Best Shots Rapid Reviews: X-MEN SECOND COMING, More
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Happy Thursday, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! We've got ourselves a double-fisted delivery of handy pellets for you today, with a look at books from Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Vertigo, Bongo Comics and more. Looking for more reviewing goodness? Then check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's allow Brendan kick off the column, with the conclusion of the X-Men's latest trial by fire, X-Men: Second Coming #2...
X-Men: Second Coming #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk; Click here for preview): The Second Coming event was memorable. Random deaths in event comics can be superfluous and inane, but SPOILER ALERT the death of Cable is one that seems to have happened for the right reason; his mission was over. No, not his original charge, to somehow defeat Apocalypse with final finality in a vaguely defined future; the Askani'son's real value showed as he paid forward the charity that was done to him as a babe, rearing an important mutant into the consummate survivor. Second Coming fell victim to some of the pitfalls that haunt any crossover, like beats, turns and chapters that perhaps were less than central to the broader narrative, but on balance the scale and implications of this story were worthy of the attention. The character of Hope has given the X-Men franchise a grounded demarcation of time and movement in the post-Decimation landscape. As she goes, so goes the mutant race. This denouement gives each X-series writer (or writing team) the chance to give the new lay-of-the-land, and set up the next conflict for each respective series. That's the beauty of the X-Men, the next battleground is always just on the horizon.
Batman #701 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matt Seneca): OK, if you thought this one would be as good as last week's you're in trouble. It wasn't to be expected that Grant Morrison's two-issue "just tyin' up old plot threads, nothing to see here" return to Bruce Wayne stories on the main Batman title would rival the Ed Gein-level carnage of the latest Batman & Robin (no Frazer Irving so forget about it), but it's still pretty unfortunate that the worst issue of Morrison's four-year stint on the Caped Crusader should come out less than a week after what might be his best. Surprisingly enough in a Morrison comic drawn in the blandest possible iteration of the DC house style, the big problems are with the script -- if anything happened in this issue I missed it, and Morrison has returned to the single worst thing about his work on the Bat books, namely Bruce Wayne's internal monologues. Digging up old stories to tell us what really happened works for Morrison when it's some zany, drugged-out Silver Age thing, but it's an exercise in tedium when applied to a storyline that he wrote less than two years ago. You may as well skip this one: if the flashback to what happened after Batman RIP ends up "revealing" anything "important" it'll be in the next issue, because this is just vacant. The most interesting thing here is Tony Daniel's art, which has definitely leveled up since he and Morrison last collaborated. The layouts are clearer, the faces surer, and there are some pretty decent compositions here and there. It's still not a well-drawn comic, mind, just not a visual crime; like, Bruce Wayne looks like the top third of his head has been detached somehow, and anyone with muscles looks like they've got layers of coiled clay under their clothes. But ah, who cares, we've all seen worse. We've all seen better too, though, way better, and if you can't find something else to do with your money at the shop this week you may be lacking in either eyesight or imagination.
Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Well, I have to give Jason Aaron credit for at least going down the unbeaten path -- way off the beaten path. He takes the idea of "who would you least like to be stranded on a desert island with" and runs across space and time with it, and while the premise isn't grabbing me, I do give the man points for his exceedingly strong grasp of character work. Whether it's Wolverine calling the Phoenix Gun "Jeannie" or Spider-Man using his teaching abilities to try to get out of this mess, one thing's for certain: Jason Aaron is a master of capturing a character's voice. It also doesn't hurt that Aaron is partnered with Adam Kubert, who manages to make anything he touches look gorgeous. It's interesting to see the work that inker Mark Morales does on Kubert's lines, giving a look that evokes the slightest hint of the hard angles of Sal Buscema. I just wish Kubert would experiment a little bit more with his panel composition, since the alternating wide-shot-with-lots-of-little-shots doesn't pack the punch it could. It's not the sure-fire hit I thought it would be, but it's still cool to see some master craftsmen just jam out together.
Parker: The Man with the Getaway Face (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Matt Seneca): If all comics were like this one the world would be a better place. I'll get to the content in a second, but just listen to this real fast: a generously oversized pamphlet, nicely printed on gorgeous paper, no ads except for one that doubles as a new drawing from the book's artist, an introduction on the inside front cover, and it'll set you back a big two dollars. I'd pick that up if it was drawn by Philip Tan and feel good about it, but oh boy, this is the new Darwyn Cooke comic. A super-condensed adaptation of the titular Donald Westlake novel, it's pretty aptly described as Sin City meets Classics Illustrated, with Cooke snapping every page into bite-sized chunks of densely packed information, whipping the reader through the hardcore nihilistic tale of a Brinks truck robbery that goes way wrong. It's nice to see Cooke, typically a maximalist writer of long and atmospheric epics, go the other route and get on some real Golden Agey condensation: where his previous Parker story, The Hunter, dragged through a few nostalgia-trip sequences too many, this thing's stripped down to the bare bones. Sparse dialogue and all, Cooke puts the onus on his art to tell the story like never before and comes through it looking great. It's an acrobatic performance to cram it all in, and most every page has some neat little economical device powering it -- there's some novel image-text combinations, the pages are packed with panel after pretty panel, and it all culminates in a wordless four-page heist that moves so fast you can almost see the pictures jump. Sure, there's stuff left out -- character, subplots, basically any attempts at emotion -- but Cooke's roughly brushed cartooning is way more interesting than his scripting of that other junk would be anyway. As 24-page action comics go, this is about as good as it gets: exciting, high-quality work from a master artist in a format that can't be beat, and all for the price of an McChicken sandwich. The choice is yours.
Batgirl #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): In the final installment of the Batgirl Rising arc, Stephanie Brown as Batgirl does indeed continue to rise up and define herself as a character. Discussing the best Bat-books out there now during a roundtable discussion at my local comic shop last night, many were in agreement that this book is consistently delivering great story and action, to the surprise of many of the readers. In this issue we see Barbara Gordon continue to be held hostage by the Calculator, as they battle within his memories and sophisticated technology. Still a bit green, it is up to Stephanie to rescue her mentor and luckily she has some help from the Calculator's daughter, Wendy. Bryan Q. Miller is crafting a story that holds appeal to both fans new to the Batgirl mythos, as well as those fans of the original Barbara Gordon Batgirl. While her physical faculties are limited, Babs is by no means off the radar in Gotham and she's sculpting a force to be reckoned with in her prodigies, Stephanie and now. . . Wendy, who takes on a new role by the end of the issue.
Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows #6 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Brendan McGuirk): In some ways, all three volumes of Locke & Key have been leading to this moment. Nina, the unstable matriarch of the Locke clan, has finally hit rock bottom. While her children have been hardened and strengthened by the grotesque challenges the Key House has been put through, Nina has become only weaker, turning to the bottle at every time of need. It's an interesting character study; so often in fiction parents are turned into these demigods- pure forces of order in worlds of chaos- but Nina is different. She blames her children, blames her dead husband, blames the inequity of justice in the world for all of her family's struggles. She's snapped, and her children know it. Locke & Key has been on the outstanding series of the past few years, tightening its focus on little more than a family and a haunted house. But the house isn't the only one that's haunted.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): So you know how Marvel did a Chameleon arc in Amazing Spider-Man about a year or so ago? Got a few fans enraged? Brian Michael Bendis takes the idea out for a spin, and with David LaFuente behind the wheel, this revisited plot gets a whole new lease on life. There's no costumes here, only the dread that comes from an outsider looking at Peter Parker's life and slithering in. Let's just say that Bendis must have an axe to grind against poor Peter, because he really puts the knife in that guy's personal life in a big way. But it's LaFuente's art, as always, that's the big selling point for this series -- every so often these past few issues, he'll draw an image you know he'll be selling for big bucks on the collector's market, and you know something? They look so good, I can't blame him. Someone who's also overdue some praise is colorist Justin Ponsor, who really gives the images some nice pop to them. Seriously, if you're not reading this book, you really should reconsider -- great art, a plot that'll hook you, and a supporting cast so strong that Peter Parker can sit this one out. A great book.
The Unwritten #15 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Amanda McDonald): Lizzie Hexam, aka Jane Waxman, finds herself back in Dickens' London as this issue kicks off. Back in modern day, Tom Taylor and his friend Savoy are following a wild goose chase to meet Tom's father, Wilson. Over the course of this chase, Ambrosio tries yet again to take down Tom Taylor, only to be talked out of it by someone readers have been waiting a long time to meet. The Unwritten continues to do what it does best -- weaving classic works into the world of Tom Taylor, and intricately lacing together characters. When I picture Mike Carey's office, I picture a massive wall with character pics and yards upon yards of string and push pins tying them all together. The plot takes a BIG leap in this issue. There's been buzz about a choose-your-own adventure style issue coming up. This book has been showered with well deserved critical praise, and continues to break down genre expectations.
Daytripper #8 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Brás de Oliva Domingos has quickly become the most interesting dead character in comics. I could read twenty more stories of his death and not get bored. Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá have taught readers profound new ways to understand a human being's life in each installment. Comparing one issue to the next feels like a pointless exercise, as pointless as comparing the worth one person's life to the next. The statement seems to be clear- we are all valued, and valuable. The brothers are masters of the quiet moment, like when Brás' son is watching the most heartbreaking moment of “The Lion King,” ignorant of its impending poignancy. They use that mastery to build a sense of dread into each issue. Tensions build for 21 pages, and no matter how hard one is pulling for Brás to, somehow, make it this time, the final-page obituary stomach punch hurts all the same. These stories are outstanding celebrations of both life and death. Thanks to Brás, you'll never read an obituary the same way again.
Sweets #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): It's not the first time that comics have tried working on a "New Orleans Crime Story," but as far as this first issue goes, it looks like the best. While Hurricane Katrina is barely a blip on the radar in this first issue, Kody Chamberlain manages to pull some slick double-duty as writer/artist to give some moody set-up to this tragedy waiting to happen. Ultimately, Chamberlain sticks with his instincts and leans harder with the visuals than the dialogue -- but considering the medium he's in, and the power of a gun next to some pecan pralines or a murder in a church, I'd say he's made the right call. Storywise, the tone is there, but it's still too early to say about the plotting -- which, considering it's a Chinatown-style noir mystery, is not a big surprise. Hard angles, dominant color schemes with a hint of newspaper dots, and some downright dirty business that goes deeper than you would imagine, and this feels like we could be seeing the definitive Katrina crime comic.
Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book #1 (Published by Bongo Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Best. Meta. Indictment. Of. Comic. Fans. EVER. Flip through the first few pages of this issue and you'll find a sequence of covers that parody iconic superhero comics that offer a promise of the tonal direction of this book. Simply put, this is the best comic for fans of both The Simpsons and comics since Radioactive Man #1 (cover date Nov. 1952). Comic Book Guy has long been a standing example of comic fans gone wrong, a “Donny Don't,” if you will, but rarely has his satire been this bitingly scathing. Filled with winks and nods towards comics' culture, go get the story of life through CBG's POV at your LCS and you'll be ROTFL.
Magog #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): I picked up this book because hey, Scott Kolins and the Flash, how can you go wrong? The answer is kind of surprising: seeing Magog and the Fastest Man Alive team up is more like action figures fighting, while the real meat of the story -- the thing that makes Magog more than a one-note petulant character -- only comes at the last five pages. Those last five pages show that there's a lot more potential to this character than we've seen, with a capacity for sorrow and regret that could really define him. Without that, this golden-horned character is all shine, but no substance. As far as the rest of the book goes, visually, it seems like people are still trying to figure out the iconography that will make Magog leap off the page -- Kolins doesn't quite nail it, with a surprising number of distance shots in this book. With some added mythology, maybe it'll draw some more people in -- but I still can't get the images of two grieving men out of my mind. Forget the fireworks -- let's give Magog some more of that good old-fashioned heart and soul.