Best Shots: Ambush Bug, Avengers, JLA, Yam and More

Who the Hell is Ambush Bug?

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. First, links to our Best Shots Extra from this week . . .

Uncanny X-Men #500

War Heroes #1

Watchmen Motion Comics

And now, regular reviews . . .

Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (of 6)

Written by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming

Art by Keith Giffen & Al Milgrom

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"My thought balloons used to be all white and fluffy, and now they're blue and rectangular!!" -- Ambush Bug

Back by questionable demand, Ambush Bug is back and daffy as ever. Often it's asked how The Simpsons gets away with all of the potshots it takes at its home network, FOX. You couldn't be blamed for asking a similar question after reading the first issue of Ambush Bug: Year None. Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming here get away with what is essentially a celebrity roast with Dan Didio in the master chair. And, of course, I loved every minute of it. As is the case with any quality Ambush Bug tome, breaking down a plot summary is no easy feat since the creators rarely employ a straight-up story. Actually there is the tale of the mysterious murder of continuity cop Jonni DC that Ambush Bug investigates, but it veers into absurdist parody so quickly that it's easy to forget by the last page when it's brought up again that it's what reintroduced Irwin Schwab to the DC Universe the first place.

DC aficionados like myself are definitely the target audience for Ambush Bug: Year None. Giffen and Fleming love to drudge up long dormant characters from DC's stable, and it's an absolute hoot to follow. It even served some educational good for me in one instance. When Ambush Bug does the rounds interviewing a slew of DC's best castoffs (Egg Fu, Sugar, 'Mazing Man, the Glop) regarding Jonni DC's murder, I was all but dared to refer to Wikipedia to learn who the heck the Green Team was. Googling them proved insightful too, and it was no mistake that this gang of "Boy Millionaires" barely ever got past their debut in 1st Issue Special over 30 years ago. In a word? Llllllame.

I'm not going to lie to you, though. As much as I dig all the satirical jabs Giffen & Co. take at their gracious creative hosts, what brought me to this party was getting some Keith Giffen art. In the 1980s, next to George Perez and Jerry Ordway, Giffen's illustrated work garnered my allowance the most. Between Legion of Super-Heroes and assorted Ambush Bug minis and specials, I was loving life, so much so that I found it almost a regrettable trade-off that the irreverent narrative of Justice League International came at the expense of Giffen illustrated work. So you can only imagine how much glee this book instills me with. Giffen, with just the right inking touch by Al Milgrom (note to editor Jann Jones: in working that "Wonder Chick" gag in the credits, Milgrom's name was left off), is as sharp as ever. It's obviously not identical to things from 20 years ago, but it comes pretty close. To be sure, it's pretty terrific considering they nail a wide range of comic book characters from DC's lengthy history. From girls in refrigerators, to the unfortunate lack of thought balloons in this era of comics, you kind of know where this is going. Maybe. Actually you never really know, but with everything else in the DCU taking such a dire tone, Ambush Bug: Year None is downright refreshing.

Justice League of America #23

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie

Artist: Ed Benes

From: DC Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Considering that the Justice League of America title stars the DCU’s A-list heroes and is written and drawn by two of today’s top talents, it is surprising to see the title seemingly drift in a holding pattern while the heroes run around in circles doing absolutely nothing.

To make matters worse, the writer, Dwayne McDuffie, decides to change a pronouncement from last issue and makes it seem unnecessary. Ed Benes’ art comes across as somewhat rushed, which is not helped in any way by the distracting colors that are employed throughout the issue.

As the issue opens, McDuffie makes a puzzling decision to undermine Black Canary’s dramatic pronouncement from last issue, kicking Vixen off the team – “effective immediately!” -- and instead tempers it with some logic that should have been applied last issue to make her not look so much like a bitch. It’s great to have scenes portraying Black Canary’s leadership, but then to minimize the impact of the scene in the very next issue seems a bit lazy. The art does a good job of adding some tension to the opening, thanks in part to Benes keeping the scene tightly focused on the discussion that Black Canary is having with Zatanna and Vixen and leaving a lot of unnecessary cheesecake off the page, helping to sell its importance.

The vast remainder of this issue is basically a big fight with various waves of JLAers ineffectively attacking Amazo. Benes does a commendable job of portraying the fight scenes, but it felt a bit rushed and a lot of the scenes were made up of Amazo choking someone, which got rather repetitive. After the initial confrontation with Amazo, only the Flash manages to have any real effect on him before the cavalry arrives. As Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Black Lighting, Red Arrow, Firestorm and Hawkgirl come to the rescue, they immediately engage Amazo in battle (at which point Green Lantern manages to severely damage him which prompts him to make a hasty retreat). Now, being the smart heroes they are and knowing the kind of power they are dealing with, you would think the team would huddle around Superman while he uses his X-ray vision to locate Amazo or even have Zatanna say something like “OZAMA RAEPPA”. Right? Wrong! For some reason, much like a bad horror movie, the heroes stupidly split up in teams of two or three and go in search of a robot with all the powers of the Justice League.

Obviously, nothing can go wrong with this plan. Right? Wrong again. Targeting Superman’s team first, Amazo quickly takes them out (EVOMER S’ANNATAZ HTUOM! – priceless). Elsewhere, Batman and John Henry begin to implement their own plan to stop Amazo as he is about to execute one of their own.

This has to be one of McDuffie’s weakest issues on this title to date. The writing lacked any kind of real tension and suffered from a lack of focus as McDuffie tries to have too many character moments between fight scenes. For instance, having Wonder Woman stop and chat with Hawkgirl after rescuing her seemed ill-timed, considering Amazo was still battling her other teammates. On the other hand, there were some good character moments sprinkled throughout the issue, but questionable uses of power and some bad characterization during the fight scenes muted any real impact from those moments. For a team that has fought Amazo numerous times, they come across as surprisingly inept, which, by issue’s end, was a complete distraction.

Benes’s art throughout most of the issue did not help matters, nor did the lack of any effort by the colorist to maintain any kind of consistency. Amazo’s color scheme seemed to keep shifting from page to page and lighting sources were inconsistent at best. By the end of the issue, it seemed the colorist got as bored as the art comes across as flat and uninteresting.

I really wanted to like this issue, but everything about it screamed RUSHED! The reading experience overall was inconsistent and the art at times became a bit tedious to follow. There is some good set-up for next issue but the overall presentation of this issue makes me a bit weary.

Yam

Writer/artist: Corey Barba

From: Top Shelf Productions

Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

Yam is likely to get a lot of comparisons to Andy Runton’s Owly graphic novels. After all, both are silent, all-ages books from Top Shelf that are full of incredibly adorable art and an infectious charm that should engage grown-up comics fans just as much as the little kids its targeted at.

Given the success of Owly, I’m sure neither creator Corey Barba nor Top Shelf are going to go out of their way to dodge comparisons to Owly, but Yam has just as many differences from Owly as it has similarities to it.

While Owly is more or less realistic-ish (once you get past the anthropomorphic owl who lives with a worm, of course), Yam is a lot more wild in its setting, characters and stories. The title character is a little boy in an orange, yam-like footie-pajama looking outfit. It bears a pointed hood, and covers his hands and feet, to the point where it looks like he doesn’t have anything attached to his ankles and wrists, and he accessorizes with a backpack that’s also a jetpack.

He lives on the island of Leche de la Luna with friends like Marzipan Gato (an anthropomorphic kitty cat in rain gear), a little girl, some monsters, sentient flowers and cupcakes and a TV set with four-legs and a smiley face projected on its screen that seems to be his pet.

Yam started out at a strip in Nickelodeon Magazine, and plenty of these stories reflect those origins, with short, one or several-page stories that end with often quite surreal sight gags. The pay-offs are sometimes a bit dark (one ends with a giant bug capturing our heroes after they tried capturing bug-sized bugs) or even bathroom-oriented (after eating the shells off turtles that are actually a hamburger and a pie, Yam encounters a turtle whose shell is a toilet), but rather gently so.

The exception to these shorter gag strips is a rather long story in which Yam develops a crush on a woman who sells toys that he literally shares dreams with, a crush that’s frustrated by a rival suitor the woman’s own age, and tensions between Yam and his friends over his sudden love-sickness.

Stories like this one, and another in which Yam befriends a potted daisy only to lose it to a female potted daisy, will likely resonate with adult readers much differently than they would with little kids, but the great thing about Yam is that it will indeed resonate with both adults and kids.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Avengers: The Initiative #15 (Marvel; review by Troy): The spotlight goes to Crusader as the team makes their jaunt to New York. The backstory for the Skrull-convert is welcome, and it helps establish why he’s been acting the way that he has. So far, that’s two agents that have defected; will there be more? In other news, 3-Man’s luck isn’t getting much better. Every does a decent job this time out, but it does feel a little disjointed in the face of a couple of plots that we’ve already seen play out in one form or another.

The New Avengers #43 (Marvel; review by Troy): I thought that this one was just average. I enjoyed seeing the story behind the fake break-out that sent the Skrull ship to the Savage Land. However, that plan in retrospect seems soooo ineffectual now with over half-a-dozen of the craft’s occupants dead and revealed as Skrulls. For all the stuff that’s been right with the story, I have not enjoyed the fact that there’s been no real tension with the Savage Land “replacements”. Billy Tan does drawn an impressive Cap in action, though.

[b]X-Men Legacy #214 (Marvel; by Troy):[b/] Inasmuch as I didn’t take to this book right away after the redirect, I’m enjoying it now. Its function seems to be taking lingering plot bits and dealing with them in a way that allows them to be folded back into the rest of the X-titles. It was smart work to see Xavier deal with his various transformations and turns, a subject well-suited to a throwdown with Mr. Sinister. Sebastian Shaw’s presence was a nice touch, and Gambit actually makes a nice foil to Charlie. I laughed at the end bit, but in a good way; it doesn’t hurt to occasionally refresh a long-standing concept. Between all this and the top-notch art by Scot Eaton, this was a good ride for long-time readers.

The Brave and The Bold #15 (DC; by Troy): First off, this issue looks dynamite. Terrific art by Scott Kolins throughout bolsters the wrap-up of the Green Arrow/Deadman get-together from the previous issue. Nightwing and Hawkman get in on the action and save every hero on Earth in the first couple of pages. The irony is that Mark Waid could capably write every hero on Earth if he felt like it; he’s one of those rare guys that gets everyone’s voice right. That’s on display with his canny handlings of Nightwing and the gang. This book is always entertaining and great-looking, but this one worked particularly well.

Superman #678 (DC Comics, review by O.J. Flow): So long as this creative team sticks around, so shall I. Two issues into it, James Robinson and Renato Guedes have not reached the lofty heights of All-Star Superman and Action Comics, but they're certainly getting there. Definitely a tone to Superman reminiscent of Robinson's work on Starman, and that, my friends, is a good thing. A new muscle-bound figure has appeared in Metropolis with the desire to play "king of the mountain" with the Man of Steel. Part 2 of "The Coming of Atlas" provides the backstory to the bad guy, and it's a very cool touch that the flashbacks are rendered in a Jack Kirby style, right down to the retro coloring. Speaking of colors, my issue was the color palette used for Superman himself. The reds weren't so bad, but I wasn't too crazy about the tendency of Hi-Fi to make the blue in his costume look too gray. Regardless, we are definitely in a phase where all the Superman books are must-reads. Yeah, that's a good thing too.

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