Best Shots Advance: BLACK WIDOW 1, IRON MAN NOIR 1, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews: BLACK WIDOW

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Black Widow #1

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Daniel Acuna

Lettering by Blambot's Nate Piekos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

They say that it isn't the destination, but the journey that matters -- and when it comes to Black Widow #1, let's just say that Marjorie Liu sets up our super-spy for a doozy. With some moody art anchoring some real poetry, this is an opening issue that certainly hits hard and makes you want to know what happens next.

As far as the writing goes, it's clear that Liu just has an ear for poetry -- whether its her introductions or even the villains' dialogue, everything has a rhythm that just clicks. But where she really succeeds is in putting Natasha in situations that are just compelling -- one scene in particular is just a total nightmare, but it's smartly written and is easily the highlight of the book. Without giving too much away, I think Liu is able to really toe that line between making the Black Widow both a powerful kick-ass superheroine and an all-too-human character with vulnerabilities and weakenesses like any other -- and the book is all the better for it.

Meanwhile, Daniel Acuna has a great sense of mood for this piece. While he's done high-octane work like Eternals and New Avengers, it's clear that the streets are where he's best at home -- everything is anchored in deep lines that turn expressionistic at will. There's one scene in particular -- in fact, the aforementioned nightmarish sequence from above -- that just absolutely sells the book, with some real menace and emotion in his lines. And where Acuna best succeeds is in the surprises -- he's able to subtly change a single panel, to use it again and again until you're absolutely sucker-punched with what lies just outside of view.

Of course, there are a few hiccups here and there -- namely, there's an action beat that seems to miss a little bit of connective tissue in the storytelling, and there will certainly be those who cry foul at some of the Black Widow's supporting characters' role in the book. (Although when it comes to the latter, I'm not one of them -- I personally like Natasha's history through the Marvel Universe, and the different relationships she's cultivated.) But ultimately, this series seems to be not about the destination, but about the journey Natasha takes -- seeing not just the crazy odds, but also how she overcomes them -- and if this first issue is any indication, it looks like we're going to enjoy seeing Marjorie Liu put Black Widow through her paces.

Cold Space #1

Written by Samuel L. Jackson and Eric Calderon

Art by Jeremy Rock

Colors by Juan Manuel Tumburus

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

It's a cold world -- but Cold Space seems to have plenty of heat. With Samuel L. Jackson's comic book venture having some strong art and an interesting world, this is a setup issue that certainly illustrates a lot of potential.

Where Jackson and his co-writer, Eric Calderon, succeed best is in the actual worldbuilding of Cold Space. There's an edginess to how they spin sci-fi, whether its booby-trapped handguns or scavengers' first response to a downed aircraft -- looting it. Their introduction to Jackson's alter ego Mulberry is well-paced as well, with the vastness of space being juxtaposed with some down-and-dirty close-quarters one-upsmanship. And even though he's only on one page, it's clear that one character in particular -- the bounty hunter known as Patience -- is going to absolutely steal the show in future issues. If a hero is only as strong as his villain, Jackson and Calderon have certainly stacked the deck in their favor.

For me, however, what really stood out the most was the visual element of this book. Many people will recognize Jackson and Calderon from Afro Samurai, so ultimately the art is paramount here -- and I think Jeremy Rock is well on his way to living up to that standard. Think of Jamie McKelvie with a hint of Andy Clarke, and you've got the art style pretty well pegged -- and I think future issues are going to show he's even more than that. This first script obviously has more setup than action, but there's one page -- a seven-panel page, no less -- that will knock you out with its surprising speed and composition. As the action heats up in future issues, I'm going to be really excited to see how Rock well, rocks this book.

That said, I think there's one thing that's keeping this book from greatness -- the lack of what I'm going to call the "Samuel L. Jackson Factor." Jackson and Calderon's previous adventures with Afro Samurai had such a unique flavor because they were able to mash together the clean-cut samurai genre with hip hop and Jackson's instantly recognizable voice to create something completely different, a fusion cuisine that was a kick to consume. With its comic book format, however, all the Cold Space creative team has are visual and script cues to work with -- and in that regard, Rock stumbles a bit, with Mulberry not quite evoking Samuel L. Jackson's likeness and persona in the same way that, say, Bryan Hitch did in The Ultimates.

As far as first issues go, Cold Space might not reinvent the wheel, but it does look like the sort of book that will reward readers as the storyline progresses. For now, Samuel L. Jackson and Eric Calderon take the time to create a breathing, conflict-laden hive of scum and villainy -- and in many ways make the villains even more compelling than the hero himself. And that's in this book's favor. With this set-up out of the way, I'm betting that the creative team will push full steam ahead, to make Cold Space an even hotter title for new readers.

Savage Dragon #159

Written and Art by Erik Larsen

Published by Image Comics

Review by Russ Burlingame

Erik Larsen has been running Savage Dragon like it's an episode of “24”.

No, that doesn't mean that it's all building to an end in two months. It means that there have been lots of quick cuts, lots of explosions and the occasional issue—such as this one—almost entirely dedicated to quiet, character moments, but never without the threat looming in the minds of every character.

Even here, though, there are abrupt moves between scenes and characters. Partly because there's just so much going on and partly to maintain the suspense of a cliffhanger moment, Larsen has become a master of manipulating his audience into turning the next page. The issue itself seems to be setting the stage for the next series of big fights and action moments in “Dragon War,” as the erstwhile Savage Dragon only appears for about a page in the whole thing (not counting a flashback sequence that's basically four pages reprinted from a very early issue of the series, with only minor tweaks to the art, Larsen says to keep the characters “on-model”).

The final few pages, though, are just distilled comedy filtered through the lens of a superhero action sequence; characters working at cross-purposes all start to pile up, alternately confusing and irritating one another, and the final splash-page payoff leaves it fairly clear that next month's issue won't be nearly as quiet and pensive.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #1

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Ronan Cliquet and Amilton Santos

Colors by Sotocolor

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

I have to give credit to Paul Tobin and to Marvel when it comes to Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #1 -- this is a done-in-one issue that, while it wraps up neatly, it certainly doesn't talk down to its readers, but instead invites them as part of the club.

For veteran readers, seeing the Avengers wrestle with their place in the world's political structure isn't necessarily a new thing -- but where Paul Tobin succeeds is for the new crowd, as he takes the time to weigh the morality of having the Avengers exist at all. Of course, for some kids, that'll be a little over their heads, which is why he really illustrates the point with some great action sequences. Sure, there might be a little more telling than showing, but for the target audience, that's really going to help seal the deal and get readers hooked.

But for my money, what I'm even more impressed with is the art. Ronan Cliquet and Amilton Santos in a lot of ways remind me of the artwork that Carlos Pacheco is doing over in Ultimate Comics Avengers. Whether it's watching Nova zoom across a room or Thor just go full out, there's a nice sense of power and speed -- and even emotion -- in these panels. And that is a very, very, very good thing -- because ultimately it's showing that Marvel is committed to its kids' line, and isn't going to just sell subpar product just to get kids in the stores.

Of course, there are a few flaws here, but many of those are likely seen from the prism of a reviewer rather than a brand-new reader -- since this is more of a continuation of Tobin's last Marvel Adventures Super Heroes series than an out-and-out relaunch, there is a little bit of continuity (like why the Invisible Woman isn't in her usual costume, or with the Fantastic Four) that may have some readers confused. And ultimately, I'm sure some readers will be a little disappointed that some of the more A-list characters didn't get a little more face time.

But again, it's hard to look at those "flaws" without thinking -- would a new reader really care about that? And ultimately, I think a lot of kids would have a blast reading this -- and most importantly, feel invested in a series that treats them like the consumers they are. Combined with a really cute back-up with the Pet Avengers by Chris Eliopoulos and Gurihiru (the last page is just brilliant), Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #1 is a fun return for a great read for adults and kids alike.

Angelus #3

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

"See, that's where you're wrong. I don't have any friends...just victims." -- Jackie Estacado, the Darkness

We're half way through the Angelus mini series that explores Dani Baptiste's role as the embodiment of light, and things are picking up down in 'Nawlins when Jackie Estacado shows up with murder on his mind. Then again, he is a hitman, so that's probably nothing out of the ordinary. Now, I love the Witchblade/Angelus/Darkness chemistry, especially since Ron Marz has enhanced each of the titles without it feeling like a crossover. The books complete each other, yet still remain their own separate entity.

Angelus #3 touches on a few things that really showcase Marz's ability to engross you in the characters as well Sejic's art having some subtle moments that he's had problems with in the past, but really nails these exquisitely. Sejic also displayed great skill in color dynamics when Jackie and Dani face off whilst in their supernatural alter-egos. The dichotomy of the Darkness and the Angelus is shown well in the last few pages, really allowing for some gripping panels and great action scenes.

There's the continuation of romance that happens to be between two females, but it isn't heavy-handed and handled like any budding romance. Dani and her girlfriend, Finch, are taking it slow and their moment with Dani's father was the best part of the book because it seemed so real and human. The action scenes are wonderful as I noted, but really take backstage to the character development that is unfolding here.

Angelus continues to deliver on what comics should be like. Though you shouldn't feel discouraged or intimidated from feeling lost since it's the third issue. There is a recap page that breaks it down right as you crack the book open. It's wonderful story-telling without having to rely on shock factors with beautiful art that makes you pore over every panel, so sit back and enjoy a great read.

Iron Man: Noir #1

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Manuel Garcia and Lorenzo Ruggiero

Colors by Marta Martinez

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

I enjoy these Elseworlds-esque takes on iconic Marvel characters, but the fascination is dulling with each outing.  I think it's because once you read the title, you pretty much know the personae dramatis, both for good and evil.  As this conceit starts getting long in the tooth, what would really be refreshing is if a breath of "Acts of Vengeance" breezed across the script and instead of Magneto being the antagonist of the X-Men in the 30s, it was the Red Skull or instead of the Kingpin taking on Prohibition-era Daredevil, it's Kraven the Hunter.  The Marvel Bullpen should go all mix-and-match on their inventory, make some interesting pairings and team-ups, and rock the story from there.

I make that point because while this is a decent issue and your standard cookbook first-issue-of-four (even if it is sorely mistitled and should be Iron Man:  Pulp Adventure  ; just because it takes place in 1939 doesn't automatically make it "noir"), it lacks depth or surprise.  The reveals are rather predictable, and the opening scene is too long for its own good, jogging in place simply to get to a point that the reader has been anticipating since the second page.  On each page I wanted more:  more character, more action, more purpose, more oomph, and was denied it at every turn.  It's actually the last panel that will bring the reader back for the second issue, and it's disappointing that after two and twenty pages, that the cliffhanger is the most compelling part.

What really makes this book happen are Marta Martinez's colors and Lorenzo Ruggiero's inks.  Together they give it an Amazing Tales kind of adventure feel of 1930s serials and more than make up for inconsistencies in Manuel Garcia's pencils.  Given where Tony's supposedly heading in the next issue, I'm anticipating that at the least it will be a very pretty book.  Hopefully, though, the next issue arrives with a tighter, meatier script to augment the artistic talent and bring a higher level of energy to the series.

Double-Shot: Iron Man: Noir #1

Written by Scott Snyder

Pencils by Manuel Garcia

Inks by Lorenzo Ruggerio

Colors by Marta Martinez

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"No the bottom line is I like adventures, Jarvis, and the rest of the country likes adventures, too. Times are dark. Depression, war on the horizon. People want stories they can escape to." -- Tony Stark

I have to admit, this might be my favorite Iron Man story ever. I also realize that this is the first issue of a mini-series so this reaction may be a bit premature, but I had so much fun with it, mainly because I didn't know what to expect. I've been digging this "Noir" line from Marvel since it debuted, though it's had it's hits and misses, Iron Man: Noir is more like a slam dunk, home run, and touchdown rolled into one. I'm not familiar with any creators involved in the project, but this makes me want to see other work from them.

How Snyder takes Stark and sort of transforms him into an Indiana Jones-with-money-like adventurer is enjoyable and when you think about it, not that far from what you would envision Stark in the 1930's to act like. He's charming, funny, adventurous and of course, has a heart defect. Other characters from the Iron Man universe make an appearance here, including an interesting twist on Pepper Potts that I really enjoyed. Snyder captures the world of yesteryear quite well with the analogies to comics and Stark's magazine, and just the "feel" of the world.

The art team is just as fabulous here. Going from deep jungles to metropolitan scenes, all the while keeping a steady pace the action heavy. Solid panel construction, lush environments, and great figure construction gives the book a first-rate look that I hope doesn't stop here. I like the design of the suit, and reflects the imagination of the decade and looks like something out of a sci-fi serial.

With the Iron Man movie coming out in less than a month, I'm sure Ol' Shellhead won't have a hard time selling books, but be sure to check this one out.

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