Best Shots Comic Reviews: GIRL COMICS, GIRL COMICS, more

Marvel Launching GIRL COMICS Anthology

Best Shots  03.08.10

By The Best Shots Team

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Girl Comics #1

Written by Various

Art by Various

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Marvel's release of Girl Comics hits stands a smidge past the 30th anniversary of She-Hulk, as well as at the beginning of Womens' History Month. With an Amanda Conner/Laura Martin cover, featuring shorts by names such as Agnes Garbowska, Devin Grayson, and a lot of letters by Krystyn Ferretti (just to name a few of the contributors),the first of this three-shot has been making buzz for awhile, with our own David Pepose addressing it a few months ago.

As the current leading lady of the Best Shots Crew, it was suggested I cover this book. Truth is, I already was planning to. I'd read the buzz leading up to it, and was ready to buy it and tear it to shreds. The whole concept of this book irks me. I don't get what Marvel is going for here. Are they trying to entice more female readers? Are they doing this to recognize female writers, creators, and artists? Am I reading too much into it, and they are just jumping onto the anthology bandwagon, and the theme happens to be "girls?"

Anyone who knows me, or any readers who make notice of the kinds of books I tend to review, may be confused by this hostility. I LOVE books centered on strong female characters. But it's not just the strong female characters I love. I love when they are seamlessly presented as strong characters, and their gender isn't blasted into your face. They just happen to be female. This Marvel project seems to be trying too hard, screaming from the stands-- "it's a comic book, with GIRLS, by GIRLS!"

So yes, I was prepared to dislike this book. I can dislike the premise, and I can question Marvel's intentions, however I have to admit in spite of myself that the stories are strong. This book is chock full of talent, both written and visual. Not all stories are "girl" characters, although all contributors are female. I have original art from several of them on the walls of my home! Also present in the book are retrospects on the careers of a couple of women in Marvel's History, Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin as well as bios on all the contributors.

Whether this limited series is just a flash in the pan, or a means to introducing some new stories with the potential to be stand alone series is yet to be seen. As an anthology, it serves its purpose successfully: to treat me to some familiar favorites, and introduce me to new names and characters I hope to see more of in the future.

Girl Comics #1 of 3

Writers:  Wilson, Robbins, D'Orazio, Knisley, Furth, Grayson

Artists:  Coover, Doyle, Buscema, Cook, Knisley, Garbowska, Rios

Letterers:  Marinaccio, Ferretti

Marvel Comics

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

When I first heard about this project, I was psyched.  It is far past time for the creative ladies in comics to flex some muscles and show that they can tell stories just as well as, or even better than, their more well-known male peers.  And just look at that starting line-up of writers and artists.  All female, all very accomplished.  Surely a slam-dunk in the 'must read' category.  Imagine my surprise, then, at what an egregious disappointment this issue turned out to be.

Colleen Coover's introduction was a little too rah-rah-for-women right out of the gate, but her enthusiasm is better commended than condemned.  G. Willow Wilson's "Moritat" is not only pointless and at least six pages too long (it's eight total), but it's clear that she has zero handle on her main character, Nightcrawler.  Nightcrawler, the X-Man who has gone toe-to-toe with any number of superpowered baddies, takes eight panels to try and subdue a norm armed with but a knife.  Eight panels.  Were it not for the tactical use of a Manolo Blahnik, Nightcrawler might be dead at Ms. Wilson's hand.  The normally exciting pencils of Ming Doyle could have saved this story, but even she seemed disinterested.  For those of you not savvy with Ms. Doyle's work, I implore you to look past her disregard here for the human form as well as her blatant attempt to make the pictures tell the story in as complicated a way as possible; she is much better than this.  Speaking of disappointing artwork, the normally outstanding Sana Takeda provides a She-Hulk pin-up as an homage to John Byrne's famous She-Hulk Skipping Rope page from 1992.  It's vivacious and sexy from her head to her ankles, at which point it jumps ship to repulsive.  Had an editor actually looked at this, it would have quickly been Liefelded--cut off at the ankles--to save the world from seeing the hideous toe fingers Ms. Takeda decided to ruin the piece with.

Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema's effort is about Venus returning to her mortal roots on the wings of a dare with the egotistical blowhard Hercules.  It's a story that's silly and rather "The Devil Wears Prada"-ish, and at the end feels more insulting to women than inspiring.  Speaking of ridiculous, Lucy Knisley's two-page Doctor Octopus is straight out of Mad magazine and wouldn't be funny or even amusing on that platform.  In "A Brief Rendezvous" by Valerie D'Orazio, I can't quite figure out who's to blame.  Is it the writer because this is more a scene than a story, the artist because this isn't a story as much as a series of poorly drawn pictures loosely aspiring to be something more, or is it the editor (or lack of) that greenlit something that was in need scrappage and a fresh start?  It's four pages long, but it should have ended after the first page, where it would have been a hundred times better and forever heralded as example A in how to tell a story in just six panels.

Keeping the book from being a total waste is the excellent "Clockwork Nightmare" by Robin Furth and Agnes Grabowska.  Whimsical with a dash of steampunk, it's a re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel tale using Franklin and Val Richards.  Cute without being saccharine, it's a fun little adventure that is deserving of its own book.  The runner-up is "Head Space" by Devin Grayson and Emma Rios.  Of all the stories here, this is the only one that seems to have a tie to continuity in the six-one-six.  Ms. Grayson lays bare the complexity that is Jean Grey's love triangle, and even though I feel the the story limps to an end in the last two panels, it's a good ride for eight pages.  Ms. Rios's artwork is kinetic and exciting, and everyone should be looking forward to her upcoming work on Firestar.

I can't help but feel that The Powers That Be came up with this "comics by girls" idea while simultaneously wrapping their arms protectively around anything and everything in current continuity.  If Marvel wants to spotlight female creators and let them strut their stuff, then Marvel should let them play with actual characters and situations, remove the safeties, and let 'em rip.  If anything, this book feels like a tryout piece, a female version of what next week's Breaking Into Comics The Marvel Way is going to be.  At a $4.99 cover price, there are better books to spend your money on.

Invincible Iron Man #24

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larocca

Colors by Frank D'Armata

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

I take it back. I take it all back. Because this is how you end a story arc.

For regular readers of Best Shots, you'll know I've been following Matt Fraction's output over the past year fairly regularly, and that's had its own highs and lows. In a lot of ways, it feels like there's two Matt Fractions -- one who draws out his storylines a little farther and a little slower than his structure (or perhaps his audience) can really handle, and the lean, muscular writer who packs in moment after heroic moment.

Well, if you're guessing, Invincible Iron Man #24 is in the latter category. Fraction really flexes his muscle for pacing and characterization in this issue, with characters ranging from Maria Hill to Pepper Potts to even Stephen Strange pitching in in a big way. But supporting characters alone does not an epic make -- Fraction finally brings back the not-so-secret ingredient to making this all work, and that is the character of Tony Stark. For the first time in who knows how long, we see a character who admits he has a problem; admits he needs help; and perhaps most importantly, decides he wants to get better. These are twelve steps of a different kind: with a jarring clarity, Fraction gets to the heart of this character -- guilt and the inability to cope -- and brings the arc to its rightful (and righteous) conclusion.

In terms of the art, finally Fraction's source material gives Larocca something to work with. There's a real panache here, whether its the unearthly landscape of Tony's own subconscious mind, or watching Stephen Strange going one-on-one with one of Tony Stark's pursuers. But what people don't usually remember is that Larocca's best moments are in his emotions -- the hopeless look at the end of "The Five Nightmares," or drawing back the camera as Tony forgets Happy Hogan's name in "World's Most Wanted" -- and there's some nice scenes in that vein as well. There's emotional and physical pain at play here, with a nice tempo being established as the indomitable Iron Man fights to get back to the land of the living.

I won't lie -- in a lot of ways, "Stark: Disassembled" felt an issue or two too long, with the methodical pacing seeming a critical misstep after the drawn-out cat-and-mouse game of "World's Most Wanted." And there will certainly be those who will be furious as the last-minute twist at the end of this arc -- even though I believe it will bring some interesting drama between Tony and his associates, who have taken him as far as they can go. Will the Invincible Iron Man prove to be as "Resilient" as the next arc promises? If Matt Fraction can write more issues like this one -- and cut out some of the fat that plagued some of the previous issues of this arc -- I have no doubt that this will be one spectacular Heroic Age for our hero.

Adventure Comics #8

Written by Sterling Gates, James Robinson & Eric Trautmann

Art by Travis Moore & Julio Ferreira; Julian Lopex & Bit; Pier Gallo

Colors by Pete Pantazis, Blond

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

The way things break down in Adventure Comics #8 embodies exactly what I wished to see when this series was first resurrected.  With this issue, the anthology genre has truly been revived, and I for one couldn't be happier.  Decades ago, I loved when "World's Finest" went beyond Superman and Batman and gave us backup stories starring the likes of Green Arrow, Hawkman and Captain Marvel.  Some of you older readers may remember that there was a time when Superman ONLY had his eponymous title along with "Action Comics," but a lot of his supporting cast got coverage in the anthology series "Superman Family."  Shoot, all the great backup stories currently running in the Batman books would've had their own title way back in the 1970s.  Honestly, I wish DC would revisit more of these series now, but Adventure Comics is a damn good start.  Here in issue #8, we get no less that three distinctive stories, all of them getting the Superman fans out there warmed up for Superman: Last Stand on New Krypton, set to hit stores this week.

The first story, "The Future is Prologue, Part One," serves well to get readers up to speed with the Legion of Super-Heroes, about to get their own title but also figuring heavy in the goings on with the Man of Steel & Co. and dire events taking place in the present day, on Earth and New Krypton.  It would probably be a tie between this story as the third and final story, "Awake (Part 1 of 3)," as to which one was was the most introspective.  I would give "Future is Prologue" the nod, and that's mainly because I have a soft spot for the Brainiac lineage, and that gets touched on here to solid effect.  I was reminded of a real life news story from 2008, where a family named their child Adolf Hitler Campbell.  In this script penned by Sterling Gates, we get a flashback sequence (ironic in that is actually takes place a thousand years in the future), Legionnaire Brainiac 5 recalls from his childhood how his father essentially reclaimed the name of what was officially the most hated Coluan ever, with the intention of turning it back into a positive for his family.  Time will tell if the Hitler name will ever escape infamy, but I am not liking its chances (nor should anyone).  Artist Travis Moore brings energy and heart to the material, in the flashback sequence as well as the "present day" situation, with Brainiac 5 and an assembly of Legionnaires on a deep space mission to stave off a series of chronal tears in the universe that threaten their very existence.  Since the person responsible for this is none other than his ancestor, the Brainiac of the modern day, the table is set for a meeting of super-team and super-villain.  This first chapter hints at much more exciting goodness to come. 

In Prologue Part Two, "The Future is Now," we get a little more insight on the Legion of Super-Heroes Espionage Squad," the Legionnaires who have operated on Earth in the present day since "The Lightning Saga" a couple of years ago.  Not to say that this chapter fell short, but I didn't feel that writer James Robinson was nearly as insightful as he could've been with his briskly paced script, mainly in that I felt like I was already up to speed with these heroes who had been hidden in plain sight in the pages of Superman's monthly titles for a while now.  While Mon-El and Superboy finally get familiarized with the Espionage Squad's plans, I practically felt like I already was.  "The Future is Now" is aided, though, by some polished art by Julian Lopez and Bit, who to me invoked a nice blend of Chris Batista and Alan Davis. Overall this is a creative team of which that we could stand to see much more.

"I am a stone." -- Car Vex (Officer Romundi)

I'm not exactly what the significance of the title "Awake" is, but my guess is that this third and final installment has to do with the Kryptonian sleeper agent that General Sam Lane has unwittingly(?) enlisted to aid him in his war against all things Kryptonian.  Eric Trautmann's script proves invaluable in that we get not only the background of this Kryptonian agent, Car-Vex, who's actually more loyal to General Zod, but some much needed insight on what motivates Gen. Lane's antipathy toward Superman and his native people.  Never actually showing the Man of Steel is a shrewd move by Trautmann and artist Pier Gallo, displaying how Lane views Earth's greatest hero as not so much a person, but more as a harmful force of nature.  Unfortunately Lane has been so disillusioned over the years that at this point, considering who he allies himself with, that he's really just cut off his nose to spite his face. 

It was rightfully feared among many that when Adventure Comics lost the guiding hands of Geoff Johns and Francis Manupul that the quality would take a precipitous drop.  If this issue is any indication, the possibilities have only proceeded to open up even more, and this is quickly turning into one of DC's most relevant books.

Sparta: USA #1 (of 6)

Written by David Lapham

Art and Cover by Johnny Timmons

Color by Wildstorm FX

Lettering by Wes Abbott

Published by Wildstorm

Review by Henry Chamberlain

The tongue-in-cheek pitch from Wildstorm about "Sparta" is that it's a comic about football that fans of the game can enjoy during the off season. Its six issue run has got you covered from March through August. And, if you happen to be a fan of David Lapham, then you really want to jump on board his latest take on the underbelly of the great American Dream. It also helps if you're a fan of Bigfoot and maybe even "Lost."

You've just entered something strange and unsettling whenever you embark on a Lapham comic. This one is no exception. Nestled amid a scenic backdrop, the little town of Sparta is proud of its traditional and uniquely American values. But it turns out that this town is less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like The Village from "The Prisoner," complete with an overseer known as The Maestro. So far, the subversive energy to this story is not quite as loony bin crazy as "Young Liars" but not too far off the mark. That may have to do with this being more of an ensemble piece and the fact that all the elements have just been introduced in this first issue.

It may also have to do with "Young Liars" being a very tough act to follow. For those of us spoiled by Lapham's masterpiece, it takes a little adjusting to accept him focusing on just the writing for this new comic. The art by Johnny Timmons is a rougher quality than Lapham's and, at times, it seems to lack polish but, overall, it's a decent style and meshes well with Lapham's subversive vision. So, just a bit of adjusting, and all you die-hard fans are in good hands.

For a first issue, "Sparta" does knock a lot of stuff into place. We know the town is controlled by the Maestro, a blue man who keeps the peace mostly by his periodic ceremonies where he grants a few lucky citizens a child of their own to raise. These children are supposed to arrive via the President of the United States. We also know that it's virtually impossible to leave Sparta due to the harsh mountains, where the Yeti roam, surrounding it. But one man, Godfrey McLaine, Sparta's greatest high school quarterback ever, dared to venture into the wilderness. He somehow not only survived but thrived out there. He's now all red and he's back to save Sparta!

So, a very good start. If we aren't quite at loony bin crazy just yet, it looks like it's just around the corner.

Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir

Published by Vertigo Comics

Written by: Matt Wagner

Art by: Mike Kaluta

Reviewed by Tim Janson

I’m still not convinced that Madam Xanadu is a character deserving of an ongoing title but part of the value of the Vertigo line is giving niche characters greater exposure.  This volume collects issues # 11-15 of the regular series.  Madame Xanadu is hired by a rich society woman to investigate the death of her father who seemingly died of spontaneous combustion.  She immediately finds evidence of an evil influence in the man’s death.  Soon, several of his associates turn up dead as Xanadu draws closer to te thing behind the murders. 

The story is pure 1940’s crime noir…a Raymond Chandler detective story mixed with magic.  Adding to the Golden Age feel of the story is a guest appearance by Wesley Dodds, AKA the Sandman.  What truly makes the story standout is the creative team of writer Matt Wagner and artist Mike Kaluta.  Because Kaluta works in comics infrequently he doesn’t get the credit he deserves as one of the best artists in the business.  His dark, gritty style, first showcased on The Shadow for DC comics in the 1970s is a perfect fit to the 1940s setting.  People may not know that it was Kaluta who actually created the character in 1978.

Wagner’s story succeeds in lifting the character above niche level.  Throughout his run on the title Wagner has filled in Xanadu’s mysterious background, marking her as a sister to Morgan Le Fay and a survivor of Atlantis, making her one of the oldest characters in the DC Universe.  A fabulous story that reads well on its own without needing to read the previous issues in the series. 

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