Best Shots Rapid Reviews: AVENGERS Animated, KICK-ASS, More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, as the Best Shots team takes aim at a ton of this week's latest releases with their Rapid-Fire Reviews. We've got books from Marvel, DC, Image, Icon and Top Cow, and there's plenty more where that came from — check out our back-issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! To start things off, let's turn on the tube as George checks out the first two episodes of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes...

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

Produced by Joshua Fine

Directed by Sebastian Montes, and Vinton Heuck

Written by Christopher Yost

Featuring Wally Wingert, Fred Tatsciore, Eric Loomis, Phil LaMarr, Rick D. Wasserman, and Colleen O'Shaughnessy

Review by George Marston

Marvel Comics has always fallen short of its "distinguished competition" in the realm of animation. While successful, the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons of the '90's were hardly progressive, nor did they make any attempt to be faithful to their comic book counterparts, and like much of DC's pre-90's oeuvre, many fans would rather forget what came before that. It's clear with Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes that Marvel has taken a cue from the successful template of DC's "Justice League" animated series, introducing a core team of heroes based directly on the comic line-up, and throwing as many recognizable, colorful, and occasionally obscure villains at them while developing and maintaining an accurate and entertaining element of character progression. This two-part premiere shows that while Marvel doesn't have DC's history of recent hits to draw on, they are ready to bring their flagship franchise to a larger audience in a big way.

The pilot, entitled "Breakout," begins by showcasing our future Avengers (the original comic line up of Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, Ant Man, and the Hulk) and the territories they patrol. It's established that each of these heroes has been a successful crimefighter in his or her own right, and they each incarcerate their enemies in a number of experimental high security prisons. After a quick jaunt through each of the prisons, and a quick look at some of the villains held therein, the plot quickly escalates as a series of strange occurrences leads to a breakout across all four superhuman detention facilities. The erstwhile heroes attend to their individual breakouts, engaging in battle with their respective rogues galleries and doing their best to contain the chaos. Just as everything seems to be coming to a breaking point, one final breakout occurs as a mysterious villain held in the SHIELD Helicarrier escapes, wreaking havoc and finally uniting our heroes as they battle valiantly to take down this cosmic level threat, revealed to be Graviton, a former SHIELD scientist who gained control over gravity itself.

The first half of the pilot, in which the breakouts occur moves a little quickly. Watching with my wife, she confided that she felt it was failing to garner much of her interest, as she does not, in her words, have "50 years of comic book knowledge" to draw on in recognizing and appreciating the rapid fire cameos from villains and supporting cast. She did, however, find much more room to breath in the second half, which consisted largely of the fight with Graviton, and I can certainly agree with that assessment. While the introductory scenes were exciting for fan service, the multiple cuts, lack of distinct focus, and reliance on continuity recognition in the pilot may be alienating for those who aren't longtime Avengers fans. That said, for those who have been reading the comics for years, the character moments and cameos are wonderful grist for the mill. Thor has some shining moments with Jane Foster, and Balder, and little touches such as Maria Hill's look of indignation as the heroes announce the formation of their team hint at a deep understanding of the roots of these characters, both classic and contemporary. I particularly appreciated the portrayal of the Hulk as a cunning brute, who, while possessed of average intelligence, is far more beholden to his base emotions. It's rare that a multi-media portrayal takes this route for ol' Jade Jaws, and in doing so, the creators once again showcase their knowledge of the early years of the Avengers. It's also to the show's benefit that it draws from multiple eras of the team, using a prison break as the impetus for the teams formation, as in "New Avengers," facing the initial threat of Graviton, as in "West Coast Avengers," and of course utilizing the original line up and hinting at a greater force behind the attacks (maybe Loki?) as in the original series launch. Combined with the minisodes available online, showcasing such characters as Kang the Conqueror (in which we gain our first look at Captain America and Bucky), and the Black Panther, the more focused half of the pilot showed strong potential for the show now that introductions are out of the way, and a more fine-pointed approach can be taken to apprehending the criminals that escaped from custody.

Overall, the series has a lot going for it. Terrific voice acting, solid scripting, and fantastic character designs all serve to draw in comic fans looking for a mature and fun approach to these characters. With a little more focus, some improved pacing, and more of the characterization that defines the Marvel universe, mainstream animation fans will be drawn in as well. Just looking at the list of characters slated to appear this season breeds excitement in me, and, given the time to properly develop its voice, this could be the epic and sprawling 'toon that Marvel fans have been waiting for.

Kick-Ass 2 #1 (Published by Icon; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): If you have no prior knowledge of the previous Kick-Ass series, or the major motion picture, you very well may be able to enjoy this book. "May" and "be" are the key words in that sentence. This book was a big maybe for me from the start, and I really wasn't sure if I wanted to bother with it. I enjoyed the initial series; I enjoyed the movie. However if you are familiar with those, you know there are major plot differences between the two. Kudos for Millar and Romita for staying in continuity with the book, but I wonder how many people will pick this up and be utterly confused at the stark differences in plot that are apparent right from the first pages. Then again, maybe it will inspire them to pick up the first run which Millar actually does suggest in his letter to readers at the end of the issue. Previous series and film issues aside, does this issue stand up on its own? It's a good first issue in that it hooks the reader in pretty quickly. We've got Hit Girl getting grounded, and Dave looking for teammates. There's a nice break down of the artistic process in the back. It piques my interest enough to consider the next issue, but storywise there is nothing that I expect will put you on the edge of your seat or have you forgetting to breathe.

Green Lantern Corps #53 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Consider this series recharged! The new art team, Tyler Kirkham and Batt, make a stellar first impression with this book, giving the Green Lantern Corps a look that's reminiscent of Shane Davis with hints of David Finch and Ed Benes. (And the fact that the artwork lets Nei Ruffino give some really nuanced colorwork makes it even stronger.) Granted, there's a couple of hiccups here and there with the composition, where the character placement isn't as strong as it could be — but considering this is their first issue of this series, this is one heck of a debut effort. Whether it's cybernetic-looking power armor or watching Sinestro eerily watch the populace of Earth, Kirkham and Batt make the most out of their pages, giving the same sort of space and cleanliness to the panel that has made Ivan Reis such a success. As far as the story goes, it's a little light with the plot, but Tony Bedard makes up for it with some fun character work and some compelling action — he's definitely got a knack for writing Kyle, particularly the artisan Green Lantern's sense of humor, which goes a long way towards helping the audience ignore Soranik Natu, who Bedard doesn't quite have a strong voice for yet. While the high-concept of the Weaponeer might not be earth-shattering enough to knock you back on your couch, the change-up to the art team is particularly strong, and, if nothing else, makes Green Lantern Corps suddenly one of the more visually striking books in the DC publishing lineup.

Soldier Zero #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Teresa Jusino): I want to like this series. I think I do like this series. But after reading its first issue, I have concerns. Soldier Zero tells the story of Stewart, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan who is now paralyzed and in a wheelchair and bonds with an alien suit of armor that allows him to stand for the first time since his accident. All of this is great stuff. My concern, however, lies in the handling of Stewart’s disability. Soldier Zero is guided by Stan Lee and written by Paul Cornell. There are moments when that collaboration is apparent, and not entirely for the better. I think it’s amazing that there’s a lead character in a comic who uses a wheelchair. However, when we’re bombarded with “lessons” about how hard it is to be in a wheelchair in the first six pages, I think there’s something wrong. It was as if they wanted to cram everything about the problems wheelchair users face into one issue, and that’s the kind of thing that could be explored gradually (and less ham-handedly) over the course of a series. Had this issue only dealt with the honest and realistic conversation Stewart has with his new love interest about his disability, it would’ve been enough. There were also moments when letting Javier Pina show Stewart’s difficulties through his art would have been enough. Not everything needs to be spelled out via dialogue, and I hope that this lesson is learned in future issues so that this book can live up to its pedigree.

X-23 #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): The second installment of X-23 definitely raises the stakes. Marvel does an excellent job of setting up the story so far. You needn't have read anything prior to enjoy this issue — and it is enjoyable. Liu deftly conveys just how inside her own head X-23 really is. Given Laura's insanely traumatic past, her internal struggle is so palpable that you will be rooting for her goodness. Unfortunately, she is going to have to go through Hell first. There is nothing revelatory or particularly original here, but the story is certainly fitting for the character. Luo's cover art is strikingly attractive, but the high “cute” factor does not exactly suit the character or the book. It's like Darwyn Cooke drawing Lobo. Will Conrad's interior art is also quite good. He executes some really dynamic motion sequences, as well as moments of distinctly strong emotion. I have a slight issue with the coloring: There was a LOT of brown, beige and tan. It was largely appropriate, but at times, it washed out the definition. A higher contrast may have worked better. Liu leaves us with a great set-up for the next issue, and X-23 #2 is a solid book from start to finish.

Morning Glories #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; click here for preview): The first two issues of this breakaway hit were explosive, but you ain't seen nothing yet. Issue #3 further explores the nooks and crannies of Morning Glory Academy, and they are even darker than I'd imagined. We’re talking dungeons, blood-scrawled walls and the scariest health care professional this side of Nurse Ratched. Casey is no closer to figuring out why her parents were murdered, and as her perpetually inappropriate classmate Ike points out, her righteous anger is playing right into the school officials' hands. Morning Glories keeps the “Whoa” factor high, but what's most disturbing is the way some students seem either unconcerned about or completely unaware of the depravity surrounding them. Are they all having horrific experiences? Is the school meting out extreme punishment at random, or is there a specific plan for each victim? My guess is that this series has barely scratched the surface of a grand story. Writer Nick Spencer manages to continue surprising the reader without crossing over into silly territory. My only quibble is that Casey seems to have recovered a little too quickly from her parents’ murder. She’s still pissed off, but it’s hard to reconcile the violent shock of that moment with Casey’s relative composure. Otherwise, Morning Glories #3 keeps the hits coming.

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): In Ragman: Suit of Souls, Christos N. Gage revisits the origin of Ragman and drops some knowledge along the way. I suppose every person, at some point in their life, wants to better understand their parents in order to better understand themselves. That is just what Rory is seeking, and the story is ... okay. It would be good if a few key moments had not been rushed. The reader is forced into an emotion, and the buildup isn't quite enough. I realize it is just a one-shot, but that rushed feeling compromised its believability. Because of the story's serious nature and the bits of authentic history woven into it, profundity is added by default. I grabbed this comic on a whim, and if I am being totally honest, because of Jesus Saiz's cover art. I like the colors and the weaving of the souls into the cape. The interior art by Stephen Segovia worked well enough — there was a scratchy vibe, but with fairly good detail. I think the goal of Gage's story is admirable and ultimately touching. If you are a Ragman fan, this would be a nice addition to the longbox. Otherwise, I suspect you might not get much from it.

7 Days From Hell #1: Pilot Season (Published by Top Cow Entertainment; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): Hell — the literal fire and brimstone hotspot — nips at mercenary John Bishop’s heels, and there’s only one way he can outrun it. If he kills a specific criminal within a seven-day window, he gets a temporary extension until the next mark is named. Having been fatally wounded during a job, he escaped death and eternal torment only by agreeing to murder very bad people at the behest of a demon named Mandy. But if he’s killed again, well, it’s curtains for good. No pressure. 7 Days from Hell is a riveting book, one filled with tension, high stakes and weighty questions. What is the price of redemption? Can ridding the world of evil make up for your own heinous acts? Is revenge an empty exercise? From the luscious Brian Stelfreeze cover on, this comic thrills. Bryan Edwards and Rob Levin’s script takes off like a rocket and sustains the momentum, and Phil Noto’s interior art — the mod pencil work and the color palette — is a tasty treat. There’s a cool nightclub scene that Noto renders almost entirely in indigo and red, and it pops while effectively conveying a sense of place. Top Cow has churned out several top-notch Pilot Season entries, so it’s going to be a slugfest for No. 1. This book has certainly earned a shot.

Superman/Batman #77 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose):: Damian Wayne is one of those characters that just oozes with personality — he's a highly talented, scarily effective, absolutely aggravating little brat, and seeing Joshua Williamson play those qualities to the hilt makes Superman/Batman #77 a breezy, super-enjoyable read. From the Boy Wonder's first words — Killer Croc shouts "You're not Batman!," to which Damian replies, "Not yet." — you're hooked, as the teenage Supergirl plays a great foil to the glowering teen. I really dug the economy of Williamson's pages, as he really packs together his story beats in a neat, logical manner that only needs a page or two to get the point across. (And he manages to tie in this story to Blackest Night in an organic fashion, to boot!) Of course, I think Williamson's early DC efforts are also a lot easier to swallow with Ale Garza on the art, as he gives a cartoony style with a lot of speed and expressiveness, whether its Supergirl attacking at lightning speed or the smirk on Damian's face as he says "I picked the lock to these chains two minutes ago." Yeah, it might come down somewhat to the fact that Williamson has some great toys to play with in the form of Supergirl and Robin, but ultimately, it's the execution of this done-in-one tale that makes it worth the $2.99. Get it.

Doctor Who #16 (Published by IDW; Review by Teresa Jusino): Normally, I don’t get into a snit about accuracy in sci-fi. The way I see it, that’s why it’s called science fiction. However, what does bother me is when rules are created in an imaginary world, then ignored, and that’s what happens in this issue of Doctor Who. It’s the final issue that will feature the Tenth Doctor, and the ending involves a huge revelation about his new companion, Matthew, several examples of self-sacrifice, and loads of wibbledy-wobbledy timey-wimey stuff. And there’s where things get tricky. Remember the episode, “Father’s Day”, in which Rose couldn’t touch her baby self without destroying the world? Well, this issue of Doctor Who involves Emily needing to meet her younger self. How would that be possible? And the Doctor’s explanation that “A woman can change a lot in 20 years” just doesn’t fly. I hope her younger self doesn’t ever want to give her a handshake! (BTW – Amy Pond was different.) Being the last issue, however, all of the disparate storylines were tied together really well, the twist with Matthew was interesting, and Tony Lee did a great job of recapping everything that’d happened up until now, which I’d had plenty of time to forget! And who knew that all this happened before “The Waters of Mars”?

Shadowland: Power Man #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I know Fred Van Lente is getting a lot of press for Chaos War and Taskmaster, but for my money, it's Shadowland: Power Man that's some of his best work on the stands. "Sleeper hit" is the word I'd use to describe this book, which values characterization and complexity a lot more than it does high-concept event continuity. And you know something? I think we need more books like this. From the first page, Van Lente gives this book a voice and character that's instantly compelling, as the new Power Man tells us "my grandmother came straight outta Santa Domingo. Santeria was her religion. It's been coming into my dreams a lot, now." Of course, that's not to say that he puts this story completely in a vacuum — I particularly enjoyed Luke Cage and Iron Fist's reactions to this new teen troublemaker, where Danny is thinking about the high-concept, mystical big picture, while Luke is focused on the personal, street-level consequences. I also really dig Mahmud Asrar's clean, yet understated linework — there's some real expressiveness to his characters, but it's nothing flashy, sort of like Sal Buscema mixed with a touch of Clayton Brown. The last two pages alone are just pure kung-fu and lightning, just absolutely slick in a way only comics can provide. But to be honest, who has time to worry about fistfights in Hell's Kitchen, when you can watch a boy's heartbreak when he learns his father's dirty secrets? It may only be an "event" book in the loosest possible terms, but Shadowland: Power Man #3 is pure character, no fluff.

DV8 #7 (Published by WildStorm; Review by Teresa Jusino): Now this series is getting somewhere! Brian Wood has finally distilled the series into what it’s really about, the rise and fall of gods in cultures, and the idea of more “advanced” people trying to make “primitive” people better. This title works best when our narrator, Gen, takes on a majority of the storytelling duty, and she does that here to great effect. After being introduced to some pretty selfish, careless characters in these young gods, it’s also refreshing to focus on the ones who aren’t. We are fully introduced to Jocelyn, one of the superpowered young people dropped on this planet. Her powers are academic. She seems to have a superhuman ability to figure probabilities, run scenarios, and deal with physics, and unlike her fellow young gods, she’s decided to use her abilities to actually improve the lives of the natives. She helps them figure out running water. She actually befriends them, rather than impose herself on them, or act superior. As the other young gods assist the three opposing tribes on the planet in going to war, I’ll be curious to see how Jocelyn and Gen will or won’t intervene. And who exactly is lying under that blanket in the morgue?!

Turf #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): The last page says it all: "A Strigoli attacks! A ritual is prepared! Manhattan under siege! Brother against brother!" There's a tongue-in-cheek pulp vibe that drips off every page of Turf, that pancakes vampires, cybernetic aliens and homegrown organized crime with such enthusiasm, while still managing to keep the heart of characterization beating throughout the story. Jonathan Ross certainly is a wordy writer, but at the same time, with this sort of "period" storytelling, you're allowed a bit of leeway — particularly when you have Tommy Lee Edwards doing the artwork. In that way, letterer John Workman weds the dense prose with the sprawling artwork perfectly, particularly on a two-page spread showing the parallels of a streetwise crook and an interstellar widower. You'd think that Ross would give into his lesser urges and just write about fangs and laser beams, but what he does here is gets to the humanity (or inhumanity) of every character, and thus makes the aliens and vamps far more dangerous than you'd think. Edwards' sheer range is what also keeps this project flying, as he moves from the dark, organic nature of the aliens to a gangland-style defanging without skipping a beat. It may have a tough learning curve, but if you're willing to suspend your disbelief and march through the wordiness, you'll find that Turf does high-concept like nobody else.

Tiny Titans #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): Awww yeah, All-Robin issue! Quite a few issues ago, we first met Tim and Jason Toddler (yes, Toddler) and they donned a couple of Robin's costumes. Now they're back, still in costume, and headed to the local day care. Of course, this is no ordinary day care — there are plenty of other sidekicks there as well, including Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain (who never lets go of her framed photo of Dan DiDio). Add in a bit of Barbara manipulating Dick and Alfred to do her bidding, a scene in which we see a brief bit of a Marvel character, and the reappearance of the Nightwing costume, and you have what may be one of the best issues of this book yet. Full of winks and nods to those familiar with the DCU, Baltazar and Franco are continuing to expertly balance writing for both the kid and adult audiences.

What's your favorite comic of the week so far?

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