Best Shots Reviews: LAST STAND OF NEW KRYPTON, Much More

Best Shots Reviews: Marvel, DC, More

Troy is out sick due to Kryptonite poisoning; he's always trying to find a way to harness the powers of those dangerous rocks in his plot to take down Superman once and for all. With him out, we figure we can feature Superman's one-two-punch from this week to kick things off. Of course, visit our Best Shots Topic Page to see all our review columns.

KRYPTONIAN SPECIAL!

Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #1

Written by Sterling Gates & James Robinson; Art by Pete Woods

Action Comics #887

Written by Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann; Art by Pere Pérez

Co-feature written by James Robinson; Co-feature art by CAFU

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"Please, Lan, call me Kal.  All my friends do." -- Superman

I don't know if the TPS report folders were switched from bland manila to fire engine red, but there was a definite sense of urgency coming out of the Superman books this week, and this reader was thrilled.  Both books, directly tied into all things Superman, were fantastic, and it makes me wonder if the trick to a storyline running over the course of a year or two and throughout several books is to just freshen things up under a new veneer every once in a while.

Recently I suggested that what kept the often serviceable "Superman: World of New Krypton" from being a truly great series was that Kal-El was not given enough choice opportunities to be, well, super.  This is addressed to absolutely moving effect in Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #1 as the Man of Steel finally disassociates himself from General Zod's ranks.  Prompted to do so in reaction to a fatal bout of arrogance on the part of the general, Superman is poised to take control of things and show why he is the greatest ever when Brainiac launches an all out assault on New Krypton.  There's is nary a boring page in this whole book, and action-packed extravaganza from cover to cover (speaking of cover, it's cool that DC modified what had been previewed to better reflect the development of the story).  Gone is the monthly police procedural that we had over the last year, this is the war epic we've been overdue.

If pairing James Robinson (hit or miss on the pacing on his Superman work to date) with Sterling Gates was what did the trick, all the better.  Gates' contributions to "Supergirl" have been rock solid, so hey, whatever works.  As for the art, well, Pete Woods has only gone and delivered some of his best work to date.  I don't know how he does it, because he's been working mostly uninterrupted for a surprising stretch.  When you see other Superman titles practically feature a different artist every month, it makes what Woods accomplishes all the more impressive.  Woods is given an extensive cast of characters, heroes and villains (pretty much everyone save for Nightwing and Flamebird are here, by the way, and I shall get to them momentarily), and he does a lights out job on all of it.  But just when it was starting to feel like Superman's stories were running on fumes, we get Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton and all of the sudden they're relevant again.

I can't say that I am entirely enamored with the direction of things with Nightwing and Flamebird since their demigod sides have been more invoked in the last couple issues, but with Action Comics #887, I at least liked the way the story was told.  In "Truth to Power," we get the better part of the story through the narration of Lois Lane as she's following the exploits of Nightwing and Flamebird, fighting the threat of a reincarnated Rao who is walking the Middle Eastern countryside under the guidance of Jax-Ur.  Lane is submitting reports from the field, and since she was recently "fired" from the Daily Planet in order to go public with revelations about her devious general father, she's essentially freelancing and posting blog updates.  It's a compelling narrative the Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann have concocted, Lane essentially blowing the lid on her own dad and speaking up in defense of Nightwing and Flamebird.  And it is all beautifully rendered by Pere Pérez who produces clean, polished line work.  What's funny is that the concept of a monolithic giant on the loose is nothing new to DC readers, seeing as this was a huge part of the Kingdom Come storyline in "Justice Society of America" a couple years ago.  But if you thought Gog was aloof, wait until you get a load of Rao, an even bigger badder threat to all of humanity.  The Kryptonian duo is clearly outmatched against Jax-Ur and his unwelcome creation, and I'm curious as to the reinforcements that Lois Lane decides to call for help.

It's clearly not Captain Atom, seeing as he's finally made it back to Sorcerers' World after being gone a few days.  Did I say a "few days"?  Sorry, I meant eight months.  Thanks to the way things work in this magical realm, time passes very differently.  It's mostly set-up, though, as Captain Atom reconvenes with his recent allies in preparation for battle with Mirabai and her troops.  Hope the good captain is ready, because General Lane's mystical asset surely is.  I will say this, if this week's offerings are any indication, the Superman books are vital and exciting again, and that's a very good thing.

Robot 13 #3

Writer:  Thomas Hall

Artist:  Daniel Bradford

Blacklist Studios

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

The mystery that is Thirteen continues, with more clues to our hero's origin coming to light.  He survived the fight with last issue's fire bird, and this issue finds himself in the care and comfort of a kindly old blind man, in a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein at the DeLaceys.  The old man thinks Thirteen is a fighter pilot, fallen from a crippled jet.  The comparison to the Mary Shelley classic is furthered when Thirteen recounts how he got his legs, which we see happened at the hands of a scientist-type improving upon a carcass he found on the shores of Crete.  It's also intimated that Thirteen may be descended from the first mechanical man, Talos, built in the days of antiquity to hunt and exterminate monsters plaguing Crete.  

Meanwhile, Echidna still wants our hero's head, and her next recruit to bring it in is a cyclopean Hephaestus, who clearly has unfinished business with our "man of bronze".  The fight is brutal and intense, and when the smoke clears, Thirteen's destination is clear:  Crete.  Only there will he find the answers as to who and why he is.  Problem is, that's Echidna's turf and if he thinks he's been battered about so far, I'm guessing he ain't seen nothin' yet.

Still impressive, this book is, and easily one of the top three books on the shelves these days.  I'll even go so far as to say that, yes, this is a better book right now than even BPRD.  And that's saying something because I love that series.  Daniel Bradford continues to do amazing visual storytelling, and the mystery behind the hero that Thomas Hall is brewing is simply addicting.  This isn't a book you read once then put down.  You read the latest issue, then go back to the beginning of the series and read them all again.  All comics should be this good.  Issue three marks the end of Book One and I can't wait to see what Book Two brings.  Go out and get this issue (and the two issues already out).  Now.

Batman and Robin #10

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Andy Clarke and Scott Hanna

Colors by Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

The wait is over -- the return of Bruce Wayne has begun. And for the first time in months, it finally -- hopefully -- feels like Grant Morrison has gotten his groove back.

What do I mean? While he started this new series with a heck of a first arc -- and pound-for-pound it is undeniably still the flagship book of the revamped Batman franchise -- eventually Batman and Robin started to feel like a half-hearted read, with strong intro issues and the theme of evolving crime and evolving heroism cutting out by the middle of the second arc without an equally solid premise to replace it with. But with Batman and Robin #10, not only does Morrison's plotting feel so much tighter and more deliberate, but the premise feels like a solid sequel to the aftermath of Morrison's misunderstood epic, Batman R.I.P.

Whether its his structure or his characterization, Morrison just feels on for this issue. Damian is clearly Morrison's favorite, and seeing him progress as both a hero and as his father's son is particularly compelling. Additionally, Morrison mostly pulls back closer to home, leaving behind some of the more avant-garde elements of, say, his last arc, and giving this book a little bit more of a stronger purpose. Wayne Manor may have been haunted by the spirit of the bat long before Bruce Wayne was born, and Morrison lays in that foundation of foreboding with a care that is both organic and immaculate.

Meanwhile, with Andy Clarke on board as this arc's penciller, the Dynamic Duo is looking more powerful than ever. While sometimes Clarke's other characters -- particularly the Mexican assassins of El Penitente -- can occasionally come off as a bit nondescript, there's a real muscularity to Dick and Damian, and Clarke's use of shadows is particularly effective. Let's just say that whether it's Dick Grayson's small smile or Damian struggling silently with his mother's schemes or even Alfred researching the Wayne family history in the Batmobile, there's a nuance and a strength behind everyone here. In many ways, this is how Batman deserves to look.

That said, this issue may be ambitious, but it's not perfect. There are a few gaps in logic to Morrison's story -- particularly, the fact that the Justice League suddenly clues Dick into the fact that if Bruce isn't dead, that he's just "been displaced in time by something called the Omega Effect." It's not to say that Dick's search for Bruce isn't interesting -- but he's the World's Greatest Detective now. Getting from Point A to Point B with actual clues is part of the core of the character, and this omission is palpable. Additionally, while Clarke's characters look pretty strong, I do wish that the settings had that same level of detail and moodiness. But despite these flaws, this is certainly a strong beginning of the end -- Morrison's built one heck of a strong foundation, and if he can walk the line without falling off in pursuit of a left-field tangent, this may be the arc we've been waiting for.

Criminal: The Sinners #5 (of 5)

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Sean Phillips

Color art by Val Staples

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

The metropolitan backdrop of the Criminal series is a self-perpetuating crime fiction machine. There's some fundamental characteristic to the unnamed City that causes crime to fester, as if it is trying to cure its sickness with sickness.

Each installment of Criminal has pushed and expanded the City limits. And while each story more than stands on its own merits, the broad tapestry the series has weaved deserves admiring recognition. With volumes interconnecting in surprising and unconventional ways, the sum paints a picture of increasing specificity and toxicity. It is a place where an alliance is as reliable as a two-legged stool. It is a City without justice. Or, if there is any justice to be had, it can only be appreciated by a poet; but then, somebody would just end up popping the poet, too.

The Sinners was the series' most ambitious story to date. The morale compromises of Tracy Lawless' life finally catch up with him, and so does his past. The best crime fiction prominently illustrates the absolute risk of life outside the law, and the danger of a world without civilized society's safety net. Tracy's net is long gone. He has stared into the abyss. He knows his eventual fate. All he can really do is manage the collateral damage; both minimizing and redirecting it.

What Brubaker does best in his pulp and crime stories is to instill in his protagonists a well tempered reluctance. It isn't enough to prevent his “heroes” from taking action, but it is enough to make them sympathetic, no matter their sins.

Criminal is more than just depraved ambiance and cut-throat characters. Structurally superb, it offers some of the most gratifying story beats in serial comics. The panel-to-panel page transitions of this issue are evocative and effective, giving the broad movements a haunting, inevitable pace. Satisfying from wraparound cover to germane backmatter essay, Criminal is genre comics for grown ups.

The Wizard’s Tale

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by David Wenzel

Published by IDW Publishing

Reviewed by Tim Janson

Even in today’s diversified comic book marketplace there still aren’t a lot of fantasy-themed books available.  Over thirty years ago, Marvel published Weirdworld, still one of the best fantasy comics ever produced.  You can now add The Wizard’s Tale to this exclusive list.  A lush, humorous, and thoughtful original graphic novel, The Wizard’s Tale fills a huge void in comic book fantasy.

Bafflerog Rumplewhisker is the latest in a long line of evil wizards but there’s just one problem…Bafflerog is a nice guy.  Try as he might, his evil spells end up benefiting the local villagers such as the time he tried to call down a plague of locusts and instead rained roast chickens on the village.  Despite his lackluster efforts, he is still a member of the Darksome Council although not exactly in good standing.  The head of the Council, Lord Grimthorne, charges Bafflerog with locating the lost Book of Worse which will eradicate all good from the world.  Years earlier, a good wizard name Gumpwort hid the book in another time and place and was turned into a toad…a toad who is now Bafflerog’s best friend.

Faced with certain death at the Council’s hands if he doesn’t find the book, Bafflerog and Muddle, the son of a local woodcutter, go on an epic quest to find the book.  But once found, what will Bafflerog do?  Will he truly turn it over to the council?  Or will he take another course of action?

Beautifully illustrated by David Wenzel, one of the premiere fantasy artists, The Wizard’s Tale is a joy for fantasy.  An honest-to-goodness piece of enchantment that reads like a good old-fashioned fairy tale.  Busiek’s script is lively and elicits several laugh out loud moments throughout the story.  Wenzel’s light-hearted art brings the magic alive.  My highest recommendation!  

PELLETS!

Justice League: Rise & Fall Special (DC Comics; reviewed by Kevin Huxford): I picked up this issue hoping that I might find a readable issue of the Justice League. Sure, it has to deal with many of the mistakes made by the writer of Cry For Justice and the regular Justice League of America title, but a different writer might be able to put a better shine on the current state of affairs. I was sadly disappointed, unfortunately. JT Krul has the same problems with stilted dialogue and overdone exposition that has weighed down all other JLA offerings of late. Krul goes one step further and appears to add “a poor understanding of the characters involved” to the laundry list of concerns. He writes a clunky exchange between Wally West Flash and Dick Grayson Batman where, in expressing concern over their friend Roy’s injury, act like some “scared straight” teens who’ve seen things just get “real” for the first time. They indicate that they are no better than Roy and that they must have just been lucky up until this point. Add in that Mayhew’s art has them looking more like kids in really bad Halloween costumes and your left with a scene that, much like the issue, fails in about every way measurable.

Secret Six #19 (DC Comics; review by George Marston) After a year and a half of great comics, Secret Six is finally starting to show a little wear and tear.  The dialogue and characterization are still there, and Gail Simone still manages to find some new weirdness to plum in Ragdoll, but the big twist at the end of the issue feels a little overused in this book.  There have been at least three times since the ongoing started that one of the team members has been forced to turn on his team mates, so it's losing it's shock value.  Jim Calafiore doesn't do the book too many favors either.  His art is serviceable; the storytelling is relatively clear and straight forward, but his faces and anatomy always seem off, and next to Nicola Scott, who launched the book, he just doesn't compare.  I still have faith in Gail Simone's ability to bring this chapter in the story of the Six around; who knows, Catman may actually off half of the team.  And really, if this is the series's slump, it's still one of the best books on the stands.

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