnessed politically, socially and culturally.  The illustrations are far more than sketches, however.  Each page is a full color tapestry of an amazing city and its culture.  Peppered with embedded photographs of the concrete reality of Oaxaca, each of Kuper’s pages explores a festival, burned-out cars, flora and fauna, ancient Zapotec structures, witnessed public relations, or myriad other nuances of local life.

In a beautiful hardcover edition, with over 200 pages of Oaxacan culture and political strife to uncover, “Diario de Oaxaca” is one of the most important comics of the year.  It’s touching and sensitive, righteously angry and in awe of the history and culture it’s immersed in.  Peter Kuper’s been one of comics must-read talents for a long time now, and “Diario de Oaxaca” is just another feather in his cap.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Wonder Woman #36 (DC: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): The great thing about "Wonder Woman" these days is how much story you get in a single issue.  Lately each issue has been so deliciously dense and thick that it feels like you're reading two or three issues in one. There's so much plot, character moments, and various moving story-lines coming together and splintering off that you certainly get your money's worth. Which is a nice change of pace from the many throw-away titles out there now that seem to just coast alone with filler story after filler story. I'm not much for slow, pointless issues that hold a comic over until the main story-arc gets moving. Thankfully, that's not the case with "Wonder Woman", what with Diana having to deal with the aftermath of her broken relationship with the ever-yummy Nemesis, sharing a brief team-up with her arc-nemesis Giganta (love me some Giganta), and having to battle the new Amazonian leader Achilles - all in one comic. Now that's some good storytelling. There's more than enough going on in this book to not only warrant the casual reader's attention but to continue to suck in the die-hard Wonder Woman fans (like myself, duh). So for sure, pick this up. You're totally missing out if you don't!  

Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): If you can get over Deadpool stealing the scene, this is an inventive if somewhat lightweight book. The first story, by Jonathan Hickman and Kody Chamberlin, looks great and is very funny -- seeing the enemy bikers is amazing -- but what's the point of having Shang-Chi versus Deadpool if you're not going to see the fight? Mike Benson, Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith's "Once Upon A Time in Wan Chi" is easily the best of the book, with its photorealistic art giving this quick revenge story some great weight. (The subtitles are a nice touch, too.) Charlie Huston and Enrique Romero have a 1970s vibe with their story, but -- and maybe it's just due to continuity -- I did not get the story. Robin Furth gives an interesting prose story that certainly says a lot about kung fu -- but again, there's not a lot about Shang-Chi. And despite some out-of-the-book execution, that's what's missing about this book: I still don't know who Shang-Chi is. But if you're looking for some kung fu action, give this book a look.

Superman #692 (DC Comics; review by Troy):  The Superman family of books have made for some solid, if unspectacular, reading of late.  I’ve liked the concept of “World of New Krypton”, while at the same time not being quite as sold on smaller aspects of the movement.  This particular issue, however, really grabbed me because the out-of-left-field reveal turns it into a big hook for forthcoming stories.  Hopefully, there will be a quick payoff to the invocation of both that story seed AND the repeated glimpses of Project M.  DC should mine their history in new ways (and without obliterating it); this could be interesting.

Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1 (DC; review by Troy):  This one was sort of fun, and that’s a pretty huge compliment for anything associated with the JLoA these days.  I liked that it mirrored classic stories of the past, what with the League split up in teams in various locales (or, in this case, times).  It really echoed the JLA/JSA/Seven Soldiers of Victory team-up from the original series, particularly given the presence of past-and-present Soldiers like Crimson Avenger, Shining Knight, and (the related) Bride of Frankenstein.  While there were some weird continuity moments (how the hell did Steel get there?), it at least attempted to be a classic done-in-one style adventure that did some unique or fun things with the main characters.  

Trade Relations

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators & Prey TPB

Written by: Various

Art: Various

Published by: Dark Horse

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

The latest Buffy Trade Paperback, Predators and Prey collects issues #21 – 25 of the on-going series.  Unfortunately our title heroine hardly appears in her own comic.  The stories here are all stand alone tales which makes them reminiscent of the early seasons of the TV show before the later seasons got into more of the season-long storylines.  

In “Harmonic Divergence” bubble-headed blonde vamp Harmony gets her own reality TV show and soon becomes a sensation.  So much so in fact that she eventually sways many people into sympathizing with vampires and demonizing slayers.

“Swell” is more spoofy fun featuring a take on Japanese pop culture icons like Hello Kitty with a “Vampy Cat” toy.  Turns out these toys really are vampires and they can ‘swell’ to form a behemoth stuffed vampire kitty.  Did I say spoofy?  I should have said silly.  Buffy barely appears in the first two stories, merely monitoring the scene from Slayer Headquarters or whatever it is…

Buffy does finally put in an appearance in “Predators and Prey” teaming with Andrew to track down a rogue slayer who has fallen in with the punk slayer Simone.

The best story in the book both story and artwise is “Safe” and once again, Buffy is nowhere to be seen.  Here, Giles teams up with Faith to find a Slayer haven in s small European village that is straight out of a Universal Studios horror film.  For some reason, Vampires are fearful of entering the village and it’s not the Slayers they are afraid of..But what could possibly terrorize scores of vampires?  Veteran Buffy artist Cliff Richards does the honors here on a story by Jim Krueger.  It’s always nice to see Faith pop up.

I haven’t really been into the whole Slayer army deal ever since it was introduced in the TV show.  I’ll take the single Slayer version anytime.  While there are some great stories still being told, the new Buffyverse has expanded so far out of its Sunnydale roots to be almost unrecognizable.  Regular characters like Xander, Dawn, and Willow are barely seen anymore it seems and even Buffy only plays a central role in two if the five stories in this book.  I mean…what the Hell man?!?   I love the idea that Buffy was kept going strong with continuity picking up after the TV show ended but there does seem to be a growing lack of focus on the main characters.

Best Shots on DVD

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Based on the DC Comics story by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness

Starring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Clancy Brown

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation

Review by Erich Reinstadler

DC Universe Original Animated Movies has done it again.  Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (to be referred to as SM/BM:PE from here on) is an absolute home run.  Great story, terrific art, and voice acting that is second to none.

Based on the first story arc of the "Superman/Batman" comic, SM/BM:PE is a mostly faithful retelling of the story by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness.  I say "mostly faithful", because certain liberties had to be taken with the story.  There was too much continuity in the book, too many details that wouldn't fit in the movie for one reason or another.  Such as the supposition that Metallo killed Bruce Wayne's parents.  Even as a plot point that was found to be false, it had no place in the movie.  Issues like that, and some characters, are dropped from the story with no loss at all.

The movie starts with images that are all too familiar today:  jobs lost, economies failing, houses foreclosed on, people forced to live in tent cities.  Based on the failings of both political parties, Lex Luthor enters the presidential race as a 3rd party candidate, and wins.  His efforts to rebuild society prove fruitful, and his popularity soars.  Further expanding his power base, Luthor calls for super heroes to join him, to act essentially as a nationwide police force.  His call is answered by Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, Katana, Starfire and Power Girl.

With a meteor of kryptonite headed to Earth, and having been rebuked at every other attempt, President Luthor requests a one on one meeting with Superman, to put their differences aside while they try to save the world.  In theory, anyway.  The truth of the situation is that Luthor uses the meeting as an easy way to get to Superman.  Luthor's Secret Serviceman is none other than John Corben, a.k.a. Metallo.  A battle between Metallo and Superman & Batman leaves the heroes wounded, lucky to be alive, and Corben dead at someone else's hands.  Doctored footage shows Superman killing him.  At that point, Superman and, by association, Batman, become the titular "Public Enemies."

From there on, the story is almost non-stop action.  In an attempt to cash in on the $1 billion bounty placed on Superman's head, characters including Deadshot, Mongul, Gorilla Grodd, Lady Shiva and Bane attack.  Heroes attack.  Troops attack.  Luthor kisses Amanda Waller.  The Composite Superman robot makes it's appearance.  SM/BM:PE never lets up.  It is such an exhilarating movie, so full of action and story, that you don't realize it's only 66 minutes long.

The voice acting, as I mentioned, is superb.  Kevin Conroy's Batman is truly iconic.  His voice acting is so synonymous with the character that simply, nobody else measures up. Tim Daly returns as Superman, and it feels like he never left the character behind.  George Newbern did an incredible job voicing him in the Justice League & JLU cartoons, but Daly's return is most welcome.  CCH Pounder returns as Amanda Waller, a perfect foil for Luthor.  Cory Burton needs to be noted for his work with Captain Marvel, giving him such a wonderfully appropriate "generic super hero" voice, one that would seem wholly out of place on any other character in this day and age of comic-based cartoons, yet fits The Big Red Cheese beautifully.  Additionally, we have John C. McGinley as Metallo, LeVar Burton as Black Lightning, and Xander Berkley as Captain Atom, among many other superb voice actors.

However, the best of the best, the true standout of the movie, is Clancy Brown.  For over a decade now he's been giving us an outstanding Lex Luthor, but SM/BM:PE allows him to truly shine.  He is able to truly inhabit Lex.  From his genial everyman running for president, to authoritative commander in chief, to egotistical bastard, to his descent into madness, Brown takes the character to levels he's never been able to before, based on restrictions. Some things you just can't air on Cartoon Network.  Being a PG-13-rated direct-to-video release, Brown is able to let loose in ways that were never possible in the DCAU shows.

I do, however, have one complaint:  the animation.  For the most part, the animators take the style of Ed McGuinness and let it shine.  But there are moments where the quality drops from "DCAU Greatness" to "this would look crappy on the old Superfriends cartoon."  It seems as though there were two animation houses involved, one really good, and one really really bad.  At points, the art goes from looking truly fluid and graceful to flat and ugly.  Definition is lost, the sense of dimension disappears and faces look like they were drawn by mediocre high school art students.  The unexpected lack of artistic cohesion took me out of the story a couple times.

But that's really it, my only complaint.  Taking "Justice League: New Frontier" as the benchmark for comic-based animation, I am going to call Superman/Batman: Public Enemies the #2 movie produced by Warner Bros. Animation.  It's a remarkable movie, fun, fast, action packed, with awesome voice acting.  You truly can't go wrong.

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