Best Shots: BLACK WIDOW, SECRET SIX, Tons More!

JOHN OSTRANDER Writing SECRET SIX

Best Shots  11-09-09

By Newsarama's Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings, readers!  Remember, you can keep track of all our Best Shots columns, including the new Best Shots Advanced and Best Shots Rapid Fire, and stand-alone reviews right here: The Best Shots Topic Page.

Here’s a round-up of our reviews that ran on Blog@Newsarama this week:

The Simpsons: The Uncensored, Unauthorized History (Published by Faber & Faber; Review by Michael C. Lorah):

Nexus Archives Vol. 9 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Michael C. Lorah)

And now, the column.

Captain America: Reborn #4

Published by Marvel Comics

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice

Review by Robert Repici

Okay, let me just put this out there right off the bat: We all know where this "event-worthy" Captain America: Reborn miniseries is headed. At some point in this six-issue story, Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is going to make a momentous comeback to the modern-day Marvel Universe. It just feels like it's taking forever to actually get to that point. And while the suspense can certainly be considered to be a good thing, the puzzling slow pace of the story's plot is really starting to undermine many of the compelling themes and storytelling concepts that this miniseries seems to emphasize and revolve around. The first two issues of this miniseries, for example, succeeded in effectively setting the stage for Steve Rogers' imminent return, but ultimately failed to put the pedal to the metal in terms of taking this story into its next eventful stage. And even though the third issue of this miniseries managed to fire on all cylinders in my book, this Captain America: Reborn story seems to hit a troubling stumbling block with this fourth issue. Simply put, Captain America: Reborn #4 reverts back to the slower pace that defined the first two issues of this miniseries.

As expected, this Captain America: Reborn story has been rather straightforward thus far in an attempt to rope in and win over readers who aren't familiar with Ed Brubaker's highly praised Captain America saga (hence the slow pace). Unfortunately, it has also been getting more and more predictable. Again, we all know that it's only a matter of time before Steve Rogers makes his triumphant return to the Marvel Universe in this miniseries, and consequently, the plot points that are slowly building up to that return are becoming progressively more wearisome. Still, Brubaker does a tremendous job of connecting his now-classic Captain America saga to Marvel's overarching "Dark Reign" storyline here, as he continues to effectively utilize a massive supporting cast that branches out to include the likes of Dr. Doom, Victoria Hand, and Clint Barton in this particular issue. That being said, Brubaker does manage to strongly advance (and enhance) the scope of his overall story with some powerful character-driven scenes here, and he finally starts weaving together many of his significant story threads from the first three issues of this miniseries in a way that's both dramatic and captivating. And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this issue's climactic ending. Suffice it to say that it successfully pushes this story into what's probably its final stage, and even with the predictable nature of this miniseries, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Above all, however, Brubaker's most powerful storytelling device in this miniseries continues to be his apparent desire to showcase some of the most significant events from the vast Captain America mythos through a select array of flashback sequences that Steve Rogers is forced to endure as he helplessly tumbles through time. In this issue, we continue to accompany the original Captain America on this taxing time-traveling journey as he is literally forced to relive a big battle against a horde of Hydra agents and one of the most tragic experiences in his life in the closing days of World War II. Even though they don't completely make up for the story's slow pace, these flashback sequences are as brilliant and compelling as we've come to expect.

Bryan Hitch's artwork, on the other hand, continues to be my biggest gripe about this miniseries. Once again, a fair share of his visuals come across as both static and inconsistent. And while his artwork is serviceable to the story, it doesn't come close to the stunning stuff we've seen from him in the past. Still, Hitch's various splash pages in this particular issue are beautiful to behold, and it certainly seems that his work on this miniseries is improving with each installment (although that might just be because Butch Guice seems to be helping him out with the pencilling duties now).

All in all, Captain America: Reborn #4 straddles the line between being surprisingly tedious and thematically masterful. It's an interesting dichotomy. After all, even though this story is progressing at an unusually slow pace right now, it truly seems that Brubaker is intricately weaving many of his major story threads together while simultaneously moving all of his players in the same direction to one dramatic endgame. So, yeah, the board is set, and each and every piece now seems to be moving. I think it's safe to say that the pace is about to pick up.

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Tom Raney, Scott Hanna, and John Paul Leon

Colors by Matt Milla and John Paul Leon

Letters by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Along with Marvel Divas, Black Widow: Deadly Origin has incurred some of the most heated comments from some of Marvel's readership, stemming from the original announcement that the series incorporated "some sort of toxic 'technological curse' that is endangering the life of every man she's ever kissed.'"

Well, after reading the first issue, I have to say that those who doubted Paul Cornell in this regard can, at least for now, rest easy, as the link is currently just linked to everyone Natasha "loves" -- at least at first reading, that means platonic or not. But that said, sexism is really the least of this series' problems, as some shaky writing and lackluster art still bring this first issue to its knees.

Paul Cornell, the writer of this issue, opens his story up with a somewhat double-edged intro -- on the one hand, the verbal one-upmanship leads to some interesting structure, but in addition to telling and not showing, the beginning of this book starts off with Natasha as someone who is incompetent, rather than the superspy who has largely come out on top in both Captain America and Invincible Iron Man. Cornell's flashbacks to Natasha's past fare much better -- with the question of "Who are you really?" being tied to Natasha's semi-immortality due to the Infinity Formula. Unfortunately, the character-building ends there, and the mystery of a desecrated corpse feels a little random.

There's some innate ickiness to parts of the flashback -- namely Natasha going out with Bucky Barnes after a flashback of him as this coercive Soviet agent -- but the artwork by John Paul Leon in that section is simply fantastic. Leon's sharp angles are balanced by his superb use of color, and it's these pages -- especially a one-page splash of World War II -- that are the highlight of this issue. Unfortunately, Leon takes up only one-third of the book, and the art by Tom Raney just doesn't really leave a strong impression with me. His composition and anatomy are have a sort of oily fluidity to it, but his emotions -- as well as peoples' hair, inexplicably -- just feel off.

Something else that stands out -- and not in a great way -- is the coloring and the lettering. Colorist Matt Milla gets points for taking risks, especially on an interesting opening page, but the problem with his work is that his characters tend to look bruised, as he seems to go just overboard in terms of shading and the like. Letterer Cory Petit, meanwhile, gives the book its signature with a lot of faux-Russian lettering, but the font ultimately comes off as more of an eyesore than as a helpful character-defining caption.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this series is the fact that while it's ostensibly about the Black Widow, Paul Cornell seems to be shying away from his main premise. Every one time we get closer to learning more about Natasha, we get two scenes with a cameo from a more popular Marvel superhero. Considering Natasha is meant to be a femme fatale Russian version of James Bond, it's too bad that that couldn't be all the premise Cornell needed. Instead, with its imperfect production values, the only casualty this Deadly Origin seems to yield is that of friendly fire.

Secret Six #15

Written by John Ostrander

Art by Jim Calafiore

Colors by Jason Wright

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

What's the most fitting thing about this issue of Secret Six? A one-shot is all Deadshot needs to get the job done. Indeed, with some very character-conscious writing, as well as some fantastic synergy among the creative team, this done-in-one tale of Deadshot is easily my favorite story of the week.

It's hard to pick out a favorite collaborator on this book, so I'll start off with the legend himself: John Ostrander. Out of anyone in the DC rolodex, Ostrander proves that he knows Deadshot the best, as he lovingly picks the perfect shots to illustrate what happens when ambivalence and longing meets killer instinct and a hair trigger. He has a certain poetry to Floyd's lack of control -- even laying out exposition to the point of invisibility. "I met the devil once... Asked me what I wanted for my soul. Know what I told him, Padre?" Floyd asks. "More bullets."

That said, artist Jim Calafiore is doing the work of his career with this issue. As a guy who's been known for action books like Exiles and his recent work on the Battle for the Cowl books, Calafiore really has a knack for subtlety, making even a conversation at a diner look great. Whether its a deadly smirk or a look of cold homicidal urges, this guy gets emotion, and plays that against brief snapshots of horrific violence with great effect. Of course, this wouldn't be an issue of Secret Six if it was all talk, and Calafiore also just tears that up. Colorist Jason Wright is the perfect collaborator here, giving a moody tone that doesn't overwhelm Calafiore's art.

Of course, this isn't a flawless issue -- although Ostrander does come close. For those who prefer the more jokey tone of Gail Simone, you'll likely be disappointed at the stone-cold seriousness of this script. The flashback has its moments of goofiness, due probably to Ostrander's fidelity to the source material than anything else, and the ending is a little pat.

But then again, that's part of the product of Ostrander's era -- and believe you me, he has made a great transition to the more cinematic comics of today, while still retaining that soap operatic characterization of yesteryear. As far as one-shots go, Ostrander, like his protagonist Deadshot, is a true craftsman of the art -- combined with some stellar art from Calafiore, if you pick up one issue of Secret Six this year, make it this one.

Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #2

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Jefte Palo and Gabriel Hardman

Colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Letters by Dave Lanphear

Cover by Marko Djurdjevic

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"He left it. Gazed into the Eye of Agamotto after a lifetime of persuing it and Victor Von Doom left it here. Leading to my next dilemma...where is here?" -- Jericho Drumm, Doctor Voodoo

I'm aware that we're only in the second issue of Doctor Voodoo, but I'm really loving where Rick Remender is taking the story. The issue continues on where we left off: Voodoo, having Dr. Doom make a hasty retreat, is stranded is a strange dimension with no apparent way out. Worst yet, he has suffered a brain hemorrhage and his magics are pretty much useless in this place. There is a bit of a backstory that is brought on by demonic amphibious-looking creatures that make you relieve your greatest nightmares. Once Voodoo returns to his realm, he is overcome by self-doubt once more, but a greater challenge lies ahead as he is informed by his brother, that he has been gone for a few weeks and in that while Voodoo was not the only thing to step through our terran plane. Yet the cards keep stacking up against the new Sorcerer Supreme for  Nightmare has been freed with the aid from Daimon Hellstrom.

Talk about supernatural overload, but that's a good thing, believe me. The cameo, and betrayal, by Hellstrom aka the Son of Satan, was a nice surprise. Remender really soars with this character, that has been considered a c-lister at best for most of his creation, and I'm amazed how sucked in I am. The backstory is brief, but shines some light on Drumm's dark past. While his city is in chaos, I like how Remender set it up where Drumm is the only saviour since nobody else can be reached. Now hopefully after this crisis, Drumm will be more confident and less of an insecure character. Not to say he's whiny by any means, I just rather he didn't become a whiny character and keeps going on about how unsure he is mentality.

Jefte Palo continues with his eerie imagery, sharp pencils, and easy-to-follow panels without the layout being boring. The creature designs along with the atmosphere is just right, and aided with the colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, it's really can't be beat.

Now, this isn't as accessible as the first issue was for new readers. I can't really remember the last time I saw Nightmare in anything, though Hellstrom appeared during that whole search for the new Sorcerer Supreme a few months back, where I believe he was attacked by the Hood. Whereas the last issue at least had Strange in a bit role. I do like how they have put reprinted stories in the back to help readers get an understand of the Drumm/Voodoo character and it lessens the confusion a tad.

In short, I enjoyed this issue, though I hope Drumm finds himself and trusts his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. I'm sure there is a reason why the Eye chose Drumm, and I back that decision whole-heartily now that I've gotten a taste at what this character is capable of.

Greek Street #5

Written by Peter Milligan

Art by David Gianfelice

Coloring by Patricia Mulvihill

Letters by Clem Robins

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

As Eddie's story progresses, we see Greek Street's pace start to pick back up. Unable to perform for Lady Esther, ("I almost cut my dick off a few days ago. . ."), he meets Sandy and the results are quite tragic for the Lady of the house. We get some back story for Dedalus, and some insight into Lord Menon's distress.


Gianfelice's art from the beginning has really sucked me into this book. Aside from Milligan's crafty writing, Gianfelice's characters are expressive and he also manages to create great graphic scenes that aren't over the top or gratuitous. Sure, there's blood, gore, and sex-- they are a major part of the story, but it's not thrown in the reader's face. Gianfelice gives as much of his talent to those panels as he does to panels depicting Dedalus's conversation with his lover about not being able to come out of the closet to his cop friends. Milligan's balance of dialogue and narrative move the story along more than just simple dialogue would be able to. This is a series where seemingly every character has their secrets, and the narrative structure gives us the ability to see them try to balance those secrets with the lives they live. This issue ends Book One, and next up is Book Two: Cassandra Complex. I look forward to seeing more of the Sandy character and her influence on the story, as she has connections to most every character.


This is a dark book, and rather different from most titles in my pull box. It truly is a Greek tragedy set in today's world. And like the most classic and artful of tragedies, a reader can not help but want to know how everything is all going to wind up. Or rather, come crashing down. 


Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love #1

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Shawn McManus

Coloring by Lee Loughridge

Letters by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

How can you go wrong with a book that opens with Cinderella kicking some ass, throwing a man off the tower of Big Ben as the clock strikes twelve, and cheekily losing a shoe in the process? Only a select few in Fabletown know Cindy as anything beside her globe trotting shoe store owner persona, and she loves the double life she lives. Her newest assignment is to stop the trafficking of magical items into the Mundy world. After stops to visit Frau Totenkinder, and the Fabletown farm, she heads to Dubai to track down an unregistered, and very powerful, magical object.


The "Fables" series is one I fell in love with from page one. Now, having said that-- if one is not familiar with the workings of the Fabletown universe, they should not jump into it with this book. Roberson has seamlessly taken "Fables" creator Bill Willingham's concept and continued it into a story focusing on the Cinderella story. All of the "Fables" trademark qualities are evident-- the suspense, the humor, and the clever allusions to the classic fairy tales. McManus's art style fits these trademark qualities as well. Simple and subtle when the story needs it, detailed and kinetic as the story calls for it, and having previously illustrated Cindy-- he is a logical choice for this six issue mini-series.


Will six issues be enough? We've got this magical object trafficking storyline, and Roberson has said that we will also find out what happened to Cindy's Fairy Godmother. I've got high hopes for this series to be as awesome as the Cindy character is, but a bit of concern that in only six issues the story will rush along too quickly. I'd love to see it dive deeper into her character and history, but there is potential for it to be more focused on the action and the trafficking storyline. I'll keep my fingers crossed that Roberson has a way to weave the two together and not disappoint all of us "Fables" fans.

Jonah Hex #49

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray

Art by Cristiano Cucina

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Colors by Rob Schwager

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"A thoroughly unexpected resolution, wouldn't you agree?" -- Bat Lash

Ah, but I wish, Mr. Lash.  For all the praise I've felt heaping upon Jonah Hex during the course of this 6-part "Six Gun War" and prior, I felt more than a little let down by the final outcome in the grand finale.  This was a terrific, well-crafted Western epic, yet it was betrayed by an unsatisfying ending whose only surprise was in how the status quo since the beginning of the story is safely preserved.  The biggest problem may have been that this story was stretched out over six issues.  One of the things that attracted me to Jonah Hex and kept me here well into 50 issues now has been writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti putting together tight, one-and-done scripts assisted by a cavalcade of artistic talent.  "Six Gun War" was a change of pace in offering a story that spanned several issues, and while it never dragged, a credit to the writing duo's skill, there really seemed to be the promise of some sort of "all bets are off" outcome and it flat out didn't happen. 

One of the triumphs of "Six Gun War" has been the character-rich cast utilized by Gray and Palmiotti.  Employing a roll call in each issue, something you'd be more likely to see in a Justice League or Justice Society book, having an assortment of heroic renegades and notorious villains to follow has made it all the more worthwhile.  The only thing I wish is that the creative team had taken the six chapters available to them to develop the characters a little more.  Whether it was any of the good guys or bad, it would've been rewarding to see any of them be at one creative point way back in issue #44, only to experience some sort of growth or development by story's end.  Actually I do take that back.  In one instance, that being the lead villain Quentin Turnbull, where a little something different was introduced in the finale.  For the most part, Turnbull shouted orders and made plans, mostly in the safety of his Mexican sanctuary, typically having underlings, assassins and mercenaries doing the dirty work.  It's not all that surprising that when Jonah Hex and his team of Tallulah Black, Bat Lash and Lazarus Lane take the fight to Turnbull and thoroughly dismantle his slave-driven mining operation that the revenge-minded plantation owner makes a hasty retreat.  What did surprise me was that when Hex finally gets to dish out some overdue justice after all he endured and overcame to see Turnbull more than hold his own.  When an unexpected interruption occurs during the two's final confrontation, the notion that Hex got a reprieve as much as Turnbull is not all that absurd.

Another way in that "Six Gun War" proved to be a quality production is the exceptional art throughout by Cristiano Cucina.  The Italian illustrator delivered captivating pencils and inks beginning to end, and he was so effective in bringing vivid resonance to Gray and Palmiotti's bloody, gritty Western tale.  The detailed expressiveness of each character was never compromised over the course of six issues.  My only caveat specific to this issue was that El Diablo's presence was minimized visually despite the fact that Lazarus Lane's supernatural alter ego played a major role in Hex's scheme.  Diablo's fury as a vengeful spirit deserved a little more than a handful of particularly small panels in a couple of pages. 

Overall, the last few issues of Jonah Hex maintained the high level I've come to expect from one of DC's best ongoing series.  It's just regrettable that the reader was not rewarded with a more effective and gratifying payoff from the most ambitious storyline in the four-year tenure of this series.  It's appropriate that the upcoming 50th issue will be a return to form (and drawn by Darwyn Cooke!) in an extra-sized, albeit self-contained story. 

The Marvelous Land of Oz  #1

Written by Eric Shanower

Art by Skottie Young

Colors by Jean-Francois Bealieu

Letters by Jeff Eckleberry

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

In the country of the Gillikins, which is at the north of the Land of Oz, there lived a youth called Tip...

Wait a minute here. Where's Dorothy Gale? The Lion, Toto, Glinda...? Oh, right. This is a sequel to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" which continues the adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. I'm a bit of an Oz aficionado since my mother practically raised me on these stories (while my father horrified me with a Stephen King upbringing as well). My autobiography aside, I loved what Shanower (who is a prominent and prolific Oz author) and Young did with "Wizard" and it's hard to find any flaws in this debut issue. They raised the bar so high last time it will be difficult to recapture that certain magic and sense of wonder again.

Set two years after the events of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", The Marvelous Land of Oz (sometimes just called the "Land of Oz") tells the story of Tip, young boy who is under the guardianship of a witch by the name of Mombi. Upset with her one day, he plans to frighten her and makes a large wooden statue with a pumpkin head, and is appropriately named Jack Pumpkinhead. When Mombi is not the least bit frightened, she uses magic to bring Jack to life, holds him prisoner and punishes Tip, who she plans on turning into a marble statue in the morning. Tip escapes and frees Jack, then the two run off into the woods. There is a bit of explaining as Tip tells Jack what has transpired in the last few years, namely Scarecrow becoming King of the Emerald City.

Shanower's love for the Oz mythos is found in every page, in every panel. The respect and admiration he has for these characters and this magical land is astounding and it shows as he takes great care of them and doesn't deviate from the original source. Of course, nothing can be said about his co-hort, Skottie Young that hasn't already been said. His cartoonish style reflects the world that Baum created perfectly and is just brilliant. In addition to Young's pencil's, he's aided by Jean-Francois Bealieu on colors, and he adds extra depth that gives the book a little more "oomph".

With the history and success of their last team up, Shanower and Young are sure to deliver a solid book and a great way to introduce young readers to the continuation of the Oz series.

Batman: The Widening Gyre #3

Writer: Kevin Smith

Artist: Walter Flanagan

Inker: Art Thibert

Colorist: Art Lyon

Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Henry Chamberlain

While Bruce Wayne appears to be dead in the DC universe, he's very much alive in "The Widening Gyre," probably having the best time he's ever known. Enjoying the company of Silver St. Cloud, Bruce -- or "DeeDee," as she calls him -- gives him some chuckleworthy moments as well as some genuine insight from both writer Kevin Smith and artist Walter Flanagan, who strip Batman both figuratively -- and literally -- of his armor.


Whether its looking at Nightwing and Robin taking over their mentor's role, or seeing Baphomet, the new guy in the goat mask -- or any of the number of villains to fight -- Smith and Flanagan take us even deeper than the massive supporting cast. In their last collaboration, "Batman: Cacophony," the focus was on the villains and a central mystery. In "Batman: Widening Gyre," the focus is on the hero. We know what motivates him. It's an overriding need for justice. But what else keeps him going? Indeed, there's a moment with Robin, Superman, and Commissioner Gordon that shows Bruce's inherent lack of trust that is both sad and quite revealing.


But the best is yet to come: enter Silver St. Cloud. What the man behind the cowl needs most is someone he can give himself over to body and soul. Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan follow in the footsteps of the writer/artist team of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers and bring back the one woman best suited for Bruce Wayne. This is someone who can provide that gentle caress and who is wise to Batman's ways. For Steve Englehart, the idea had been that it would never work between them but Kevin Smith is providing us with every reason why it should. Silver has learned the hard way that she and Bruce were always good together. Having spent so many years apart, she decides that this time they're going to go for it and sets up a "no rules" arrangement where Bruce is free to be himself with no regrets or obligations. He can fight all the crime he wants at night and he's free to spend all the time in the day with the woman he loves. 


Rippling out of a humorous opener with Silver and "DeeDee," Smith and Flanagan appear to be having a good time with Bruce Wayne's romance with Silver St. Cloud. The threats from villains remain scattered and manageable. Batman appears to have more than enough back up. And yet, as the title makes clear, there is a widening gyre in the background. Will Bruce be right in his intuition that he can't trust anyone? If the past work of Englehart and Rogers is any indication, we can expect a grand appearance from The Joker and maybe some of his famous laughing fish. Whatever the case, Smith and Flanagan make a great case for rediscovering Bruce Wayne and his source of stability, Silver St. Cloud.


Tracker #1

From: Top Cow

Written by Jonathan Lincoln

Art by Francis Tsai

Review by Russell Burlingame

At first glance, Top Cow’s new miniseries Tracker seems to be that company’s answer to Wolverine (not that they, and everyone else in the industry, haven’t used Logan-like characters before, but this pointy-toothed, wacky-haired feral man seems spot on). Getting inside, though, you’re one splash-page away from realizing that this is not the kind of book that ever could have gotten approved by the Comics Code Authority.


I’m a sucker for this style of art, and Francis Tsai handles it well. One of the weaknesses of many comics painters is to make the faces of anyone in the background so general as to be more or less a blur of flesh-colored something. Not so here; while the main characters would have to walk a mile in someone’s watercolored shoes to be as deliberate and detailed as an Alex Ross painting, the world they inhabit is a lot more real than most comics painters bother with, and the humanity in their expressions helps to make them relatable.


What came as a surprise in this issue is that the hero of the book actually starts out unconscious and piled with a bunch of corpses inside a mangled city bus. A little expository narration reveals that whatever it was that killed all those people was apparently after our hero—his name is Alex—because of something special in his blood. The doctor who’s standing at his bedside is a plant by a secret organization, and after a few heavyhanded hints that his senses are heightened (smelling flowers from across the room, stuff like that), he hands the guy a business card and exits our story—for now—to allow for plot movement.


The book is constantly moving, and while its plot and characters are all fairly stock (he’s discovering his “powers,”whatever they may be, and he’s a cop who keeps proposing to his girlfriend who won’t marry him until he gets that desk job), it’s solid. The fact that he’s a cop gives him opportunity to investigate the bus massacre without creating the suspension-of-disbelief problem that often comes up in these kinds of stories (“Look, I don’t care if you can smell really good and suddenly have the strength to accidentally break an aluminum desk chair—that doesn’t make you a detective”), and the fact that he’s shown “hulking out”—losing control and going into “superhero mode”—on some thugs at the end of the issue goes a long way toward explaining what had earlier been my biggest concern over the writing—that the character just suddenly started leaping out of windows and jumping cars in search of the big bad a few pages before. Given the context that he blacks out, does uncharacteristic things, uses his powers, and then comes back, gives the book more of a werewolf vibe, and restores the “berserker rage” part of the Wolverine archetype that’s been largely ignored in the recent past.

Titanium Rain #2 (of 2)

Written by:  Josh Finney

Art by:  Josh Finney, Kat Rocha, et al.

Published by Archaia

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

Visually, this is a pretty book, on par with what Radical typically puts out.  Photo-realistic artwork and action sequences that seem to jump off the page are the engine that rumbles under the hood.  The story, however, keeps it jammed firmly in neutral as it meanders without purpose and suffers beneath the deadweight tonnage of rambling and insufferably juvenile dialogue.

Titanium Rain is supposed to be a story about one of a small group of human pilots circa 2032, graduates of a super-soldier project called the Prometheus Initiative.  These five pilots have undergone a bio-enhancement using nanotechnology with the intent of fusing man with aircraft in order to create the world's most lethal interpretation of the Wright Brothers' spirit.  Is this a bastardization of God's plan or simply the next step in human evolution?  The fact that one of them is a flight-school washout is a yea vote for the former.

You would think that evolution of our species is the book's theme.  You would be wrong.  The correct answer is there is no theme.  Issue one touched on this type of story's requisite Darwinism discussion, even shoved it down the reader's throat with a nine-page poker game with conversation as pointless as it was overly long.  But then the story pulled a hard-g into a combat scene over China that effectively nullified any sense or utility of the Prometheus Initiative.  We actually don't learn the what and why of America's fighting in China until page twenty-seven of issue two, which is poor editing as it's important information for laying the story's foundation, and should have been the lead in issue one (it's actually relatively plausible reasoning, up until the event that incites the United States's involvement, which is just plain ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense from any angle you may look at it).  In fact, but for a couple panels in issue one that tells us how the biotech enhancements affect the pilot, the reader never gets shown why they are better off for them.  Furthermore, as the action scenes show, the biotechs certainly do not make American fighters rule the sky.

Basically, if you take the cringe-worthy scenes from Stealth, smash them up with the stereotypical fighter pilot ma-cheese-mo from Top Gun, throw in heaping spoonfuls of Guld Goa Bowman and Macross Plus, and subtract Acts Two and Three of a story's structure, then you have Titanium Rain.  It's not a comic book as much as a storyboard collection for a movie's first twenty minutes.  Which is a shame, really, since the combat scenes are actually pretty cool (ironically, it's the ground combat that surpasses what happens at altitude) and deserving of more attention than they've gotten.  It was surprising, too, being a military book, how attention to detail was left on the tarmac.  For example:  F-35 canopies buck normal cockpit convention and open aft-to-fore, not as they are depicted in the book; Maverick missiles are AGM-65s, not 85s as in the book, and their weight of 300 is in kilos, not pounds.  It's just further intimation that this two-book series is a work of fan-fiction and not a product of a veteran comic publisher.

Book Two ends abruptly, guillotined off from another two or three books (at least) that would properly finish the story.  It's just as well, I suppose, since the issues to come would most likely further disappoint what should have been a terrific series.  My recommendation is to skip this and pick up Radical's Shrapnel:  Aristeia Rising instead.

Great Ten #1

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Colors by the Hories

Letters by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

With comics companies focusing on crossovers and their main franchises -- such as, in DC's case, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Superman, and the Legion of Superheroes -- it's tough for new characters to grow in a vaccuum. But if the first issue is any indication, even if it's a few years late, Great Ten has earned its place in the DC pantheon, with some solid storytelling -- built on a foundation of newness and risk -- that really is an exciting read.

Writer Tony Bedard is the hero of this book, as you can tell his take on Chinese history is both deep and sincere. Just like his colleague Eric Trautmann on The Shield, Bedard really doesn't give a definitive answer on whether or not China's policies are correct -- instead, war is hell for just about everyone involved, a message which is smartly tied to the character of Accomplished Perfect Physician, the narrator of this issue. His origin is somewhat reminiscient of that of Doctor Strange -- but grounded firmly in the clashes between China and Tibet.

It's this friction that really drives the story along -- all too often, nowadays, superhero teams are well-oiled fighting machines, with occasionally the loose cannon going off-message to shake things up. Not so in Great Ten: these are real characters, with real opinions, and navigating those opinions within the commands of the state -- not to mention dealing with superpowered military superiors -- is what makes this book so fascinating. If anything, you can really sense Bedard's passion for the work here -- it's great to see him leaving his mark and just going crazy, rather than being simply designated as "the fill-in guy."

Meanwhile, artist Scott McDaniel manages to execute the story well enough, even if there will be people who accuse him of being a bit too busy on his pages. I personally think that McDaniel did some great work in getting across the Physician's expressions -- especially a look on his face during a moment that would soon change his life. Bedard of course gives McDaniel some opportunities to play to his strengths -- there's one sequence of the Physician sparring with August General in Iron that looks great, as he exhibits a lot of the fluidity and agility that made Nightwing such a fun series to read. Still -- and this is due mainly to the challenge of portraying a man who utilizes sound in a completely silent medium -- I wish McDaniel had been a little less scratchy and a bit more detailed with his portrayal of the Physician's sound-based powers.

But that's a fairly small quibble for a series that seems to hum with potential. I don't know if the remaining nine characters will be as compelling as the Accomplished Perfect Physician -- and I really do hope that his internal conflict doesn't get pushed by the wayside by the enemy that faces the team at the end of the book -- but I do know that this first issue has certainly exceeded my expectations. It's been a long time coming for the Great Ten, but if Bedard can continue to grow with each issue of this book, this is a risk that deserves the investment.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Uncanny X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): This series is proof positive that no matter how many cool fights you can mash together, they don't mean much without characterization. Most of the team is kind of a blur in this issue, with personalities being transplanted by power sets -- that said, there is a great character moment with Namor the Submariner that is the highlight of this book. That said, the art by Carlo Pagulayan is much improved, but again feels crowded with the sheer number of people. In the end, some weird plotting -- especially shoehorning the well-drawn backup by Chris Samnee in a weird way to the main story -- made this book largely unsatisfying for me.

The Secret History, Book Six (Published by Archaia; review by Jeff Marsick): Man, I am so glad Archaia is back up and running.  They have three books that should be on everyone's pull list:  Okko, The Killer, and this, The Secret History.  Forget Dan Brown.  This series out twists and turns him, playing the conspiracy cards far better and interestingly, and at about a ten-factor in quality of writing.  In this long-awaited book, the immortal siblings entrusted with the sacred runes back in book one continue to jockey for power over one another across the playing field of time, only now it's the late 1790s and the cusp of Napolean's push into Egypt.  Igor Kordey's artwork continues to impress, and this is a series that never disappoints, no matter how many times you read it.  

Age of Reptiles: The Journey #1 (Dark Horse; review by Troy):  It should come as no surprise that this is an excellent, involving book.  Like the other wordless “Reptiles” tales, this one succeeds with striking visuals and Ricardo Delgado’s almost supernatural sense of story.  Here, amid a mass migration of multiple species, a young triceratops winds up in danger.  What unfolds is imaginative, gripping, and not without some pathos by issue’s end.  Definitely worth your time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #30 (Dark Horse; by Troy):  Reversals and status quo upsets abound in this critical issues.  After unleashing the rampaging goddesses proves to be a mistake, Buffy ventures back to the battlefield to retrieve . . . someone.  That event masks an interesting payoff that sets up further questions, but those are eclipsed by apparent upgrade that Little Miss-Likes-to-Fight receives by issue’s end.  At this point, I really have no idea where this is going, and that’s a good thing.

Superman: World of New Krypton #9 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow)  Jemm, Son of Saturn, had spent the last few years popping up in various books and for the most part was marginalized as a pawn for one evil-doer or another.  So it was nice of James Robinson and Greg Rucka to reintroduce Jemm to readers in a more assertive role, although his appearance was slight at best and really was only lacking the textbook "I'm watching you" two-fingered hand gesture toward his New Kryptonian hosts.  Jemm does make the valid point that the New Krypton settlement was created with very little regard for the effect it may have on the rest of the solar system, what with realigning moons and planets and all.  The action in this issue happens early on, and when the dust settles and when Jemm and his entourage say their piece, the remainder is a dialogue-driven chapter that advances things compellingly.  In one instance the recovering Zod offers some interesting insight as to how Kal-El has a loyal ally now in the dull-witted Non.  I'm usually a little underwhelmed by the more talky material in comic books in general, but something about how it's been handled in "World of New Krypton" works.  The biggest mystery for me in this ninth chapter (of twelve) was not what's brought the longtime science-fiction protagonist who appears on the final page to the party, but how veteran artist Ron Randall figured into things alongside series illustrator Pete Woods.  Randall's credited alongside Woods, but poring over each page I am not exactly sure what his contribution specifically was.  Page by page, it looked no different than any prior issue, and I say that not as a criticism but more of a compliment for keeping the visuals consistent.  Consistency has been one of this series greater attributes, and I'm curious to see where things go considering we're three-fourths of the way done now with a trio of remaining chapters to go.

In Case You Missed It...

Hunter's Fortune #1

Written by Andrew Cosby and Caleb Monroe

Art by Matt Cossin

Colors by Mike Cossin

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

A flailing slacker. An uncle's fortune. The adventure of a lifetime. Hunter's Fortune is like National Treasure with a dash of Wanted, with the comedic friction of Role Models in there for good nature. All in all, it's a light-hearted -- yet exquisitely illustrated -- first issue with its own inimitable charm that may indeed be my favorite series from BOOM! yet.

Writers Andrew Cosby and Caleb Monroe start the issue off smartly, giving us a quick burst of exposition and characterization in just three pages. Monroe's scripting is especially effective in sketching out the newly-evicted Hunter and his completely unfiltered best friend Trip. Of course, the introduction of Jessica Lockheart -- a beautiful associate of an unknown relative -- brings our heroes to their quest, with some laughs on the way. "Dibs!" Trip shouts when she arrives. "You can't call dibs on women, Trip!" Hunter shouts back, with Lockheart still completely in earshot. "It's insensitive!"

But it's the artwork that really sets this series apart. Matt Cossin hasn't had a lot of credits under his belt, but he's probably BOOM! Studios' greatest find since Emma Rios. His manga influences -- not unlike that of Oni Press' Wonton Soup, only skewed towards humor -- are combined with a slightly scratchy line that still doesn't hamper the clean emotions each of his characters possesses. There's also a great sense of design at work here -- all the characters have their own personalities through Cossin's art, whether its the pouty Miranda or the hulking enforcer her mother picks up. The unsung hero of all this has to be Cossin's brother and colorist, Mike, gives the book its boundlesss energy, making every image pop.

In terms of flaws? Surprisingly enough, nothing really to note -- besides the mild hiccup in composition here or there, this comic goes down smooth. While the comedic treasure hunter may not be the most original concept in the world, BOOM! Studios makes this concept into some comic book comfort food, giving Hunter's Fortune a nice mix of humor and adventure. Right now, it's the art that sets this series from the rest of the pack, and combined with solid if not groundbreaking storytelling, this is definitely a series I'll be following in the future.

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