Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Team Best Shots is hitting the reviews in full force, with tons of new releases from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW and much more! Interested in reading more back-issue reviews? Check it, at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's kick it off with end of Brand New Day, as Brendan looks at Amazing Spider-Man...
Amazing Spider-Man #647 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk; Click here for preview): With this issue, the final curtain is drawn on the Brand New Day era, and its collaborative cadre of brainstorming Web-Heads, are relieved of Spider-duty. Each writer is given a chapter to tie up his preferred loose ends, and each chapter provides a sense of resolution to story beats months and perhaps years in the making. The reflective mood seeps throughout this issue, almost evoking the emotions of a graduation for Spider-Man and his more-than-mildly amazing friends. Given the collaborative nature of the run, the anthology structure here is a fitting tribute to the BND era. In the end, BND wasn't so much a story as it was a method by which to tell stories. Editorial established a structure and tone, the Web-Heads set a broad road map, and each creative team was handed the baton for the sprint-like durations of a few weeks. While its overall cohesion could at times be debated, one thing was for sure; readers finally got a definitive sense of just how insanely frantic life is for ol' Peter Parker. Additionally, and arguably more importantly, it was this unique structure that afforded the opportunity for a horde of artists who might otherwise have gone overlooked to work on Marvel's flagship series in a high-profile manner. Spider-Man fans were introduced to some visual voices far outside of any “house style,” with the inclusion of J.M. Ken Nimura's work in this issue as the latest of many prime examples. In #647, moving on is the name of the game. Harry Osborn is moving on, Peter is moving on from Mary Jane, Norah Winters is moving, J. Jonah Jameson is taking his talents to Broadway... the closure is catchy all over. This issue reminds fans just what the beauty of BND was; if you didn't like Amazing Spider-Man this week, wait a week or two and check back in. You're likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Superboy #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview)There’s something to be said for an old-fashioned superhero comic that can be taken at face value. Story introduces protagonist, his surroundings, his friends and family. Trouble strikes. Hero perseveres. Book ends with cliffhanger. That’s the basic outline for Superboy #1, and it makes for a winning debut. Jeff Lemire gives the reader a clear idea of who Conner Kent is, and how he’s made peace with his unusual genetic lineage. He didn’t have Clark Kent’s Norman Rockwell upbringing, but Conner’s no longer a prickly, angry kid, and he’s fully embraced Smallville as his home. Pier Gallo’s illustrations are impressive, and they really shine in a detailed action scene that takes place in a wheat field. It’s lovely stuff, and Jaime Grant’s colors really convey the sunny, clean wide-open spaces of the Smallville. Superboy's solo project is off to a fine start.
Chaos War #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): Pak and Van Lente do it again with Chaos War #3, proving that they know how to craft an event like no other. In three issues, this book has yet to disappoint, finding time to build a credible threat, introduce its major players, give us great moments for Hercules, Amadeus Cho, Thor, and even Zeus and Ares, pack in the action, and somehow manage to find new twists and turns each issue. This issue is particularly solid, as Amadeus Cho struggles to find a mathematical way to stop Amatsu-Mikaboshi from tearing through the various pantheons of Earth, and culminates in one of the most surprising last page reveals in recent memory. Khoi Pham shines on these issues; after a few less than stellar runs on other books, he's back home with Herc and really taking things to the next level. He's helped by inker Thomas Palmer, whose weighted and crisp lines really add some depth to Pham's pencils, and colorist Sonny Gho, who has an almost impressionist style that really stands out. All in all, there are very few books on the stands that can hold a candle to this one. Must read.
Brightest Day #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I gotta hand it to Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi — this is the coolest Hawkman has looked in a long, long time. Think of 300 taking flight, an angry Gladiator with wings, and you've got Brightest Day's take on Carter Hall. With this issue, the tag-team writing duo has done something pretty smart — while the Hawks had been the runt of the litter as far as the disparate story arcs had gone, by giving them all but a couple of the pages in this book, they give us enough time to get a sense of the tone of their story, and to really warm up to the characters. That's not to say there aren't a couple of weird missteps in the story — the limb-ripping might turn some people off, and there's a reference to mother's milk that was a little awkward — but all in all, the story gives Hawkman a chance to really cut loose, to begin to differentiate himself as the consummate soldier of the DC Universe. Artwise, Ardian Syaf starts off with a great first page, but the composition of some of his splash pages isn't quite as iconic as it could be. He succeeds most in the smaller panels, particularly with Carter holding down a defeated enemy in a cruel armlock, and Peter Steigerwald, not constrained with the tones of other stories, really gives some tone with his darker hues. While the cuts from story to story near the end can be a little jarring, there's a lot of entertaining moments to this rock 'em, sock 'em issue of Brightest Day.
Days Missing: Kestus #1 (Published by Archaia Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): The second volume of the Days Missing series, Kestus, continues the story of The Steward, an ancient being who cares about humanity so much that he gets involved in their history, stewards them toward advancement, then removes himself from humanity’s memory by folding away his involvement. It’s dificult not to see Days Missing as a darker Doctor Who minus a TARDIS. The main character even has a title instead of a name. Despite that similarity, Days Missing is intriguing because it has a darker tone, which can take the storytelling places that an episode of Doctor Who just wouldn’t go. Writer Phil Hester gives Kestus, The Steward’s new antagonist, a voice that is both chilling and sympathetic, and she already intrigues me as a character. However, having The Steward be responsible for influencing the man who would be Confucious was a bit less effective. David Marquez’s art has a bold and classic style that leaps off the page. Issue #1 of Days Missing: Kestus is a solid beginning. I only hope that the story continues to focus on the relationship between The Steward and Kestus and relies less on the gimmick of having The Steward be responsible for all of humanity’s greatest personalities. Having The Steward change the course of history is one thing, but where the title could learn a lesson from Doctor Who is that The Doctor often does this through ordinary people. Famous guest stars are nice, but they shouldn’t be what you rely on to give a story punch.
X-Men: To Serve and Protect #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): OK, call me low-brow, but Fantomex versus Batroc the Leaper is the best match-up we never knew we wanted to read. But we do. You do. Sure, Joshua Hale Fialkov and James Harren's story of fleet Francophile footwork is goofy as hell, but it's so over-the-top that I absolutely couldn't resist this book. "A plus, loser!" I'm still laughing now. There's a great sense of humor in X-Men: To Serve and Protect #1, and that gives a surprising amount of heart to some of the lesser-known characters of the X-Men cast. With a story featuring Rockslide and Anole, Chris Yost probably puts more heart into this new dynamic duo than I've ever seen him write before — there's little touches, like the boys wearing fake moustaches underneath scary cloaks and hockey masks, that just ratchet up the likeability for characters that had seemed a little shallow, a little grating in previous storylines. Surprisingly, X-Men anthology extraordinare James Asmus is actually not the superstar of a story with Emma Frost — that's not to say that Asmus doesn't have his usual characterization down pat (he's an up-and-comer, make no mistake about it), but Jon Buran is the real draw here, with some artwork that's reminiscent of the Dodsons' with a hint of Joe Mad in the eyes. Even a story with Cypher has some cool moments, as Brian Reed continues the trend of exploring this used-to-be-useless power of language. I wouldn't have thought that a tie-in to the X-Men line — which already has a gajillion vampire tie-ins already — would be worth your time. But this book is a laugh and a half.
Baltimore: The Plague Ships #4 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by David Pepose): After a little bit of a lull with the last issue, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden go back to giving us the goods: Who is Lord Baltimore, and how did he turn from an ordinary man to a grim hunter of vampires? Seeing the horror on Baltimore's face when he loses everything he ever loved is instantly compelling, with a pitch-perfect sentence to sum it all up: "I am in Hell." There's action here, there's tragedy, and perhaps most importantly, there's some real organic evolution to Baltimore's character, and by the time we're done, we're ready to ride shotgun in his war against the night. But I don't think that this gothic revenge story would have quite as much punch if it wasn't so visually evocative: I've said it once and I'll say it again, Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart are a comic book dream team, with shadows and colors defining as much of the landscape as Stenbeck's linework. Stenbeck is one of those artists where he manages to make less-detailed medium shots just as sharp as close-ups — a panel of Baltimore in silhouette, for example, and you instantly know who he is, just based on his sharp nose and hooked brow. But here the art team gets a chance to tear out with the action sequences, and boy does it stick with you — as does a look of sheer terror, as a catatonic Baltimore stares hollowly into the distance. Dark Horse vowed that they would do vampires right, and Baltimore: The Plague Ships is proof positive that they've lived up to their word.
Women of Marvel #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): With the fairly recent run of Girl Comics, Marvel brings us yet another book featuring female-centric shorts. The difference here is that while the book focuses on female characters (Medusa, Enchantress, Black Cat, Satana), the talent involved this time is a mix of x and y chromosomes. Billed as featuring "superstar artists of tomorrow," the book has a good assortment of styles but without any of them being drastically different and breaking up the flow of the book. The Sara Pichelli/Christina Strain cover is eye catching, and artists such as Peter Nguyen and Davide Gianfelice keep up the eye appeal. Yes, it's a book about some rather sexy women, but it's not in your face, nor does each panel consist of mainly skin. This book is issue one of only two, which I find rather disappointing. I generally enjoy these compilations, both as someone with a rather short attention span as well as someone who is always looking to be exposed to new characters. Marvel has done the job again, and turned me on to some characters, writers, and artists worth watching out for.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #38 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): The final story arc of Buffy: S8 has become The Thing I Have to Get Through. The story of what Buffy and Co. have to do to save the world this time has become so convoluted, all I’m doing now is taking the mumbo jumbo on faith in the hopes that, by the last issue, I’ll know what’s going on. However, this issue really didn’t do anything to clarify the situation or move the plot forward more than an inch or two. Other than the reader learning that the mystical seed they’re guarding is “like Kryptonite” to Buffy, and Dawn getting injured (when will Whedon learn that no one cares about Dawn and that putting her in danger elicits nothing in the reader but boredom? I liked it better when she was a centaur. That thricewise had the right idea.), not much happens. Even the “reveal” of Angel at the end isn’t really a reveal in that it’s the same reveal that happened several issues ago. This issue, like the characters, was stagnant. The fact that what happens at the end of this issue could surprise Buffy; the fact that she still needs a pep-talk from Giles…it’s as if the events of Season 8 have taught her nothing, which is extremely disappointing. Also disappointing is that, other than Willow, the rest of the supporting cast isn’t given much to do. Artist George Jeanty’s work continues to be top notch. I just wish that, at this late stage in the game, he had a better story to draw.
Strange Science Fantasy #5 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose): We need more creators like Scott Morse in this industry, plain and simple. Strange Science Fantasy has more imagination in 22 pages than plenty of other books do in a year, as we get a romance story-boxer-revenge-Plastic-Man-esque-done-in-one that will stick with you far longer than you'd expect. Yet Morse doesn't just skate on that higher-than-high concept — it's his voice that packs the punch, evoking that sort of pulpy, larger-than-life narration that's as full of swagger and spectacle as it is character. "It ain't selling out if it's all for the right reasons." Just beautiful prose. And speaking of character, this book is packed to the brim with it — to the point where Rusty Irons' transformation from loveable goon to out-of-control science creature is almost unnecessary. And what can you say about the art? Morse's use of color is absolutely electric, and his linework is almost like Darwyn Cooke with a shot of high-test Paul Pope. It's a little less clean than some of his previous work, but it certainly isn't enough to detract from the storytelling. Like his boy Rusty Irons, Scott Morse takes care of people the best he can — and his efforts are pure sequential art magic. If only more books were this imaginative, this brave, this good.
Ozma of Oz #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): The Eisner Award-winning team of Skottie Young and Eric Shanower are at it again, in this latest Oz mini-series. As Dorothy finds herself on an island with an ominous warning to "beware the wheelers," Ozma of Oz brings us the characteristic storybook art style, strong story pacing, and bites of humor that I've grown to expect from this team. From the talking chicken, Billina, to the ominous beachside warning, to the trees that grow lunch pails — this newest installment from Oz is sure to delight readers of all ages. What's been your favorite read of the week so far?