Best Shots Comic Reviews: AVENGERS, WONDER WOMAN, More
Best Shots Comic Reviews
Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, greeting the week with some rockin' reviews from the Best Shots Team! We've got books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Radical and even a review at AMC's The Walking Dead! Want to see more? We've got you covered, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's go back to the future with a look at the latest issue of The Avengers...
The Avengers #6
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer and Dean White
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Here's a question: You've got your pick of the mightiest Avengers ever. You've got a story that involves time travel, future Avengers, the worst villains you can imagine, with the fate of time and space at stake.
If you have a premise with that much potential, why not play it to the hilt?
When reading The Avengers #6, I couldn't help but think of Brian Michael Bendis's widescreen action from New Avengers Finale. As the latter book pitted the Avengers' skills against a dangerously overpowered enemy, I felt that this might be a new shift in Bendis's storytelling, letting characterization show not just through dialogue, but also through action. Not so in the conclusion to this sweeping time-travel arc — it's ironic that with all the heavy-hitting aspects of this story, the Avengers still only solve their problem through six pages of talking.
Just as far as plot construction goes, it's ironic that the so-called "A-list" Avengers actually get far less action than their seemingly chattier counterparts over on New Avengers. I think what disappointed me about this conclusion was that many of the characters on this team felt a little superfluous — sure, Wolverine gets a little dialogue, and Captain Marvel does, too, but it's only Iron Man that actually has an impact on the plot itself, and that's just to give everything over to someone else. The team doesn't just feel reactive, it feels inactive or even absent, and it's pretty incongruous considering all of the blockbuster stakes that Bendis previously introduced.
And that looseness, in my mind, actually gets to the point where it interferes with the artwork. The occasional energy beam aside, John Romita Jr. doesn't get to do much more than reaction shots — and considering there's a decent amount of reaction shots between Iron Man and Ultron, two characters that actually don't have facial expressions, it feels like this book just isn't playing to its superstar artist's strengths. That's not to say that Romita is producing bad work — his future version of the Hulk still looks moody and dramatic — but there's no money shots here. There's nothing to stick in your mind.
With a complicated time travel narrative that has to suddenly backflip on itself to explain the cliffhanger from the first issue, we're now six issues into this series and it still doesn't feel like a case for the Avengers. Considering this team was brought together to fight the foes that no single superhero could withstand, it feels like a lot of potential was overlooked for this arc. Action junkies should look elsewhere, even with the new team lineup or the pedigree of John Romita Jr. — even with all the ingredients of a blockbuster, The Avengers still falls back on its talky roots, managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Wonder Woman #604
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, Jay Leisten and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
No one can accuse JMS of skimping on fire-and-brimstone ferocity in Wonder Woman’s past few issues. Diana has been like an old-school action hero, leaping, punching, sword-fighting and even shooting to slay villains and to protect her Amazon sisters. It’s all very Michael Bay. After all the explosives, she finally gets some answers in this issue about what happened to her mother, Hippolyta, and the entity (or entities) that are after her.
What struck me about issue #604 is that Diana is the least compelling character in her own book. Far more attention-getting is the disfigured man confronting the princess. A mass murderer-for-hire in another life, the deep-fried baddie identified only as “colonel” has a familiar-looking lasso and a singular objective — one that Wonder Woman is obstructing. Aside from the obvious question of whether this is an evil incarnation of Col. Steve Trevor, Diana’s foe also has a chilling backstory. Wondy’s only role here is to fearlessly kick ass and take names. Those sequences are undeniably exciting, and Don Kramer’s pencils, along with Eduardo Pansica’s, are attractive. Though the two artists share duties, the transitions are fairly seamless. Colorist Alex Sinclair does a bang-up job throughout, especially when depicting the hellish battle between Diana and her enemy.
There are two pages that show Diana discovering, purely by accident, one of her powers, and they’re straight-up wonderful. Seeing her expression transform from “No way!” to pure joy was so moving that I temporarily overlooked her Power Girl-inspired top half. (And is it just me, or are the girls getting bigger with every issue?) It’s the one part of the book that took me by surprise, and it reminded me of why Wonder Woman has been such an inspiring character for generations of fangirls (and boys), even when her comics haven’t done her justice. I wish there had been more moments like that.
It’s obvious that a great deal of effort went into conceiving this “all-new” arc, and perhaps it’s resonating more with people who weren’t fans previously. But overall, I’m inclined to say that Diana is still in search of justice and more than a fresh coat of paint. Wonder Woman #604 is resoundingly OK.
Incognito: Bad Influences #1
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Lettering by Sean Phillips
Published by Icon
Review by David Pepose
Comic readers: Meet Zack Overkill. He's a thug who dropped out of Witness Protection because he missed the thrill of being an ex-pulp supervillain. Now a member of the S.O.S., he's got a shot for redemption, a modicum of freedom and the ability to cut loose.
That is, until everything goes wrong.
Incognito: Bad Influences isn't so much of an entry point for new readers as much as it is an extremely delayed second arc for the popular series. It's clear that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work well together, and have a real talent for mixing characterization with some of the headier pulp influences that made this series pop — but at the same time, the insistence from the creators themselves that readers read the first trade paperback means that this sophomore arc has a little bit of trouble standing alone on its own two feet.
But let's start with what works here. Zack Overkill is an irritable ex-supercrook who still isn't quite keen on the hum-drum existence he's eked out for himself, and Brubaker sets up his internal conflict early: "There was no way I was going back to life as a nobody." There's a little bit of an edge to Zack's voice, and it's rounded out by some of the more irritating elements of his life: An overbearing neighbor, a killjoy psychiatrist, a stick-in-the-mud C.O. You're introduced to Zack's life, and in that way this is a decent starting point for new and returning readers alike.
What's missing, however, is why we should care about Zack. What's so special about him? We don't know his powers, and to be honest, Brubaker doesn't give a whole lot of background about his criminal past, either. Which are two of the defining characteristics of the man. Sure, there's that injection of pulp with some of the other villains that Zack has faced, or even the notion of Lazarus, the Returned Man, who is seen as a father (or at least bio-donor) to Overkill, but that spark that made the first arc so good isn't there to get new readers hooked. Even Tarantino-esque moments like Brubaker titling a scene "The Old Man's Problem" isn't quite enough to leave a deep first impression.
Art-wise, however, Sean Phillips and Val Staples are a team so good, well, it's criminal. The use of color by Staples gives the book a seedy, subversive streak to it, with purples and magentas flickering in places that your brain just thinks they shouldn't. And Phillips himself gives some real character to Zack's design, with his bushy eyebrows and rounded chin giving him that almost puggish look, that look that reminds you this is just a supercrook trying to make good, not a chiseled hero from some perfect yesteryear. In particular, however, I have to say how much I like the use of white in the borders of this book — Phillips doesn't actually put outlines on his panels, giving him a lot of flexibility, making those white borders really make the entire page pop.
With respect to Ed Brubaker, while he says in the back of the book that the secret ingredient is pulp, I'd argue that the staying power of Incognito is character. We certainly get a nice introduction to Zack Overkill's status quo, and I think there's a lot of potential to having this morally ambiguous character taking on a double agent gone native. But as far as first impressions go, we aren't quite treated to enough of that edge to make Zack stand out, to really make him stand apart from characters even like BOOM! Studios' Incorruptible. Every comic is someone's first, and even with the repeated caveat that you should read the trade first, I don't think you should toss accessibility out of the window for a sophomore story. Like Zack himself, this story walks on a tightrope with mixed results — it ain't bad, but it's still far from perfect.
JLA/The 99 #1
Written by Stuart Moore and Fabian Nicieza
Art by Tom Derenick, Drew Geraci and Allen Passalaqua
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
Having been a reader of The 99 for a few years now, I was looking forward to this series, if for no other reason than my certainty of a vault out of obscurity from sharing a marquee with the Justice League would have on Teshkeel Comics' little-team-that-can: The 99. If you're not savvy, The 99 is the world's first superhero team based on Islamic culture and religion. Each member receives their power after gaining possession of one of the 99 Noor Stones, or Stones of Light. It's a good team and concept with universal appeal, but after the first issue of this limited series, Teshkeel may be wondering if perhaps they would have been better off pairing with Marvel.
Logic would dictate that when you have a series set up like this (well-established team all but a small percentage of readers instantly recognize meets group all but a small percentage have ever heard of) the first issue should be a let's-get-to-know-the-minor-leaguers-shall-we introduction. After all, if I the reader am being asked to invest twenty-four bucks for a six-issue series, I should be given a reason to care (and to spend) on subsequent issues, especially when the cover shouts to me: "Two Great Super-Hero Teams! One Star-Spanning Adventure!" Otherwise, this is simply a "Pulled From The JLA's Obscure Mission Archives! Something They Might Have Done Between Crisis And Blackest Night!" Veteran writers Stuart Moore and The 99 regular scribe Fabian Nicieza, however, passed on this important aspect of storytelling, relegating the introduction of the newbies to nothing more substantial than a Cliff Note caption of name, alter-ego and power (the conceit we're accustomed to in the pages of X-Men).
Okay, fine. Maybe as a fan of The 99 I'm being a little too possessive (obsessive?) of these characters. I like Mr. Nicieza, and even if he does bring a New Warriors familiarity to his writing of The 99's series, I'm fine with it since it's still pretty good reading. Stuart Moore is certainly no slouch in the writing department, and these two men combined can knock the hide off the ball on any given series. Except, it seems, this one. There isn't a plot here so much as a jumble of scenes thrown together, the sum of which aspires to be more than just noise but ultimately fail. The book starts off at the coronation of the City of the Future, a domed-spectacle on the Arabian Peninsula where chaos is certain to break out within the first eight pages. Then we're whisked to another disparate conflict in St. Louis before being called to the Amazon for another completely different event, a mysterious earthquake whose tremors affect the City of the Future. From there we head to Justice League HQ in Washington, DC for some requisite idol-fawning by the new kids as the Atom goes internal to figure out what's making Darr the Afflicter's power go koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs. We haven't really learned about John Weller (aka Darr) beyond 'Generates Pain Waves' so it's hard to say I really care if the Atom is successful since it doesn't seem like the stakes are all that high.
And back to that opening scene: the City of the Future is a multi-billion dollar "showpiece of international peace and cooperation" that is energy efficient and leaves a carbon footprint of zero. Okay, cool. Dr. Ramzi Razem, philanthropist and founder of the 99 Steps Foundation, gives a speech to help not only introduce the new domed super city, but also his teenage superhero team, The 99. But this is followed by a two-page Superman speech about the Justice League and how it is a multinational team bent on world peace and how when Supes, the most famous resident outer space alien, sees the people of our world work together to build something, his heart swells with pride. I read the scene a couple times and the more I did, the more unsettled I became. Sure, it's typical Boy Scout babble by the big guy, and yes, it's a DC book so grandstanding by the JLA is standard boilerplate. But the message I took away from it was: "Hey, y'all did a great thing building this here facility. And you've got a resident super-hero team to keep an on things. But just remember, we're the Justice League of AMERICA, and since this is the Middle East, just know that we'll be keeping an eye on you.” Boo. Hiss. Just like that, five pages in, The 99 get their legs cut out from under them and the reader is left to wonder who the other great superhero team advertised on the cover might be. I don't fault the writers, though. Writers can write whatever they want. They're on the ground level. It's the editors who need to have a twenty-thousand foot view and offer direction. A better editor should have seen the minimalization happening to the guest team and made changes.
The flatlined plot is augmented by equally dull artwork. If anything, the art could save this book in a Cry For Justice way, and at the least generate some interest in The 99. Alas…it doesn't. It's really undeserving of much more commentary than that. This book should have been more. More interesting. More pretty. More engaging. Instead, it's just another book with the Justice League in it. Save your money.
Captain America #611
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Daniel Acuña
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
This issue begins "The Trial Of Captain America", following the public revelation of Cap's past as the Winter Soldier. Brubaker has done a remarkable job over the past five years of selling the resurrection of Bucky Barnes, one of the few Marvel characters for whom death had always seemed permanent, and establishing him as the new Sentinel of Liberty. His grim past wasn't going to just go away, of course, and now has come back to haunt Bucky not in the form of a villain out for revenge or even in the guilt that he carries with him, but perhaps the deadliest kind of attack there is: a battle in the arena of public opinion.
I appreciate story-arcs like this that attempt to engage with what might happen were superheroes to exist in 21st century America, with our 24-hour news cycle and endless fascination with the degradation of public figures. The criminal trial of Captain America would be a story that would make the Tiger Woods scandal or the debate over health-care reform seem like nothing more than a blip on the radar. Brubaker gives us the beginnings of that here, as Cap's fellow Avengers get confronted by newshounds and hold hasty meetings to discuss who knew what when. Having this kind of behavior show up grounds the story in a real-world context that serves only to increase its impact. And if you get tired of that, there's also Cap beating up a warehouse full of neo-Nazis, which, as he says, "never gets old."
Beyond the thematic elements, though, the character work in this issue is also great, particularly the relationship between Cap and his predecessor, Steve Rogers. Brubaker has transitioned Rogers into a kind of elder statesman in the superhero world, running damage control with the Avengers and getting a private meeting in the Oval Office. He's more of a mentor to Bucky now than ever, and the pain he feels at the position he's been put in is palpable. The mutual respect between Bucky and Steve is the bedrock of both characters in many ways, and I'm sure Brubaker will continue to tap into that dynamic in the remainder of the arc.
I'm unclear as to whether Daniel Acuña is just filling in for Butch Guice this month or will be taking his spot permanently, but he does an able job and I wouldn't mind seeing more of him. He's got an old-school vibe that feels appropriate to the historically and politically charged nature of Captain America, and makes even the long talking heads sequences engaging. His faces are a little strange - since when does Steve Rogers look like a craggy fifty-five year old? - but he's got a great sense of pace and composition. I also really enjoyed his use of color to accent environments and moods.
Brubaker's run on Captain America long ago cemented itself as one of the best in the entire history of the character, and I see nothing in "The Trial Of Captain America" to cast doubt on that assertion. The ominous final page points at some villainous involvement in Bucky's situation, but I would almost prefer Brubaker stick to the real-world process: show the trial, the mounting of defense and prosecution, and the implications for Cap and his supporting cast as the verdict is returned. Whatever he chooses to do, however, this is sure to be another great addition to what has already been a fantastic tenure on the title for Brubaker.
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Jesus Saiz and John Kalisz
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Amanda McDonald
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Right? In this issue, Zee and cousin Zachary had better hope so as Zatanna faces being married off in exchange for her soul. Her bridesmaids (Black Canary and Wonder Woman) had better hope those bridesmaid dresses stay in Vegas as well. With a splash page sure to make readers laugh out loud, the book focuses on Zatanna and her cousin fighting the demon Mammon.
This book certainly picks up in pacing from the past few issues. With Dini penning, there is a great balance of action and character developing dialogue. Zee and Zach have a rather rivalrous relationship and I hope we see more of Zach in future issues as I consider him to be a nice balance to Zatanna's success and confidence. Just because one is magical, doesn't mean everything will come easily to them and I enjoy that side of Zach's character.
Jesus Saiz and John Kalisz give this book a look of their own, and I was glad to see they don't simply mimic the tone of the book set previously by Stephane Roux. For being a book about demons and magic, it has a surprisingly bright and lighthearted tone that made it a joy to read and to go back through to admire the art. This is a good issue to jump in on, or to return to the series if you found it to be moving a bit too slow previously. If nothing else, you've got to see those bridesmaid dresses!
Fear Agent #30
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Mike Hawthorne, Tony Moore, John Lucas and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Dark Horse
Review by David Pepose
People talk about naturalistic dialogue in comics, and they naturally talk about Brian Michael Bendis. All respect to Bendis aside, I'd like to shed a little light on someone else: Rick Remender.
Remender, for my money, is right up there with Jason Aaron for writing some of the best dialogue in comics. And nowhere does that show more apparently than Fear Agent #30, which manages to traverse a surprisingly complicated time-travel explanation on nothing more than that perfect, perfect dialogue.
While a lot of people might see this issue as more of an exposition carpet-bombing, I think, in certain ways, it's actually a bit helpful for those getting into the Fear Agent storyline. And a lot of that has to do with the grizzled old space agent Heath Huston, who lends a lot of charisma early on. Locked in a room with a telepathic "jellybrain" alien, Remender finds he's able to say a lot about the character's essentially broken nature with just a little: "If you're lookin' ta cook my noodle... hell with it. Go ahead." There's some resignation in Huston's eyes, and it speaks volumes about who this guy is.
Meanwhile, the tag-team of Mike Hawthorne and Tony Moore — along with John Lucas as the finisher — show that when you have the right artists, anything can look rockin'. There is so much sci-fi weirdness that goes hand-in-hand with Huston's hard-weathered badassitude, and the fact that Hawthorne and Moore mesh together so seamlessly is a testament to Lucas's careful touch. If there's a weakness in the art, however, it has to be with the time-travel explanation, as the panels end up defaulting to widescreen letterboxes — that's not to say that there isn't a time and place for them, but even with the crazy content within, pages and pages of the same letterbox can sometimes make you glaze over visually.
As far as the time-travel narrative goes, Remender does something interesting here — he plugs a lot of the earlier holes in the storyline, if not actively appeasing those who want their story logic strict, at least giving them a wave. On the plus side, you learn a whole lot about the various alien races in this universe, and seeing Huston occasionally cut in is illustrative about how cool the character can be. But that all being said, I would say Remender and Moore do have a little bit of a misstep — the emotional payload doesn't really explode, it doesn't hammer home the swerve that this story has taken. It's nice to see Huston react later on, with a particularly heartfelt story afterwards, but it still feels a little after-the-fact for my tastes.
Still, it's a testament to this team's skills that they can create such a complicated, exposition-heavy time-travel yarn and still be interesting. Whether its the instantly-recognizable characterization through dialogue, or the creativity in the character design, Fear Agent is a book to be overlooked at your peril. Heath Huston alone is worth the read, and he's a deep enough, interesting enough protagonist that you instantly want to know who he is, what he's done, and where he's going next. If you haven't been reading this book, consider this a good point to get hooked.
Bruce Wayne/The Road Home: Oracle
Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Agustin Padilla and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Amanda McDonald
Being a major Barbara Gordon fan, this is the installment of this series that I've been most looking forward. It seems I may have set my expectations a bit too high, as I wound up with mixed feelings about the book.
Bruce's case notes indicate that he has worried about some in his absence, but never Barbara. We join the storyline of trying to protect Vicki Vale and learning that Oracle has hacked into the Insider's communication frequency. It doesn't take Babs long to figure out she's speaking to Bruce. This prompts a flashback to the time immediately following her attack by the Joker that resulted in her paralysis. This scene depicts Bruce giving Barbara a speech that some would see as harsh, and some would see as tough love. This speech then motivates Babs to become Oracle.
Those of us familiar with the events following The Killing Joke know this is a bit of a stretch, but we need to remember that while this is Oracle's one-shot, it is part of a bigger series focusing on Bruce. The book balances a fine line of showing one element of Barbara's recovery versus portraying Bruce as the main reason for her recovery.
I would have preferred to see the book written by someone better known for writing Barbara in her Oracle role, but that's me being a die-hard Barbara fan. I think others would easily overlook this aspect, but I do feel it diminishes her characteristic as someone very independent and strong-willed.
The art in this book does make up a bit for my fault with the storytelling, and the colors really pop. I love when Barbara is a vividly red redhead, and I think it adds to her fiery appeal. While her characterization in the flashback is lackluster, the characterization of her story in present day aided by the excellent art redeems her as a force to be reckoned with. The story continues in the Ra's Al Ghul one shot of The Road Home, as Bruce inches closer and closer to his official return.
Written by Rob Levin and Troy Peteri
Art by Bing Cansino and Andrei Pervukhin
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Radical Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
Jay Mitchell seems to be just your average suburban family man with a nice home, wife and son. On the day of his boy's ninth birthday party, Jay suddenly jumps on the direct flight to Crazy Town, takes a weed-whacker to the clown then a carving knife to some neighbors and the wife before going hunting for his son hiding in the house. The cops come — albeit too late — and ventilate him upstairs. Murder, mayhem, lots of blood and gore. There go the comps on the neighborhood's re-fi's for the next few years.
Man loses marbles, kills family, police Old Yeller him, film at eleven. That's the easy part to comprehend. What fills the rest of the book…not so much. The main character, Richard, is a former cop moonlighting as a real estate agent, a second career he's apparently not very good at. He draws the short one and has the Mitchell property on his list to sell just weeks after the Mitchell mayhem, but his boss is confident not only that it should sell, but subtly undertones that Richard's future hinges on it. Remember, it's been weeks since a gruesome murder and his boss is clearly going to ride him about selling the place lickity-split.
Later, Richard and a colleague grab a six-pack and go check it out in the dead of night with flashlights. Sure, it's got new cabinets, new counters, and great moldings, but the blood stains and offal tracks dried as wall splatter are less art deco and more bad feng shui. It's laughable (and not in a good way) then when Richard knocks over his beer and the colleague says, “Don't go spilling beer in a house you're trying to sell.” Right. Because Schlitz Malt Liquor stains outrank brain spray on a buyer's unacceptable list. Then again, it IS Schlitz…
Suddenly, some old guy suddenly appears! In the house! Right behind them! Jebediah Crone's the name, buyer of homes where gruesome murders have occurred's the game. Richard balks, since the property isn't open house-ready yet and the crime scene guys still need to come in and CSI the joint. Crone scoffs at rejection, offering fifteen percent above asking and will write a check. At. This. Very. Moment. Richard (clearly the most scrupulous real estate agent, ever) punts, quoting some rubbish about rules and needing to talk to his supervisor. For a guy who's less man and more dartboard for his boss and his wife, who realizes that it would take an act of God Himself to sell that house, he sure is keen to sabotage this most fortuitous event and wave bye-bye to fifteen percent.
But then, if Richard wasn't, then the book wouldn't have lasted the full thirty-two pages. Actually, it's probably twelve pages too long which is what you'd expect, given that this is the graphic novelization of the titular movie written and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. I have yet to find a movie-to-graphic novelization that works; in my opinion it's a road best travelled in the opposite direction.
Even the artwork, which is of the typical quality expected and appreciated in Radical books, looks more like a collection of storyboards than actual storytelling. In the end, you're better off saving your money. Go out and buy issue two of the new Hotwire: Deep Cut series. It's much more satisfying.
The Walking Dead
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Produced by A Circle of Confusion and Valhalla Motion Pictures
Featuring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies and Lennie James
Review by Russ Burlingame
With what has to be the most-anticipated comics-to-film adaptation since Watchmen, Robert Kirkman's zombie masterpiece The Walking Dead premiered this week on AMC — not as a feature film, but as a live-action television series. And even after a truly hilarious Community Halloween special, it was still far-and-away the best zombie story anywhere to be found this week on TV.
Dread Central said that The Walking Dead may be "arguably the single greatest television pilot since Twin Peaks," an observation taken to heart while this reporter watched it dressed as Special Agent Dale Cooper for Halloween. Like Twin Peaks, the pilot was infused with the skills of a master director (in this case, Frank Darabont of The Shawshank Redemption fame), and a network willing to give it the time on the schedule that it deserved rather than limiting the pilot to the length of an ordinary hour-long episode. Both of them were stronger for it, and while a plot summary of The Walking Dead would seem like Darabont and company didn't do a lot with their 67 minutes, that's far from the truth. The emotional punch packed by the story of the family who find and help Rick is strong, and the performance offered by Lennie James as Morgan in the sharpshooting scene was unexpectedly strong. The woman in the robe gave an insightful and kind of haunting look into how Darabont's version of The Walking Dead's zombies function—they seem to have retained a little more of themselves than they have in the comics — more Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead.
The hour-and-a-half series premiere relied heavily on the acting chops of Andrew Lincoln, the English actor portraying small-town sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes. He certainly carried it off, revealing in the first episode some of the vulnerability that has become a hallmark of the character later in the comic without betraying the badass roots that make him a credible leader in the early stories.
The basic plot of the comic is retained, although with a lot more actual content packed into the silent, stage-setting portion of the story. Why? Simply because the pictures are moving. There are scenes in the pilot that I don't remember — or at least don't remember from the first arc — from the comics, and the picture is one of total desolation. I remember thinking when I read the comics that things were bad, but not really getting the "total desolation" thing until a bit later. And while there are a lot of things you can do in comics that you can't on film, there's something unique about the moving, live-action visual of a character being swarmed by hundreds of undead that might be as impressive, but isn't as scary, when the images are static.
All that, and a cliffhanger that virtually guarantees that in spite of a torrent of good press leading up to the premiere, most people won't be tuning in for just the one episode. Anyone even remotely invested in the character of Rick Grimes will have to check out the next episode on November 7. I know I will.