Best Shots Rapid Reviews: WONDER WOMAN, FANTASTIC 4, More

Don Kramer Joins JMS on WONDER WOMAN

Happy Thursday, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Can you tell by the way I walk I'm a working man, no time to talk? That's okay, talk is cheap, but reviews are worth their weight in bandwidth, suckas -- which is why we've got some bite-sized, hard-hitting goodness on books from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, BOOM! Studios and Radical. Want some more? Check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's get the party started, as Erika takes on the Amazing Amazon, with Wonder Woman #601!

Wonder Woman #601 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for a preview): Now we're talking. If Wonder Woman #600 made skeptics more, well ... skeptical about J. Michael Straczynski's vision for the Amazon Princess, this issue ought to yank them right off the fence. And by "them," I mean "me." This is an assured, action-packed story with some glorious visuals from Don Kramer, and it eliminates the lingering, "What's the point?" aftertaste of its predecessor. Themyscira's fate is the big reveal here, and it's cinematic, 300-esque stuff showing the Amazons in all their battle-ready glory. More than anything, this issue of Wonder Woman illustrates just how hardcore Hippolyta & Co. are, and how high the stakes are for Diana and her surviving sisters. While it's all but certain that this bleak version of reality is temporary, it's undeniably gripping and full of narrative potential. Finally, the spotlight can turn from the Amazon's new clothes to her new adventures.

Fantastic Four #581 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Kyle DuVall; Click here for a preview):After an auspicious debut run, FF writer Jonathan Hickman seems to be developing Grant Morrisionitis. This latest issue throws time-travel, alternate universe duplicates, Immortus and Ben and Reeds’s college hijinks with Victor Von Doom into a run that already has a dozen floating high-concept element that are hopefully all worming together towards, soeme eventual epic resolution. Hickman has already introduced the looming “War of Four Cities,” the twining subplot of Reed’s “Future Foundation,” something going on with the artificially, chronologically advanced Wonderworld, and now Hickman is also cross-tying FF to his celebrated and erudite SHIELD series. Hickman’s run is quickly losing the tight focus it had in its impressive first issues, and judgment on these last 2 issues will, sadly, have to be reserved for a later date when we see how well, if at all, Hickman pulls all his dangling plots and subplots together. Still, seeing Reed debate moral philosophy with Victor Von Doom in a college classroom is kind of a treat, and Hickman’s winsome characterization of the future Dictator is worth the cover price.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #2 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): It only makes sense that with all the buzz about the upcoming Thor film, that Marvel has released an all-ages book to familiarize younger readers with the character. However, I'm pleased to say they haven't slacked on the talent in this book and it is a must-read not just for the young ones, but for anyone who is a fan of the character. Roger Langridge writes the character extremely well. Though his speech is simple, the few words he uses pack a lot of punch. There is a scene in which he is dismayed to find that the rainbow he sees is not the Rainbow Bridge, and his sorrow and confusion made me actually get a little teary. Add in Chris Samnee's highly versatile art, and you've got a book that hits a real home run. Samnee has the ability to execute not just the fight scenes, but the genuine emotions of the characters as well. Add in the humor of scenes such as Thor raiding the refrigerator and being puzzled when the phone rings, and it is clear that he takes this book to a whole other level beyond a simple "hey, there's a movie coming out so we better put out a book for the kiddos" mentality that Marvel could have had with this series.    

The Flash #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for a preview): "In Case The Flash Returns Break Glass." Yeah, not the most subtle thing in the world, but there's a real broad charm to Geoff Johns' story, as it keep revving up with the reasoning behind the Flash being hunted down by some unlikely 25th century cops -- a mirror version of his own Rogues' Gallery. While some people may criticize Johns for a giant exposition drop, at this point, it gives this story a nice kick in the pants, and lets us know exactly what the stakes are here. I give him a lot of credit as well for continuing to experiment with superspeed combat -- it's been awhile since we've seen the Flash get creative, so seeing him run alongside a helicopter propeller is refreshing. Francis Manapul doesn't always hit a home run with the composition of the money shots, but I really like it when he experiments with the panels -- there's a shot where Captain Boomerang takes out a helicopter, and the view goes down almost in time with the aircraft. And Brian Buccellato? Oh, man, I love his colorwork. Seriously, Buccellato just makes this book. He just adds so much mood and detail to everything in Central City, with the reds and oranges just permeating everything.

Pilot Season: Stellar #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Patrick Hume; Click here for a preview):  I love the idea behind Pilot Season - giving readers a chance to take a look at brand-new concepts from some of the industry's top creators, and vote on the one they would like to see continue. If Stellar is any indication, however...well, maybe there's a reason these titles haven't made it to series before now. This first issue sets up the premise very well and gives some pathos to the titular superhuman, exiled from Earth and protecting offworld colonists from the dangers of the universe, but it isn't very engaging while doing so. Writer Robert Kirkman's ongoing series The Walking Dead and Invincible grabbed me from the outset, but while reading Stellar wasn't a bad use of my time, I'm not at all invested in finding out what happens next. It just seems to be lacking a certain spark. Likewise, Bernard Chang's art is well-composed, barring some occasionally oddities of anatomy, but perfunctory. I think Stellar is the last of this round of Pilot Season titles, so now we'll see what the people have to say - the proof, as they say, is in the voting.

Time Bomb#1 (Published by Radical; Review by Lan Pitts): Talk about genuine creativity here. Essentially, in the future, an underground city was discovered in Berlin where a hand-selected members of the Third Reich were going to stay, while a missile was activated and spread the mother of all viruses. Well, of course nothing goes according to plan, but I guess if the Nazis had it their way, better late than never I suppose. So, the missile is accidentally launched and the virus is spread and will destroy all life in an estimated three days. The solution? Go back in time to warn the government about the missile and the threat. What actually happens is that the small time-traveling team is sent back too far and they are now in WWII during the Nazi regime. Fully equipped to the T with modern day weaponry. So the question is, will they pull a Sam Beckett and change history for the better? It brings up a lot of questions, and I'm a sucker for a good time travel story. With fifty-four pages and NO ads, this book just can't be beat. If you know anything about Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, you know they make a dynamite team. Paul Gulacy's art is exquisite, adding to the serious tone for the book with proper inking that gives it the action movie feel. Rain Beredo's color also mesh well with what's going on, using lots of dark colors. Time Bomb is a fine example of compelling story telling and I would easily recommend this to anybody looking for something a bit out of the ordinary. It is for a more mature reader, but nothing to the degree of say anything out of the Vertigo line. If you're a fan of history, twist-ory, time travel and adventure, give this mini-series a shot.

Fantastic Four Annual #32 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kyle DuVall):: If Jonathan Hickman’s intriguing meanderings don’t give you your FF fix this month, then pick up the delayed but delightful FF annual, a fantastic journey of absurd adventuring, family trauma and even poignant sentiment. In this issue, the inevitable happens, and Johnny Storm finds himself facing an old flame who believes she is carrying his baby. Paternity tests are easy when your brother in law can alter the laws of physics, so Sue Storm shrinks down to size and gets a gander at the fantastic fetus… but sinister plots are afoot, and the team soon finds itself storming Johnny’s body to fight bizarre infinitesimal invaders. The plot is sometimes as clunky as a Kirby machine, and writer Joe Ahearne and penciler Bryan Hitch are equally to blame, since Ahearne seems to be afraid to a fault of too-much descriptive exposition, and Hitch’s layouts are poorly transitioned, but sweert Aunt petunia does Ahearne write an awesome Ben Grimm, and the ideas in this annual are brassy bold and exciting, with a real emotional cap on the story. Even if you don’t have the patience for what Jonathan Hickman has been doing with the ongoing title, pick up the annual. It’s got just about everything an FF fan could ask for…except the Kirby crackles.

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Amanda McDonald): This second issue of the series continues to follow Jack the Ripper historian, Sir Guy Hollis and newspaper photographer, Jenny, as they attempt to catch Jack in the midst of one of his crimes. Joe and John Lansdale continue to adapt Robert Bloch's classic work smoothly into the comics medium. Artist Kevin Colden's style reminded my roommate of Darwyn Cooke, as it should since both draw their styles from that mid-century pulp style. This is going to sound strange, but...  I like the way this book feels. It really stays true to the time period of its origin story, right down to the not gloss coated cover and pages. This results in not only a tactile throwback, but further enhances the setting of the story and encouraging the reader to travel back in time a bit. I'm sad to say this is a limited run, as this book is a real treat to read in addition to all of the more typical books in my pull box. However, at only three issues planned, IDW has made this book an easy series for someone to pick up and enjoy with out much financial commitment or need for continuity knowledge. Whether you're just looking for something different, or a true fan of the noir mystery genre, take a look at this one and let us know what you think.

Abe Sapien: The Abyysal Plane #2 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Kyle DuVall): the deliberate pacing and contemplative tone of issue 1 of Abyssal Planeput a fairly large burden on issue #2. If Mignola and Arcudi were trying to tell an adventure tale in the high-caliber Hellboy tradition, this issue would have to be packed with payoff. But issue #2 reveals that Arcudi and Mignola aren’t going for that. Abyssal Plane hasn’t developed into the fishman vs. Russkies vs. zombies excursion that was hinted at. Instead it’s a sly little vignette that showcase what makes Abe the mensch that he is. Fans with certain expectations may see this conclusion as all fizzle and no sizzle, while others may appreciate the novel turn the story takes and the way it reflects the insight of a beloved BPRD member. Still, Peter Snejbjergs pencils, so wonderfully moody in issue 1, seem to have devolved into the cartoonish with this issue. Moments of goggle-eyed expressions and caricature undercut the inherent tragedy and atmosphere of the tale. This is a worthy buy for Sapien superfans, but strictly mid-level Hellboyverse stuff on the whole.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Dust to Dust #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): How many times will I talk about how good this book is? Enough times until more people keep picking this thing up. This issue is getting better all the time, as Chris Roberson speedily cuts to the heart of protagonists like scientist Samantha Wu, robo-bounty hunter Victor Charlie, and his empathic partner Reed. To say that this book has atmosphere is putting it lightly -- you can almost feel the suffocating dust in the air, particularly through the sublime color work of Andres Lozano and Javier Suppa. This dynamic duo puts artist Robert Adler's sketchy, almost Nathan Fox-like lines in the best possible light, as in one scene in particular they have a great transition from an ominous violet to a bloody, almost psychotic-looking orange overlooking an android's abbatoir. Roberson really starts to inject that philosophical bent that Phillip K. Dick always pushed, questioning the senses and the motivations one derives from them. Seeing a robot's rationale for rebellion is always a tricky gambit, so the fact that Roberson makes our villains seem logical is both surprising and a little bit chilling. This issue is easily the best of the series thus far, with the art team's pervasive mood getting cranked up a notch with some real action. If you aren't reading this book, you're missing out on the sci-fi read of the year.

Weapon X #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for a preview): I've read through this issue three times, and I still feel a bit conflicted. While it's obvious that both Jason Aaron and Ron Garney have some serious creative chops, the other part of me thinks -- really, all this for a new Deathlok origin? Granted, it's certainly a meaner, faster, stronger origin than Charlie Huston's recent outing with the character -- Jason Aaron showing us the mechanical birth of the Deathlok computer core shows that he's got plenty of edge to spare. "First recorded memory... The human reproductive act, as view through formaldehyde." And that's just on page one. Ron Garney, meanwhile, is particularly interesting -- he doesn't get a whole lot of room to be flashy, with Aaron's dialogue heavy script, but when the action does ramp up, he manages to turn the power up so hard with his sketchy lines that it tilts the panels. But the question that remains -- even with the clever inversion of Deathlok's status quo, even with the fascinating moral quandry that Jason Aaron's story takes at the end -- why was this a Wolverine story? There's no satisfying answer to that question, and it ultimately is a nagging weight against an otherwise solid read.

Madame Xanadu #25 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): In the second installment of the "Extra-Sensory" story arc, Spencer Wilkins is a young rising star at a premier ad agency in 1963 New York City. His marriage is bliss and his life game is pretty much pimp-tight. Then, he begins hearing people's "Dirty Little Mouth." From start to finish the story is gripped with intensity. And of course, Madame Xanadu makes her beautiful, green-eyed appearance to lend her super-natural hand. I like these stand alone mini-arcs, getting a complete story in one issue is quite satisfying. This month's artist is Laurenn McCubbin. Her style is crisp and straight-forward. The use of primary colors and bold lines enhances the thrill of the wicked dialogue, and screams '60's New York. It works. I like it. Buy it. While you're at your LCS, buy the previous issue too. They are worth it for the art alone, and the stories happen to be damn good too.

James Patterson's Witch and Wizard: Battle for Shadowland #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Amanda McDonald): IDW's new(ish) series is based on a novel by James Patterson, released in 2009. The comic follows Whit and Wisty Allgood, a pair of teens with magical powers, as they search for their missing (and possibly dead) parents as well as fight against the New Order. In this world, the New Order has outlawed all that allows for creativity or freedom -- art, music, democracy, and of course - magic. Not only has the New Order desecrated the world which we all know, but it is set on invasion of something called "The Shadowland," a realm in which ghosts live and in which our cast of characters seeks reprieve from the New Order. With two teen protagonists, the popular theme of witchcraft and wizardry, and the bright, colorful art of Victor Santos -- it would be easy to dismiss this as a book for young readers. However upon closer inspection you'll see there is a lot of brutal ass-kicking and writer Dana Naraghi explores some pretty heavy themes. This is not a book for your eight year old nephew who can't get enough Harry Potter-esque stories, but it is good for those of us who love a comics with a supernatural theme.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matt Seneca; Click here for a preview): A plot-light exercise in character/brand positioning; a ticking-off of time and various genre tropes until DC gets their seventy-three new Batman title launches together; and a rotating-artist showcase of  variable quality?  Yep, there’s plenty of room for mediocrity to creep into The Return of Bruce Wayne, despite the fact that it has seen good issues and it’s written by Grant Morrison.  Four installments down and this book is already formulaic as hell, enough so that I can tell you the plot summary of each issue in one go: Bruce Wayne is zapped into a time period that people like to make movies about, dresses up in appropriate History-Channel-reenactment costumiery, fights someone, and finds another tiny piece of Morrison’s Batman meta-puzzle -- which, of course, won’t even come close to being resolved in this book.  This issue there’s a pretty good marijuana innuendo (though far from Morison’s best on Batman), and “slut” is added to the list of mean words you can say in an all-ages DC comic.  As with every installment of ROBW, however, the onus is on the artist to make us care -- and Georges Jeanty just doesn’t have what it takes to elevate this material above pedestrian.  His storytelling displays a bare minimum of surety, and he does good drawings (Cowboy Batman emerging from a cloud of smoke) about as often as bad ones (Jonah Hex with a dwarf’s physiognomy).  But though there’s nothing objectionable enough to remove readers from the story, there’s certainly nothing very eye-catching or pretty going on with this art... which basically means the book is sunk. How long till October?  

What're your favorite (or least) of the week?

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