Best Shots Advance Review: S.H.I.E.L.D. 1, LUKE CAGE 1, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews: Marvel #1s

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S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Dustin Weaver

Colors by Christina Strain

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

"This is not how the world ends."

From its defiant tagline to its powerful final page, S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 is an epic read that stands firm against mediocrity and slays it with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm. With gorgeous art and near-lyrical writing that cuts to the secret heart of the Marvel Universe, this is an opening issue that really does deserve all the hype.

Looking at his recent works on Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors, it's been clear that Jonathan Hickman was a writer to watch, as he was building up to some sort of creative critical mass -- and with S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, he finally hits it. This script is Grant Morrison, secret societies, and a tidal wave of human potential laced with some surprising cameos from both the Marvel Universe and your friendly neighborhood history book. Ideas are being tossed around like confetti in this issue, and there's a real otherworldly tone and mythology here that is really charming. Ultimately, this is a series that feels urgent -- and that's no mean feat.

But perhaps the breakout star of this book, however, is going to be Dustin Weaver. Think of the guy as the third Kubert sibling with a splash of Dale Eaglesham -- that's how good he is. In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of 1602, just in terms of the way the figures look. Where he deviates from the recent Kubert work, however, is in his design, which positively drips with ambition and creativity. These are the heroes before the superheroes, and to see this sort of anachronistic design that harkens back to so many different time periods is really enthralling. Colorist Christina Strain, meanwhile, is the unsung heroine for this art -- she uses a cooler pallete on top of Weaver's lines, and yet everything manages to really sizzle.

With the unspoken implication that this series might illuminate some dark secret corner of the Marvel Universe, it's easy to brush off the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. being a notable book. With books like Marvels or the currently-running Marvels Project, it's not hard to see why -- but it would be a huge mistake to do so. This book moves like lightning, and perhaps most surprisingly, feels important. This is a book that clearly has a story to tell -- and as far as this first issue goes, it tells that story extremely well. With S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, this may not be how the world ends -- but it is how a bold new constellation in the Marvel Universe is born.

Avengers: The Origin #1

Written by Joe Casey

Art by Phil Noto

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston and Lan Pitts

Avengers: The Origin is a decent re-telling, that fits nicely into Joe Casey's previous "classic Avengers" mini-series (Earth's Mightiest Heroes 1 & 2, and Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin), offering some alternate views of the classic tale.  The biggest complaint is that, at times, it gets a little too verbose for my taste. Lots of word bubbles scattered around. I like the art, but I feel like Noto fails to capture the essence of most of the Avengers. His Hulk looks too civilized, his Thor is too slim, and his Iron Man feels out of proportion. There is a possibility that Noto slimmed Thor to make Hulk look like a viable thread and not the muscle-bound god that Kirby once envisioned. On the other hand,  if he wanted to make Hulk more of a threat to Thor, he should've made Hulk bigger instead of making Thor smaller.

Phil Noto's art has improved and isn't as stoic as his earlier works, and how he presented Iron Man and Thor's alter egos just seems less radical. I do like how Casey handled Jan and Hank and does a great job on that front.

The panel construction could have been fixed as well because it felt like there was a lot of things being blocked and cluttered at times. Casey should have just let the art speak for itself at some moments and pull back a bit.

The pacing needs to pick up a bit as well. Though it's intriguing to think how they will amp up the threat. In the original comic, the formation of the Avengers took place over a single issue. Though how much of the pacing issues are to be blamed on turning a single comic into several.

Obviously they're going to add more to the story, but will it be a matter of improving on it or just deviated to the point where it's just ridiculous and completely unbearable? Joe Casey is trustworthy on that end because he's done well with similar concepts in the past.

The update to Rick Jones, making him part of a counter culture group is interesting. It seems like they are revolutionaries...or Young Repbulicans, because that is a lot of fire power.

Overall, it's solid, but it has lots of room to grow by the end of the mini.

New Avengers: Luke Cage #1

Written by John Arcudi

Art by Eric Canete

Colors by Chris Chuckry

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Break out the candy canes, because it's about to be a Sweet Christmas!

Since the character's revival in the pages of Alias, The Pulse, and New Avengers, the desire among the fan base for a Luke Cage series has grown at a steady clip. Recently, Luke Cage: Noir proved that Cage's modern characterization was strong enough to make him the driver of a compelling plot, albeit in a non-continuity story. This week, John Arcudi and Eric Canete show that Harlem's knight is just as capable of playing the leading man in a story of today's Marvel Universe.

Cage is a man with a past. Part of what has made his modern, non-costumed persona work so well is the way in which it acknowledges his silk shirt, tiara-wearing days gone by. Cage is cool, and he's always been cool, but his Mister Blackwell-ian fashion faux pas of the past cut through his intensely stoic shell and grant readers an access point to the character. After all, sooner or later everybody falls victim to dated fashion choices.

Further, there is an interesting compartmentalization to Cage's history. He's now a married father and an Avenger, but there was a long while in which he was a wage-hero, who was just as much a champion of capitalism as he was of his neighborhood. This duality provides a rich context for Cage, and it shows him as having been both an idealist and a pragmatist, which only further shapes who he is today.

Arcudi's story is one in which the Luke Cage of today must confront an issue from the world of his past. He's out of Harlem, but the same symptoms that plagued that place are infecting elsewhere. Looks like a job for Power Man.

Eric Canete is electric in this issue. The stylized curvature of his line work, and the loose, patchy feel of his spot blacks bring a pitch-perfect element of graffiti art to the street-level hero. Each panel of this book would be perfectly suited to a building's facade, and each one would command the attention of passing by on-lookers. This flair has long been part of Canete's work, but he seems to be more freely pushing the limits of these exaggerated choices as they are so effective and complimentary to the character. It can get downright cartoonish, but its consistency and narrative clarity guarantees there is no break to the story's concentration.

Arcudi makes some strong choices in this issue. He brings a consistency of his own to the dialogue of this book, towing a potentially treacherous line. Accents and speaking affects have a long history in the world of comics (look no further than at early 20th century funnypages for proof), and writers must seek to strike a particularly delicate balance when presenting stories with urbane backdrops. There is a reality to the voice that writers attempt to emulate, but stray too far and it can read as superior or demeaning.

The voice of Cage himself is particularly notable. Comparing that voice to Cage's when penned by Brian Bendis makes this take seem slightly more deliberate in its dialect, but both match up, especially when considering the context of both writers' stories. Given all of this, Arcudi performs admirably with this script, choosing not to simply run away from the potential pitfall, but rather bringing a consistent linguistic structure that acknowledges differing speech patterns without talkum' lik sumbuddy can' spek inglush.

Luke Cage's growth into a prominent role in Marvel's greater story has been natural and deserved. Marvel has shown exceeding patience in rolling out solo adventures for this hero, and here, with  appropriately bold creators at the helm, that patience looks to be paying off.

So happy Sweet Christmas... even if it's April.

Wolverine: Weapon X #12

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Ron Garney

Colors by Jason Keith

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Reading this arc of Weapon X, one thing's for certain: Jason Aaron is the best there is at what he does. And what he does is write fast, smart action that is as exciting as it is entertaining.

Seriously, if this book isn't a solid audition tape for an Avengers book, I don't know what is. Jason Aaron's grasp on Wolverine is a sure thing -- but what really rocks on this book is the fact that he takes so many other characters, and instantly gets a feel on what makes them work. Whether its Captain America fighting one-on-one with a Deathlok army in the subways of New York or seeing Wolverine leap into the fray, no two characters act or sound alike.

Meanwhile, Ron Garney and Jason Keith are looking fantastic. Garney's sense of composition is one of the best parts of this book -- the skill he has is clearly apparent, ranging from the subtleties of the resistance shelter at the Deathloks' world to watching Cap scoop up a civilian while simultaneously striking back against the rogue cyborgs. On every page, there's a dynamic look to all of this -- like its namesake, Weapon X is a book that's constantly on the move.

Of course, there are a few moments where the book stumbles. The scenes of the future, while having their moments of true cleverness, is missing a certain something that hooks in the reader -- likely, the voices of the characters are undercut by a lack of a visual hook to tell them all apart. And while Garney's lines are particularly dynamic -- and they are well-served by Jason Keith's colors -- there's occasionally an unfinished, sketchy tone to some of the details that I can't help but wonder if a separate inker wouldn't have smoothed it over a bit. Don't get me wrong, the art still looks good -- but sometimes it's not quite the slam-dunk "flawless victory" that it could have been.

Even with these hiccups, it's far from enough to break this spectacular book. Just by reading this issue, you get the sense that Jason Aaron isn't just industrious, but he's fearless, as well. If you liked the sort of Grant Morrison ingenuity for stories like New X-Men's "Here Comes Tomorrow," Aaron takes that sort of outside-the-box thinking and really mainlines it. If only more comics were this fun.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Robert Jordan's New Spring #8 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Lan Pitts): Now here's something I thought I'd never see, the finished product of New Spring, which is the prequel to Robert Jordan's famed "Wheel of Time" series, yet here it is. Now I know that Dynamite means business with it's products and won't let the ball drop. This mini series just seems like ancient history to me, it's a shame Jordan can't be around to see it FINALLY in the fan's hands. Some of the art looks like it was done over and there's a sense of inconsistency to it in some places, but other than that, it's pretty standard stuff. Chuck Dixon again nails the adaptation of the book and I can't wait to see what else he has in store for us WoT fans. Now, I hope Dynamite reprints the rest of this mini because it is that hard to find and a bit pricey. The first issue alone goes for around $25 online.

The Muppet Show #4 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): A year ago, you could not have convinced me that I would be reading a Muppet Show comic -- and you certainly wouldn't have convinced me that I'd've liked it. Roger Langridge gives this story some real heart by bringing back a Muppet character from way back in the past (at least as far as this former Muppet Babies viewer is concerned), with some humor and some sheer likeability. With the story coalescing nicely despite its staccato pacing, artist Amy Mebberson really gives this mystery Muppet some great enthusiastic body language. A family comic in more ways than one, The Muppet Show is one family book that is worth the price of admission.

Codebreakers #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): While the first half of this book feels a little bit -- pardon the pun -- by the numbers, the second half of this story starts to pick up a bit, when an unforseen tragedy galvanizes Carey Malloy's archetypical characters. Meanwhile, Scott Godlewski's character designs look great -- think of Rafael Albuquerque doing Blue Beetle, and you're close to what this book looks like. The one place where I don't think he succeeds, however, is the translation of these "math powers" into the comics medium. It's a tough job, and there are plenty of other artists out there that I think would stumble on it, as well -- but when your book is about Codebreakers, that's a hurdle that needs to be crossed. BOOM! Studios might not have cracked the code for a strong opener for this series, but there's enough potential to say that the sophomore issue might finish the job.

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