Paul Cornell Brings DEATH to ACTION

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to with some Rapid-Fire Reviews from the Best Shots team. We've got looks at some of this week's biggest releases, including Action Comics, Fantastic Four and Teen Titans -- and we have tons more at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now let's let Teresa kick off the reviews, with the return of Death of the Endless in Action Comics...

Action Comics #894 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Having an appearance by a character like Death of the Endless is a double-edged sword. On one hand, everyone loves that such a popular character is seeing print again! On the other, it sets high expectations that may or may not be met. In Action Comics #894 Death appears after Lex Luthor has been shot, and her appearance is mostly successful. Paul Cornell has her voice down with its cute colloquialisms and its underlying wisdom. He continues to do wonders with Lex who, even when literally facing Death, refuses to lie down. This is Lex Luthor at his most fascinating. It is the first time he’s ever been truly afraid. Yet even then, he  “doesn’t do ‘acceptance!’” The two-hander between Death and Lex is wonderful, but then the story takes a strange turn. As Death leaves him (so, he doesn’t actually die, though I’m sure you saw that coming), she says that she was just “checking on something.” Checking on what? Who knows? That would’ve been mysterious and intriguing enough, but then there’s this scene tacked onto the end that’s set 1000 years in the past…aaaaand you lost me. I trust Cornell to know what he’s doing, but right now it seems like a good issue was ruined by a mediocre ending.

Fantastic Four #584 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): You know who Jonathan Hickman is starting to remind me of? Robert Kirkman. While the two writers are both men with long-term plots on their minds, the big similarity that I picked up in this issue is their methodical sense of pacing. This issue is a character piece through and through, and like Kirkman, Hickman's work has that surprisingly short quality that is only made up by the fact that, well, it's some really, really strong characterization. Ben Grimm's night on the town after getting one week as a normal human is an exercise in writer's economy: "Walking downtown. No one looks twice." What Hickman doesn't say is actually just as important as the little he does, letting the reader fill in the blanks. (And can I say, having Stan and Jack cameo in "early dinner with old friends" is one of the classiest things I've seen in a comic in awhile. Good on you, Hickman.) That said, he doesn't ignore the rest of the family -- Reed gets a great cliffhanger, and Sue's interaction with some guest characters shows that Hickman has a stronger-than-expected handle on other corners of the Marvel Universe, too. Steve Epting brings a surprisingly scratchy feel to the whole proceedings, but partnered up with Paul Mounts, he can pour on the mood when he has to. Obviously scenes with Ben and Alicia are going to have some impact -- if you can't wibble at their reactions to Ben's now-human face, then you likely have a heart full of granite -- but there's some old-fashioned superhero flair here, too, particularly with some striking final pages with Reed Richards and the Silver Surfer. It's great to see some real emotion in these pages, reminding us why we should root for this all-too-relatable super-family.

Teen Titans #88 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): It’s no secret that the once-stellar Teen Titans lost its mojo some time ago, so the announcement of new creative team J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott was most welcome. There’s a lot to like in Teen Titans #88, including the inevitable undercurrent of adolescent drama: Wonder Girl is trying to keep her relationship with Superboy from interfering with her leadership role; Raven is keeping her feelings for Beast Boy under wraps; and Ravager, bless her, is being her usually naughty self while proving to be the muscle that this team needs. As expected, Scott’s illustrations are superb — elegant and expressive. Krul’s story shows a lot of promise, even if a subplot involving an insecure high school student and his way shady biology teacher strains credulity. (If a guy leads you into a dark basement and you see a gurney and caged mutants, isn’t that a cue to get the hell out?) I also have mixed feelings about tossing Damian into the fray. He’s one of the most intriguing characters in the DCU right now, but some writers have painted him as a one-dimensional brat instead of the complex child/assassin Grant Morrison created. It’s too early to tell whether Krul will go down that path or whether Teen Titans will return to its former glory, but this issue is a solid step toward redemption.

Secret Avengers #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't blown away by the first arc of Secret Avengers, but I have to say, this sophomore arc has everything and the kitchen sink thrown in it, giving this book an anything-goes feeling that harnesses the sheer boundless energies that birthed the Marvel Universe. Ed Brubaker adds in resurrection plots, Shang-Chi, the Prince of Orphans, museum break-ins, you name it -- there's a real crazy streak to this book that, now that the initial incongruity is over, is really starting to win me over. And Brubaker does something that I think so many people overlook: It's not that he can't have a crazy complicated backstory to the plot, but the fact that he gives some room for Mike Deodato to give it some visual punch that gets you to slow down and absorb the information. While we're talking about Mike Deodato -- yeah, you might think it's a big shift to go from the sands of Mars to kung fu fighting in Shanghai, but Deodato wins you over quickly with a fast-moving fight sequence that absolutely pops off the page. Colorist Rain Beredo also knows how to pick and choose 'em, with some judicious use of white that really gives a nice visual rhythm to the battle. Of course, the frenetic pacing of the book might make things seem just a little unfocused, but the fact that Ed Brubaker is getting to play with more items from the toybox than he initially let on shows that Secret Avengers is a rockin' read.

Justice Society of America #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): While the days of Justice Society of America having strong themes and character beats might be over, as far as surface-level enthusiasm and fun, this book is definitely on an upswing. Perhaps the most striking thing, to me, is Scott Kolins -- he's been playing with a new art style for a little while now, transitioning from the hard scratchy lines of The Flash to something a little softer, a little more painterly with colorist Mike Atiyeh. Well, maybe it's the diversity of the characters or the boldness of the colors, but it's actually really refreshing to see Kolins' take on the characters. Seeing Jay Garrick zoom at you so fast his hat flies off, the bottom of the page exploding with yellows and reds, that's the most intense I've seen the old man in years, and his take on Lightning (combined with new writer Marc Guggenheim's attention to the character) really stands out as some of the more evocative looks I've seen out of DC in a long while. The art alone is worth checking out -- and I also need to give some props to Guggenheim. The writing isn't particularly deep, which might hurt the staying power of this book, but he's a consummate collaborator in the fact that he gives Kolins tons of opportunities to really tear out with all of the characters. Another thing I noted is that many members of the JSA gets a little identity caption that I think will really help out new readers (and have a really cool art deco feel by letterer Rob Leigh). Guggenheim's loving takes on Jay Garrick and Lightning aside, I don't know if the lasting emotional depth is there, but at the very least, I'm going to definitely be checking out the next issue. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Guggenheim and Kolins have definitely earned my attention.

Ultimate Spider-Man #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Peter Parker may have survived a horrific encounter with The Chameleon, but the aftermath doesn’t seem to be any easier. At least, not emotionally. In addition to grappling with whether he should even be Spider-Man anymore, he has to deal with Gwen leaving, Mary Jane’s unresolved feelings about him, and the new girl in school who also happens to be half of a mother-daughter burglaring team with a  knack for explosives. What impresses me most about Brian Michael Bendis’ work on this series is that he never lets us forget that Peter and his superpowered peers are teenagers. Too many writers treat iconic superheroes like Spider-Man or The X-Men as adults crammed into younger bodies, but this series – and this issue in particular, with its explorations of young love and the pressures of existing in high school – has always been true to life. Sara Pichelli’s art in this issue is gorgeous. Like David LaFuente’s, Pichelli’s art has an energy and playfulness that’s appropriate for a youth-oriented comic, and the one panel of Mary Jane after she confesses her continuing love for Peter is heartbreaking in its accuracy of depicting teenage embarrassment over dealing directly with one’s feelings. Oh, and JJJ knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but isn’t telling anyone. RIGHT?!

Madame Xanadu #28 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): Madame Xanadu has been doing something really interesting in its current story arc, “Extra-Sensory.” It’s been a series of one-shots each dealing with a different character in a different time period acquiring powers that are out of their control and necessitating Madame Xanadu’s help. While I miss dealing with Madame Xanadu directly, I’ve been enjoying this indirect look at what she does and why she’s important. Issue #28 is set in the 1960s and focuses on Charlotte, a med student who, despite her straight-edge sensibility, tries acid for the first time, which unlocks her latent clairvoyance. This onset ability prevents her from eating, as she is first able to tell the future backwards, experiencing an animal’s or piece of grain’s death first, then reliving its life. Writer Matt Wagner is adept at making the reader care about a character who is only going to be in one issue, his every word bubble packing a punch. Marian Churchland’s art had a lovely, almost children’s-book quality that was entirely appropriate for this story. Sadly, the next issue of Madame Xanadu is going to be its last, which is a shame, as I think that the series has been telling some great stories, and has lately figured out how to use its main character in an interesting way.

The Incredibles #15 (Published by BOOM Kids!; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): This issue drops us in the midst of the Incredibles trying to take down a giant robot battling a giant gorilla, in the middle of the city. While their busy trying to figure out who’s pulling the strings, the Parr’s are still very much a family with all the quirks that entails. The character interactions are infinitely charming, and I love that Mr. Incredible’s name is Bob. The Incredibles is good story telling with an exciting pace. The art absolutely captures the spirit of the original film, and works perfectly. And don’t worry if you haven’t been following along, it is quite easy to jump right into the story. The light-heartedness of the characters combined with fun action scenes amuses my adult brain. As enjoyable as this book is for me, I am certain the enjoyment would translate to my 11 year old daughter as well. The Incredibles has the qualities that can span the ages like that.

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