Best Shots: SPIDER-MAN, BATMAN, Many More

NEW COMICS DAY Twitterama - YOU Review!

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, ushering in the new week with some rockin' reviews from the Best Shots team. We've got books from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Dynamite and more, from Big Time with Spider-Man to the end times with the Dark Knight himself. Want to see more? Have no sweat, we got your back -- just check out our back-issue reviews at the Best Shots Topics Page. And now, let's review whatever a spider can, as we take a look at Dan Slott's opening issue of Amazing Spider-Man...

 

Amazing Spider-Man #648

Written by Dan Slott and Paul Tobin

Art by Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas, Edgar Delgado, Clayton Henry and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

I swear, Amazing Spider-Man #648 moves so fast and feels so right, you'd think that Dan Slott has his very own Spider-Sense.

More "Brand New Day" than even Brand New Day, this talented writer has hit the mark with Big Time, finally taking sole control of the character he was clearly born to write. And for those who have taken a long hiatus from this book -- you know who you are, and why you dropped the series -- don't worry, this book has found its voice again, and you'll like it. This issue moves like lightning, showing you the worlds of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, as well as how they fit within the greater Marvel Universe as a whole.

It's clear from the get-go that Dan Slott is excited about this, because every page of this book is charged with enthusiasm. Whether it's gags about Iron Man asking Peter for tech support, or saving the city with "a stupid, two-in-the-morning kind of idea," Spider-Man is a character with his own unique, quirky bag of smarts -- and ultimately, that's Slott's goal here. No knocks to the rest of the Spider-Man Brain Trust, but this is the sort of character development that comes by having one creator, one vision -- Peter Parker as a character has been defined by the schlubby Parker Luck. Seeing the Parker Smarts get some play is long overdue, and it really invigorates Spidey as a whole.

And the nature of the structure here -- which is pretty episodic, even with the overarching narratives of Doctor Octopus's attack on the city, or Peter Parker trying (again) to find a new place to live -- is really fun, as Slott manages to get some fun moments in with just about every Spider-supporting character you can think of. It's fan service to every possible fan there is -- I love the Thing's one-liners ("Sorry, Stretcho, my fists only got one setting: Clobberin'!"), and the reappearance of a Spidey supporting character asking if he'd get her Avengers status is gold. And those who are still stinging over Mary Jane, well, Slott absolutely nails it in the perfect way, giving them a moment that both closes the door on their relationship -- at least for now -- but doesn't do it in a way that alienates people. If there's one weakness to this script, however, is that Slott's story almost protests too much, in praising Spidey: When you have even Doctor Octopus calling Spider-Man a genius, well, the love gets a little too much.

While we're talking about the denseness of this script, this is a good time to talk about Humberto Ramos, whose cartoony style is a great fit for this energetic first issue. There are a lot of artists out there who lean towards four panels a page, maybe five, before they start getting muddled -- but Ramos is a pro, and so he's able to pack in a lot to his pages. His Spidey in particular plays to his strengths, and the way he has Spidey leap from panel to panel, particularly with a strobe effect as he saves a bystander, it's almost like it's the Amazing Spider-Reading Guide -- a very cool effect in general. Still, purists may call foul as far as some of the anatomy of the characters -- Ramos, aided by inker Carlos Cuevas, still has a pretty sharp line to him, and characters like Wolverine do end up looking a little blocky because of it.

Considering all of the strong points of this book, it's also easy to overlook the really strong back-up story with Spider-Girl, by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry. Talk about two talents who don't get nearly enough credit. It's just an 8-page story, but Tobin gives you such a strong impression of our heroine, and how excited she is to work with a friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. There are lessons learned, there's action, there's some humor -- "Dear Everyone: Spider-Man is NOT my dad / brother / boyfriend / evil twin" -- and Henry's art is absolutely immaculate. Just clean lines, strong composition, superheroes with just the right amount of muscle to them -- if this short story is any indication, the Spider-Girl series will be one to buy just based on sheer craft alone.

With nearly twice the amount of story of an ordinary issue, as well as with a really strong back-up story, already Amazing Spider-Man #648 is some serious bang for your buck. But the fact that this is so filled with humor, character, nods to continuity, and change, that's what makes Dan Slott's opening issue something special. Sure, there may be changes from the Brand New Day era, but that's Slott's prerogative -- he runs the ship now, and one issue in, it's clear that he's got some strong direction in mind. If only more first issues could be this fun. Face it, readers -- you've just hit the jackpot.

 

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Alejandro Sicat, Walden Wong and Guy Major

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

“It’s not over.”

At a key moment in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, Batman says “It’s not over,” as the true scope of Doctor Hurt and Darkseid’s machinations stand revealed and, better yet, as Batman demonstrates that not even time can defeat him.  He actually won this battle 250 years ago and even the end of the universe can’t take that away from him.  From the end of time back through to the dawn of man, Grant Morrison wraps up Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne and reveals more and more of his grand vision for Bruce Wayne.  Remember how careless the ending of Batman: RIP felt, with the narratively haphazard way it segued into Final Crisis?  Guess what?  It wasn’t haphazard or careless at all as Morrison sheds more light on a story he’s had building since 52 and Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle.

In a way that only Grant Morrison could do, Bruce Wayne suffered two “deaths,” one at the hands of Hurt and the other Darkseid.  To varying degrees, each story succeeded individually but it was hard to reconcile the two stories together as one was Batman against a man and the other was Batman against a god.  Maybe we’ve gotten so used to the idea that Batman is a “street level” character that seeing him involved in the end-of-the-multiverse shenanigans of Final Crisis was too much to handle.  With The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, Morrison not only shows us how both stories can fit into Batman’s mythos but shows us how both stories are tied together as Hurt and Darkseid may just be different aspects of the same evil.

A lot of this comic gets by thanks to sheer gusto.  As Darkseid has made Bruce Wayne his ultimate and final doomsday weapon, Morrison gets to do his usual schtick of time and space breaking down, using the actual comic page as an element in his story (shades of Animal Man’s “I can see you” moment.)  More than anything else, this final issue firmly establishes Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne as a sequel to Final Crisis, continuing the action of that title even as it stays much more focused that Final Crisis ever did.  Final Crisis was built on the metaphor of a bullet that could kill gods and through the Omega Sanction, Darkseid made Batman into that bullet, sending him through time with a killer “death idea” at his heels.

While it feels in many ways that this issue and Batman and Robin #16 form a solid conclusion to Morrison’s recent stories, they actually just close one more chapter of it, revealing the true threat through the Hurt/Darkseid connection.  Hurt has a power that not even the grave can contain but is he still a threat for Batman as Morrison has made him into a Fifth World god?  Through the “death” and “resurrection” of Bruce Wayne, Morrison has taken him from being a street level character and recast him as a Superman level hero, capable of defending the universe as much as he is of defending Gotham City.  There are parallels to be drawn as you Batman’s journey through time as a trip through Hell, as the character is trapped without his memory of his tools but still has his mind and his wits, which are his deadliest weapons.

Bruce Wayne’s story is now a New Gods’ story, the same way that Shilo Norman’s story was a New Gods’ in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle.  Thanks to Darkseid, both extraordinary human beings have gone through the tests and trials of the gods, coming out on the other end poised to be combatants in an epic war.  Repeatedly over the last couple of years, Morrison has shown us the New God Metron interceding in human affairs, offering the gift of knowledge to Shilo, Kamandi and now Bruce Wayne.  The story that Morrison began in during the Seven Soldiers mega story is not over yet.  Humans are becoming the next stage of gods in Morrison’s stories and he’s taken one of the most basic, non-super superheroes and made him into something else, something grander.

Morrison has taken delight in showing us that Batman can be anything.  He can be a pirate or a gum shoe.  He can be the science fiction hero standing at the end of time or the cave man, fighting the world’s first evil at the dawn of man.  He can be anything but at his core, he is Bruce Wayne, the world’s best hero and detective.  Without the toys and costumes that make him Batman, Morrison reclaims Bruce Wayne as a hero and as the heart and soul of Batman.  Even as he takes Batman into the next decade with Batman: Incorporated, he reminded us in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne why Bruce Wayne is the ultimate hero and that’s because he’s a man who can and will stand up to the ultimate danger.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS Finally Make Debut
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS Finally Make Debut
 

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by CAFU, Bit and Santiago Arcas

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Who would have thought that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. could feel so refreshing?

Forget the franchises, the continuity, even the traditional structure of an origin story -- T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents walks the opening issue tightrope with panache, and perhaps even more importantly, it does so on its own two feet. And while our titular heroes have yet to be truly examined, this first issue is that rare beast that doesn't just succeed on set-up, but thrives on it, riding the momentum of an upgraded art team to make a really memorable first impression.

"The only things one never regrets are one's own mistakes."

It's this twist that Nick Spencer uses to hook you in, as he spins a story that's like Mission: Impossible smashed with superpowers. It's a bold move -- one might even say suicidal -- to have a first issue that barely has the team in the book, but Spencer skates across that thin ice with that joy that only world-building and strong characterization can bring you. And as it turns out, using this first issue to set up the rules of this world -- tethered by the already-cute couple of agent Colleen Franklin and salesman Toby Henston -- was the absolute right call. Even if you've never read an issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in your life, this is a first chapter that will rightfully get you fired up for Issue #2.

But this enterprise wouldn't work -- couldn't work -- without the art team of CAFU, Bit and colorist supreme Santiago Arcas, who embue the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents with a real sense of style and energy. For those who didn't get a strong impression of his work on Captain Atom, CAFU seizes this high-profile launch with gusto -- his style evokes hints of John Cassaday, Jim Calafiore, and something undeniably his own. The linework is clean, the shadows really feed into the dark tone of the story, and the colorwork by Santiago Arcas absolutely pops.

It's that eye-friendly quality that really helps work with Spencer's somewhat talky script -- all too often your eyes will start to glaze over when there's too much dialogue, but CAFU really hooks you in, playing up the expressiveness of the characters. My favorite moment of the book has to be the look on Colleen's face when she's asked about Toby -- there's just this beautiful hint of a smile, at times gone by, that absolutely makes you melt. And the big fireworks moments are there, too: When you see the superpowered hostage known as the Raven throw himself from a building, there are no words, and there doesn't have to be -- when his steel wings open up, CAFU really illustrates the wonder of superpowers, even in an age where flight would ordinarily seem passe.

Since Spencer has used an Oscar Wilde quote as his hook, let me counter with another Wilde gem of my own: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." And that's the great thing about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents -- it's not tied into another franchise with an increasingly small fanbase, it's not linked into crossovers or past continuity or really anything else. This is the ground floor for a new team that can tell different kinds of stories -- not necessarily spandex-clad beat-em-ups, but stories about espionage, intrigue, romance, even one's own mortality. To paraphrase Wilde one more time, to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most books just exist. If T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents can bring this kind of heat next month, I think this book is going to do a lot more than just "exist" -- it's going to take a life of its own.

 

She-Hulks #1

Written by Harrison Wilcox

Art by Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, and Guru eFX

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

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Since her solo series was cancelled in February of 2009, Jennifer Walters has been a victim of the whims of other characters’ stories.  As she’s bounced in and out of limbo in the Hulk books, it’s been difficult for even the most die-hard She-Hulk fan like myself to keep up with her exploits, and the appearances of a Red She-Hulk (Betty Ross) and a new Savage She-Hulk (Lyra, the future daughter of the Hulk and Thundra) haven’t helped.  Jen Walters is a fantastic, well-rounded character with the capacity, if used well, to be the female equivalent not just of Hulk but of Spider-Man – a shy nerd turned superhero who gains strength and confidence but doesn’t lose her wit or intelligence in the process.  That makes her a powerful source of identification for female fans, and an essential player in the Marvel Universe, but unfortunately her publication history hasn’t always lived up to that promise.

Dan Slott knew how to use Jen Walters well, in his She-Hulk series.  Peter David continued in that tradition until the book’s cancellation.  And now, in She-Hulks, Harrison Wilcox has picked up where those writers left off, telling a story of a Jen Walters who has continued to grow and mature (and kick supervillain butt) and is now faced with a new level of responsibility: caring for her teenage “niece,” Lyra.

A book about a woman mentoring another woman is significant enough on its own.  Rarely does a female superhero get to play a direct role in shaping her legacy, particularly in Marvel.  DC has done this sporadically in Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl, among other books, but on the Marvel side even Jean and Rachel Grey have rarely interacted, and it’s a relief just to see two women presented as a team, rather than as rivals.  But what makes She-Hulks so special, beyond this central premise, is the way it powers its storytelling engine with characterization first and foremost.   Jen and Lyra have a basic mission – gathering up the escaped “Intelligencia,” a group of villains from the Hulk books who require no more background information than this issue provides.  But those fights are choreographed with the girls’ personalities in mind, the mix of Lyra’s violent warrior ways and Jen’s lighthearted, bantering bravado, Lyra’s fish-out-of-water awkwardness and Jen’s complete comfort in her heroic role.   Wilcox has a great ear for the characters’ voices, and his writing has a fun, humorous sensibility that sets an appropriately rollicking tone for two jade giantesses bringing down bad guys.

This focus on character becomes even clearer in the non-action scenes, as Jen chats with her beloved cousin Bruce and settles reluctantly into a new life as a mentor and guardian, a role she’s not sure she can pull off as impulsive She-Hulk or as insecure Jen Walters.  Lyra, meanwhile, attends high school for the first time, where her matriarchal warrior upbringing serves her well in a confrontation with male bullies but doesn’t win her many friends.  I’m curious to see how she continues to adapt to the strange world of American high school, which includes a potential love interest who looks strikingly like Zac Efron.  Either way, it’s nice to see a book with two protagonists who can sustain both a central plot and their own, personal subplots.

On the visual front, Ryan Stegman’s art is lovely, with dynamic facial expressions and lots of kinetic energy in the fight scenes, especially when those scenes involve objects flying at the reader.  He draws his heroines with realistic proportions, making them appear strong and sturdy (no broken spines here) without turning them into masculine bodybuilders, which is always appreciated.  I also adore this current incarnation of Jen’s costume, with its practical boots and gloves and its leotard that extends into bike shorts.  She-Hulk has never been afraid to show a little skin, but this costume is both sexy and pragmatic, and Lyra’s red-and-gold version matches nicely.

Official information about this series’ longevity has been contradictory, and I’m aware that, given the economic climate of the industry, this book may not last longer than its initial four issues. But I live in hope that this book will kickstart a She-Hulk revolution, bringing new and old readers alike into Jennifer Walters’ crazy world. It definitely has the potential.

 

Birds of Prey #6

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Alvin Lee, Adriana Melo, Jack Purcell, JP Mayer and Nei Ruffino

Lettering by Swands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

As Zinda and Helena arrive in Bangkok, Dinah has resigned herself to a fight to the death with Shiva in order to save kidnaped child, Sin. This is the second part of this arc, however we've been building up to this showdown since the series re-debuted earlier this year with Gail Simone back at the writer's desk.

I've never been able to decide what I like better about the Birds -- their kick ass attitudes, or the way they function as a team/family. In this issue, Simone has managed to show both of these aspects. The fight scene (which ends up featuring Helena, rather than Dinah) is brutal and well executed, sandwiched between scenes in which we see the extreme love these women have for each other and willingness to do anything to save one another. We know they function as a tight knit group, but this is really exemplified when Huntress offers to fight Dinah's fight for her.

As powerful as some aspects of the story are -- there were weaknesses that I struggled with. The role of Terry, the subversive student of White Canary seemed a bit convenient, and I would have preferred to have the women use their wits to find Sin rather than essentially having her location handed to them. I couldn't help but find myself wondering what her motivation for turning on her decidedly deadly mentor so easily would be. Art wise, the lush Thai setting is beautifully done, and the women are beautiful as well. I hope as the series continues that the artists involved realize there are multiple visions of beauty. One struggle I have that I've heard from others is that Zinda and Dinah appear nearly identical, aside from their outfits. Also -- remember when it was a big deal that Hawk and Dove were joining the team? Let's have them get back in action soon, please.

This book has such high potential, and I feel like I'm picking it up monthly in hopes of it finally being where I expect it to. All the pieces are there -- the strong story, the strong art. It just hasn't been able to come together in a way that leaves me completely enveloped in the story and able to set aside my disbelief.

 

B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth - New World #4

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

The action picks up quite a bit in this month's installment of the latest incarnation of Mike Mignola's paranormal-investigators epic. While I did enjoy the first three, they seemed to be adopting even more of a deliberate pace than I'm used to seeing from Mignola, to the point where I was getting a little bored. None of that this month, I'm happy to say, although I'm still left with some questions.

Abe and Ben's encounter with Daryl Kihnl, the man in the woods, gives the mystery they've been investigating a little more emotional weight by adding a human dimension to the situation. A whole town might have been consumed by the creature already, but we didn't know any of those people. By showing us Kihnl's tragic connection to the origins of the monster, it anchors the situation into something more relatable. On the other hand, the nature of the monster that is plaguing Marekeos and environs is still as opaque as it was in the first issue, and keeping back all of the answers until the last issue of a run is something of a pet peeve of mine. There's also a somewhat inexplicable transformation that didn't quite gel for me.

This issue's high action quotient means we don't get to spend much time with Abe and Ben, who are too preoccupied with shooting and running and shooting some more for any good character moments. Ben does have an interesting choice to make, but I can't imagine it will be as simple as presented here. That said, there was a lot more atmosphere this month, and a tone of otherworldliness that really hooked me into the horror of the situation.

As far as the series' main subplot, we get one brief sequence at B.P.R.D. HQ. For a supernatural action comic, the amount of page space spent over the course of these 4 issues on who's on monitor duty is a little disproportionate, don't you think? I still have no idea what's going on with Johann,Roger, and Panya, or if Johann is supposed to have done something to provoke the behavior he sees while shirking his duties. Between this sequence and a couple of odd beats in the main story, I feel like there should have been a better set-up of some of these main plot points. I get the sense that what are supposed to be some big moments aren't registering with me the way they should. 

Davis and Stewart's art is growing on me, and really contributed to the atmosphere I mentioned above. They get to cut loose a little here with the fight between the three men and their tentacled quarry, and the more dynamic nature of those scenes seems to have encouraged a looser, more confident style. The occasional blandness of the previous issues is gone, as Davis' pencils sweep us through the flashback sequence and into a firefight, while Stewart's colors add a depth and sense of drama that was lacking before.

All in all, I think B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth - New World will read better in trade, as is often the case with Mignola's books. He has a particular way of telling a story, one that is not always best served with monthly publications. If the final issue can clarify some of the plot issues, however, we should have all the elements for another great addition to the B.P.R.D. canon - as soon as it's collected in trade.

BRYAN Q. MILLER Talks BATGIRL Y2
BRYAN Q. MILLER Talks BATGIRL Y2
 

Batgirl #15

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and Guy Major

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Most of the talk about Batgirl #15 has focused on its opening three pages, in which new series penciller Dustin Nguyen illustrates, with cutesy cartoon simplicity, writer Bryan Q. Miller’s hilarious, simplified history of the Bat family.  That attention is well-deserved, especially since the bit essentially does triple-duty as a meta in-joke for longtime Bat fans, a genuinely useful recap for new DC fans like myself, and a great character moment for the book’s protagonist, Stephanie Brown, who draws the sketches on a whiteboard to answer a question posed by Wendy (Proxy), the newest member of the Batgirl team.  As Wendy puts it, "She could have just said it was 'complicated.'"  But Steph is way too eager and energetic a character to ever give such an easy answer.

Focusing only on those first few pages, though, isn’t fair to the rest of the book, which is quieter in its brilliance but fantastic nonetheless.  One of the best things about reading Batgirl over the past year has been watching newcomer Miller grow as a writer, adapting to the comic book form.  Early issues of the series were often overly-wordy, with narration boxes and word balloons interacting awkwardly to create a disjointed reading experience.  Miller has had a handle on character and humor from the beginning, which has kept me reading, but now he’s really starting to understand this particular narrative form.  Steph’s inner monologue complements her dialogue, rather than distracting from it, and the pacing has improved considerably.  That celebrated opening bit, meanwhile, is as much a testament to Miller’s newfound confidence as it is to Nguyen’s skills – Miller has learned the rules, and now he can break them creatively.

Even more impressive than the technical skill, however, is the way Miller continues to tell a story about three very different women who are, slowly but surely, finding a place and a purpose for themselves in the world, despite heaps of personal baggage.  When Steph explains to her mother, over breakfast, just how comfortable she’s come to feel in Gotham, how accepted, confident, and useful, it’s truly an earned moment.  Miller isn’t just telling the readers that Steph has grown and changed; he’s shown that, over the entirety of the series so far.  Steph is growing up, and growing into her role as Batgirl, just as Wendy is learning to cope with her disability and her supervillain heritage and Barbara Gordon is starting to open up more and more as a mentor to people who aren’t on a computer screen.  These are significant, personal stories about female friends who aren’t defined by their love lives (though there are love interests) or, in the case of Babs and Wendy, by their disabilities, and that’s something every writer should strive for.

Finally, there’s the plot, which kicks off a new storyline with mysterious hooded villains, a crazy former bad guy attempting (and failing) to be a hero, college woes, and false accusations.  There isn’t much to judge yet, but for a first issue of an arc it more than sets up appropriately intriguing conflicts, including a great last page cliffhanger.  Nguyen’s art really shines in the action scenes, with his creative use of perspective and ability to make Stephanie look like she’s almost flying as she fights without implying that she has superpowers.  But he also pulls off quieter, talky bits, like the breakfast conversation, with aplomb, and Guy Major’s colors usefully differentiate the bright out-of-costume scenes and the dark, shadowy Batgirl scenes.

Batgirl #15, from start to finish, is proof that this book just keeps getting better, and deserves to be critically ranked near the very top of DC’s current output.

 

New Avengers #6

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Laura Martin and Rain Beredo

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

The moral of New Avengers #6 is probably not one you'd expect: The Bendis giveth, and the Bendis taketh away.

Since there hasn't been any indication -- outside of the cover to Issue #6 -- that there would be a death in the New Avengers lineup, it might be a surprise to know that someone apparently bites the big one in this issue against the sorcerer Agamatto. And yeah, if you think it's Ms. Marvel, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell with your name written all over it.

Reading between the lines for a second here -- and if you want a spoiler warning, have at it -- I couldn't read New Avengers #6 without thinking: "What a waste." Not the issue necessarily as a lone, standing product -- although I have my reservations about it -- but that this story ultimately does a disservice to a number of Bendis's earlier works, as well as those of others. Bendis has spent a decent amount of time setting up the rise and fall of Stephen Strange -- at least six months worth of New Avengers, plus Rick Remender's Doctor Voodoo miniseries (and Mark Waid's Strange miniseries) -- that the killing of this particular character smacks of wasted potential. In so many ways, playing with superhero continuity feels like a game of improv: It always works better when you say "yes." This character's death, however, is a sudden "no" that makes a lot of strong prior characterization all for nothing.

But I can also admit that this sort of antipathy stems from this book's place in the wider Marvel Universe. As an individual issue, however, it still doesn't feel like a case for the New Avengers. I said similarly in Bendis' seemingly more epic Avengers arc, but the stakes here are a bit higher -- things actually happen here, largely due to the aforementioned character's death. Still, you'd think that with a cliffhanger of Wolverine absorbing the powers and abilities of the entire New Avengers crew -- Iron Fist tattoo on his chest and the like -- that Wolverine would, you know, use the powers and abilities of the New Avengers crew to fight against Agamatto. Nope, it's Astral Claw City all the way, leaving the rest of the team sitting as they "spiritually support him." Which is about as interesting as it sounds. They "share spirit," too, but ultimately, the end result feels more like Dr. Strange telling a bunch of punk kids to sit down and shut up during a movie than, you know, holding back the end of the world.

Still, if there's a silver lining to this book, it has to be Stuart Immonen, Laura Martin and Rain Beredo. Immonen's page constructions are a work of art, as he's able to really pack together seven- and eight-panel pages without losing much in the way of storytelling claity. And there are some bright spots in the action as well: Seeing Wolverine fight in the Astral Plane looks pretty cool, with the strong use of white and lightened colors makes for a nice visual switch-up, even if it's also a pretense not to draw backgrounds. Still, it seems like every time Wolverine shows up, Immonen finds something cool to do with him -- I love the little smirk Wolvie has when he's all powered up.

But even with the talented art team, there really isn't enough "oomph" -- outside of the needless death scene -- to make this issue a compelling read. Maybe there's a plan to all this -- and if that's the case, I'm happy to eat my words -- but ultimately, if someone asked me what happened in this issue, I'm not sure I'd be able to say much other than "there was a fight, there were fireworks, and someone died." The fact that this character got the heave-ho so quickly is perhaps even more disheartening: That character was really only given one chance to succeed -- and not exactly a great chance -- and the fact that they killed them in their next appearance is a shame. And if that is truly the end for this character -- this character that Bendis himself breathed such life into -- well, New Avengers #6 doesn't let this character go out with a bang, but with a whimper.

 

Vampire Huntress: The Hidden Darkness #2

Written by L.A. Banks and Jess Ruffner

Art by Greg Titus, Rachelle Rosenberg and Brett Booth

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Click here for preview

Even if a comic is nicely illustrated or possessed of a promising concept, the dialogue can make or break it. When it’s good, the story flows so naturally that you might not take note of the writer’s skill until the book ends. When it’s clumsy, it’s the equivalent of a squeaking door hinge -- grating and impossible to ignore.

Which brings us to Vampire Huntress: The Hidden Darkness, the comic based on novelist L.A. Banks’ popular paranormal series of the same name. What works in a novel doesn’t always succeed in a comic, and despite an interesting plot and comely artwork, this book suffers from an awkward translation.

Vampire slayer Damali Richards leads the Warriors of Light, a band of gifted heroes who protect the world from demonic forces. In this second installment, the Warriors are casing a lair that’s practically toxic with the residue of slaughter and other dark rituals. Damali is in a precarious position because she’s pregnant. But as the Neteru, a human born every 1,000 years specifically to fight this kind of evil, she’s got a heavy job to do.

The most appealing aspect is Greg Titus’ illustrations. The book’s fight scenes crackle with energy, and Titus draws some mighty convincing demons. Yet, there’s a playfulness to some of the panels, particularly the close-ups of doe-eyed Damali. One moment she’s handling an unsavory object with a face that says, “Ew.” The next, she’s slicing off a monster’s head with gusto, and not a little bit of satisfaction. He captures the mix of strength and vulnerability that makes her character so likable.

Where Vampire Huntress stumbles is in the non-visual storytelling. While it’s important to make sure the reader understands what’s happening, the exposition is excessive and deeply distracting. Damali’s husband, Carlos, reminds her repeatedly that she’s carrying twins and he’s, you know, worried. Some of the banter is right out of a bad action film or some kind of Onion-esque urban fiction parody (“My brotha ain’t gonna be alone. Told you I had your back, man.”) Again, these things might work very well in Banks’ novels, but here -- not so much.

That’s unfortunate, because Vampire Huntress has a potentially rich plot, and it’s a rarity in mainstream comics: The protagonist is a woman of color who leads a multiracial team of badasses -- many of them also female. That this is even noteworthy in 2010 speaks to how significant this book could be. Here’s hoping that Vampire Huntress finds a voice that better fits its new medium.

Pellet reviews!

 

Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art of Science #1 (Published by Red 5 Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick): Atomic Robo is consistently five pounds of awesome in a two-pound bag, and this first issue of the fifth volume, “Deadly Art Of Science”, is still every bit as fun as the inaugural book. In 1930s Chicago, Robo is slaving away as a laboratory assistant, pining for more out of life than flipping switches and watching scientific doohickies fail to produce meaningful results.  If only he could have some semblance of the pulpy life he reads about in his ten-cent adventure rags…  Suddenly, he's got a front-row seat as the masked vigilante, Tarot, hands out some two-fisted justice on some deserving thugs. Robo tags along like a lovesick puppy, trying to join up with the mysterious hero and his sidekick daughter, Nightingale, and you just know it won't be long before Robo regrets leaving the quiet and calm of the laboratory. It's good clean entertainment, charmingly humorous, and everyone should be reading it.  

 

The Secret History, Book Twelve: Lucky Point (Published by Archaia Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick): This has long been a sorely underappreciated book and easily one of the best products from Archaia (it's my second favorite behind The Killer). The alternate-history epic continues in this issue, covering the year 1942, which means we're dealing with them damn dirty Nazis and a mysterious factory that uses fear from concentration camp inmates to power their black rune weapons. Devious indeed. Our Archon heroes seem ever closer to dispatching William, the fifth Archon hellbent on plunging mankind into oblivion, but it's still not enough. This is a book you sit down and spend an afternoon with, and feel smarter afterwards for it. Terrific artwork by Igor Kordey and a mature, complex story make this book a must-have.  Do yourself a favor and nab the first omnibus, which collects the first six issues of the series. You won't be disappointed.

What were your hits and misses this week?

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