Best Shots: BATMAN INCORPORATED, OSBORN, Many More

Best Shots: BATMAN INC., OSBORN, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the crack-shot reviews of the Best Shots team! We've got tons of reviews for your reading enjoyment, including reads from Marvel, DC and Image. From the first issue of Bruce Wayne's new venture to fresh peeks at Norman Osborn and Anya Corazon, Best Shots has your back for all things comics — and if you're interested in seeing our takes on the rest of last week's books, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, I'll kick off this week's column with a look at international Bat-mania, with the first issue of Batman Incorporated...

 

Batman Incorporated #1

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Yanick Paquette, Michael Lacombe and Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

While Batman: The Return had the explosive feel of an action blockbuster, Batman Incorporated has more of a low-fi vibe to it, riding instead on the new coolness of the Bat himself. A non-tortured Batman going on a globetrotting team-up with Catwoman? Let's just say there's more weight here than you'd think, as Grant Morrison seems to be extracting that all-too-rare element from one of DC's oldest franchises: Change.

Granted, much of this first issue is set-up — while the goal is to bring up a Japanese Batman, we don't really get introduced to the candidate (or candidates, I guess I should say) in this first issue. And why should we? It's been a while since we've seen Bruce back in his element, and seeing him play off Catwoman is really sweet. The pacing here moves fast, and there's a lot of action in these 24 pages — in particular, I really enjoyed the range that Morrison gives Bruce's enemies, whether they're invisible robot sentries or henchmen of Japanese super-gangster Lord Death Man. And as I noticed with Batman: The Return, Morrison seems to be taking an increased interest in the technology behind Batman, and it's those details that really add on to the "real-world" elements of the character.

Yanick Paquette, meanwhile, gives a real solidness to all of his characters, almost like a shadowy Phil Noto spliced with the sexy characters of Adam Hughes. It's probably no surprise that Paquette's Catwoman steals every scene she's in — I love the design he gives the character, whether it's sticking out her tongue while she cracks open a vault, or the spiky hair and sports bra Selina sports while they're in the best hotel in Tokyo. I'll also add that Paquette's stockier Batman works nicely for his bulkier, seamed new costume — the detail for items like the shoes or the gloves is perhaps some of the strongest additions, as you see with those raised knuckles that Bruce can really give you a pounding.

But the thing that really surprises me out of this book is the fact that this is a very different Bruce Wayne. He's not the brooder, the stand-in for some of comicdom's more unsavory social habits — he's well-adjusted, makes active strides toward his goals, even has a normal sex life. He's no longer in arrested development, but actively moving forward — and that in of itself is an accomplishment. It's a brand new Batman, and with a solid, if surprisingly low-key, introduction like Batman Incorporated, I'm excited to see where it leads next.

 

Osborn #1

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis

Art by Emma Rios, Jamie McKelvie, Jose Villarrubia and Matt Wilson

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Let's get the politics out of the way first: this is a book created by women. A mainstream Marvel superhero comic about a male villain, written and drawn by women. While I love reading books about female characters, and I support female creators working on those titles, it's even more exciting to see women given a book that is in no way coded female in its tone or composition. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios are a brilliant writer and a brilliant artist working on a superhero comic, and their gender does not make one bit of difference, except in the way it represents a laudable step forward for Marvel in its freelance hiring practices. That alone is worth noting.

Mostly, though, I want to talk about how fantastic this comic is, from cover to cover. Osborn (subtitled “Evil Incarcerated” on the cover) is the story fans of Dark Reign and Siege have been waiting for, the tale of Norman Osborn after his fall from grace, rotting away in jail. While we’ve seen Norman in a few books since his arrest, most notably in the brilliant “Scared Straight,” Avengers Academy/Thunderbolts crossover, this marks the first time we’ve spent considerable time with Osborn since he was on top of the world, and he’s just as terrifying, sociopathic, and fascinating as ever.

As a Marvel reader who mostly avoids Spider-Man, I initially feared I'd be confused by the scenes involving internal politics at newspaper Front Line and Peter Parker's coworker/love interest Norah. I needn't have worried. Kelly Sue DeConnick has a masterful ability to introduce a character and bring him or her to sparkling life in only a few short panels. Within two pages, I felt like I knew all there is to know about Norah, a strident, determined reporter with a stupendous lack of self-awareness. The same could be said for characters DeConnick introduces later, including a prison security guard, a young priest, and government officials debating the best way to handle Norman Osborn’s imprisonment. DeConnick's pitch-perfect dialogue manages to accomplish characterization, humor, and plot development all at once without ever being overly wordy and covering up the art.

And what art it is! Emma Rios' distinctive, manga-influenced style might not be for everyone, but no one could deny her creativity and effectiveness when it comes to layout. Lesser artists would be tempted to copy and paste repeated panels like those on the first page, when Norman Osborn observes a spider at work. But Rios makes each of the four panels unique, connecting them with spider web borders and expressing the passage of time through Osborn's shifting positions and the spider's progress toward consuming a captured fly. This creativity surfaces again in the prison scenes, when an overhead shot of a circular row of cells allows the reader to observe prisoners and visitors at once and encourages a sense of claustrophobia and unease. All of that, combined with detailed backgrounds, clear storytelling, and expressive faces, makes for a very satisfying visual experience.

Also notable is the backup story by Warren Ellis and artist Jamie McKelvie, which delves into the history of one of the villains depicted in the prison in the main story. The story is very Warren Ellis, in that it’s incredibly creepy and involves taking the possibilities of science to gruesome extremes, but its tone is a perfect fit for DeConnick’s story and McKelvie’s unsettlingly clean, pretty art adds an extra layer of horror.

The plot of the miniseries has only just begun, but DeConnick sets up enough political intrigue, journalist conflict, and supervillain mystery to hook readers and keep them on the edge of their seats until the next issue. I want to know what Norman Osborn is plotting, who’s helping him in those plots, and what the mysterious Green Goblin tattoos mean. I want to know what effect the events of his miniseries will have on the future of Osborn, Peter Parker, and the Marvel Universe as a whole.  But I have enough faith in DeConnick’s writing to believe these questions will be answered, and answered in ways I can’t even imagine right now. I’m just along for the ride.

 

Spider-Girl #1

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Clayton Henry, Dean Haspiel, Chris Sotomayor and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

For a new ongoing comic, Spider-Girl is doing everything right.

The cover promises a "synapse-shattering super hero debut." It also bears the banner of "Big Time," the current Amazing Spider-Man storyline, to hook in readers of that series —- those who, presumably, haven’t already been taken in by the Spider-Man-esque font on the book’s title. Turn the cover, and you’re greeted by an illustrated recap succinctly summarizing all anyone would need to know about our heroine, Anya Corazon, to jump onboard. And then the comic itself begins, with narration that purports to be from Anya’s twitter account – an account that exists in real life and has been used both as a promotional tool to communicate with fans and as a supplement to the issue, repeating the tweeted narration from the comic on the day it’s released.

I find myself critical of some aspects of these marketing pushes. Changing Anya to Spider-Girl from Araña, a name that reflects her individuality and her Puerto Rican heritage, is indicative of an unsettling idea within the industry that female and non-white characters are only marketable if they’re tied to white male characters. The lightening of Anya’s hair and skin on the cover doesn’t help. And the twitter bit, while clever, doesn’t always work; it’s very obvious that Anya isn’t using a phone while she’s allegedly tweeting "in the moment" during a fight, and the real twitter’s need to clarify that she has a voice-controlled phone (which the comic itself doesn’t indicate) speaks to how inorganic it is as a narrative device.

Yet, misgivings aside, I respect Marvel’s attempts to sell this comic as well as it can (and perhaps stave off the early cancellation suffered by Anya’s last book, Young Allies), because the book’s contents are absolutely fantastic. Paul Tobin writes Anya as a bright, self-sufficient, somewhat self-conscious girl, a believable teenage superhero balancing the struggles of high school, crimefighting, and living in New York with a single parent. What’s remarkable about Tobin’s writing is the way he so easily integrates those realistic and Marvel-specific aspects. Anya doesn’t just learn about World War II in history class; she learns about how Captain America affected the outcome of World War II. Likewise, when Anya’s journalist father wants Anya to spend time with a mother figure who might provide the kind of gender-specific support and advice he can’t, he doesn’t call just any friend; he calls Sue Storm, who he’s interviewed many times as the Fantastic Four’s “unofficially official reporter.”

Sue was used similarly in a wonderful issue of the late, lamented X-Men: First Class as a mentor for Jean, and it’s fun to imagine that she’s every young superheroine’s role model. The comic doesn’t pull this association between Anya and the FF out of thin air, either. In a backup story, Tobin and artist Dean Haspiel set out to retroactively tell the tale of Anya’s first meeting with the Fantastic Four, when she was just a child and her father began his journalistic association with them. By creating this specific history, and making Anya’s father a hero in his own way (he first met the FF when he attempted to stop a Moloid from attacking them), Tobin wisely avoids the pitfalls of other books featuring relatively new characters, which often fail because they don’t seem to "matter" or "count" in the established Marvel U.

Of course, the book isn’t all about bonding and high school; there’s a fair share of superhero buttkicking as well, rendered beautifully by artist Clayton Henry, whose bright, crisp lines fit the book perfectly. In tone and characterization, Spider-Girl feels like Marvel’s answer to DC’s Batgirl, and that’s a very high compliment. Both books feature a young, irrepressible heroine struggling to cope with a new identity and a new life and living up to the legacy of female heroines before them (Oracle for Batgirl, Sue and her own mother for Anya). Both books are the kinds of comics I’d happily put into the hands of actual teenage girls. But Anya has two other things going for her: a father who knows about and encourages her crimefighting, and a cultural background that’s rarely depicted in comics, and isn’t ignored in this one. (In this issue, we discover that Anya has an after-school job translating Spanish language library bequests.) Both of these things are important, as they make Anya a different kind of hero from the standard "rebelling against your parents" (or orphan) comic book teenager and the plethora of blonde teen heroines on the shelves. This can only widen her appeal, making her a point of identification for readers who may not normally find a place for themselves in comics.

The landscape for new ongoing comics has been rough terrain of late, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up about Spider-Girl’s survival. But I sincerely hope that this combination of marketing and quality will create the longevity this book very much deserves.

 

Streets of Gotham #17

Written by Paul Dini, Fabian Nicieza

Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, Szymon Kudranski, John Kalisz, and Nick Filardi

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"Selina. It's me.

Those three words tell the whole story.

I guess it's no surprise now that Bruce Wayne is back as Batman (or one of them at least) and trying to re-emerge himself in the daily aspects of being Batman. While I enjoyed Batman, Inc, Paul Dini's Batman is the one I favor the most of the past five years or so. He's collected, intelligent, cool, and always makes time for his favorite feline fatale. He just comes across as more human, than the almost quasi-deity I've seen him elsewhere.

The issue is split in half with Bruce having his moment with Selina and Tommy Elliot, aka Hush, on the loose. While Batman (Bruce) is on the case on who is causing people to sleepwalk via tiny insects. The villain, the Bedbug, is seen briefly, but I'm sure will be back. Elliot, who is still being mistaken for Bruce Wayne, gets taken hostage and his kidnapper retells a story about Bruce's father and Leslie Thompkins. There's quite the flashback on a failed assassination where we see an amazing Alfred scene that invokes his days in RAF. Of course, Elliot's kidnappers are dealt with pretty easily and he actually offers them a position to align themselves with him. Bruce has only been back a few days and already the cards are stacking up against him.

The Ragman story, who I always considered DC's answer to Ghost Rider, isn't all that bad. Fabian Nicieza is one of my all-time favorite comic writers because his style adapts to the situation, especially with this haunting dialogue. There's an interesting use of colors here that give it an anime-like look to it. It might turn some people off, but I think it works for the story.

It's no secret that I love the combination of Dini, Nguyen and Fridolfs. They are what made Detective Comics so incredibly good two years ago with the Heart of Hush arc (which I gave my Silver Medal to at our end of the year awards). It just always seems like when this team is good, they are the epitome of what I want in a Batman story. I have to admit, I've been slacking in picking this book up like I should since I've been overwhelmed by Bat-mania v.2.0. It's good to see Bruce back.

 

X-Men #5

Written by Victor Gischler

Art by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

X-Men #5 really illustrated, at least to me, that we're looking at an entirely different beast with this series, and I don't just mean the inclusion of vampires against Marvel's merry mutants. Whereas Matt Fraction has built up the X-Men as almost an exercise in statecraft, Victor Gischler has turned Utopia into a war comic. While the execution isn't quite deep enough to score a knockout, there are some interesting bits that'll stick with you if you read this book.

Where Gischler succeeds in this book, after months of fairly talky set-up, is that he takes the X-Men's various powers and turns them against the vampire threat. Cyclops dividing the team up into "hard skins" — with Colossus, Emma Frost, Husk, Rockslide and other armored, tough-to-bite fighters — is a smart idea, and the out-of-the-box thinking for Iceman (Holy water!) is probably the most inspired moment that this series has had to date.

But for me, the ideas are there, but the execution is what keeps it from scoring its fullest punch. For example, Gischler puts a lot of weight on Wolverine, who was turned into a vampire soldier a couple issues back, but he and Paco Medina never gives the character a real "oh sh—" moment. Gischler even has a character say, "I want this on the big screen" — so why not give a big, dominant image to show that Wolverine's appearance could be a game-changer? And the dialogue here is probably the big missed opportunity — there's some opportunity for some deeper characterization here, but nobody, outside of maybe Wolverine or Emma Frost, really "sounds" quickly recognizable here.

While we're talking about the art here, Paco Medina is a very mixed bag. On the one hand, he's got that smooth, almost cartoony quality to his design that isn't stylized enough to turn any prospective readers off — but as far as storytelling goes, his panel composition is a little too easy to gloss over. For example, Gischler has some good moments introducing Iceman and Archangel, but their appearances are so small, it took me three rereads to see that they had some resolution. Ultimately, that's a little bit of fault on both sides — density of script on Gischler's side, and just making it work on Medina's side.

Ideas aside, this issue definitely showed me the potential of pitting the X-Men up against vampires, if only as an idea of power set versus power set. Yeah, I think the vampire threat gets routed way too quickly in spite of that set-up, but the set-up is there, and it's surprisingly engaging. At the very least, Gischler has convinced me that, if taken seriously, this premise isn't as cringeworthy as people might think — and so it's interesting to come away from this book thinking about the potential that X-Men #5 was only scratching. There's certainly some inspiration here — and if there were more of it, this would have been a book that could have really hooked people.

 

Morning Glories #4

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

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Morning Glories continues Image's propensity for producing the "it book" of the moment, as typified by other recent successes including Chew and The Walking Dead. Selling like gangbusters and the talk of online comics fandom, Morning Glories has generated more buzz than I recall seeing around a non-Big Two book since...well, Chew.

But is it any good? The short answer: yes, with some caveats. The long answer...well, that would be the rest of the review that you're about to read. Writer Nick Spencer is crafting a serial narrative that for now focuses around Casey, one of the new crop of students at exclusive boarding school Morning Glory Academy who has realized that academia at the school takes a back seat to bizarre social experiments. Issue 4 dives right in to Casey's plan to discover what has happened to her roommate Jade, which involves recruiting fellow students Hunter, Zoe and Ike into some late-night skulking through the corridors.

Spencer creates an all-encompassing mood of dread and foreboding, particularly with the interlude where we see Jade suffering under the ministrations of the faculty. The tone, however, is undermined by the somewhat flippant attitudes of the students. It's clear that they realize they're in danger, but their reactions, even for the jaded sons and daughters of the upper class, seem a bit too reserved. Wouldn't even the most bored socialite or arrogant ladies' man lose their veneer of cool when confronted with the fact that they've been imprisoned and set against each other for some unknown purpose? These are teenagers, after all, not trained spies or something. Spencer hasn't made me buy into his world enough to believe that his characters would be so capable of keeping their heads, and the disconnect between the threats they face and their responses to them jars me out of the story from time to time.

That said, his characterizations do give an opportunity for some great dialogue and interactions between the kids. Spencer has taken pains to establish the kids as individuals and has done so very efficiently; even four issues in, their relationships with each other are clear, and watching how they bounce off one another is one of the best parts of the book. While Miss Daramount in particular and the other faculty members in general are being played a bit broadly, as we learn more about them and their agenda for the students, the depth of the mystery behind Morning Glory Academy becomes more and more fascinating.

Joe Eisma's art is very solid. There's nothing too complex going on in this issue, but he's adept at finding the right moments to capture within Spencer's dialogue and description. His panels do feel a little too static from time to time, like a series of juxtaposed stills rather than the suggestion of motion that the best artists are able to create. That said, as the action of the book starts to open up, he does show some signs of life that I think will only become more prominent in future issues. His approach to the female cast members may have a little too much of the cheesecake about it, but then again, I suppose there's only so much you can do when prep school outfits are de rigueur for your characters.

Like a Kafkaesque Gossip Girl, Morning Glories traps its cast in a closed-campus nightmare that reminds us that high school really is Hell. The series has thrown a lot of balls into the air over the first four issues, and as things come to a head at the close of this month's book, it feels like the prologue is over and the first act ready to begin. Let's hope that Spencer, Eisma and their collaborators can live up to the promise of our intriguing introduction to Morning Glory Academy.

 

Chaos War: Chaos King #1

Written by Brandon Montclare

Art by Michael Wm Kaluta, Brad Anderson, Nathan Eyring and Jim Charlampidis

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Click here for preview

An examination into the chief antagonist of the Chaos War, the Chaos King one-shot delves deeper into the universal force that possesses the purest enmity for existence. Lush and expansive, Montclare and Kaluta show us that Chaos cannot be reasoned with, placated, or even leveraged by animosity. There is a twisted grandeur to the unapologetic absoluteness of the Chaos King’s final goal of an empty void, and that grandeur is matched by a story that moves freely from Hell through the heavens.

As living things, we have a pretty strong affinity for creation. We live to produce, reproduce, and celebrate that which is produced by others. Even a demolition expert does his job in the service of an eventual creation. But despite creation, there is also entropy. Destruction is not the antithesis of creation. There is still an order and sense to destruction. But chaos erupts when deletion creates a vacuum. And that is the Chaos King’s aim for the entire universe. But probably there are entities with a vested interest in seeing that, ahem, avoided.

This sort of highfalutin thinking is what makes for the best kinds of space comics. Street-level stories bring with them a certain familiarity; there is a cause-and-effect that is not altogether alien to “real” life. But space-fare? It demands readers become so many degrees removed from everyday existence that the ideas must swell to according proportions. A big stage demands big ideas, and this seems to be the heart of Montclare’s story. Devils, gods, and everything in-between can find common ground when the alternative is no ground at all.

Kaluta follows suit and shows an unparalleled range. With space gods of Zenn-La, the cartoonishly malleable Impossible Man, and even a fiery underworld this story provides a perfect showcase for his balanced skills. From layout, to detail, to dramatic invocation, his pages feel less like the execution of a script than they do a nuanced rendition of a story. Regal and meticulously detailed, this feels like how god- strife should look.

The Chaos King one-shot bears a weighed responsibility, because while it must stand on its own, it also must serve to bring the broader Chaos War to resolution. Whether or not it advances the plotline of how Earth’s gods will defeat the agents of Nothingness is something that won’t truly be answered until the crossover itself ends. What it has done, however, is allow for greater meditation on the crossover’s central conflict; there’s nothing like something, although the opposite might not be true.

 

Zatanna #7

Written by Adam Beechen

Art by Chad Hardin, Wayne Faucher, and John Kalisz

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Cover by Jesus Saliz

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"Hollywood. Where the curtain never comes down."

My love for the character aside, I think Zatanna is one of the best ongoing that DC has to offer these days. The simplest reason for that is that it is self-contained. In the world of the market adapting a trade-ready format, this book is pretty easy to pick up, have a coherent idea of what is going on, and enjoy Zee fighting mystical forces. Ta da!

Now, Paul Dini is DC's, and probably the world's, biggest fan of Zatanna. It's no secret he married a stage magician, and just loves writing her, so I'm always a bit skeptical when there is somebody else's name in the writer credits. Though to Adam Beechen's credit, I've seen his name pop up around a lot more these days, even on a Mystery, Inc episode recently. The scenario is Zatanna is attending magical museum opening where a lot of artifacts from mystics from the DCU will be showcased. Of course, some of the artifacts take a life of their own and Zee is face to face (sort of) with an old rival of her father's. A quick fight with magical fisticuffs and problem resolved, with a little assistance from the spirits of the former bearers of the artifacts, including Zee's father, John Zatara.

The thing that is most notably different from the first few issues of the series is the art team. Stephane Roux and Karl Story made one hell of a team. Roux's sultry version of Zee is one I most harken back to, that and Adam Hughes'. So, not to belittle Chad Hardin here, but something about it hasn't clicked with me. This issue is far better than his previous ones. You can tell his improvements in panel construction and just how Zee moves. She has that grace she was lacking before. I love Faucher's inks. I think him and Hardwin make for a good comic team, but there is still room for improvement. It's not boring by any means. Just the bar was set a bit too high, I suppose. That happens from time to time.

If you're not already picking up Zatanna, I have to ask why not. It's fun storytelling that doesn't require purchasing eight tie-ins and whatnot. While I prefer Dini to Beechen's style, it's still worth a read through if not outright buy.

 

X-23 #3

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Will Conrad, Sana Takeda and John Rauch

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

X-23 is not a book for the faint of heart. This issue involves, among other things, flashbacks to implied puppy killing and hallucinations of sexualized taunting from trusted authority figures like Cyclops and Wolverine. That, of course, is on top of the book's basic premise, that of a girl who spent her entire life being abused and trained to become an amoral murderer trying to figure out who she actually is. This is not a book full of rainbows and fluffy bunnies. And if there were fluffy bunnies, their survival would be unlikely.

Yet despite all of that horror, writer Marjorie Liu is crafting a surprisingly hopeful story about redemption, self-definition, and the indestructibility of the human soul. Laura, the protagonist, is a human being, but the people who have controlled her for her entire life — both her sadistic childhood handlers and the more well-intentioned X-Men — have used her primarily as a weapon, much as they’ve used her genetic predecessor, Wolverine. Liu takes the time to step back from that history and evaluate it, not just to highlight its awfulness, but to show the reader that Laura is capable of rising above it and moving on to better, happier things. While the adult X-Men's inability to help her is frustrating, it's ultimately necessary, because this is a process Laura has to go through by herself. Laura has to realize that she has agency, that she’s a person in her own right separate from Wolverine and that she does not have to follow anyone, even if that person is only offering help. Only when she comes to that realization will she be able to accept outside assistance. In the meantime, it's enough for her to realize that she does, after all, have a soul, a core of self that hasn't been tainted by her programming.

To craft this story, Liu uses a number of brilliant devices, including fairy tale motifs (Laura fights the Big Bad Wolf in a hallucination and sees the felled body of Pinocchio, a story she remembers being told by her mother) and explicit statements of the themes in the form of dialogue from hallucinated demon entities. While my feelings remain mixed on the "Wolverine Goes to Hell" storyline running through all the Wolverine family books, Liu uses it here to great effect as a way to lay out on the page the conflicts in Laura's mind that she could never share herself. Laura does not know how to express her emotions, and it's only through these external devices that we come to understand how her mind and her insecurities function.

The art in the book is split evenly between Will Conrad in the present-day scenes and hallucinations and Sana Takeda in the flashbacks, and this division of labor serves the story beautifully. Takeda's soft, pretty art is incongruous with the awfulness of Laura's childhood, and intentionally so; Laura really looks like an innocent little girl, which makes what happens to her all the more horrifying. Conrad's art is darker and harder, with more sharp edges and shadows, and coupled with John Rauch's coloring it lends a sense of urgency and danger to Laura's struggle for self-definition.

The last page cliffhanger is an intriguing one that brings a new character into the book and foreshadows the conflict of the next story development. But as a conclusion to this first leg of Laura's journey, X-23 #3 achieves all it sets out to achieve, and lets me believe for the first time that Laura Kinney might one day have the happier life she deserves.

 

Nightmäster: Monsters of Rock #1

Written by Adam Beechen

Art by Kieron Dwyer and Ego

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

You'd think that by putting out a one-shot for Nightmäster called Monsters of Rock, you'd be getting a rollicking, wild reintroduction to a character with some serious potential underneath his nondescript red cape and blue hood. Instead of grabbing you by the umlauts, however, you get a very different beast with this book, a read that feels more comedy and less metal, a done-in-one joke that is elevated by some high-quality artwork.

For me, what surprised me most about Nightmäster is Adam Beechen. Having already written about the intersection of music, style and badass violence with Killapalooza, I think Beechen is deliberately trying to go for another angle here. The problem? He pretty much takes it for granted that people know that Nightmäster was originally a rock star from the Swingin' Sixties, before he was drafted into an interdimensional magical war. This would make for a pretty cool reintroduction, no? Bring people back up to speed?

Instead, Beechen kind of plays to the choir here, focusing instead on Eddie Persky, a stoned-out Deadhead who obliviously follows Jim Rook into some of the worst magical dens this side of the East Village. A lot of this humor is more physical comedy, with slack-jawed expressions and glassy eyes, and unfortunately, given that this isn't really a "mature readers" kind of book, Beechen can't really play up even the stoner humor, having to fit in the euphemism "brownies" for just about everything. It's funny the first time, don't get me wrong — but 22 pages of it can grate a little bit.

Now, I wouldn't have particularly dug this comic if it weren’t for one thing: Kieron Dwyer. I haven't seen any new work from Dwyer in at least a couple of years, and it's clear he's destined to come back to the mainstream comics scene with a bang. There's some real clean lines at play with his lush artwork, as Dwyer manages to make some really expressive protagonists throughout this book — it's almost like Howard Porter at his cleanest mixed with a little bit of Scott Kolins' old style. (And the fact that he does his own ink work is even more impressive, because it looks positively slick.) He's definitely got a weird Doctor Strange vibe going on for his alternate universes, with the otherworldly designs really giving a sense of place to all this.

While I don't necessarily think that this story is something that will make people rush to bring out their $2.99, Nightmäster: Monsters of Rock is an important book, if only to herald the return of Kieron Dwyer to the mainstream set. This is a book that gets by on sheer looks alone, and I hope that Dwyer — aided by the balanced colors of Ego — has more DC work in the future. While the message behind Nightmäster isn't as crazy as the umlauts might suggest, comics are ultimately a visual medium, and it's the visuals here that really give this book its soul.

 

The God Machine, Book 1

Written, Drawn and Lettered by Chandra Free

Published by Archaia

Review by Jeff Marsick

This is a very interesting book. See, there’s this Guy (literally; that’s his name: Guy Salvatore) whose girlfriend, Sith, has recently died. How’d she shuffle off? We never find out, but the subtext is it was pretty tragic and may involve a decapitation. Guy’s not handling it well, barely keeping to just this side of the sanity median as he is beset by hallucinations and voices in his head that he’s not altogether sure aren’t real.

Then he meets a fella named Satan who tells him that Sith’s not dead, but rather, because of some malpractice on behalf of the gods, is floating around in the neither-here-nor-there known as the Dream Worlds. According to Satan, Guy has the power to break through and rescue her. Guy, however, has no idea what this power may be, and while we all know that you’re not supposed to buy what a guy named Satan selling, it’s often forgotten that Route 1 to Hell is often paved with true love. But what role does scarlet-tressed hottie Good God have to play in the matter and why can Guy see her when no other mortal can? And…is Good God maybe perhaps falling in love with Guy?

Thus begins this dark yet funny fairy tale that manages to both embrace the Goth culture while at the same time being able to mock it. Chandra Free is writer and artist, and her art style is refreshingly unique, a sort of anime-abstract hybridization. Tim Burton should use her for his storyboards. What I especially loved was how each panel has a depth to it, with inside jokes and witticisms that subtly appear in the background. This isn’t a book you tear through in about ten minutes. It really is some gorgeous work.

Don’t think you can write this off as another boy-loses-girl-boy-accepts-the-quest-to-bring-her-back story we’ve seen time and again. If Guy ends up the hero in this story, it’s probably going to be against his will, or at best by accident. He’s so enveloped by a cloak of melancholy that it’s not living that he’s doing any longer; rather, he’s simply taking up space on the mortal plane. Ms. Free’s supporting cast of characters, including the likes of Good God, Evil God and Limbo God are great fun in and of themselves, and strike me something as caricatures of Neil Gaiman’s crew, the Endless. How these gods play into the greater scheme may be an even more compelling draw to the next book in this series than Guy’s story.

It’s a gorgeous book, one of the more beautiful that Archaia’s put out. At over one hundred and forty pages, with guest pinups and character profiles, it’s a book you’ll read for the story, then start all over again to devour for the artwork. Buy this one, then count down the days until the second book comes out.

Pellet review!

 

The Avengers #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If you've been reading Avengers books for the last few years, it's no secret that Brian Michael Bendis loves the Hood. And the reasons are obvious: He's a villain with a chatty streak that suits Bendis's skills, and he's enough of a blank slate that Bendis doesn't have to worry about much in the way of continuity snarls. So while you might be disappointed in the fact that the Avengers really only play a supporting role in this issue, there are some things to like about the Hood's journey. While I don't know how Parker Robbins got out of jail, or got a billion dollars to finance his search for the Infinity Gems, seeing Bendis begin to tie up the loose ends of the Illuminati miniseries feels particularly satisfying, not to mention that it finally gives John Romita Jr. a chance to flex his muscles with some action. The internal story logic might be a bit lacking — why did the Hood randomly wind up near the Red Hulk? — but you have to admit the results are there: Seeing Parker clean Thunderbolt Ross's clock is a pretty cool shot. That said, I feel like I've read plenty of Brian Michael Bendis arcs that start off with a bang, only to fizzle out in the last couple of chapters. So while the jury may be out as far as how this arc will go, this first issue is a striking, if lightweight, opener.

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