Best Shots Comics Reviews: BATMAN: ODYSSEY, SHADOWLAND, More

NEAL ADAMS on BATMAN: ODYSSEY

Howdy, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Team Best Shots has been hard at work this weekend, coming to you with more than a dozen reviews for your reading enjoyment. We've got books from Marvel, DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse and BOOM! Studios — and if you want more, you can always check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Brendan start the show, with a look at Neal Adams' take on the Dark Knight in Batman: Odyssey ...

Batman: Odyssey #1

Written by Neal Adams

Art by Neal Adams, Michael Golden and Continuity Studios

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

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Without having been a part of the Neal Adams Batman heyday, it's hard to know whether it's accurate to call Odyssey an exercise in nostalgia. With the Dark Knight shamelessly packing heat, it certainly isn't the most conventional Batman story, and with Dick Grayson decked out in the original Tim Drake (and Neal Adams designed) Robin outfit, it proves to be a story free of continuity's trappings. Further, the playful, yet macho tone is evocative of boisterous Batman eras past, but is too singular to come off as merely “retro.” So just what kind of Batman story is this?

The answer? A very, very pretty one. With each page, Adams proves that, artistically speaking, he's not missed a beat. Like a cagey veteran pitcher, Adams may not blow people away with his fastball like he once did, but his repertoire is diverse enough to astound readership with a multitude of other tools. Fans won't confuse these pages with anyone else's, as Adams' line work alone is practically trademark. Adams made his bones with exaggerated and hyper-real character anatomy and a penchant for bringing extra depth and dimension, and those talents are on full display here. Each page offers some ambitious conceit, be it an organic panel break, or a 4th-wall breaking, 3-D “reaching out,” image. These pages are the work of a man who has mastered the craft, and isn't afraid to show it.

So, again, it's certainly a very pretty read. Still, it's much easier to compare this work to comics from days past than contemporary Batman fare. The dialogue does well to avoid stepping on the action of the page, but does little to offer nuance or tempo to the story, and at times can be stilted. It's almost irony; for all the 3-D strengths of Adams' art, the depth of dialogue does almost the reverse; a “flattening,” effect. Adams' work may still look cutting edge, but it sounds rather yesterday. The best writing in this story is what's left to the visuals; each page is practically a clinic in optical narration. Well choreographed, clear in even the most complicated sequences, and refreshingly dense, these pages harken back to the days before anyone dared to dream of “decompression.”

One can only judge Batman: Odyssey by expectations. With creative leaps and narrative risks, isn't a “classic,” Batman story. Instead, it is a classically told one. It captures a Batman of a certain disposition- the pre- Dark Knight Returns hero whose detective skills were boosted by advanced levels of testosterone. Comics fans owe it to themselves and the medium to check this work out; it's not every day that you can enjoy two legends at once.

Shadowland #1

Written by Andy Diggle

Art by Billy Tan, Batt and Christina Strain

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

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"Aww, that's better. 'Bout time I had a blade in my hand again. That Hawkeye-bow-and-arrow schtick was getting stale." — Bullseye

For somebody like me who only gets about one to three Marvel books at the most (Daredevil being one of them), I was excited to see characters like Ol' Hornhead and Moon Knight to take center stage in a crossover like this. I mean, when was the last time Daredevil was the center of anything? I've been anticipating this for months.

So, I guess color me disappointed when I actually got a hold of Shadowland #1. Not to say it's bad from Diggle's end of things, I think he has a clear direction where he's going with this, even if the ending was more than slightly spoiled. At least I hope he has direction. The whole downfall of Matt Murdock has been building for a while, and he's been trying to walk this metaphorical tightrope between good and injustice, which is what the Hand have been all about since their conception in comics. So it appears now that Murdock has lost his soul to the Hand and is lost in the darkness, if any indication of his new, hideous costume can tell you that.

Another thing in this book that gets a mighty big harrumph is Billy Tan's pencils, that lead to some malformation of characters, notably a scene with Danny Rand, aka Iron First, where his head is much smaller in comparison to the rest of him. Now, I will say that Tan has a mighty good idea on panel layouts that hold a lot of action, but sometimes they run together and look cluttered, especially with Batt's heavy inks. Christina Strain does her best here trying to make it seem the fighting isn't in total darkness, but from far away, it's hard to tell what is going on in most of these scenes.

So, I want to recommend this book for those of you like me who's been waiting for something like this, but I think Diggle got hosed with Tan on the art. Despite some great moments Diggle brings, I just can't get behind this now. There seemed to be so much potential for the fall of Matt Murdock, but, just like the character himself, it's not the premise that's the problem but the execution. Shame, too, because I really wanted to like this.

Batman and Robin #13

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Frazer Irving

Lettering by Patrick Brousseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Frazer Irving: Great Batman and Robin artist, or greatest Batman and Robin artist ever?

Okay, maybe I've descended into hyperbole a bit. But let me explain the trajectory a second. When I first saw that Irving was on board Batman and Robin after artists like Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart, I was a little skeptical of his hyper-moody painted style. Was this the right guy for the job?

Short answer: Absolutely. Irving draws Batman and Robin #13 like he was born to do it, making this issue by-and-large the strongest since Morrison and Quitely's opening arc.

The shadows of Gotham are made all the more terrifying with Irving's ghost-story stylings — whether it's finding a casket for two or seeing Damian's to-the-point means of "interrogation," these images hit you like a sledgehammer. While his backgrounds are sometimes pointedly absent, Irving also does some great things with the colors, really dividing each section of the storyline with whites, yellows, even a hot magenta to simulate the Batmobile's otherworldly interiors. But Irving's real strength is that he makes every shot the money shot, giving you some really powerful imagery that'll stay with you after you finish the book.

That's not to say that Morrison is slumming it, either. Not only does he give his artist some extremely powerful material to work with, but you get the sense that this series is finally on the move, no longer content to run in place as Blackest Night rages on. This issue feels more like a direct sequel to both Morrison's opening arc as well as "Batman: R.I.P," with the sort of stakes to his opening gambit that I haven't seen in a good long while. And of course, keep an eye out on Damian, who is by and large the most interesting character in the book, as he gets some great lines as he gives a striking interrogation to a longtime fixture of the Batman mythos: "I don't think you know what chaos is," Damian says forebodingly. "Chaos is needing someone to change your feeding tube. Chaos is not being able to go to the toilet without help."

With the art having a more distinct tone than it has in months, it finally feels like we're seeing Grant Morrison's plan unfold: This is the Batman and Robin of the future. The stakes are higher. The puzzles are madmen's logic, catapulted through the needle's eye of razor-sharp deduction. Crime isn't a goal, it's an art form, a schizoid army that only the Caped Crusader and a deadly Boy Wonder can combat. This is a whole new world that hasn't just let the brakes off, it's bashed off the handle and tossed it out the window. This is DC's bleeding edge, the forward-thinking heroes that Gotham City deserves. So do yourself a favor: pick up Batman and Robin #13, and let the horror put a smile on that face.

Scarlet #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Alex Maleev

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

At this point, readers either buy in to Brian Bendis' conversational tone, or they find it insufferable. If you're in the latter camp, it's unlikely Scarlet will change your mind. Unless, of course, she does so by force.

One thing that must be said for Bendis is that he's a creator who constantly looks to innovate. In this first foray into creative-owned work since the dawn of Powers, the writer introduces a new tool to the toolbox; a caption/ word balloon hybrid he uses to speak directly to the reader through the principal character. In many ways, this is the logical endpoint to the writer's longtime approach. In the Modern Era, captions have evolved from expository crutches that merely restated the visuals of the page, to the powerful narrative devices that offer depth that have pushed sequential art into a more fully formed, novelistic medium. In a first person novel, the entire book is a conversation between narrator and reader, and with Scarlet, Bendis and Maleev seek to capture that, transforming it by pairing with audience-addressing visuals to suit their medium of choice.

Scarlet is a woman pushed over the edge by the moral decay of society. Throughout much of his career, Bendis has centered his stories on firm, anti-establishment values, but these themes have almost always been implicit in his conflicts. Here, that dispute, between the decent and those at the controls, explicitly takes front and center. Our world is corrupted, Scarlet tells us (directly), and we've all just come to accept it. But not Scarlet. She promises to do something. She'll fight the power (fight the powers that be).

Alex Maleev is a hypnotic visualist. His use of photo reference is apparent and unapologetic, but his textures and tones are so lush and expansive that there's no room to doubt his illustrative integrity. It's not that Maleev's work is so glossy and bombastic that it “looks real,” as is often ascribed to some high-profile artists, it's that it is so subtle and raw that it feels real, like pebbled dirt between your toes.

With two of comics' finest voices atop Scarlet's masthead, this book will be expected to continue to ace execution, and be more than a gimmick. But unlike the reclamation of thought balloons in The Mighty Avengers, this new method seems to be intrinsically tied to the goals of the book, and as such should develop along with the story. Scarlet seeks no less than to start a revolution. We can only wait to see if anyone follows.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #2

Written by Jim McCann

Art by David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez and Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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So, um, I might have confused my neighbors a little bit when I was readying Hawkeye & Mockingbird #2. I'm usually a pretty quiet reader — but I couldn't help myself. At least two or three times I found myself shouting to myself, "aww!! No way!!" But what can I say? Hawkeye & Mockingbird are both the perfect couple and the bad relationship you can't walk away from: they love, they fight, but above all else, this is a duo that absolutely rocks.

From the get-go, writer Jim McCann goes back a bit to his soap opera roots in his sophomore issue, giving Clint and Bobbi that ever-bubbling tension that has always defined their relationship. But what's most fascinating to me is that while the misunderstanding is simple, the motivations are extremely strong — Clint isn't a perfect boyfriend, and Bobbi certainly has her own skeletons in her closet, but seeing the two move in on each others' turf makes for some nice, accessible fireworks. And the cliffhanger... oh, the cliffhanger. In a lot of ways, McCann's writing has the same easygoing style, workmanship and quality characterization as, say, Dan Slott's opening arc did for Avengers: The Initiative — it's that fun to read.

David Lopez, meanwhile, is a great team player with all this. McCann packs his scripts with a lot of six-panel pages, but Lopez makes is all look clean, with a lot of emotion coming through — particularly with the shots showing the bond between Mockingbird and the Phantom Rider. And there's a two-page action sequence that really shows how much potential Lopez brings to the table, with some hard panel angles showing how fast and furious Mockingbird is in a fight.

To be honest, two issues into this book, and Hawkeye & Mockingbird are already my favorite couple in the Marvel Universe. They aren't cookie-cutter characters, but some three-dimensional protagonists whose hang-ups and character traits give them endless fodder to love, fight, make up and fight again. These aren't just the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the Marvel Universe: they're the couple who are so crazy you can't help but want to see more of them. It looks great, it reads great, this is a book that deserves to put McCann and Lopez on the map. While a lot of comics are no stranger to the sophomore slump, Hawkeye & Mockingbird is one rock-solid comic that is staying on target.

Red Hood: The Lost Days #2

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Pablo Raimondi, Cliff Richards and Brian Reber

Lettering by Pat Brousseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Well, at least it looks pretty.

Reading Red Hood: The Lost Days #2, I couldn't help but wonder what was on Judd Winick's mind when he was working on this assignment. I mean, it's not that Judd doesn't know who this character is — indeed, Winick brought Jason Todd back from the dead, and gave him all sorts of reasons to be angry at his former mentor. But the journey isn't why I wanted to read this book — it's the character. And that progression is surprisingly absent here.

At first, it looks as though Winick gives us some real potential here, with Jason giving us a horrified, visceral reaction to his place in the world. But that's not the meat, that's the gristle — the overall structure of the piece isn't showing these crucial details, the moments that make us empathize with Jason's situation in the same way we did with the superlative Black Adam miniseries. Every villain is the hero of their own story, and when you a character like Jason — one who's been brain-damaged, one who's been resurrected by unholy means, one who already had enough issues bubbling to the surface before his untimely death — there is so much potential to dig in deep and redeem him not as a hero, but as a viable character with a unique place in the DCU.

It's disappointing to say the least, because the art already gives this book an edge. Pablo Raimondi and Cliff Richards are mostly seamless in their transitions, with Richards getting the real emotional meat of the issue with Jason's hair-trigger switch from violence to existential horror. But there's a real smoothness to Raimondi's work, one that gives Jason Todd an air of unmistakable good-boy-gone-bad cool. There's an interesting line between sensitivity and a sneer, and when the shadows don't make his lines swerve, Raimondi does some great work. That said, when the tension isn't there, the work doesn't stand on its own as well — there's a lot of standing and talking, but it doesn't hook you in.

To say that Red Hood: The Lost Days #2 feels misguided is a bit of an understatement. There are moments here that really show what kind of potential Jason Todd has to him — but ultimately, this story is jerking along without any of the deep characterization that Winick gave the character upon his initial return. It may have the looks, but it doesn't have the moves, and when it comes to an underutilized character like this, we need to get a sense of who he is and what he does.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #1

Written by Roger Langridge

Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson

Lettering by Rus Wooten

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

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There's no doubt that Thor is becoming an increasingly hot property for Marvel Comics. He and his Asgardian heritage have played a major role in the current state of affairs for the Marvel Universe, taking center stage in Marvel's "Siege" event and crossover, and a major motion picture starring the mythical cast of characters is filming as I write this. Therefore, it's no wonder Marvel would look to increase Thor's profile, and offer a new look at his origins for those as yet unfamiliar with the God of Thunder and his often intricate mythological milieu. Fortunately for us, they've put the reigns for the retelling of Thor's origin in some capable hands. That, coupled with the relative infrequency with which this story has been revisited makes this a tale worth telling, and a book worth reading.

The story here is markedly different than that of the original telling of Thor's arrival in the world of modern man. Indeed, there are no invading aliens, nor even a Donald Blake so far. Thor finds himself on Earth in an obviously weakened state, and after trying unsuccessfully to retrieve his hammer from the museum in which Jane Foster is a curator, wanders the streets attempting to right wrongs and do good deeds. It is in this action that he once again encounters Foster, saving her life from the brutish villain Mr. Hyde, though suffering grave injuries in the process. In gratitude, she takes him back to the museum, wherein he finally retrieves his hammer, attaining the full measure of his power, and healing his injuries. Purists take heed; this isn't simply rehashing "Journey Into Mystery #83," but there are plenty of nods to the classic story throughout, such as Thor's use of a wooden walking stick to break a display case, and Jane Foster's relationship with an inattentive doctor.

Writer Roger Langridge clearly has an affection for this time period in Marvel's history. His previous work for the company mostly consists of the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tales of the "Fin Fang Four," and "Moleman's Christmas," though readers expecting that take on Thor will be disappointed. Langridge's storytelling and scripting abilities are on point, and his Mr. Hyde is particularly entertaining. Artist Chris Samnee is another rising star at Marvel, having most recently fielded art duties for "Siege: Embedded." His work here is stunning, managing to capture the classic style of Marvel art, while simultaneously existing comfortably in the mainstream. His design work stands out significantly, and his take on Thor's classic look is, in a nutshell, perfect. Colorist Matt Wilson is to be commended as well; though his use of smoky grays occasionally dulls the brightness of the characters, his stellar grasp of Samnee's lines, and Samnee's tendency to leave some details undefined make this an easy read, and elevates the overall look of the book.

Marvel has lately been very willing to go back to the well on its older stories. Heck, Joe Casey has practically made a career of retelling and updating old Avengers stories for the last few years. When done right, it's a fine way to bring in new readers and satisfy those looking for a fix on the classic style of Marvel Comics, and this book is done right. Thor's origin hasn't been rehashed very often in the years since it was told; certainly nowhere near as much as more familiar characters such as Spider-Man or Captain America, so a "year one" style books makes plenty of sense. Obviously, after only a single issue, I can't say how well a reader who finishes this mini-series will understand Thor's current status quo, but from the look of things, they'll at least have enough of a basis on the character to read onward. I highly recommend this title to both old and new fans alike.

Hellboy: The Storm #1

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

Hellboy: The Storm #1 begins the next chapter in Mike Mignola's sprawling, sporadic epic, which over the last sixteen years has taken its titular demonic protagonist from the halls of the BPRD to rural England as he attempts to discover the truths of his origins and his destiny.

Rather than a regular, ongoing monthly series, Mignola prefers to publish Hellboy as short miniseries, allowing him to work on other projects and put out new Hellboy stories on his own schedule. While I think that has a lot to do with the high quality of these books, I imagine it creates difficulties for new readers. When you see "1 of 3" on the cover, you might expect the beginning of a self-contained story, which The Storm is anything but, relying on years of carefully constructed continuity.

Mignola's choice of format aside, The Storm kicks off with a sense of quiet dread and wonder, as Hellboy and his new companion Alice deal with the shocking revelations that concluded previous arc The Wild Hunt. As noted by my colleague Kevin Huxford on Friday, this issue is a little heavy on the recap, with Hellboy reviewing the past few years of his life in light of his drinking habits, a funny bit that goes on maybe a page too long. The recap seems to be more of a joke for established readers than something to get new readers up to speed, and so comes off as a waste of the miniseries' limited space.

Hellboy's quiet wit and no-nonsense attitude, however, are intact, as is Mignola's gift for putting the mundane alongside the mysterious. The issue ranges from the investigation of a village church break-in to a storm descending on a heath and its fey inhabitants without ever feeling disjointed. Mignola's efforts are supported by Duncan Fegredo's nuanced, kinetic art. Fegredo, regular artist on Hellboy for the past few years, doesn't make the same use of shadows and contrast as Mignola did in his days of pulling double duty, relying on a more naturalistic approach that brings Hellboy's bizarre world out into the light and has a great, intuitive flow. I also love Fegredo's character designs, instantly memorable but never out of place. Dave Stewart's color palette, meanwhile, really helps lock down a sense of time and geography, always a concern with Hellboy, with its reliance on flashbacks, visions, and dreams.

Mignola has drawn on the folklore and mythology of dozens of cultures to build the world of Hellboy, making it impossible to predict the series' destination. Just when the Big Red Guy seems to have reached a plateau in his quest for the truth, Mignola reveals another level of mystery that throws everything that came before into a new light. That said, both the character and the series seem to be approaching some kind of climactic confrontation, and while The Storm doesn't yet have quite the urgency I was looking for, I trust Mignola to give us another fascinating piece of the puzzle, with plenty of demons getting punched in the face to boot.

Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Dale Eaglesham

Colors by Andy Troy

Letters by VC's Joe Caramanga

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

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In some ways, Marvel granted me my every little wish with the return of Steve Rogers. Like many Marvel fans, Captain America has long been a favorite character of mine, and though I was hesitant about the return of Bucky, the death of Steve Rogers, and Bucky assuming the mantle of Captain America, writer Ed Brubaker quickly won me over with each of those stories. When it was announced that Steve Rogers was slated to return last year, I feared that all of the character growth (something equally championed and maligned by fans) that James Barnes had experienced would be swept under the rug, and Marvel would take a powerful and moving story back to the status quo. Fortunately, those of us who like "Bucky Cap" and Steve Rogers get to have our cake and eat it too, as Steve's still a jetsetting, charismatic leader, and Bucky's still slinging the shield.

At times it seems that there's little difference in Steve Rogers: Super Soldier and Steve Rogers: Captain America. He still uses a form of his shield (the energy disc he used in the '90's after "Heroes Return"), and he's still leading a team of Avengers. While it seems a little in conflict with his motivations for relinquishing the Captain America identity, the slightly less flashy nature of his new outfit and "secret" nature of his Avengers team play into his time out of the spotlight. Whether the fact that he's Cap without being Cap is good or bad is up in the air, but this issue of Steve's solo mini-series definitely feels like it could've been told whether he's in the costume or not. In that, it feels a little lackluster, and somewhat expected. While well written, and decently drawn, there's little that signifies this as a new direction for Rogers as a character, and more to connect this story to his past as Captain America.

That said, it's still good to see Steve Rogers back in action, kick ass, taking names, and being handsome and daring. Ed Brubaker's script is, as expected, top notch, and though I wish he had an inker, Dale Eaglesham's art is a bit less inflated than it often is, and his storytelling is fluid and clear. If I have one real complaint, it's that, in some of the flashback scenes, Rogers and his fellow "beanpoles" look less almost emaciated, as if Eaglesham, in ensuring they didn't look buff and burly went a little too far in portraying their weakness. All in all, I would recommend this book to those who just want to see Steve Rogers in action, and while many new readers will find the delve into Rogers's star-spangled past interesting, it may leave older fans simply longing to see him back in his tights and winged cowl.

X-Women #1

Written by Chris Claremont

Art by Milo Manara and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Tom Orzechowski

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Matt Seneca

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You want this week's example of how whack the comics market can be? The new graphic album by Milo Manara, indisputably one of comics' greatest living artists — his first work in the superhero genre, no less — gets tossed onto the racks in a reduced-size, bad-paper-stock, barcode-on-the-front pamphlet, the kind of thing that just screams "dollar bin" the second you see it sitting there. Meanwhile, we get an expensive, all-out hardcover reprinting of The Stand: Soul Survivors to go with the other two volumes of Marvel's continuing effort to bring Stephen King's literary masterwork to the comics medium. Yes. But format frustration aside, in the end what matters is that we've got the material, translated-from-the-Italian and all, and heck, the mill-grist quality even keeps the price at five bucks, which is the cheapest 64 pages of Manara you're likely to find. If this populist release creates a lot of new Eurocomics readers it would be silly to complain, and if it inspires even one X-Men fan to seek out a copy of Indian Summer or The Snowman, then I will admit that Marvel marketing knows better than me. At least until next time they drown good art in bad production.

If the above seems like too many words wasted on the comic's surface characteristics, get with it, playboy — this comic is all about the surface. Manara always uses the comics form with maximum effectiveness, and this book's layouts flow like honeyed wine and its panel compositions are gorgeous. It's also nice to see the loose, thicker lines in every panel hitting a sweet spot right between Frank Quitely and Joe Kubert's penwork, no doubt. But not even Chris Ware on inks would disguise the fact that X-Women is a total fluff piece Chris Claremont hacked out so Manara would have some gorgeous women to make his Marvel debut with. And Manara rises to the occasion with an exotic, boldly physical, sinuously drawn comic that concerns itself with pursed lips and wanton looks in the eye as much as the rather laughable exotic-adventure script. The man is absolutely the best artist of women in comics, and this book almost bursts its staples with willowy, graceful figure drawings and beautiful faces. All surface, for sure, but when the surface is this masterful and appealing there isn't much reason to go any deeper.

It might sound like a bit of a sexploitation book, and well, it comes close at times. There's a pretty fine line between eroticism and bad taste that all Manara's work walks, and that's definitely true here — the gals get wet, get changed, get their clothes torn to shreds, and spend quite a few panels clinging to each other for dear life. But Claremont, one of the more notably feminist writers of superhero comics, does a good job of keeping things light and fun as opposed to exploitative and uncomfortable. Storm and Rogue and the rest have real character — at least as much as any other superhero does — and they're very much in control of their fates over the entire course of the story. There's a brash tone throughout that's diametrically opposed to the surrealistic, rape-y stories that Manara delights the European market with, and overall this stuff is wholesome and unthreatening as your typical bad '80s action movie.

More to the point, Manara is a sensualist, not a pimp, and unlike the sexist dreck on display in the average issue of Green Lantern or whatever, his work seems a quite sincere attempt at glorifying the beautiful femmes that inhabit it rather than displaying them to the paying public. It's all just pretty pictures here, for whatever they're worth, and Manara's depictions of splashing water, palm trees, beachside villas are just as elegant and labored over as his women. For a boner comic featuring members of the X-Men cast, it's a surprisingly genuine attempt to create something of real beauty. However arrived at, this kind of sincerity is all too rare in mainstream comics, almost as rare as new Manara art. Either would be enough to recommend X-Women, and seeing as it's got both it compares favorably to just about anything else out there at the moment.

Cold Space #3

Written by Samuel L. Jackson and Eric Calderon

Art by Jeremy Rock and Juan Manuel Tumburus

Lettering Troy Peteri

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Cold Space is certainly a cool-looking comic, one chock full of outlaws, swaggering, morally ambiguous types and the occasional severed limb. It’s also got the star power of Samuel L. Jackson, an actor who has made a career out of playing Guys You Don’t Want to Mess With. For all intents and purposes, Jackson is Mulberry, the steely-eyed (Is there any other kind?) mercenary at the center of this four-issue series, which Jackson co-wrote with his Afro Samurai collaborator, Eric Calderon.

For the uninitiated, Cold Space provides a handy guide to all the players, but issue #3 doesn’t waste a lot of time on set-up. With gang warfare flaring on an unnamed moon, there’s a whole lot of double-crossing going on in this issue — much of it in a saloon that makes the Mos Eisley cantina look like a TGI Friday’s. For a dead moon, this place is awfully lively. Fists and teeth fly, and illustrator Jeremy Rock makes the many action scenes pop. Rock conveys characters’ emotions especially well, and he can do a dozen variations on the scowl alone.

But though it’s a respectable and attractive comic, Cold Space adds up to something less than remarkable. While the book’s pedigree suggests a certain “wow” factor, the result so far is surprisingly conventional. It’s hard not to compare it to a hard-edged mainstream comic like DC’s Secret Six, which routinely leaves readers’ jaws on the ground. However, readers looking for a reasonably entertaining, short-term commitment are likely to warm to Cold Space.

House of Mystery #27

Written by Matthew Sturges

Art by Luca Rossi, Jose Marzan Jr., Lee Loughridge and Brendan McCarthy

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by Matt Seneca

Brendan McCarthy's current career trajectory is pretty cool. In promoting his recent Spider-Man series, the immaculate Fever, he stated numerous times that he was trying to channel Steve Ditko, to meld his own artistry with that of the maestro and see what came out the other end. However, one could be forgiven for thinking that it isn't only Ditko's visual style McCarthy's striving to emulate — the bizarre project choices he's made since returning to comics are more in the Silver Age journeyman mode than any modern comics-star type of gig-hopping. After getting one McCarthy comic last decade, there've been five in the past four months of this year, a scattershot trail of brilliance that doesn't really make a lot of sense. Sure, there was the Spider-Man mini, but there've also been two hazardously-drawn shorts in completely unremarkable books, one from each of the big companies, both kicked out into the market with no fanfare, both written by inferior writers, both as indelible as the best random psychedelic Ditko work-for-hire stories you could possibly find.

At least McCarthy's appearance in Marvel's Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield one-shot made a little bit of sense, being that the book was composed entirely of ersatz short stories and that writer Matt Fraction had spoken of wanting to collaborate with the artist. But his eight-page cameo in the latest House of Mystery is totally inexplicable, and comes with absolutely no forewarning from DC. Like the best of the journeyman artists, it's got to be enough that the work exists, and if it comes with no explanation that's just kinda too bad. And make no mistake, this story belongs up there in the annals of "great random short stories," which is one of the richest traditions in comics history.

Sturges' script is pretty fair stuff, a Vietnam War-set paean to the loveliness and pure power of LSD that just happens to mirror the origin story of Dr. Strange quite neatly. In the best tradition of comics writing, it's the kind of thing that reads nice and gets out of the artist's way so he can draw the hell out of it. Basically your typical current-model Vertigo script. But McCarthy is leagues ahead of any current-model artist, and he tears into this thing like a ravenous wolf, spotting drippy Vaughn Bode blacks where the jungle shadows hit, getting out an extra-crunchy, Philip Bond pen line, and going further into cartoon than he has since his re-emergence. Eyes pop, faces distend, heads splatter merrily as the bullets roar into them, and every panel packs the punch a full page from most other artists would.

As is becoming usual for McCarthy comics, the biggest draw is the colors. Everything here is drenched in a sweltering tropical palette of greens, yellows, and blues, with kaleidoscopic designs floating around in the backgrounds and rainbow flashbulbs popping as the acid takes hold. Post-Steranko photographic elements begin to move in, encroaching stealthily on the panel borders and giving everything a bizarre sense of depth, total immersion. And as the trip peaks the colors take over almost completely, hazy technicolor stormclouds colliding into collaged tableaus of skulls and sheet music and palm fronds. It isn't the story at all anymore, it's the pure visuality of the comics medium throwing everything else out the window and getting into the driver's seat for a few pages, going further with the hallucinatory elements than even the best of Ditko did. The closest relation this stuff has is underground comics, the psychedelic vistas of Greg Irons or Richard Corben, but even they never approached the power and immediacy of McCarthy's digital-age fantasmagorias.

So is there an explanation for McCarthy's turn in this most mediocre book in the mediocre Vertigo line? If so, it's probably a personal behind-the-scenes thing that we'll never hear about, but you know what? We got maybe the best drug sequence in comics this milennium, and it's probably best to just be grateful for that. Because once you've dug past all the Watchmens and the Mauses and the other big boring acknowledged masterpieces, this is the stuff that matters, this is where the creativity and fun and yeah, the genius, is at. It's in the little things like these, so here's to McCarthy and Sturges for the latest hit.

Obsessed With Marvel

Written by Peter Sanderson

Published by Chronicle Books

Review by Tim Janson

So you think you know your Marvel Comics Universe? Think you know everything there is to know about Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Hulk? Well now you have a chance to test just how smart you are, big boy, when if comes to Marvel trivia. This hardcover from Chronicle Books comes with an interactive LCD screen that lets you test your knowledge on your own or against a friend.

Written by noted comic scribe Peter Sanderson, the book features 2,500 multiple choice questions in nine different subjects: The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Avengers, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Knights, Horror Heroes, Cosmic Characters, and Marvel Time. You can play with 1 or 2 players and in random mode or question select mode. In random mode the screen will display a question number. Turn to the page that has that question on it to see the list of the four possible answers. Press the corresponding button to choose your answer and see if you are correct. Question select mode allows you to punch in the number of the question that you wish to answer. The questions are very diverse and are culled from Marvel’s entire history beginning from 1961 but not the Timely or Atlas eras. There are questions about artists, writers, characters, storylines, powers, and much more.

It’s not perfect. It would have been nice for there to have been a level select for varying degrees of knowledge as the questions range from simple to “Supreme Marvel Geek” and everything in between. It would also have been great if you could have selected a category to play. Sure you can select your question but what fun is that? I suppose you could pick a category and then select a random question number from the range of that category but a bit of a more sophisticated system would have been better. Most of all I would have liked to seen it able to accommodate up to four players to make it a “party game” but all in all, it’s a nice book.

Pellet Reviews!

Greek Street #13 (Published by Vertigo, Review by Amanda McDonald): Issue #13 is the second part of a two part arc, entitled "Ajax." Taken a turn away from the initial cast of characters in the series' first eleven issues, this series focuses on Alex Jackson a veteran who has returned home after being injured in combat in the Middle East and not properly recognized by the government. He is emotionally volatile, and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but there may be a bit of the supernatural at play in escalating his madness. He sees visions of mythological figure Patroclus, and his actions are out of control and mimic the story of the mythological Ajax. While I found previous arcs of this series to be smart and sexy, this arc has been a let down. Focusing more upon the battles and heros of Greek mythology doesn't come as much of a surprise, but I more enjoyed the previous story lines involving the tragedies of the interpersonal relationships of Sandy (a modern day Cassandra), Eddie (a modern day Oedipus), the Fureys (a modern day mob family version of the Furies), and the modern day Chorus — a group of gals that work at the local strip club. The art in this book is the only factor wanting me to continue picking up this book. I do favor Werther Dell'edera's clean cartoon-like style over the David Gianfelice's previous heavy handed style that often had me confusing characters. If you are unfamiliar with the series, check out the trade paperback that collects the first five issues — while the series has been strong, this is simply not the right time to jump in.

X-Force #28 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Reading this issue, it made me realize that X-Men: Second Coming was a crossover that's gone on too long for its own good. 13 issues into it, and even I'm having a hard time remembering what happened that led us to this point. Because the lead-up is abbreviated, a character's sacrifice feels a little underwhelming, even as the fallout is more or less what we've all been expecting since we met our little redheaded Hope. There are some decent moments here from writers Craig Kyle and Chris Yost — particularly examining Cable's relationship with Hope, as well as the clashes between Cyclops and the baby he sacrificed so much to protect — but ultimately, the climax here feels like fireworks without heat. Artist Mike Choi still does some clean computer-influenced work that's reminiscent of Adi Granov, but he loses some points towards the end, with some really cramped panelling that doesn't give some of the X-Men's shots justice. To be honest, this issue doesn't feel nearly as strong as that of Nightcrawler's death: ultimately, if this arc was a bit tighter — without all the reaction shots or falling prey to its own increasingly-convoluted mythology — this would be a treat. Right now, it feels X-Forced.

Cinematic Shot!

Despicable Me

Featuring Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, and Julie Andrews

Filmed by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment

Review by Amanda McDonald

Since the commercials for this film debuted, we've been quoting the "it's so fluffy, I'm gonna die!" line in our household ad nauseum. Sure, the Minions are cute wide-eyed pill-shaped creatures in snazzy overalls and goggles, but the character I was most excited to see was litte Agnes. With her spunky ponytail erupting from the top of her head, her uninhibited glee about unicorns, and her excited little stomping movements — I had high hopes this movie would have me grinning ear-to-ear. Agnes is one of three young girls adopted by super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) for the purpose of executing a plot against his arch-nemesis.

About this super-villain, Gru — he's evil. He's a super-villain. We aren't supposed to like him. Yet, it was very hard not to like him, right from the start. How can I NOT like a guy that uses a freeze gun to skip to the front of the line at a Starbucks-like coffee shop, then comes home to relax on his dinosaur themed sofa and enjoy a muffin next to his "dog," Kyle? While he is clearly billed as a villain, Gru's clearly not a guy the community is likely to have nightmares about. He grew up with a mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) that dashed his hopes, he lives in suburbia, and he's horrible at parallel parking. When Gru applies to the Bank of Evil (formerly Lehman Brothers) for a loan to fund his latest crime, he is turned down in favor of the younger (and highly-funded) villain, Vector (voiced by Jason Segel).

The three girls that Gru adopts are the key to his elaborate scheme to infiltrate Vector's lair and retrieve the shrink ray needed for his mission. Margot, the oldest wears a shirt depicting Dr. Seuss' Lorax — a nod to the Lorax film currently in production that several key players, including writers and directors, in this production are also involved in. Edith, the middle child, is a tom-boy. And Agnes, the youngest one loves unicorns. Like, she REALLY loves unicorns. And candy. And fluffy things. The Minions have been hard at work promoting this movie, and set the tone for the film. Interestingly, they are primarily voiced by the two directors, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. These Minions work hard for Gru and are devoted to his mission, to steal. . . the moon. They also play hard, as evidenced in their fun-filled romp at the store while shopping for a unicorn toy, and their child-like use for a photocopy machine.

If you're looking for a film that's going to keep you laughing and let your brain just take a little summer vacation — you need to see this movie. The humor is at times witty and smart, but primarily it's geared toward kids and the young at heart. From physical gags, to Minion-on-Minion violence, to fart jokes, there's nothing in this movie that will leave you scratching your head in confusion. Our theater was a mostly adult audience, with a couple of younger children. The adults laughed uproariously, giggled at the girls and the Minions, and the kids squealed as Gru and Vector faced off. It's easy to get sucked into the rather absurd plot and settings of the movie, thanks to the voice talents involved. You forget you're watching an animated film. You forget that the main characters are Michael from The Office and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. Despicable Me is no Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon, both very critically acclaimed recent animated features, however it is a must see for fans of the animated genre. This is the sort of movie that I could watch repeatedly without getting bored, it's just that fun. Oh, and be sure to stay for the credits for more Minion fun and the details on the catchy soundtrack!

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