Best Shots: JONAH HEX, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, More

Exclusive DC Preview: JONAH HEX #50

Best Shots 12-07-09

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Greetings, campers.  As you know, you can find the previous reviews and columns from this past week at the Best Shots Topics page, linked HERE for your convenience.  Also, please visit Blog@Newsarama for even more reviews from our friends and associates.  And now, the news . . .

Jonah Hex #50

Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

Art by Darwyn Cooke

Colors by Dave Stewart

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"Fifty." -- Jonah Hex

For this landmark 50th issue of Jonah Hex, the creators most certainly brought their A-game, and boy if they didn't make this one count.  Not to sound hypercritical, because this book rocks on a monthly basis, but it's not uncommon for the one-and-done tales to be a bit disposable in nature.  Soooo not the case this time around, as Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti deliver a heartbreaking story that will stick with you a good long time.  Fifty years from now, this issue is going to be viewed as one of the greatest ever in the lengthy history of the compelling Western character. 

Ironically, I dare say that Hex is actually the secondary character in "The Great Silence."  Not to suggest that he's marginalized, but this is probably just as much a watershed story for Tallulah Black, without a doubt the most important woman in Jonah Hex's hard-traveled life.  These two are flip sides of the same coin, and in an alternate reality they may have enjoyed a loving life together.  However, events that transpire in this issue all but ensure that the likelihood of that is nonexistent.  If you ever wondered whether Hex actually had a heart that could be broken, Jonah Hex #50 pretty much answers that question.

"The Great Silence" actually kicks off with Hex and Black wrapping up an especially profitable bounty hunting assignment.  After a night of celebrating, it's not horribly surprising that Tallulah Black doesn't stick around for breakfast the next morning.  But in a twist from their usual on and off relationship, Black decides to create a new life for herself free of the risks and travails of hunting down wanted men, something Hex gets back to doing with great aplomb.  Unbeknown to Hex, it turns out that there's a distinct reason why she opts to settle down.  Hex doesn't lose much sleep over Black moving on, but some harrowing developments occur many months later that do irreparable damage to their dynamic. 

Making this double-sized anniversary issue extra special is the art by fan-favorite Darwyn Cooke.  Overall he delivers the goods, much as he did the last time he worked on this book in #33, though I did have a minor quibble.  Cooke's rendition of Tallulah Black is a bit too "DCU animated cute," when she's been typically rendered as rough as Hex.  Granted she's an attractive woman who was mutilated years prior, but Cooke almost makes her too pretty.  To be sure, though, Cooke gives Gray and Palmiotti's script great dramatic heft while also producing some downright humorous panels (with a vivid color palette by Dave Stewart).

An instant classic in every sense of the term, this anniversary issue is definite cause for celebration, tragic narrative be damned.  I sincerely hope we get a 100th issue to enjoy five years from now, because I can assure you I'll be there.  You should too if you're not already, Jonah Hex #50 is an excellent spot to jump on if the title hasn't already been on your pull list.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Lafuente

Colors by Justin Ponsor

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Brian Michael Bendis keeps Peter Parker's friends close and his enemies closer in this issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, as our hero gains another "Amazing Friend." Despite some problems with pacing and overcrowded dialogue, there's a lot to like about this issue -- even if, admittedly, it's probably the least satisfying one of the run.

Where Bendis has always shined in this series has to be the character work, and in this regard, he's no slouch. Even though he gives pretty much no prior set-up to Bobby Drake returning to the series, he manages to give a poignancy to his plight: he's homeless, he's alone, and as Kitty Pryde's mother struggles to deal with her own issues with mutanthood, he's got no place to go. And indeed, when Kitty comes back into the picture, it really seems like this comic Has Something To Say, as the message about hatred and principles comes back again.

Unfortunately, that subplot gets eaten up by Round Two of the Spidey vs. Mysterio fight. It's not to say that Bendis' ideas aren't fun, but the pacing is a bit of an issue -- David Lafuente really seems to strain when Bendis gives him a 15-panel fight sequence in just two pages, and unfortunately, that does give the energy a little bit of a flat tire. Slower scenes, though, such as Spider-Man chatting it up with the NYPD look a lot nicer, with Peter's torn mask allowing Lafuente to really get the humor across. "I--uh--I don't watch a lot of TV. I have webs." Good job, BMB.

In a lot of ways, this issue feels a bit more bite-sized than the previous four, namely due to Bendis getting a little bit less restrained with his dialogue and a little more loose with the plotting. David Lafuente's art looks as fantastic as ever, and I hope that with Peter's new status quo finally starting to settle down, Bendis can give a rip-roaring finale for Lafuente before Takeshi Miyazawa fills in for the artistic duties. While still a solid showing, this is a book that can be the best Spider-Man series on the shelves, if the creative team can be just a little smoother with the pace.

Blackest Night: The Flash #1

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Scott Kolins

Colors by Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

In a lot of ways, this series shows that the only person who can keep up with Geoff Johns isn't Barry Allen, but Scott Kolins. Despite Flash: Rebirth still waiting on its final issue, there are a lot of loose ends regarding Barry's return and its ties to Eobard Thawne -- aka, the Reverse Flash -- so it's to both those creators' credits that they manage to shoehorn all this information in there without cramping this issue's flow.

Now, while Flash: Rebirth does have its detractors, a lot of people will remember two other Flash-centric projects of Johns' that were very well-received -- namely, the main Flash title, and last year's Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge. In many ways, this is a nice mix of the two series, as Barry Allen goes one-on-one with some friends and foes who died in his absence, while the subplot deals with the Rogues as they prepare to take on their fallen friends.

Considering there's a lot of continuity and legacies involved in this franchise, the creative team does a great job in keeping things moving. Really, everything is set up in three pages -- a single page introduces us to Barry, the Black Lanterns, Wally West, and the Rogues, while a two-page splash packs in ten panels -- and 32 balloons of dialogue or captions. For many artists, this would be disaster, but Scott Kolins just makes it look effortless -- indeed, while occasionally he gets a little too sketchy with the details or a little too dark with the ink for my liking, nothing ever looks cramped, and his composition really packs a punch.

Johns, meanwhile, is working double-time with his characters here. Barry Allen -- while still a bit of an unknown to me, in terms of his characterization, his mannerisms, his wants and needs -- gets a little bit more sketching as a person, as he reflects on his simian pal Solovar. His reaction to reuniting with him is great, and it leads to one surprising scene in which even a Black Lantern can apparently be sympathetic. Of course, it's the Rogues who really steal the show, even in the handful of pages they've got -- while Barry feels a little bit like dutiful recitation of bygone times, you can tell that Johns is having a blast with Captain Cold in company. "Don't worry, Trickster," says the Weather Wizard. "We have the advantage." "My bag of gags?" the young Trickster asks. "No," replies Captain Cold. "You have me."

In many ways, those who have complained about the continuity-heavy elements of Johns' writing will likely find more fodder to complain with in this issue -- but for those who have been looking forward to seeing Barry really start to cut loose, this isn't a bad place to start. As far as set-up goes, Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins complement each other nicely, and give us a good place to start. With the Rogues looking ready to rock in issue #2, it's looking like the next issue of Blackest Night: Flash is going to hit the ground running.

Great Ten #2

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Colors by the Hories

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Forget Green Arrow and Hawkeye -- by taking a unique twist on the heroic-archer archetype, Tony Bedard proves that the Celestial Archer -- and by extension, the Great Ten as a concept -- is more than a one-shot wonder. While the overarching action plot is a little too frenetic for my tastes, the characterization in Great Ten #2 is what makes this issue sing.

Where to begin? The best stuff that Bedard writes is the story of the Celestial Archer, who is a refreshing take on the old bowmaster figures in comics. Instead of trick arrows and know-it-all attitudes, Celestial Archer has the same sorts of conflicts and uncertainties that made Perfect Accomplished Physician so interesting last issue. "I can turn day to night. I can hit a target halfway around the world. I can hold off a modern army with only bow and quiver," Bedard writes. "But I am still that scared teenaged boy... hiding behind a myth."

Seeing the sort of mythology that went into the Celestial Archer -- some of which can be attributed to Grant Morrison's original high concepts back from 52 -- only adds greater irony to this all-too-human character. While much of the previous appearances of the team has shown them as united antagonists against Green Lantern and the JSA, Bedard's great strength is showing these characters have their own minds, their own motivations, and their own agendas secondary to that of the iron-fisted Politburo.

Scott McDaniel, meanwhile, continues to defy expectations with parts of this book. The flashbacks to Celestial Archer's harrowing youth -- and his otherworldly redemption -- look fantastic, and the emotion rings just as true as the movement. There's a real sense of panache when McDaniel lets the Archer run loose, and unlike people like Green Arrow and Hawkeye, the so-called "trick" arrows have a real sense of wonder to them. It's certainly scratchier with inker Andy Owens than is my liking, but there's no denying that when McDaniel has room to breathe, he can hit hard.

All of this is enough to outweigh the overarching action sequence that frames this miniseries, which doesn't quite play to the creative teams' strengths. In order to shoehorn in the action -- and introducing three new characters, and setting up a modicum of exposition -- Bedard's pacing feels a little bit off. For example, the Celestial Archer has a huge internal conflict with the old gods returning, yet Bedard and McDaniels are only able to really devote three panels to what was one of the pivotal scenes of the book. One of the great strengths of comics is the ability to pick and choose your shots -- to stretch out a moment to heighten the tension -- and I think that would have improved the product immeasurably.

There are certainly a few concerns with the overall nature of this piece -- namely, will the characters that we have become attached to ever resolve their conflicts? -- but the overall goal is achieved admirably: learning the people behind the powers of the Great Ten. This issue's battle against the gods knocks it down a notch from the sleeper hit of the first issue, but that's not to say that this isn't a concept with some legs. As they say, one success is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a pattern -- and at the rate Bedard is going, it's looking like Great Ten is going to be a spectacular launchpad for a team that's long been denied their due.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2

Written By Alan Moore

Art By Stephen Bissette & John Totleben

Colors by Tatjana Wood

Letters by John Costanza

Published by DC Comics/Vertigo

Reviewed by Tim Janson

I’ve long insisted that Alan Moore’s best comic book work was his run on the Swamp Thing and specifically issues #20 – 50.  This volume is smack dab in the middle of that run collecting issues #28 – 34.  Moore had redefined Swamp Thing.  Instead of a man who thought he was a monster, Swmp Thing became a monster that thought he had been a man.  It is the life and death of Alec Holland that Moore deals with as this volume opens.  Having come to grips with the realization that he had never been Alec Holland, Swamp Thing sets out to put Holland’s ghost, both spiritually and metaphorically to rest.  Returning to the location where Holland died in an explosion, Swamp Thing finds Holland’s bones, still buried in the muck of the swamp.  With Holland now put officially to rest, Swamp Thing can now turn his existence as a new Earth Elemental.

Issue 29 begins one of the best runs in Moore’s tenure as writer.  Swamp Thing’s arch-nemesis Anton Arcane escapes Hell and possess Matt Cable’s body in order to attack his neice Abby and Swamp Thing.  Arcane’s power is amplified by Cable’s psychic abilities and he spreads a wave of fear and evil over the world so intense, that in Arkham Asylum…”the Joker stops laughing.”  Now this is just such a powerful scene in the book and Moore handles it with incredible subtlety.  How Evil is Arcane?  So evil that even the Joker is terrified!  Brilliant!

Arcane tears Abby’s soul from her body and condemns it to hell leading up to what I think is one of the single most terrifying stories in the history of comics, “Down Amongst the Deadmen” from Swamp Thing Annual #2.  Here the Swamp Thing must travel to Hell to try and rescue Abby from legions of demons and is aided by the likes of The Phantom Stranger, Deadman, The Demon, and The Spectre. 

No writer has even handled the Spectre as well as Moore and it’s a pity he didn’t write that title.  Moore had a grasp of just how powerful and omnipresent the Spectre was…As Swamp Thing and the Phantom Stranger wait for permission to enter Hell, total darkness gives way to a sliver of light that begins to grow…because as The Phantom Stranger explains, the Spectre is opening his eyes and we see the Spectre grown to God-like stature. 

Moore’s stories would still be great but they are made even better by the art of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.  Their version of hell included a massive heap of what is left of Arcane, bloated with insect eggs constantly hatching inside of him.  This story alone is worth the price of the book.  This is Moore, Bissette, and Totleben at their best!  Rediscover just how good this title was, now almost 25 years old.

The Batman Vault

Written By Robert Greenberger and Matthew K. Manning

Published by Running Press

Reviewed by Tim Janson

Looking for a special gift for the Batman fan on your Christmas list?  Here’s the perfect choice…This is Running Press’ latest release in their “Museum-in-a-book” series.  The Batman Vault is hardcover, spiral bound, and gift book-sized.  The book is a historical look at the Batman character from his creation right up to the present.  So what is the deal with the Museum-in-a-book feature?  Well the book comes packed with several pieces of reproduction memorabilia.  These pieces all come in plastic sleeves for protection although you can easily take them out to examine the pieces.  More on this later…

The authors begin with a look at what inspired Bob Kane’s creation including a pulp story called “Bat Man” from 1936.  Greenberger and Manning have uncovered rare documents that are reprinted in the book such as Bill Finger’s original script to Batman #31 from 1945.  The first piece of memorabilia you encounter is the uncolored cover to Detective Comics #60, credited to Bob Kane but actually done by Jerry Robinson and Fred Ray.  For those unfamiliar with Batman’s early days, Batman was often “ghosted” by other artists but Kane was given the credit.  Included in this early look are movie poster and rare lobby card reprints from the Batman film serials of the 1940s.  There’s even a vintage photo of a 1940s theater marquee that was showing the Batman serial.

For baby boomers, the book includes several rare promotional photos and ads for the 1960s Batman TV show including Adam West, in full costume, posing with Mr. TV Milton Berle who portrayed villain Louie the Lilac on the show.  This sections memorabilia item is several pages from a 1960s Batman color-by-number coloring book as well as a reproduction 1966 cardboard Batman mask that kids could remove from a book. 

Sections that follow include a look at Bruce Wayne and his Family, Gotham City, Batman’s Allies, and his villains.  Throughout the book there are never-before-scene pieces of artwork, some finished and some just sketches, including rough design work from the various Batman films.  Other reproduction pieces included a batplane that you can assemble and fly, a Robin mobile, Batcave Poster, Anton Furst Sketches for the 1989 Batman film, and a 2003 Catwoman sketchbook by Darwyn Cooke.  The book is a lot of fun and, at $49.95 fairly reasonably price for the quality of the material. 

PELLET REVIEWS!

Greek Street #6 (Published by Vertigo Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald):
Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice take the Greek Street saga into a new setting with this first book of the new arc: The Cassandra Complex. Oedipal son Eddie and visionary Sandy head off to London in search of Dedalus but have a long layover with the stoner that picked them up on the side of the road. The storyline of the mysterious murders advances, and we learn the pages stuffed in the ribcages of the victims are pages of the play Medea, while we also learn that the corpse like woman who keeps appearing identifies herself as Medea. This book serves its function well as the first of the new arc, placing our characters into new settings and advancing the previous mystery of the murders. Gianfelice's art fits this style perfectly, he creates a great balance of the gritty crime scenes along with the trippy experiences of Eddie and Sandy. Milligan's story has gone from obscurely referencing the Greek legends, to bringing them right up to the surface and I look forward to seeing the modern world and the ancient Greek world come head to head as the series progresses.



Invincible Presents Atom Eve and Rex Splode #2 (Published by Image Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald):  In this second issue of a three shot series, Rex Splode turns to Atom Eve for help, fearing the tasks his boss/caregiver has ordered him to do. This issue and the first have been a fun aside from the regular Invincible series, providing a background to one of my favorite characters of the original series, Atom Eve. Nate Bellegarde's paneling keeps up well with Genito Cereno's heavy (heavy in quantity, not necessarily in subject matter) dialogue, and Bill Crabtree's vibrant colors round out the visual appeal quite well. Fans unfamiliar with Invincible could likely pass on this, with it only being a three shot, but if you're one of many who love the world Robert Kirkman has created-- definitely pick this one up.



Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love #2 (Published by Vertigo Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald):  Aladdin, shoe-making elves, magical rings, and rooftop veranda ass-kickings, oh my! The second installment of this Fables spin-off does not disappoint. As the beginning of the book states, "stick with the classics and you can't go wrong." Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus are well on their way to a having a book that I see as rivaling the appeal of the original Fables book and the Jack spin-off. The story leaves our protagonists amidst a battle, their covers potentially blown, and plenty of drama awaiting Cindy if and when she ever gets back home to Fabletown.

Dark Avengers Annual #1 (Marvel; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler) Noh-Varr, Marvel Boy, got the hell out of dodge when he realized just how evil Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers really are. Once he hightailed it, we heard nothing else from our Kree friend. Until now. After a brief glimpse at the life of an alien on Earth, we find Noh-Varr in Central Park, overhearing a couple breaking up. Finding himself suddenly and unexpectedly befriended by the female half of the couple, Annie, Noh-Varr has his moment of human interaction interrupted by Sentry, still blindly believing everything Norman tells him. An epic battle, a conversation with the Supreme Intelligence, and a spiffy new costume are all featured in this highly enjoyable book. Bendis and Bachalo provide us with a wonderful one-and done story. My main complaint? FIVE CENSORED DOLLARS for a 48 page story!!! As great a story as it is, I can't in all good conscience fully recommend this book. Yes, it's absolutely wonderful, yes, I simply loved the story, but I can't honestly say it's worth the cost. And that's a damn shame.



Black Widow and the Marvel Girls #1 of 4 (Marvel; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler) A four issue variation of Marvel Team-Up, BWatMG has Natasha Romanov teaming  up, in various was, with some of the women of the Marvel Universe (if you couldn't tell by the name of the book). This first issue has a presumably pre-Avenger Widow returning to the scene of her childhood training to complete a very personal mission. While there, we get a glimpse at the violence and cruelty that forced her to become the woman that she is. And it's during the training that this book becomes the team-up. Amora the Enchantress, while looking for something to relieve the boredom of her immortality, chooses to make contact with young Natasha, giving her an advanced look at the skills she'll eventually have. Even the more subtle ones. Paul Tobin and Salva Espin are the creative team behind this interesting look into the training of a popular character, and do quite a good job at making the team up feel natural. Too often when 2 characters meet up, it's in a very forced, unnatural plot device. I certainly hope the following three issues can follow up on this issue.

Murderer #1 (Top Cow Productions, Inc; review by George Marston): Murderer was not exactly what I was expecting.  The interesting concept gave way to a story and script that were not- and I hesitate to use this word- believable.  The dialogue felt stilted, and while the "everyone else's thought ballons" concept was a fine way to showcase the character's mind-reading abilties, it made the pages verbose and tiresome.  The people spoke and thought in ways that just didn't feel natural.  I must confess that I've never actually read much by Kirkman, so I don't know if that's a part of his style, or if this simply isn't his best work, but the concept certainly triumphs over the content.  On the other hand, the art team of Nelson Blake II and Sal Regla on pencils and inks, respectively, and Dave McCaig on colors hits a home run despite the substandard material at hand.  Nelson Blake is reminiscent of Stuart Immonen and Gary Frank, and the inker and colorist compliment his clean lines perfectly.  One might expect much grittier art for such material, but perhaps the curveball was a smart idea.  I would love to see this team work on something a little flashier.  Long story short, this doesn't quite work for me, but the art is a bright spot.  "Psychic Dexter" may sell as an elevator pitch, but not in execution.

X-Force Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): If endings make or break a comic for you, stay away from this one -- but if you get your kicks on relentless action, you may want to check this comic out. Robert Kirkman gives Wolverine an interesting premise -- pick one HYDRA agent out of a haystack -- but outside of getting Logan into some messy situations, he largely stays out of his artistic collaborators' way. That's not a bad thing -- Jason Pearson has an uncanny sense of composition, making the choreography of Wolverine's surgical strikes seem really impressive. He also is great at expressions -- namely, Wolverine's gritted teeth, or HYDRA agents shouting in pain. That said, after Kirkman lays out the twist on the story, it's all downhill from there, so be warned -- otherwise, this is a fun, if lightweight, Wolverine story.

The Marvels Project #4 (Marvel; review by George Marston): The Marvel Project is a high quality title that seems to have, thus far, flown relatively under the radar.  Ed Brubaker is obviously quite well versed in the noir milieu, and his expertise shows most often in the more down to earth scenes of this book.  There are plenty of opportunities to show off his gritty chops in this issue, as the Ferret has a run in with some Nazis, and the Angel gets hard-boiled.  Steve Epting is a perfect choice for this title; his art is moody, dramatic, and when necessary, colorful, vibrant, and flashy.  This title is very reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke's "New Frontier," though I love that it is in continuity.  This issue stands out as being relatively low-key, despite several very dramatic moments.  A nice retelling of Steve Rogers's pre-Operation Rebirth days rounds out the issue, and I never longed for more than I got.  While I feel the best experience for this mini-series will be re-reading it once it is collected, each issue has enough weight to keep the sequential reader on board.

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