Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERGIRL, SPIDER-MAN, More

DC Preview: SUPERGIRL #51

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Supergirl #51

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Jamal Igle, Marc Deering & Jon Sibal

Colors by Various

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"Go save my cousin.  Then we'll ALL kick some Braini-ass." -- Kara Zor-El

After a handful of issues that saw Supergirl not as hands on for the more "day-to-day" activities tied into New Krypton, the Girl of Steel has joined the fray in spectacular fashion.  Wall to wall action is the main course in Supergirl #51, and I for one didn't even want to look at the dessert menu, what from being so full.  This is proving to be the most dependable of all the Kryptonian-based titles right now, and I pray to God the creative team remains intact for the duration in light of the changes we'll see this summer in "Superman" and "Action Comics."

The title of this issue, "Leaders," couldn't be more appropriate, because it's clear that writer Sterling Gates is is setting things up for Supergirl to be much less a follower and more a go-to hero if and when she needs to step up.  It's a fun sight to behold, watching our little lady grow up before our very eyes, and I applaud Gates for handling the transition in a fairly organic and seamless manner.  Honestly, nothing feels forced.  In this chapter of "Last Stand of New Krypton," Kara's returned to her native settlement with Mon-El, kicking ass and taking names.  While there is at least one instance where a misunderstanding prompts her to lay into someone who only a chapter prior she referred to as her cousin (I think the book's exquisite cover by Josh Middleton pretty much gives that away), I could hardly blame her because of what she encountered at the time.  Fortunately cooler heads prevail and Supergirl's is one of the coolest.  To see her rationally explain to her mother, Alura, that Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes are on New Krypton to help defend against the brutal, brazen attack launched by Brainiac is to witness someone who's no longer needlessly pushed around by her elders.

Solidifying the current creative success of Supergirl #51 is the art of Jamal Igle.  He's proven that he's one of the best talents out there in illustrating character moments, and really there was little question that he could handle dynamic action.  But here Igle (with quality finishes by Marc Deering and Jon Sibal) delivers "Star Wars"-caliber energy on every page.  Speaking of "Star Wars," I'm a little torn at one particular moment found when Supergirl sends Mon-El off to rescue her cousin with a big ol' kiss.  It may mean even less than it ultimately did when Princess Leia pulled a similar move on Luke Skywalker way back when, but my issue was even entertaining the prospect of a love connection since those in the know are well aware of another Legion prospect.  With everything else going on within the Superman books right now, was this moment really necessary?

Time will only tell, but what I do know is very necessary is Supergirl.  As was evidenced in "Leaders," a quality blend of intense drama, adventure and even humor (Starman to Alura:  "--and you HAVE to try the sloppy Joes!") with every issue, this series only continues to mature, a clear reflection of the growth found in the series' lead.

Marvel Preview: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #625
Marvel Preview: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #625
Amazing Spider-Man #625

Written by Joe Kelly

Art by Max Fiumara

Colors by Fabio D'Auria

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

There's good. There's great. And when it comes to this issue... there's Amazing.

There's really no other word to describe it. With the follow-up to the masterful Rhino story of Amazing Spider-Man #617, Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara prove that lightning can strike twice, with fantastic art being anchored by a moody story that reminds you just why you root for everyone's Friendly Neighborhood Webslinger.

Whereas in their last collaboration I said Joe Kelly had made a few hiccups with Peter Parker's ever-shifting status quo, I'll be the first to say that he absolutely nails it. With Peter still reeling from losing his job in the last issue -- through means that I felt were a little damaging to the character -- Kelly takes that ball and doesn't just run with it, but he goes all the way to the end zone with it. All at once, we feel for Peter, who's genuinely trying to do good, even if the decisions he makes aren't necessarily the smartest. Kelly doesn't outright say "with great power, there must also come great responsibility" -- but that vibe makes his story positively sing.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily stop Spidey's supporting cast from stealing the show -- and you know what? Kelly's earned it. Having Norah Winters as our eyes and ears for this issue gives a great sense of weight to what had previously been seen as a fairly two-dimensional character: she's got her own fears and insecurities to wrestle with, and, just like Mary-Jane Watson before her, she's working them out by establishing her own unfiltered persona. And the Rhino -- oh, the Rhino. There's a moment between he and Peter that powerfully reminds us that Kelly isn't just a humor guy -- he knows how to write pathos as well. This is a guy who doesn't just deserve to stick around on this book for as long as he wants -- he needs to. It's that good.

But this book wouldn't have its unique flavor without the artistic sensibilities of Max Fiumara. There's a real sharpness to his lines that might not be for everybody, but in my opinion there's a whole heck of a lot to love. Like I said for the last review, he's got the faces of Marcos Martin with an edginess not unlike Chris Bachalo, but there's a depth to this issue that goes even further here -- the inks are moody like Chris Samnee, the characters expressive like Emma Rios, and once the action starts, the composition of these panels flare out like an explosion that I haven't seen since Scott McDaniel on Nightwing. But there's a craftsmanship here that's all Fiumara's: There's a page where one character's life is changed forever, and it's just pure poetry -- it's not just the shadowy glare of a villain watching us, it's not the animalistic tilt of the head. It's the blood in the background and the glass on the floor, and everything you don't see. It's fantastic.

This isn't 100% perfect, of course -- despite all of Fiumara's triumphs with both the new and the old Rhino, he still seems to be tentative about Spider-Man himself, seemingly pulling his punches the moment the red-and-blue tights arrive. And this is a shame -- while some might find him a little too cartoony or angular, his character designs and "acting" are so strong that I'm surprised he isn't allowing himself to get a little self-indulgent with the main character. Believe me, Fiumara has more than earned it. But it's only a small flaw with such a stellar read -- it's become increasingly rare that the art looks as good as the book reads, but Amazing Spider-Man #625 is it. This is a book that hits as hard as its horned antagonist, and proves that even with a villain as rough as the Rhino, that Marvel can still find a soft spot in its readership.

The Brave and the Bold #32

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Jesus Saiz

Colors by Trish Mulvihill

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow 

At risk of playing the bias card, I am here to tell you that I am an unapologetic Aquaman fan who is champing at the but to see him in a new book.  Doesn't even have to be a solo monthly.  Maybe have co-headline "Adventure Comics," something he did in the 1970s.  Maybe put him in a leadership role the Justice League of America like he did in the 1980s (and maybe give him a more inspired roster this time).  Something that puts him back in the front lines and makes him vital again.  Events in "Blackest Night" and the upcoming "Brightest Day" would suggest that in some way, shape, or form I will get my wish.  So it was with The Brave and the Bold #32 "Night Gods" that fans of the Sea King and myself got something of a sample platter of things that make the character great. 

I temper my enjoyment of this story, "Night Gods," with telling you that this is hardly a signature Aquaman story or even a watershed one, but it's evident that writer J. Michael Straczynski truly gets what makes the character tick.  And to those who think I'm giving short shrift to Etrigan the Demon, let me remind you that JMS chose to set this flashback (in more ways than one) tale at sea, and that's hardly the Demon's domain.  Yet the "fire and water" alliance is an absolute spellbinder, JMS opting to bypass the obvious discrepancies between the two and cutting straight to the action found in a dead, underwater city making a bold yet horrific attempt to cross over into the live world. 

This is all brought home thanks to some beautiful pencils and inks by Jesus Saiz.  In a panel here, a panel there, he invokes other artists I've admired over the years (Kevin Nowlan in particular), yet it never feels derivative.  Saiz captures the mood conveyed in a undersea horror fable.  The overall art production is a winner, from the lush coloring down to the varied and effective lettering.  And considering I hadn't visited this title in well over a year, it was nice to see DC give me a very particular yet especially rewarding excuse to come back.  Ironic to see this terrific story headlined by a version of Aquaman who was all too easily derided a couple of decades ago up until just recently.  The Brave and the Bold #32 is proof positive that a character can only be as good as the creative force behind it.  I hope DC's newly unveiled editorial assembly is taking notes.

Exclusive IDW Preview: LOCKE & KEY 3 #4
Exclusive IDW Preview: LOCKE & KEY 3 #4
Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows #4

Written by Joe Hill

Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

Colors by Jay Fotos

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

This book. SO. GOOD.

Man, if you're not picking up this book, you are seriously missing out, because Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows #4 is the full package. With fantastic art, compelling characters and a storyline that wields both horror and mythology like a surgeon's scalpel, this book is the antidote for anyone who says comics are just for superheroes.

But hey, I understand you want to know more about a book before you buy -- and I'm happy to give you the heads-up. With the Locke family under siege by an army of living shadows, it's clear that the locale gives artist Gabriel Rodriguez more than enough material to work with. And work it he does -- whether its watching a shadow queen give a sinister bow or watching the compare-and-contrast between a lit room and a dark one, Rodriguez knows how to make the simple into the sublime. The composition for this book is really fantastic, and it plays off the sharp expressiveness of all the characters so well -- it's just some very engaging design at play here.

With Rodriguez's prodigious style, it's easy to overlook writer Joe Hill's talent -- but just because its subtle doesn't mean it isn't solid. There's a number of strengths that Hill brings to the table, but perhaps none are more important than the smooth pacing of this chapter. One of the hardest tricks for a writer to master is to stay long enough to warm you up, but to not stay anywhere so long as to wear out your welcome (or hobble any other scenes). Hill instead really plays up the tension and gets us behind the Locke siblings with such an even hand that it seems almost effortless -- really, this is some solid structure here. But there's icing on this cake, too, in the form of the mythology of the various keys -- and it's to Hill's credit that they're extremely easy to understand, even for someone who hasn't read any issues of the series before.

If you're looking for a stylish, suspenseful read that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the capes-and-tights genre, Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows is absolutely a great place to start. It's an extremely user-friendly book that welcomes new readers just as much as it rewards devoted followers -- the latter number being something that deserves to increase month after month. If more books in this industry were created with the same skill and grace of Locke and Key, imagine what this business would look like. But until then, accept no substitutes -- get yourself a copy of this book, and prepare to be sucked in.

Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom

Written by Bruce Brown

Art by Renzo Podesta

Published by Arcana Studio

Review by George Marston

In Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, Bruce Brown and Renzo Podesta have crafted the sort of fairy tale that Neil Gaiman would be proud of.  It's a classic yarn about a boy and his dog (sort of) thrust into an unlikely adventure into magical worlds unknown, and while it is certainly appropriate for children, it never loses the dark, almost foreboding aire that follows the real life work of it's main protagonist, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.  Through straightforward storytelling, and fun, unconventional art, the book provides an excellent first chapter in what looks to be a trilogy in the making.

Young Howard Lovecraft isn't exactly having a great Christmas Eve.  There's a wicked blizzard in his native Rhode Island, and he's travelling to visit his father... in an insane asylum.  Upon being refused visitation with his dangerously deranged father, Howard sneaks to his cell where his father acosts him, raving a bizarre warning about the contents of a book soon to be in young Howard's possession.  Returning home, Howard asks for a bedtime story from his mother, who instead provides him with the very book his father spoke of, and the key to a bizarre and often harrowing adventure to the far realm of R'yleh. 

Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom is somewhere between "Little Nemo in Slumberland" and "The Horror at Innsmouth," and is effective in conveying the warped and unfathomable horror of the Lovecraft mythos without relying on shock value or cheap thrills.  The storytelling is concise, with little to no exposition, and no need for it, either.  Bruce Brown's script is straightforward, and while there is little in the way of flourish to his language, he still manages to provide clear personalities for his characters.  As far as the art is concerned, Renzo Podesta's work is sort of like a cross between Bill Sinkewiecz and Jhonen Vasquez.  His characters are cartoony and expressive in just the right, and stand nicely against the deep, foreboding backgrounds.  The contrast serves to nicely illustrate the weird and unnatural atmosphere of R'yleh.  There are certainly rough spots; occasionally a panel is framed in such a way as to make its contents slightly unclear, however these low points are the exception to the majority of the work.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.  It is well crafted and straightforward, and should appeal to both old and new fans of H.P. Lovecraft's ouvre, and to those still unfamiliar with it.  The story here is self contained, yet it leaves plenty of room for the planned sequel.  Here's hoping that the sales and response on this title are positive enough to see that happen.

PELLET REVIEWS

Joe the Barbarian #3 (Published by Vertigo; Review by David Pepose): Despite this book being billed as the next Grant Morrison epic, ultimately the way this book should be remembered is by Sean Murphy and Dave Stewart's stunning realization of Morrison's ideas. The book drips with appeal, as Joe fights through a hallucinatory mindscape that feels like a psychedelic cross between Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Carribbean. Where Morrison contributes to this piece is less story at this point, and something a little bit more collaborative -- in the idea department. Based on how this book reads, Morrison seems to leave much of the execution of the journey up to Murphy, instead just tossing him raw story beats to refine and purify. In the hands of lesser artists, this book would seem like a flabby, loose puddle, but because of the energetic greens and oranges and purples and reds from Stewart, combined with the bleak worlds that Murphy builds, Joe the Barbarian is tougher than ever. I can't imagine this book having been anything other than a leap of faith for Grant Morrison -- and by extension, the readership he's cultivated for years -- but believe me, this series is worth the plunge.

Irredeemable #12 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): This isn't exactly my favorite issue of the book, but I think part of that is because Mark Waid manages to write one short scene so well that it completely overshadows the rest of the book. Looking at the Paradigm fighting against a world that hates them doesn't really add much to the book (although the conclusion is effectively creepy), but seeing the Plutonian have his reckoning with the people that hurt him the most is stunning. "For God's sake, stop treating me like I'm a time bomb!" Mark Waid knows how to write rage like nobody's business, and the aftermath of this is probably the most dark and sick thing I've seen from him, ever. It's a strong scene, if perhaps violent for violence's sake, but I don't know if I'd say it's worth the price of admission.

Green Arrow #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): Well, when it comes to crying for justice in the DC Universe right now, Oliver Queen is certainly no crybaby. Love it or hate it, the Emerald Archer has decided to take a trip over to the so-called dark side in a desperate attempt to get what he wants, and never once does he second-guess his decision or try to make his way back to the light in Green Arrow #31, the first part of DC's "Fall of Green Arrow" storyline. Spinning out of the controversial "Cry for Justice" miniseries and last week's "Rise and Fall" special, Ollie continues his personal quest for vengeance here against the Electrocutioner, the rather obscure villain who helped Prometheus destroy Star City, and it's actually a pretty engaging read. Writer J.T. Krul spends almost the entire issue exploring Ollie's deepest and darkest feelings in regards to what he's done and what he still plans to do to quench his thirst for revenge, and it's a storytelling choice that works surprisingly well here. The narration is a bit heavy, but the message is clear: Oliver Queen is a man on a mission, and no one, not even his closest friends and family, can stop him from hunting (and then executing) his prey. Oh, and whether or not it's a move that will ultimately rope in and win over longtime Green Arrow fans, it should be noted that Krul seems to be harking back to Mike Grell's "The Longbow Hunters" miniseries, so it will certainly be interesting to see if the up-and-coming writer can dramatically return Ollie to his 1980s roots while simultaneously leaving his own mark on the character. On the artistic front, Federico Dallocchio steps up to the plate this issue and delivers some dynamic visuals that effectively capture the dark tone of Krul's script. At the same time, however, I have to admit that I was really looking forward to seeing more of Diogenes Neves' stuff this issue. His artwork was nothing short of stunning in Black Lantern Green Arrow #30 last month, and I should mention that the online solicitation for this month's issue credits Neves as the artist, not Dallocchio. Overall, however, despite Neves' unannounced absence this month, the fact remains that this was a solid, intriguing issue on almost every level. Green Arrow may have fallen from grace, but at least it seems that the character is in good hands for the foreseeable future.  

Hercules: Fall of an Avenger (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston): This is a mediocre denouement to a fantastic story.  Consisting simply of Herc's friends eulogizing him through a series of funny if weightless stories detailing their encounters throughout Marvel history.  The biggest problem I have with this issue is the art; I think Ariel Olivetti is a fine cover artist, but the photo backgrounds are a big turn-off, and his figures often feel warped and emotionless.  There's not much to say about the story; the emotions I expect in this sort of issue are largely absent, and it seems as though most of the actual impact will be felt in the second issue.  The few laughs I had weren't really worth the $3.99 cover price, but I'll definitely be picking up the second part of the story based solely on the strength of Pak and Van Lente's Hercules opus.

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