Best Shots Comic Reviews: BRIGHTEST DAY, SHADOWLAND, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: BRIGHTEST DAY

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Best Shots doesn't sleep, and even with half our team hitting Dragon*Con, we've still got some rock-solid reviews on books from Marvel, DC, Image and more for your reading enjoyment! Looking for more? Have no fear -- check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page here! And now, let's take a look at a dawning light for Brightest Day...

DC Preview: BRIGHTEST DAY #9
DC Preview: BRIGHTEST DAY #9
Brightest Day #9

Written by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Rob Clark Jr.

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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There's a scene in this book that I think everyone -- DC, readers, everyone -- should take a look at. It's of a boy sitting on a porch, watching the rain. He extends his arm, as the image of an eel suddenly glows electric. There's pain on his face, as the water falls. Then we see his eyes, sparking triumphant... as he controls the rain.

This isn't just power. This is freedom. This is joy. This is why we read superhero comics in the first place. And it's this sequence that gives Brightest Day #9 some renewed weight, as we ditch some of the more cumbersome continuity tricks and get back to brass tacks, of superheroes showing the sheer joy of their abilities as they race toward the common good.

I think the other strength of Brightest Day #9, of course, is that Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi really pare down the storylines, focusing on two of the stronger arcs in this megaseries -- Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter. There's a renewed sense of speed and even experimentation as we see our characters put through their paces -- the Martian Manhunter in particular gets a great guest star to spar with, and there's so much sensory input that you can't help but share J'onn's disorientation and unease. (And J'onn's nemesis gets a great scene in a shopping mall abbatoir, as the vacant loudspeakers allude to the action elsewhere. A nice touch.) And as I said before, the scenes with Aquaman are just pure joy, whether it's would-be hero or horrific villain -- there's a level of wish fulfillment with these powers and abilities, and not every gift has to be a burden or a curse.

The thinned stories also add some real visual consistency here, allowing heavy hitters Ivan Reis and Patrick Gleason strut their stuff along with Joe Prado. Reis is finally given some room to breathe, and boy does he knock it out of the park. Reis works so well because he lends that widescreen musculature and composition yet injects it with just a hint of that old-school cartoony comics expressiveness. Gleason, meanwhile, just works as pure splattering imagination, with J'onn's body shifting and growing and writhing in tune with the flood of balloons and invasive thoughts. And I know he'll get overlooked by many, but Joe Prado's style works well at the end of the Martian Manhunter sequence, as we see the victors look scraped and disheveled, but ultimately still alive.

One of the things that's slowed down Brightest Day isn't so much the character selection or the art talent involved -- although, to be fair, there's no way it doesn't impact things -- but the fact that there's so much overt continuity clean-up going on that the story feels more of a chore than a labor of love. This issue doesn't feel that way -- this is taking the sort of "spine" theory that Dan DiDio was promoting during Countdown, giving readers a little bit of a guided tour through the current DCU, while reminding us that it isn't so much the destination that matters, but how we get there. Whether it's answering your life's calling in a shower of rain or fighting a beast through a trap-laden emerald forest, it's comics like this that show you the superhero genre doesn't have to be so self-aware, so self-important that it has to wallow in angst. We've brought the character back to comics -- issues like Brightest Day #9 bring back the fun.

Shadowland #3

Written by Andy Diggle

Art by Billy Tan, Victor Olazaba, Christina Strain & Guru EFX

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

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I could not be more bored with this book.

Isn't that strange? I mean, here we have one of Marvel's flagship heroes turning on his closest allies, making Hell's Kitchen into his personal fiefdom with the aid of an army of ninjas, and using dark magic to enforce his will, all while his oldest enemies work to take him down.  Sounds great, right? And it would be, except for every other thing about it.

As I mentioned in last month's review of Shadowland #2, the single biggest issue with the series has to be the characterization of Matt Murdock. Daredevil has gone from troubled but generally upstanding vigilante to a B-grade villain more or less overnight. Let's put it this way: his first line of dialogue in this issue is "Consider my ban on killing hereby lifted. Slay them all!" If that doesn't sound to you like it was ripped off from a terrible martial arts movie from the '60s...well, clearly you have better taste in movies than I do. But I digress.

What's even more irritating is that we begin to get an explanation for Daredevil's shift towards dictatorial rule, and it's shaping up to be yet another iteration of one of the hoariest cliches in all of comicdom. You'll know it when you see it. I know it might seem like I want it both ways, but can't we have a explanation for something that rises out of, you know, characterization and personal choices rather than some external force? Perhaps asking for narrative plausibility in a superhero comic is a bit of a stretch, but wouldn't it be more interesting to see Daredevil decide on his own to become a feudal lord and deal with the consequences of that, rather than drop yet another mystical force we've never heard of to explain it all?

But let's say that you buy what's going on with Daredevil. How's the rest of the book? Well...not awesome. I didn't get the sense of betrayal I'd hoped for from Luke Cage, Iron Fist and their allies, who seem more interested in Daredevil's new combat abilities than the fact that one of their oldest friends has donned the black hat. Subplots with the Kingpin, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight just seem to be there to take up some pages.

The art remains serviceable, perfunctory, and not at all suited to the tone of the story. It strikes me that Billy Tan's dynamic, poppy pencils and Christina Strain's bright palette don't quite fit the aesthetic I think of when I hear the title "Shadowland". I'd much prefer the sketchy, noirish art of someone like former Daredevil guru Alex Maleev. Instead, generic compositions and storytelling are the name of the game, wasting an opportunity to really add to the atmosphere of a book that isn't getting a lot of texture from the writer's die of things.

At this point, I'm almost hoping there won't be any long-term consequences from Shadowland. It's just such a misguided, contrived event, and I'd hate to see a character with as much potential and history to him as Daredevil get hampered for the next couple of years by editorially imposed mandates that will get lifted as soon as they want to generate some buzz for the book again. In a perfect world, once the crossover wraps up this fall, Daredevil would get a finger-wagging from the other heroes and go back to being the star of one of Marvel's best series. Judging from recent advertisements asking who will be the next Man Without Fear, however, I'm guessing we've got a long, slow slog ahead of us before the book is back on track.

Scarlet #2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Alex Maleev

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Icon Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Clocking in at well over the typical 22 pages found in mainstream comics, creator-owned Scarlet packs in a lot of bang for your four bucks. After introducing us to this character, I was anxiously looking forward to this second installment. While we saw some action in that first issue, it was certainly heavy on character development. Scarlet is a really rich character, speaking directly to the reader and justifying how she got to the point at which she is at now. She's young, she's bitter, she's angry, and her eyes are open to rampant corruption in her community.

In issue two, we see Scarlet really move forward, and enact more of the justice she deems fit. First is a visit to a former cop for information, and she's clearly willing to do what it takes to get what she wants. We see her also patiently tracking the man who shot her lover, using her undeniable charm to work her way into his graces. While her methods aren't legal by any means, it's impossible not to root for this character. Bendis has created a story that is easy to buy into as the character reveals so much of herself to us. We don't know just what happened to piss her off, we know about all the major landmarks of her life leading up to that point.

Maleev's art is simply gorgeous. Wait, scratch that. There's nothing "simple" about it. It's rough and gritty, but when you really inspect each panel you see the painstaking detail to backgrounds or subtle facial expressions. This serves Bendis' story well, with Scarlet looking directly into our eyes, pleading for understanding or seeing her eyes crinkle as she pours the charm on thick to get what she wants. While the three covers (Maleev's, with variants by Mike Avon Oeming and David Mack) differ greatly in style and color palette they all portray Scarlet's personality to a tee. Maleev portrays her in his characteristic style, Oeming gives her a stark black and red cartoon pin-up style, and Mack's angelic vision of her is breath-takingly soft and gorgeous.

There's been a fair amount of buzz about this book, and for good reason. Good luck trying to find a comparable strong female lead in any other book out there right now. There's no super-heroine here. Or is there? No cape, no tights, no special powers -- but she's motivated to enact justice for the greater good of her community. She could be the girl in the corner of the coffee shop, or two rows behind you on the bus. If someone wronged you, would you go to the extremes she has? Probably not, but we all wish we could. Definitely get on board with this series right away if that's your sort of thing. Yes, it will make a gorgeous trade, but show publishers NOW that this is storytelling worth encouraging.

Angelus #5

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

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"It was always going to end like this, wasn't it?" -- Dani Baptiste, the Angelus

When we last saw Dani, she was caught in a rather awkward situation with her father walking in on her and her galpal, now official girlfriend, Finch. We also witnessed former Angelus warrior Sabine bond her self to the Artifact known as the Shadow Wheel, granting her powers of time manipulation. Sabine is focused on regaining the Angelus and it's going to be quite the showdown between herself and Dani.

Okay, let's get something straight (ironic choice of word) and out of the way here. Dani's and Finch's relationship has been blossoming for several years now. This is not just some sort of realization about their sexuality. No. Ron Marz has crafted their rapport carefully and naturally. So, naturally, two consenting adults who have strong romantic feelings for each other eventually having some sort of sexual experience. Mind you, this is also Top Cow. They have a mature content warning and they mean it. The thing is though, if you really break it down, it's nothing we've seen in comics before, but what really strikes home is the talk Dani has with her father about Finch. It's endearing, sincere, and above all, handles the situation well.

Of course the express of their love doesn't last long as Dani's "friends" show up. Talk about bad timing. Sabine reveals herself as the new wielder of the Shadow Wheel, as well as her intentions to fight Dani for the Angelus force. What Dani didn't see coming is Sabine stealing time away from Finch and making her old. I mean, Gandalf old. Dani easily decapitates her former minions who served Sabine. Now all that is standing is a pissed-off Dani and a power-crazed Sabine. I'm sure the conclusion is going to be out of this world.

I have to give props to Sejic here. I have, at times, criticized his lack of facial features that leave some of his figures cold and stoic. Here though, he breaks through and lets his talent speak for itself. The passionate scene between Dani and Finch comes across as real, well as real as things can be in the comic world. It all just seems very human. The design of Sabine possessing the Shadow Wheel is something to behold as well. It has a sort of Eternity and Starman vibe and is just visually striking.

This mini-series has excelled in showcasing Dani as a stand-alone kind of character and out of Sara Pezzini's shadow. The action is terrific, the dialog is clever and crisp and the art is beyond superb. Anyway we can get this into an ongoing, Top Cow?

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #4

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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Out of all the Heroic Age books on the stands, I have to say that Hawkeye & Mockingbird is by and large the most effortlessly fun and enjoyable of the bunch. Back on track after a shaky third issue, this book passes over the rough spots by reminding us just what it is we love about these characters.

Even as he gives you a giant fake-out from last issue's cliffhanger, Jim McCann's biggest strength is that he makes everything move quickly. You combine that with some heartwarming moments between Clint and Bobbi, and there is a lot you can forgive -- yes, there's a little bit of repetition of "let's do this" moments, there's a character that's brought in with zero warning from the previous three issues, there's some fakeouts that are more artificial tension-grabbers than anything else. But when you see Clint and Bobbi really reconnect, it's a wonderful moment that really gives this issue a buoyancy that you don't see too often. (Not to mention the way Clint plays with dinosaur heads is way more amusing than it ever should be.)

Now, as far as David Lopez goes, I think I'm officially a convert: He doesn't even have any particularly flashy moments here -- nothing like the high-octane car chase he pulled in the first issue -- but his storytelling is just absolutely rock-solid. There's expressiveness, there's some speed, there's even a bit of tongue-in-cheek-don't-take-this-too-seriously humor in the action, as Clint gives us the grin that we know we'd all have if we were fighting robots with the head of a triceratops. That said, there's one emotional moment that I think Lopez misses the pitch a bit -- there's really no fireworks to Clint and Bobbi when they share their moment, and that's too bad, considering the central premise of this book isn't action, but love.

Still, McCann is benefitting from some smart early planning, and in its fourth issue, that is really paying off for Hawkeye & Mockingbird. You don't have to tell stunt storytelling if you have a strong premise, a multifaceted engine for characterization and story choices. McCann's given us spy romance, bows and arrows and bo staffs, globe-trotting mysticism and terrorism around the world. This is what comics were made to do, and the enthusiasm and speed that McCann and Lopez give this enterprise is the hidden gem of the Heroic Age. It ain't perfect, but neither are the characters -- Hawkeye & Mockingbird is still a prize even if it is rough around the edges, and I think its protagonists wouldn't have it any other way.

I, Zombie #5

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Michael Allred

Letters by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

I love girl detectives. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, and I bear a striking resemblance to Velma Dinkley. I generally don't love zombies or zombie stories. However, this series is an exception. While the title makes no bones about the zombie element of the book, this really is a series more about Gwen solving mysteries and dealing with monsters, though these ones never refer to 'you meddling kids.'

After learning more about the world around her in issue four, Gwen sets off to contemplate Amon's proposal. Along the way she discovers Spot has blabbed his were-terrier status to a friend, as well as potentially exposing Gwen's secret. She also literally runs into a monster-hunter for the Fossor Corporation, and they hit it off swimmingly. Gwen seems to be pulled from lots of directions, but resigns herself to just enjoy a picnic with a friend rather than let it all sink in. A perfectly normal reaction to so much stress, if you ask me.

The art in this book is fun, and Allred doesn't overdo the drooling zombie look that I tend to avoid. Gwen's a stylish character, her friend Ellie wears the cutest vintage outfits (she is a ghost from the 1960s after all), and the book has an overall bright tone to it, compared to other zombie books. Klein has created a world in which I'm very interested, with all sorts of nefarious creatures of the night at play in sub-plots. I appreciate his slight twists on the familiar standbys such as a were-terrier over werewolf, and a girl who can eat brains once a month to stay relatively normal as opposed to full-on creepy zombie.

This issue ends the current arc, without really wrapping up much of the story at all. Wise move? It certainly encourages me to keep reading and see where Gwen's story goes.

Choker #4

Written by Ben McCool

Art by Ben Templesmith

Lettering by Tom B Long

Published by Image Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

Ben Templesmith knows from springing out of nowhere. Catapulted to stardom by his work on 30 Days of Night, in the intervening years, Templesmith has become one of comics' most in-demand artists, with a unique visual style marrying influences like Bill Sienkiewicz with an eclectic flair all his own. With Choker, Templesmith has plucked another creator out of obscurity, writer Ben McCool, and instantly put him on the map.

Choker's closest antecedent is another Templesmith project, the on-hiatus horror noir Fell, but McCool's universe is almost more depraved than that of Snowtown. In Shotgun City, cops and criminals alike freely modify themselves with powerful narcotics that grant them incredible strength, endurance, and speed. Protagonist Johnny Jackson, an ex-cop who couldn't quite hack the pharmacological regimen and has a mutant hand to show for it, is the perfect noir hero. Desperate to recapture his former life but also aware of the corruption infesting the system he was once a part of, Jackson has a great dynamic to him, walking a narrow path in pursuit of what he hopes is justice.

McCool also creates a great character in Jackson's new partner, Flynn Walker, a female detective hopped up on Man Plus and quite happy to dismember perpetrators to get them to talk. While in previous issues, Walker was a bit of a caricature, McCool starts to give her more depth here in the scene where Jackson confesses his involvement in an unfortunate incident during his time on the force. Walker's understanding goes a long way to make her more than just the latest Cool Ass-Kicking Chick.

While the characterization on the two leads is great, I can't say the same for the antagonists. Two-thirds of the way through the series, we have only a hazy grasp of the motives, connections and conflicting agendas of the various parties working against Jackson and Walker. Understanding the opposition's perspective is a key part of any narrative, and McCool's attempt at conspiratorial mystery seems unnecessarily obfuscative.

As usual, Templesmith's art is a huge part of what makes Choker a good book. Templesmith's flair for stylization bordering on abstraction is the perfect fit for the bizarre bio-noir tale spun by McCool. My only complaint is that it can occasionally be hard to follow what's going on in scenes with a lot of characters and activity, such as the raid that is the book's major set-piece. There's also a degree of resemblance between Jackson's driver and another supporting character that makes the opening scenes somewhat confusing.

Aside from some work on Justice League Unlimited, Choker is McCool's debut, and is all the more impressive for it. I'm looking forward to seeing how he ties up the threads of the narrative he's set up here. If he sticks the landing, we may very well have an up-and-coming star on our hands.

Shadowland: Elektra #1

Written by Zeb Wells

Art by Emma Rios and Fabio D'Auria

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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When I saw Shadowland: Elektra #1 on last week's list of comics, I knew I had to give it a look. For long-time readers of Best Shots, you'll remember that I was bowled over by Zeb Wells' last adventure with Daredevil's former flame -- it was pure action, pure movement, pure emotion without speech, with all the deliberate control of a ninja assassin.

So it's weird to read this book and feel, well, disappointed. Wells is teamed up with a new artistic partner for this one-shot -- Emma Rios, a talent in her own right -- and has a status quo one would think was just as personal as her escape from H.A.M.M.E.R. and the Skrull Empire. Yet lightning doesn't strike twice, and there's an emptiness to this venture that echoes in 22 pages.

Let's start with the big change here: Emma Rios. She has a wildly kinetic style that she's demonstrated with books like Hexed and Strange, but at the same time, I don't think Marvel's found the perfect property for her yet, the book that will make her really run electric. She doesn't quite give Elektra the haunting, unscrutable beauty that her predecessor Clay Mann did -- instead, Rios is all speed, making Elektra's action move so quickly even the reader has a tough time following. Bodies fly and bloody fists burst through walls, and Rios best succeeds when she's got the rhythm moving -- there's a great moment when Elektra stabs a ninja, and colorist Fabio D'Auria makes the panel explode in red. That said, there's that mysteriousness, that intensity behind the eyes, that's missing here, and it makes it tough to connect with our heroine here.

In all that analysis over the art, Zeb Wells is an interesting case here -- he's really a chameleon, letting Rios really take the wheel outside of pacing and exposition. Part of that, I think, is because this is a one-shot -- Wells doesn't have to really set up much in the way of plot points or character arc, so he's content with keeping the kung-fu gripping and otherwise getting the action out of his system. There's a great character moment near the end of the book that gives Elektra a likeability that she does lack elsewhere in the issue, but there is something a little bloodless here about the story. Perhaps that's because of the 22-page limit -- it feels like there isn't a whole lot of confidence to the premise due to its surprising shortness, and so it all feels a little half-hearted.

Note that I don't say this is a bad book -- it's just a disappointing one. You could read Shadowland #3 and not really have any more or any less inkling as to Elektra's plans or reasons for joining the fray. She loves Matt Murdock, and would do anything to keep him from following her dark path -- we knew that going in, and we know that going out. Maybe that's endemic of today's expected style -- that you need more than one issue to tell anything other than a trifle, anything that really digs into the character beyond the day-to-day high concept. Who knows. But it's too bad that even Zeb Wells and Emma Rios can't use their considerable chops to make this story hit harder than it did.

What were your hits and misses this week?

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