Best Shots Rapid Reviews: INC. HERCULES, Tons More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews: HERC, more

Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews 02-18-10

Your Host: David Pepose

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Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you live with a full clip of Rapid-Fire Reviews! This week, we have a special treat for you, as we have three -- count 'em, THREE -- full-length reviews in addition to your off-the-cuff, rapid-response pellet reviews. We've got more issues on hand than Sigmund Freud's notebook, with reviews from Marvel, DC, Image, Vertigo, IDW, BOOM! Studios and even an indie book from Earthbound Comics. As always, if you're looking for more reviews, check out the Best Shots Topic Page here.

Incredible Hercules #141

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Rodney Buchemi

Colors by Guillem Mari

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye here...

If you've been digging Incredible Hercules, you've probably already picked up this book, and devoured it faster than any creature in Greek mythology. If you haven't, do yourself a favor -- pick Incredible Hercules #141 up. It's a surprisingly weighty read, but in many ways it lets the Prince of Power rise up and do what he does best -- in this case, saving the world.

Is this necessarily the funniest book in the world? Heck no. Despite some amusing sound effects from editors Mark Paniccia, Nathan Cosby and Jordan D. White -- seeing "SLASSSH" and "AAAXL" during a fight scene just made me laugh out loud -- this issue instead focuses on the likeability of our protagonists. Even when they do things that we know they shouldn't -- and believe me, some of them do -- there's this inherent likeability to everyone involved. "I was afraid you were going to die during this fight," Amadeus says. Herc's response is perfect: "Really? What a ridiculous thing to fret over," he says with a smile. "Everybody dies."

A lot of this strength comes from Rodney Buchemi, whose expressiveness looks utterly fantastic. While I feel that his panel composition isn't always the strongest, he does now how to make things count -- for example, the climactic pages of the book look absolutely great, and really sear themselves into your imagination. But as I was saying before, the emotions that Buchemi conveys is amazing -- whether it's the rage of Hercules as he prepares to strike, or Athena sobbing as she prepares to undertake her most difficult task ever, it looks fantastic. When we root for Herc, it's because of Rodney Buchemi, hands-down.

Of course, there are a few hiccups here and there -- there are a few explanations that needed a bit more rereading, only because they were told to us rather than being shown. (Then again, there's some slight tweaking of Herc's mythos by the end that I'm still not 100% certain I understood.) In terms of the art, a minor annoyance was the fact that Buchemi's Amadeus Cho seemed really, really young -- like, someone in middle school, rather than a high school geek. Perhaps most important, however, is that Pak and Van Lente never really proved that the inclusion of the Avengers was particularly necessary, and may have in fact stolen a little bit of Herc's well-deserved spotlight.

That said, these are just trifles when weighed against an exceedingly strong final act for the Incredible Hercules saga. There's danger, there's emotion, there's heart -- and in the end, isn't that what the Prince of Power was all about? While its clear that Pak and Van Lente still have a few more tricks up their sleeves for the characters in this book, if you've read any of the previous issues, this is a good -- nay, almost a mandatory -- comic for you to read.

DMZ #50

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Rebekah Isaacs, Jim Lee, Fabio Moon, Ryan Kelly, Lee Bermejo, Riccardo Burchielli, Phillip Bond, John Paul Leon, Eduardo Risso & Dave Gibbons

Color art by Jeromy Cox

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

To call DMZ #50 a masterpiece would not be an overstatement.

There's a quantifiable reason for this. Despite 49 issues of this series being rendered ably and with distinction, this is unequivocally its best looking installment yet. Every artist involved brings his or her absolute A-game, and with an accomplished lineup like this one, the product is one of the early contenders for single issue of the year.  

“Notes from the Underground,” is an anthology take on the workings of the DMZ and it's most important voice, Matty Roth. It is a collage of anecdotes that distill just what the DMZ is, and what it isn't. It isn't a grand chance at Utopia. It isn't easy to love, or easy to be loved by. It isn't an environment that nurtures; be it life or art. It isn't a place that can be fully understood.  

It is a place of constant and absolute danger. It is a place were power is held by its boldest usurpers. It is a place of exceptional honesty, and extraordinary deception. It is a place where life, in all ways shapes and means, demands some sort of appreciation.  

Brian Wood and his team of Vertigo All Leaguers paint quite the picture. Jeromy Cox' palette practically gives the city a taste, and even the stories that forgo colors do so to powerful effect. This issue is a true celebration of what has made DMZ the success it is. Each story, even the one page vignettes, gives emotionally stark characterizations of the city and its inhabitants. Without exposition, it looks back on what has happened in the series up until now, and without tipping its hand, it even hints as to its upcoming direction.  

Surprisingly, we are introduced to Matty's unlikely peer and rival. An adversary who is not a journalist, the bone-sawing tension between this character and Matty, who is, for perhaps the first time, devastatingly overpowered, is sure to be a driving story point to the series' final few years.  

While the stories couldn't be any different, there is an inclination to compare DMZ to another urbane journalistic Vertigo series- Transmetropolitan. This is lofty company, but there are important differences between the two. Primary is that Spider Jerusalem's compulsive grousing about the state of the world's affairs was a cry of frustration with what had already come to pass. This is not Matty Roth's charge.  

He's not a columnist. He's a reporter. And he reports on the scariest, most important place there is on the planet. Matty Roth is coming to you live, from the DMZ; the battleground for the future.

Jennifer Love Hewitt's Music Box #3

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Adam Archer

Colors by Ray Dillon

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Henry Chamberlain

The title of the latest story in this series is "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet," which instantly brings to my mind a Twilight Zone classic, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from 1963. Even with that higher altitude, this story is no match for William Shatner going bonkers as the only person on a crowded plane who sees a gremlin hard at work at trying to kill everyone on board.

However, Music Box #3 is not without its charms. I want to like this series because of it's light and goofy touch. I think it's going to appeal to a younger audience mostly but will also find fans among older readers. The story is appealing enough. It centers on, Sid Glanz, a young and earnest corporal coming back from Iraq. Just before his tour is up, he finds an old music box in the sand. In the airport, waiting through a very long flight delay, he meets Wendy, a sweet and sexy young woman who connects with Sid with ease. The joke here is that Sid is a Communications Specialist but not much of a talker.

Sid could have wished for the gift of gab but, no, this guy isn't asking for anything. He just had the misfortune of crossing paths with the music box. Whether you're good or bad, don't mess with the box. It's a fun and creepy theme that should get better as this title finds its voice. As for the art, that has kicked into gear. Adam Archer gives us likable characters that we care about and the color work by Ray Dillon is eye-popping. The next issue will find Dillon working with his wife, Renae De Liz, who creates awesome art for IDW's Rogue Angel. It's a soulful style like Ryan Kelly's art. That said, Music Box is heading in the right direction.  

Green Lantern #51 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame): One of the problems Geoff Johns has most often is timing. Although he’s got a great sense of the big picture that will no doubt help him in his new gig, I can’t help but feel that there’s an awful lot of action packed into this issue, as compared to the months of buildup and the, ahem, “methodical” pacing of the early issues of “Blackest Night.” Mahnke’s art is great for most of the book, although frankly I don’t care for the way he depicts the Hal-as-Parallax character (he appropriated the Venom-like giant mouthful of teeth that Van Sciver used for bits of “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and it really doesn’t suit his style), which is a shame because I always thought that was one of the better-looking costume designs ever to incorporate shoulder pads. The issue gets us from point A to B, though, freeing Hal of Parallax and The Spectre of the Black Lantern ring, while giving us a little taste of the next story that seems likely to tie elements of “Blackest Night” into the upcoming “Green Lantern” film, as Hector Hammond apparently has some kind of tie to Parallax. Gotta give this much to Johns—the guy knows how to keep the balls in the air.

Joe the Barbarian #2 (Published by Vertigo; Review by George Marston): After last issue's middling pace, Joe the Barbarian #2 dives right in and doesn't look back, following Joe and his rat Jack on the run from all manner of nastiness, including pirates and evil flying warriors called "Deathcoats."  In fact, I would say that this was my favorite book this week, hands down.  I confess that I often find Grant Morrison a little too into himself, and maybe a little too ahead of his audience, but this issue really, really worked for me.  Maybe it's the hallucinatory framing device, but the jagged and occasionally oblique dialogue does more to draw the reader into the world of Joe's toys and their apparently dire plight, than to repel or confuse.  The stabs at a larger, undiscovered world are mystifying in the perfect way.  Sean Murphy's art is on another level entirely, and Morrison wisely lets it speak for itself more often than not.  Murphy's linework is confident and stylized, and it is easy to get lost in the detail of his large spreads, if only to find the easter eggs he crams in to every inch of his pages.  After looking at some of the uncolored pages, I almost wish that this book had been published in black and white, to highlight the texture in Murphy's lines, but Dave Stewart does an admirable job of maintaining the depth of the art while using his colors to clarify and emphasize the characters rather than overshadow the artwork in the way that modern color occasionally does.  In any case, art and story come together with fluidity and style that perfectly weave what at surface is a simple fairy tale, and beneath that, hints at so much more.

Doomwar #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame): It’s nice to see that Marvel can play a little with having Latveria and Wakanda in the same story (I know, this is a common theme lately, but I still enjoy it). I’ve always kind of enjoyed the idea of the two having an uneasy relationship in the same way that DC’s Rann and Thanagar stories have been fun.  With Doom’s baddies having destabilized Wakanda and taken Storm hostage, former king T’Challa (the old Black Panther) takes a brigade of soldiers to enlist the aid of Storm’s X-Men friends in getting her back and, presumably, retaking Wakanda.  There’s a lot of talk and almost no action in this oversized issue, and while most of it isn’t exactly great dialogue, it’s necessary and I suspect future issues will be less weighed down. After a sequence that will firm up an idea already strong in the minds of many fans—that Cyclops is kind of a joke—T’Challa takes his contingent and some reinforcements back to Wakanda to begin a war that seems to feature exclusively Black Panther and a handful of characters popular from the X-Men films.

Spider-Woman #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): While I don't necessarily dig this issue as much as I did the last one, this is still a nice solid actioner from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. There's a nice sense of whimsy to Bendis' writing that acts as a surprisingly effective counterpoint to Maleev's photo-modeled work -- whether it's pointing out how dumb it is to tell a potential captive they have orders to take you in alive, or how to make an intangible enemy work for you, it's a nice inversion of standard tropes. Maleev's art still looks intoxicating, but I will say that the work here doesn't look as nuanced as, say, last issue -- then again, considering Jessica is in full costume the entire issue, it doesn't give Maleev the material to really show off his range. While I wouldn't necessarily say this issue is leaps and bounds ahead of the last one, it still looks great and has a nice sense of humor, to boot.

Invincible #70 (Image Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): The most lovable quality of Invincible is that in this book, even the calm before the storm qualifies as a torrential downpour. Next month marks the beginning of the long-anticipated Viltrumite War, but before Invincible can take on the combined might of his entire super-powered brethren, he must shake off a full scale invasion of Sequid bodysnatchers.  At first bluff, this issue might seem to be just another All- Awesome installment of the long-running Image comic, but Mark's drastic actions in this issue reflect a long-building darkness in the series. For at least the last 20 issues, Invincible has faster and faster approached his own critical mass. His burdens, from protecting the world to caring for and teaching a powerful and dangerous little brother, have bore down heavier and heavier, and the cracks are finally beginning to show. In accordance with the book's mission statement, Mark Grayson is constantly learning to be a better hero, but he may have taken a step back here. And on the eve of what is sure to be his greatest challenge ever, no less. That's what makes Invincible the book it is, though; our hero grows up, and his challenges grow up right there with him.

Deadpool #19 (Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): When Spider-Man and Deadpool team up, we all win. Visually and comedically, the two go together like pies and faces. It takes an outsized personality to relegate Spider-Man to the role of straight man, but the cackling Merc with a Mouth is up for the gig. With his work on the Suicide Kings mini and elsewhere, Carlo Barberi has emerged as perhaps the preeminent Deadpool artist of today. His work is expressive, kinetic, and tonally in step with the character of Deadpool. The ongoing Deadpool title has made the rounds of the Marvel Universe, and now seems to be settling into its role as the “Deadpool meets everybody” book. It remains to be seen if Marvel's latest marketing monkey business will result in a new stalwart villain in the Marvel stable, but pitting this new “hitter,” against the publisher's two most visible body-sock wearing wiseacres will give the rookie baddie every chance to be a top banana.

Justice League of America #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame): The suitably generic Atlas—a Superman anti-hero, or villain, or something—used during Robinson’s first arc on that title is the first guy taken down by the reassembled Justice League of America, while narrative boxes from each of them thinks about how they don’t belong in the group for various reasons. Throughout, I can’t help but think that I might have been won over if #41 had begun this way—just jumping right into the story without the unnecessary exposition of last month’s issue. New readers can learn all they need to as they go here, and while “fighting big strong guy and winning easily” is as much of a team-introduction trope as is a recruiting issue, I can’t help but feel like this is just…better. The inclusion of a flashback to the Challengers of the Unknown is a welcome one, and juggling those characters with the Metal Men, Freedom Fighters, Blackhawks and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters gives this title a sense of scope and importance in the DC Universe that was sorely lacking in Robinson’s first issue (even if I was hoping they’d hold true to their promises of keeping Darkseid off the board for a while longer). As far as that cliffhanger, though, it all seems a little derivative to me—within the first six months or so of taking over the title, didn’t Grant Morrison have (a different) Green Arrow thrust into a very similar situation?

Chase Variant #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kevin Huxford): This was not exactly what I expected. When Rich Johnston mentioned he had this book coming out, the play on comic book variants came through crystal clear. Not being a CCG guy, I didn’t get the card game application. In this one-shot collection of a few shorts, Johnston and his collaborators put together a fun little parody. The use of shorts tied together by two friends playing a card game helps insure that the joke never gets run into the ground between these two covers. Instead, it actually gives you the feeling that the concept has legs enough to be able to support several more issues (be they one-shots or a mini-series). Using two blokes playing cards as a device to tell stories about a world where super secret agents are distributed like rare collectibles (complete with cases and ratios of distribution), where over-the-top situations and ridiculous quips are there by necessity, rather than creative team limitations, seems like a recipe for success. If they can keep the art team or recruit similarly talented folks, it would be a shame to not revisit this sometime in the future.

Tiny Titans #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): Awww yeah, Geoff Johns. You know, I had debated on just leaving it at that, but I'm sure my editor would have disapproved at a one-sentence review. This week's Tiny Titans features DC superstar (and as of today, new CCO of DC Entertainment) Geoff Johns alongside the usual team of Art and Franco. In addition with helping write the script, Johns has a tiny cameo. "Tiny"...see what I did there? Horrid puns aside, the book soars with imagination and would be excellent in the hands of readers who aren't yet ready to grasp Johns' Green Lantern. It essentially breaks down and explains the seven Corps with results that made me chuckle. Awww yeah, job well done.

Hunter's Fortune #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): From the very first page on, Hunter's Fortune is still as charming as hell. Andrew Cosby and Caleb Monroe do a great job at putting in just enough humor to set this book apart from something like, say, National Treasure, giving our hero just enough moments that are both organic and allow him to grow as an adventurer. But the real star of this book is Matt Cossin -- wow, does this guy bring the goods. Whereas the past two issues have been largely comedic, Cossin pulls out the action here, and boy does it look fantastic. A nice sense of speed, a great sense of expression and reaction, it's exceedingly engaging stuff. I know BOOM! has been big on franchises and licensed books like Incorruptible, Farscape, the Disney and Muppet books, and 28 Days Later, but Hunter's Fortune is probably one of the best books they print. Give it a chance.

Dr. Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): I have voiced my opinion on this not being an ongoing before, but I won't get into that level of disappointment. Jericho Drumm slowly rubbed off on me and when he found the confidence he needed to become the sorcerer he can truly become, there is a mighty, magical throwdown and then just stops abruptly. I had flashbacks of the first season of Deadwood where you had that epic amount of build up, and then the last episode comes around and finally it becomes the show you've been hearing about....then just ends. Calling it a tease is an understatement. I don't feel closure, and can only hope he will be showcased in some form or another. I'm personally hoping for Dr. Voodoo to hold a rank in one of the new Avengers' roster because Rick Remender and Jefte Palo have really spun a great tale here and it's great to know a character like Dr. Voodoo can still have a place in the Marvel Universe.

Lady Fight: Aggression (Published by Earthbound Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): For those of you unfamiliar with this title, it is a single issue with three different stories, spotlighting different heroines kicking-ass, and three different creative teams. And I do mean different. From light-hearted Cat. 5 dealing with ghost pirates and lost, cursed treasure. To Explosion Proof's world of espionage and Soverain, with it's 90's attitude of big guns and glory. I wasn't too keen on the art of the last two stories. "Explosion Proof's" (or Eepee) style was overly stiff and confusing at some points. "Soverain's" art was so over-detailed it got to the point where it distracted me from the story itself. Though thank God there were inner-dialog boxes to explain to me what happens, because it does get congested. Cat. 5's story was probably the best, just on the level of it being not-overly done and comprehensive on the page. While the artistic direction is overly-simplistic at times, you can figure out at least what is going on if the words weren't there to tell you.

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