Best Shots Comic Reviews: PRINCE OF POWER, POWER GIRL, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, still standing after the epic adventure that is SDCC. But Best Shots doesn't sleep, as we've got reviews from some of last week's releases, including books from Marvel, DC, Image, Radical and Fantagraphics! And as always, you can check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page for more reviews.

Prince of Power #3

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Reilly Brown, Zach Howard, Terry Pallot and Val Staples

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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It's like the boy says: Everybody wants a piece of the P-O-P.

While the backstory for this issue isn't exactly the most accessible the Prince of Power has ever been, the humor quotient still sets the adventures of Amadeus Cho above and beyond many of his contemporaries in Marvel's Heroic Age. Pak and Van Lente have brought together Amadeus Cho -- billionaire boy genius with an ever-present force field and Hercule's mighty mallet -- with Thor, God of Thunder, Hollywood celebrity and partial inspirer of (alleged) Comic-Con stabbery. Squaring off against an angry Egyptian cat goddess, much of this issue is the slap-bam fighting, complete with sound effects evoking Tom, Garfield and Felix.

That said, I'd have to say that the fireworks do drown out some of the characterization and interaction that I would have expected from Cho and Thor -- but Pak and Van Lente do make up for it with their build-up for Delphyne Gorgon: "Death scrunchie! Expression! Worthy! Of Death Scrunchie!" She seems like a great character with some strong backstory with Amadeus, and the writers also pull a sweet trick (actually, two of them) regarding the Gorgon's unique physiology. There's both humor and menace in those pages, and it's a great balance that makes you want to know what comes next.

What was most surprising for me was the fact that the art duties have been credited now to both Reilly Brown and Zach Howard -- but to be honest, the collaboration is pretty well seamless. There's still that sketchy line that goes through the work that has a surprising amount of expressiveness to it -- the composition is a little bit off, however, and that may be due to the density of the script. (That said, there's an image of Sekhmet riding a demonic snake that looks positively sick.) Thor, out of all the characters, gets the most love out of all this, playing a particularly pouty foil for our hero.

Combine that with a hilarious ending -- seriously, the ending is probably the funniest part of the entire book -- while I wouldn't say that this is the Prince of Power's strongest showing, it's still some incredibly solid work. There's a lot of pieces that look like they're coming together in the adventures of Amadeus Cho, with new friends, new enemies, and a goal that seems increasingly out of reach. It's funny, it's action-packed -- if you're not reading Prince of Power, you're definitely missing out.

Power Girl #14

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Sami Basri and Sunny Gho

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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Let’s face it: The previous Power Girl team of Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray left new recruits Judd Winick and Sami Basri with rather large cups to fill. The trio got the book off to a delightful, distinctive start with the first dozen issues, presenting their successors with a challenge (to sustain the comic’s buzzworthy momentum) and an opportunity (to make it their own, as Paula Abdul might say).

So far, Winick and Basri have produced two issues that, while not groundbreaking, are firmly likable. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn’t intended as a slam. I’d always found it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for Power Girl, and it wasn’t until this book’s launch last year that I had any interest in her solo adventures. The new creative team offers has a less whimsical take on the character, both in terms of storyline and visuals. However, fans of the character who longed for a more straightforward, if not overly serious, comic will enjoy Winick and Basri’s interpretation.

She may be an alien, but in issue #14, Power Girl is dealing with some very earthly problems in her day job as Karen Starr, head honcho of Starrware Labs. The chief financial officer appears to have embezzled the company dry, signed away the rights to some patents and vanished. As someone with a penchant for punching her way out of adversity, Karen doesn’t take the arrival of stone-faced bank officers sitting down. It isn’t long before cape duty comes calling — first in the form of her friend Booster Gold, who’s trying to figure out why so few of his fellow heroes have any memory of mega-villain Maxwell Lord — and second, via a purple mutant who wants to smash New York City to bits.

Winick’s version of Power Girl is a good mixture of affable and combative, and Basri has dialed down some of the extreme va-va-voom that has become the character’s trademark. In some panels, her proportions look downright reasonable, which is either a victory or a letdown, depending on your point of view. I do wish the book had spent a little more time on Karen’s office drama, which is the most interesting (but least explored) subplot of this issue. There are times when the script overdoses on clever banter, and some of the zingers don’t quite stick the landing.

This chapter of PG’s evolution won’t attract scores of previously indifferent readers, but there’s enough potential here to keep her more devoted fans — and maybe even those still on the fence — engaged.

Zatanna #3

Written by Paul Dini

Art by Stephane Roux, John Kalisz

Letters by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

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After the rather surprising ending of issue two, I was SO excited to have issue three in my hot little hands. I make no bones about the fact I looked forward to this series since its initial announcement, and as a result have very high expectations. We all have our favorite characters, and Zee is second only to Barbara Gordon on my list.

Sneaking in to her show just minutes before curtain, seems like there may be a reprieve for Zatanna from the incident she's just suffered via Nightmare and Brother Night. Yet it quickly turns into yet another fight to face in order to save her crew. As Zee fights Brother Night and takes out his underlings she discovers there is one that he has witheld. . .  her father. Now, if you're unfamiliar with Zee, it's important that you know she's got daddy issues -- making her debut in comics traveling through several series in search of her missing father. She turns one of Brother Night's own against him, a character known as Nightmare who she took control of in the previous issue and who wants nothing more than his freedom.

This book deals with some heavy stuff, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention just how HOT this character is. Roux's attention to detail is remarkable. Really, having to draw those fishnets panel after panel can not be easy! However he also lends his style well to creating all of these ghouly creepy characters with ease. Dini's dialogue between Brother Night and Zee serves to very effectively expose the story behind his motivations. As this storyline comes to a close, we have an extremely emotional scene that tugs at the heartstrings, executed flawlessly with the talents of Roux's imagery and Dini's dialogue. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

The Walking Dead #75

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

Newly minted as Best Continuing Series at the 2010 Eisner Awards. Coming to television screens near you this fall, courtesy of AMC and director-producer Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist). So why do I feel as if The Walking Dead still isn't getting the recognition it deserves?

This issue presents a perfect example of my favorite thing about the series: the complexity of its main character. While it's certainly an ensemble piece, the central figure of The Walking Dead to this point is Rick Grimes, the resilient leader of a group of survivors wandering the southeastern United States after a zombie apocalypse. Writer Robert Kirkman has, over the last seventy-five issues, created an engrossing psychological portrait of a man dealing with impossible stresses and responsibilities, and the repercussions of that strain on his psyche. Now that the group has finally found what appears to be a safe haven, Rick's behavior here might seem misguided and reckless, but Kirkman has created such a deep, nuanced characterization for him that, while the reader might not agree with his choices, they can always see the logic behind them. It's sad to say that characters as well-drawn as Rick are a rarity in contemporary comics, and what Kirkman has done with him is exceptional.

While this issue puts most of its focus on Rick, it also advances some of the running subplots. A few more hints are dropped about the mysterious past of the D.C. community; while I don't think Douglas is anything at all like the Governor, Kirkman is clearly laying track for a revelation that will present the survivors and their new community with some hard choices. Meanwhile, Glenn and Heath's supply run reminds us what life is like outside the community's walls, for both dead and living alike.

And can we talk about Charlie Adlard for a moment? Month in and month out, this man blows me away. I truly hope that the fact this book is in black and white isn't scaring any of you folks away, because Adlard's art is brilliant in its simplicity. While we have Kirkman to thank for the intricate storytelling, it's Adlard who creates the ambience of our world gone terribly wrong. Whether it's a quiet moment between two friends on a front porch or finding yet another way to show a zombie getting its brains blown out, Adlard always keeps it interesting and vital. In addition, his meticulous compositions and sense of timing really bring out the emotional truth of the characters.

Together, Kirkman and Adlard have taken a premise that most creators would only try to sustain over a two-hour movie, and instead carried it for more than seven years. In doing so, they've found a new level of pathos and sophistication within the existing tropes of the zombie genre. The Walking Dead is one of the great creator-owned series of the decade, and even as it earns plaudits and is adapted to other media, it shows no signs of resting on its laurels, continuing instead to push the storytelling boundaries of the form.

 

The Spirit #4

Written by David Hine

Art by Moritat

Colors by Gabriel Bautista

Published by DC Comics

Review by Matt Seneca  

The biggest problem with The Spirit is that it's a comic of lowered expectations.  From Darwyn Cooke's breathless run to the 1990s' star-powered Spirit New Adventures series to Frank Miller's criminally underrated movie version, not one interpretation of the man in the blue fedora has even begun to approach Will Eisner's work on him more than 60 years ago.  That's hardly a knock against the many talented cats who've taken their whacks at Denny Colt in the intervening years -- hell, there've been more good Spirit stories since 1950 than there have been, say, Wonder Woman stories -- more just a nod at the inevitable fate of anyone who steps into Eisner's shoes.  In the face of a body of work that changed a medium, all any creator can possibly hope for is second best.

Which puts Moritat and new Spirit writer David Hine in an interesting place.  The reason Cooke and Miller did so well with Eisner's creation was their understanding of what made that comic so good in the days of yore.  It's common knowledge that Eisner's best Spirit stories didn't star the Spirit, that the book's titular character was little more than a shoehorn for more interesting things to make their way onto the pages.  But what were those interesting things, exactly?  The daffy, half-dimensional (and in a certain case, embarassingly racist) supporting cast?  Nah.  The one-night-only villains with alliterative names to kill for?  Eh.  The heartstoppingly pneumatic femme fatales?  Well...  sometimes.  But mostly, though, this is a comic that does best when it gives the starring role to style, pure and unadulterated.  When Darwyn Cooke can indulge his retro sweet tooth to a dangerous degree, when Frank Miller can lose himself in green-screen blacks and mumbling, when Will Eisner could do the glorious, legend-building work he had inside him -- that's when a Spirit story's worth checking out.

So how do Hine and Moritat do?  Not bad.  Taken on its own this issue's nothing to get excited about, but it's got some promise for what comes.  Moritat seems for all the world ready to bust out of the "solid craftsman" phase of his career and into stardom on this book, stripping his drawing of unnecessary lines until it glows, inking with a rough, delightful, almost Bill Sienkiewicz fervor, and pushing his cartooning skills to the limit.  He's well served by Gabriel Bautista's stormy pastel tones, which wash over the line art in waves, adding just the right amount of energy here, emotion there, plaintive beauty in the coner of the panel over that way.  This is a well-drawn comic, eschewing yet more Eisner homaging and going off into its own visual world, a nice little niche between American pulp and Euro grace and chilliness -- doing, in other words, what Eisner did instead of just drawing how he drew.  In just four issues of this book Moritat has grown considerably, and if he keeps improving at this rate this will be the best looking DC book on the stands inside a year.

Hine's story is good, but it's got less to recommend it.  Maybe it's just because I was hoping for a stylistic explosion like the ones he's setting off monthly in The Bulletproof Coffin over at Image, but the script of this comic, while by all means a good superhero procedural-type thing, doesn't go far enough in any of Eisner's ersatz directions -- or any of Hine's own -- to really register.  Taken as the average action book it's very good, a drug-laced mystery full of raw nerves and brutal realities, but it's not on par with the best Spirit comics or the best David Hine-written comics, and as such I was a little disappointed.  Still, it's a rock-solid story backed up by some killer artwork -- and the black and white Marv Wolfman/Phil Winslade backup strip is aces.  Worth the time for sure, and if Hine starts to level up and Moritat coninues to, The Spirit could get to be a lot more than just that.

Neonomicon #1

Written by Alan Moore

Art by Jacen Burrows, Juanmar

Published by Avatar Press

Review by Amanda McDonald

Alan Moore does character development like nobody's business. Most comics, it takes at least to the end of the issue if not several issues for me to really feel invested in the characters. However in this book, I was hooked within pages. FBI agents Lamper and Brears have a smooth dynamic that feels relatable. In merely a few pages we learn of previous issues with Agent Brears, providing sources of conversation for the two of them beyond just their work project.

This book follows the two of them as they investigate a series of brutal murders, beginning as they meet with inmate Sax, perpetrator of similar crimes before, who speaks what they consider gibberish, but many of us recognize as the Lovecraftian language of Chthulu. As their investigation continues, they go undercover at Club Zothique. As the band performing alternates between regular language and more of that weird language they suffer an attack by a girl while trying to persue a suspect. Her name. . . Randolph Carter. This startles Agent Brears, and she tells them to hold her for questioning. As the story continues we see a mysterious mural, dead mother, and they're all left puzzled under the dome encasing their city.

The book starts with an ominous page of someone sleeping and waiting within the deep that is not mentioned any more in the story. Rather than JUST leaving us on a cliffhanger wanting more, the book wants me wanting more right from the start as well. More happens in this one issue than happens in several issues of most books. This series was not really on my radar, however my LCS knows me and my tastes well, and suggested I check it out. As I mentioned, it only took a few pages to know this needed to come home with me and be shared with the readers here. Moore is setting up a solid story, steeped in literary legend. Artist Jacen Burows is extremely consistent and manages to create visual interest even in dialogue heavy panels. Colorist Juanmar's palette keeps the reader feeling like they are in the depths of night along with the characters. If you are fan of Moore, pick this up. If you are a fan of Lovecraftian legend, pick this up. If you are looking for a book outside of the super-hero genre, pick this up. Getting the idea? Pick this up.

Legends: The Enchanted HC

Written by Nick Percival

Illustrated by Nick Percival

Lettered by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Published by Radical Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

When George Lucas was soliciting design ideas from his creative team for Darth Maul's look, his order was "Think of your worst nightmare and draw that.".  As the story goes, one designer submitted a concept that George took one look at, paused, and then said, "Okay, give me your SECOND worst nightmare.".  I thought of that story while reading Legends:  The Enchanted because only from the skulking shadows of nightmare could someone create such a dour and apocalyptic take on popular children's fairy tales.  

The Enchanted are all of the fairy tale characters we've met as children, immortals who are protected from harm by special magic.  They exist in such uplifting-sounding realms like the Bionic Woodlands, Krakenfield, and the Acid Wastelands, areas so dark and forlorn they make Mordor look like a tropical resort.  Forget what Disney's fed you.  Mr. Percival's lifted up the toilet seat and pointed into the recesses a brush can't reach.  That's where his Enchanted live, co-existing in a solid-state juxtaposition of technology and magic.  However, the magic that's kept the likes of Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks, and Jack the Giant Killer free from mortal injury is being siphoned away, leaving them at the mercy of goblins and other nasties who hunt them.  And with Pinocchio's demise early on setting the standard, an Enchanted's end is typically by means vicious and merciless.  It's up to Jack (fortified with short bursts of super-powers after munching from his cache of magic beans) and Snow White to find the heart of the conspiracy against them and carve it out.

Sure, the characters and abilities are a sort of X-Men as imagined by the brothers Grimm (for some reason my favorite concept is the speedster: Jack Nimble), it's the painted artwork that makes this book so remarkable.  While the wolves, giants and goblins are industrial-grade horrors, and frightening is too tame to describe the Hag and her Troll (the one infamous for giving the goats Gruff so much grief; and is easily one of the most terrifying monsters ever to land on a comic book page), the most disturbing rendition has to be that of Humpty Dumpty, who is repulsive enough to cause a reflexive spasm of the gag reflex.  As wondrously haunting as he can make the dark side, Mr. Percival is just as capable of imparting some measure of lethal sexiness to the heroines Snow White, Goldilox, and Rapunzel.  It's gorgeous and stunning work.

Nick Percival's got issues.  I'm sure of it.  And Heaven bless him for it because his twisted vision is not only one of the best things I've read all year, but easily a top three book from Radical.  It's no wonder this book has been optioned for a movie and I personally think Timur Bekmambetov should be given the directorial reigns.  Radical's hardcover presentation is no slouch, beautiful with an embossed cover beneath a dust jacket.  I normally don't endorse hardcovers since I think trade paperbacks are just as nice and come at a more affordable price, but Legends is a book that is totally worth the hardcover price.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Blazing Combat

Written by Archie Goodwin

Art by Various

Published by Fantagraphics

Reviewed by Tim Janson

One upon a time there was a comic book called “Blazing Combat”.   Blazing Combat was put out by Warren Publishing who gave the world magazines such as Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.  Blazing Combat lasted only four issues from 1965 – 1966 but has had an indelible influence nearly fifty years later.  Unlike other war comics that were being produced at the time, Blazing did not feature heroic tales glorifying war but was decidedly Anti-war which led to its early demise.  The government banned the magazine on its military bases.  Pressure from the American Legion kept many wholesalers from selling the magazine.

Fantagraphics collects the entire four-issue run, all 29 stories in this 212 page trade paperback.  This book is why Fantagraphics is one of the best and most important comic publishers in the business today.  This is a series that could have easily been forgotten to the ages but Fantagraphics always is at the forefront of making sure important works of sequential art are remembered.   

All but two of the stories were written by Archie Goodwin with art by a host of legendary names including Alex Toth, Reed Crandall, Russ Heath, John Severin, Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Gene Colan, and Gray Morrow.  In addition, all four covers featured paintings by the late, great Frank Frazetta.  The stories were inspired largely by EC Comics titles “Frontline Combat” and “Two-Fisted Tales”.  Not coincidentally, all of these artists had worked for EC during the 1950’s.  

While most of the stories were set during World War II, they were not limited to that war.  Blazing Combat told tales set during The Revolutionary War, Civil War, Korea, and most controversially, the Vietnam War.  Blazing Combat told the human stories of war and their after effects.   

In “Aftermath” a Union and a Rebel soldier call a truce to bury a comrade, even shaking hands.  Yet old prejudices quickly crop up and the two battle to the death.  “Enemy” find two American soldiers capturing a German prisoner.  When the Sergeant finds a lighter with the initials “W.K.” he thinks it had belonged to their platoon’s Captain and believes the German robbed the dead.  He goes berserk, killing the soldier and then discovers the German’s name, “Werner Krauss.”

The story that caused the most controversy was “Landscape,” by Goodwin and Joe Orlando.  It shows the Vietnam War through the eyes of a simple farmer who wants nothing more than to tend his rice crop.  His village deals with one faction after another who claim they have liberated them from the enemy.  In the end, he is shot and left to die in his burning marsh, set on fire by yet another faction of soldiers.  It’s tame by today’s standards, but Goodwin showed something you just didn’t see in those days… the effects of war on the innocent civilians who just wanted to live their lives.   

This is a brilliant collection of stories that should be required reading.  Intelligent, gripping stories and fantastic art!  The book also includes interviews with Warren Publisher Jim Warren and the late Archie Goodwin.

In Case You Missed It!

Sweets #1 (Published by Image; Review by Jeff Marsick):  Okay, so this came out last week.  But I would be remiss in my duties of informing you about quality books on the stands if I didn't give it some love in this column.  Kody Chamberlain wrote and drew this comic, a story about a serial killer haunting New Orleans in the days leading up to the touching down of Hurricane Katrina.  Crime comics typically follow the same beats from book to book and dance to the same rhythms, but Mr. Chamberlain's effort here is quirky and original as he darts from scene to scene, and it's on you to keep up.  The story itself has a Brubaker Criminal feel to it (high praise, indeed) and the artwork has notes of Maleev-Azaceta (again a compliment).  One look at the cover alone is reason enough to buy the book.  A brilliant start to the five-part series and if you're reading the aforementioned Criminal you'd do well to supplement it with this book.  Highly recommended.

What were your favorite books of the week?

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