Best Shots Reviews: ADVENTURE COMICS, AMAZING SPIDEY, More

Best Shots Reviews: ADVENTURE, More

Best Shots  1-18-10

By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

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Adventure Comics #6

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul

Colors by Brian Buccellato

Words by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Superman: "Is that how a warped brain like yours gets its kicks? By planning the death of innocent people?"

Lex Luthor: "No, by causing the death of innocent people."

I think when I first saw "Superman the Movie" waaaaay back when I was in the first grade, the best dialogue exchange of the film may very well have eluded me.  Even when I was dazzled by a man who could fly, I was distracted by the way Lex Luthor was neither bald throughout the film nor in a costume.  It was in repeated viewings over the years that I appreciated how deliciously wicked and devoid of remorse Superman's greatest enemy was depicted.  Fifty years from now I foresee us looking at Adventure Comics #6 in much the same way:  as a benchmark example of what an awful person Luthor is, making him an even more amazing, dynamic villain.

This 30-page (ALL Superboy story, by the way) read is compelling from front to back, and if this is how writer Geoff Johns and artist Francis Manapul want to leave the series (reportedly coming back with more stories somewhere down the road), well, I wish they could leave a whole lot more often.  Serving as the fifth and final chapter of "Superboy: The Boy of Steel," the creative team does a stellar job bringing things to a logical conclusion while opening doors the reader can't help but be excited to walk through later.  The folks who are picking up Adventure Comics starting next month have their work cut out for them if they aspire to match or surpass the sheer unadulterated fun this issue captured.

When we last left Superboy an issue prior, our hero found out the hard way that the young lady he's been trying to help out in Smallville is none other than the niece of Lex Luthor.  Holding Superboy and Krypto at bay with some kryptonite in his niece's home, Luthor is given the challenge to save his invalid sister from a life of bedridden dementia.  In accepting this mission and essentially seeing it through, Geoff Johns in particular gives us some astounding insight into the warped, egotistical genius who truly stars in this issue.  Johns knew exactly what he was doing in Blackest Night #6 when he had the Orange Lanterns recruit Luthor to represent them.  Without giving anything away, even I was astounded at the lengths Luthor would go to prove a point.  Luthor himself has delusionally stated over the years that there's so much he could do to benefit the world were it not for Superman, yet it always rang hollow.  Credit Johns here for fleshing out that idea with such dramatic heft.  Because there is more than one narrative twist or turn to be found within this one issue, it's hard to detail anything without spoiling things, so allow me to sum it up simply by stating that Luthor is one magnificent bastard.  Thankfully it also serves as a means for Superboy to finally realize who he really is as a genetic combination of his adversary here and his mentor, Superman.

Artist Francis Manapul has been blowing minds everywhere of late with his lush graphics, but it's here in this issue that he really shows what a fully rounded talent he is.  For while there I thought he was minimalist to a potential fault.  Not at all the case here as he renders many a scene with detailed backgrounds, and he nails every color of the emotional spectrum with the varied cast of characters.  I was even impressed by the fact that the cover Manapul did for this book was virtually recreated inside in a full page spread and it didn't come off as a simple cut & paste.  Initially thinking that it was a throwaway idea, there actually is a valid motive for Superboy and Krypto being chased by a T. Rex!  Without giving anything away, it's also nice to see the artist get the chance to touch on several characters outside of Superboy, Luthor and Krypto.  He does all of them splendidly, aided by Brian Buccellato's superb coloring.

A wise comedian once suggest that you should always leave them wanting more.  Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul have accomplished that is spades.  I can't imagine that I'm alone in being very excited for their new work later this year, and God-willing they can return to Adventure Comics here where they delivered some truly special work.  

Double-Shot: Adventure Comics #6

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul

Colors by Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

All good things have to come to an end, and though this final issue of Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's run seems fairly abrupt after the detour with Superboy-Prime, Adventure Comics #6 is a lush, wonderful comic that really illuminates both the Teen of Steel and his creator, Lex Luthor.

With the earlier issues of this book, one could easily describe the pacing as methodical and serene -- yet that goes out the window in this particular issue, as Superboy takes a jaunt through the DC universe, assembling items for a purpose unknown. In the hands of many other writers, it could feel like a throw-away story, but not for Geoff Johns -- compared to the expositional heavy-lifting going on in Blackest Night, Johns' Adventure Comics feels refreshingly light.

That's not to say that he's slacking, of course, but that instead he's doing more with a whole lot less. By having Superboy -- and his trusty sidekick, Krypto the Superdog -- interact with one another, we really get a sense of Conner's boyish charm. Whereas one could look at Superboy's earliest appearances as somewhat of a self-centered blowhard, this Superboy has a real zest to him, the sort of heroic goodnaturedness of Superman himself, that you read him not as a hero, but as a friend. Combine that with a surprisingly sadistic Lex Luthor, and it's a good deal.

Meanwhile, Francis Manapul continues to bring his A-game to Adventure Comics. The one thing I found particularly interesting about his approach is that his Conner Kent looks so much, yet so subtly like his superpowered forebearer. Whether it's the grin on Conner's face as he's licked by Krypto, or the glare on his face when he's asking for Luthor's demands, the story gets a lot more heft based on the resemblance. Manapul's other great strength is his knack for nailing emotion through a person's eyes -- whether its a brief moment of humanity in a villain's eyes, or seeing Superboy's conflict between his two father figures, it's a talent that serves him well.

One member of the creative team in particular really deserves a lot of praise for all this is colorist Brian Buccellato. While his palette for this series has taken on a somewhat cooler hue in recent issues, Buccellato has taken on a real painterly flair to Manapul's work. Scenes like Bizarro World and Paradise Island look like lush vistas, and small touches like Superboy and Lex's eyes are just icing on the cake.

All in all, this oversized issue of Adventure Comics only makes me kind of sad that Johns and Manapul are leaving for greener pastures -- namely, to fill the boots of the Fastest Man Alive. With a methodical pace that never ceased to entertain with each issue, the return of Conner Kent has been one of the more enjoyable storylines to come out of 2009. With the series tying in once more to Blackest Night next issue with Tony Bedard, it's likely that this book will have an identity change in the months to come. But at the very least, thank you, DC, because this book, this character, and this team have made this series an Adventure to remember.

Lola: A Ghost Story

Written by J. Torres

Art by Elbert Or

Published by Oni Press

Review by George Marston and Lan Pitts

Lola: A Ghost Story is a simple story that shoots for a high emotional response, and though it often falls short of that goal, it is expressive and subtle in an easily relatable way.  Its opening pages promise a story frought with the bittersweet trials of growing old enough to understand the true nature of death, and the honesty of life.  The art immediately invokes a dreamlike quality that, coupled with the cathartic nature of the story, is reminiscent of the work of Hayao Miyazaki.  Unfortunately, the book rarely reaches the heights set by its first impression again.  The story concept often feels like more than the sum of its parts.  While accessible, it is curtailed by moments that seem designed to widen its scope, but more often detract from the central narrative.

The story focuses on a young Filipino boy named Jesse. He and his family travel from Canada to their ancestral home in the Philipines to mourn the passing of his "Lola," which is the Tagalog word for grandmother.  Of interesting note is that author J. Torres is, himself, a Filipino born Canadian. Upon returning to the Philipines, Jesse finds that he is closer to his Lola than he ever knew, and through a series of twists that some may spot immediately, becomes embroiled in a ghost story of the most classic form.  Throughout the story, we are treated to bits of Filipino culture, and blurbs explaining and translating the numerous Tagalog words and expressions used by Jesse and his family.  Often, these bits bring us closer to the family and their heritage, but many times the scenes incorporating Filipino folklore simply feel as though they are included only to showcase the unique mythology of the Philipines, and not to serve the central narrative.  One would not think that space would be at a premium for a simple story in a 98 page graphic novel, but many scenes feel as though they could easily be excised to provide more room for the sweeping emotional backdrop that lies at stake.

The art incorporates the best elements of the cartoon form, using the simplest lines to convey the basest emotions and characterization.  It falls flat only when it ignores the scope of the story, and the surreal texture of the of the spiritual backdrop.  Often times the sepia tones that serve as the only depth to the black and white form feel too ordinary.  A full color treatment may have proved more suitable for matching the tone of the story, or, failing that, more full panels that strayed farther from the mundane.  The stark ending, while a bit baffling, promises more to come in Jesse's story, and perhaps the further adventures of our main character will provide a glimpse at some of the vast world promised by this inaugural chapter.

All in all, Lola: A Ghost Story is a worthwhile read, and easily accessible to anyone who chooses to crack the cover.  As a coming of age tale, it is relatable for anyone who grew up to realize that the life ahead of them was both more and less fantastic than they were lead to believe, and serves as a fine precursor to anyone for whom that revelation may yet be years in the making.  Lola: A Ghost Story often struggles to make the most of its ambitions, but then, isn't that what the story is truly about?

Conan: The Weight of the Crown One Shot

Writer: Darick Robertson

Artist: Darick Robertson

Colors: Tony Aviña

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Reviewer: Erich Reinstadler

Darick Robertson’s story of the Cimmerian barbarian starts with Conan as a young man. Betrayed by his countrymen, his lover murdered, Conan leaves his home in an effort to earn some money. Failure, of a sort, is the result while fighting alongside the Gauls. Their king killed in battle, the elders are forced to choose between the rightful heir (still but a young teenager) or the strongest warrior on the battlefield.

And that is within the first few pages. Robertson writes and draws the tale of a young man still ruled by his baser needs rather than the needs of his people. When time comes for the conquering hero to prove himself to his people on the battlefield, King Conan shows time and again that he is the right man for the task. To the great misfortune of leader and subjects alike, however, that is where his skills end. Tho physically grown, Robertson reminds us that you are never too old to come of age.

Rarely is savagery and death so beautifully drawn, yet that should be expected from someone of Darick Robertson’s caliber. Additionally, colorist Tony Aviña needs to be noted. He is able to add the right touches needed, both bold and subtle, to add the needed enhancement to the art. The price is right, too. A mere three and a half dollars when smaller, lesser books are going for more. I haven’t read a Conan comic since they were published by Marvel, but The Weight of the Crown reminded me why I enjoyed them so much in my youth.

The Shield #5

Written by Eric Trautmann

Art by Marco Rudy and Mick Gray

Colors by Art Lyon

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

What happens when you put one American supersoldier against a Great Ten? You get the Shield #5, a no-holds-barred brawl that mixes soldiers and superheroism, all while looking way more slick than it has any right to be.

Indeed, a lot of the credit to this book's success has to be Marco Rudy and Mick Gray, who really swing for the fences in a battle between two sets of characters that are only starting to get their feet when it comes to the greater DC readership. Don't tell Rudy and Gray that, however, as they take the Shield and the Great Ten about as seriously as they would the JLA. Whether it's seeing Joe take on Seven Deadly Brothers, or whether we see an inhuman test subject suddenly transform, here's some real craftsmanship at work here, with unorthodox paneling and smart design choices for this book that almost remind me of J.H. Williams III.

The comparisons to Williams and Detective Comics feels even more apt when you look at Eric Trautmann. Like Rucka, he's self-assured enough that he doesn't need to overshadow his artists with crazy high concept or proving how smart he is -- instead, it's all about giving Rudy and Gray the foundations for the best damn fight scenes they can draw. In certain ways, there's a refreshing uncomplicatedness to Joe Higgins -- he's a soldier, a hero, and without saying it he acts as the Star-Spangled internalization of "with great power, there must also come great responsibility." On the other hand, however, I wish we could see a little bit more of the characterization behind the mask -- the Shield seems like a good guy, but who is he? What's he like when he's not out being, well, superheroic?

It's to Trautmann's credit that while I don't know a whole lot about who Joe Higgins is, I still want to follow him, and find out what he's up to. Combining some old-fashioned moral clarity with some fantastic -- repeat FANTASTIC -- artwork from the creative team, this is a book that deserves your attention, if only for the leaps and bounds it makes every issue. If DC can keep taking these sorts of characters and make them into winners, there's no telling what might happen with the publisher as it enters into 2010.

The Unwritten #8

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross

Colors by Chris Chuckry

Letters by Todd Klein

Cover by Yuko Shimizu

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"Tommy Taylor belongs in a children's story. It's hard for him to get his bearings in a three-act tragedy." -- the Inside Man

I have reviewed this book for quite some time now, and one would think I would have adjusted myself by to Mike Carey and Peter Gross' compelling style of storytelling, but I was somehow proven wrong and once again, as I turned to the last page I found myself saying "oh, crap". Though not the way you would after finding a parking ticket on your car, but more of the "oh my God, this is great. Please, sir, can I have some more?" sort of way.

I found myself a little agitated last issue when Tom's story wasn't continued and sidetracked for the subplot dealing with the Governor's children, but I understand now that story had to be told for the sake of  the tragic events in this issue. With mercenaries on the loose and gunning for Tom and company, a Warden who wants them dead, and a pair of Governor's children trying to save the "real" Tommy Taylor, you have a tension-filled issue that has its moments of fun and excitement, but ultimately turns to horror.

I found it weird I felt loss after what transpires at the end of the issue, especially knowing these characters for such a small amount of time, but as I mentioned, I was caught off guard. That is the magic of Mike Carey. On the art side of things, Peter Gross truly captures the chaos of the situation quite well within the 22 pages provided without cluttering up pages and in turn making them an eye sore.

You may remember I gave this book my "Gold Medal" for 2009, and it really is a gem of a book. The trade of the first five issues is currently out now, so I encourage  you to pick that up, get yourself caught up, and see what you've been missing out on.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Power of Shazam #48 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow)  Worth noting that I avoided the two major weekly books that supported this book ("52," "Countdown"), yet I indulged myself here thanks to the "Power of Shazam!" on the cover.  I'm glad the chance I took was rewarded.  While there's been somewhat of a familiar formula found in the "Blackest Night" spinoffs, this story had a uniqueness to it in that the deceased Osiris is revived and empowered by a black ring, yet he maintains his sense of self and goodwill.  Unfortunately for Black Adam's young charge the word has gotten out about about the Black Lantern's doing damage around the planet and everyone knows he's been dead and buried for a while.  Oh, and a former friend is back and hungrier than ever.  This book also served as my introduction to writer Eric Wallace, and he turns in some effective work here, supported by menacing "doom & gloom" art by Don Kramer and Michael Babinski.  There's a noticeable lack of Marvel Family presence here, probably the book's sole detractor, but "Rest In Peace," is an otherwise powerful tale of redemption.  Not a whole lot here that adds to the main "Blackest Night" series, in fact nothing that I picked up on to be honest, but it's a solid, well-crafted read that's a nice component to January's clever revival of dead DC Comics series.

Amazing Spider-Man 617 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler) Since the beginning of the Brand New Day debacle, I’ve mouthed off in every forum possible about how much I hate BND, and on and on and on. Well, it’s time for me to eat my words. ASM 617 is, without a doubt, the best Spider-Man story I’ve read in many years. Part of the ongoing Gauntlet storyline, this issue introduces the new Rhino. His idea is to ‘earn’ the name by destroying Aleksei Sytsevich, the original Rhino. Aleksei, now happily married and reformed, has a decision to make – Be the Rhino, or be a man. Joe Kelly delivers a story far more powerful than this little review can do justice. In the second story of the book, Kelly delivers another strong tale, showing the Rhino’s evolution from costumed thug to married man of conviction. No matter what you think of Brand New Day, and the direction that Spider-Man has taken since, if you’ve ever been a fan of Spidey, I urge you to buy this book. Truly spectacular storytelling.

Catwoman #83 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): It's been a little over a year since we've seen Ms. Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, in her own solo series. Tony Bedard takes a crack at her whip with this issue, but I'm a bit confused on some elements going on here. It felt more like a "Gotham City Sirens" issue rather than Catwoman, but Bedard excels at all the femme fatals characterization. For the follows of the book where #82 had left off, or for readers who had no idea what had happened, there is a quick summary of the past events and gets that out of the way for the rest of the story. I love the art style of the book, but why was there a need for a slew of them? I didn't notice any difference between who was who. Just seemed a bit weird to me. The ending was a bit of a twist, and hopefully they continue this on "Sirens", which I'm sure they will. Top notch all around. 

The Anchor #4 (Published by Boom! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts): Damn, this book is just plain cool. I could just stop right there, but what sort of review would that be? This issue ends the current arc, but seamlessly sets up the next one to come. I'm liking Brian Churilla's style, but this issue seemed sort of weaker in comparison to the previous installments. Phil Hester's knowledge on the supernatural really comes out and some of the imagery is horrific, but creative and unlike anything on the market right now. I know you may think the $3.99 is a bit weird for an indy title, but you get a solid story from beginning to end and it's ad free. It really doesn't get any better than that. Also, the Volume 1 trade is available which might come in handy when you want to catch up since these issues are selling out. And fast.

Aliens vs. Predator Three World War #1 (Dark Horse Comics; Review By Jeff Marsick): On the shelf, this issue looks like it might be one scoop better than awesome, what with the cool foldout cover by Raymond Swanland, but it only takes two pages of story to elicit both a yawn and a realization that the whole line of AvP comics is in serious need of rebooting.  After an opening scene practically Xeroxed from every other Aliens, Predator, or AvP series, Colonial Marines land on a planet way out there in Orion’s belt, attempting to draft Machiko Noguchi, the hero of Aliens  vs. Predator:  War ,for a mission.  Seems a cabal of Predators who prefer the bloodlust of killing over the sanctity of the hunt have learned to control xenomorphs and leash them like pit bulls.  “The prey are now the weapons” is the shtick of this series which is a pretty hollow and vapid premise.  The issue is short on the action, long on the talky, with sophomoric artwork that’s not worth the $3.50 cover price. 

The Marvels Project #5 of 8 (Marvel Comics; Review By Jeff Marsick): This series continues to be disappointing, waffling between aspirations of being either Marvels issue 1a or Marvels Noir.  This issue is mostly just running in place until the big scene where the Angel meets Captain America while both are pursuing Nazi spies.  The Angel goes all fanboy watching Cap in action and suffers for it before Brubaker wraps the issue up in laughably lazy fashion:  instead of chasing his quarry before he can jump into a car and escape, Cap chooses to make first-date small talk with the other hero, stopping just short of asking him out to dinner.  Bland and lacking a pulse, maybe this series will read better when collected in a trade and read in a single sitting.  The team of Brubaker and Epting are better than this.

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