Best Shots: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, DETECTIVE COMICS, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Enjoy your holiday weekend? So did team Best Shots, as we whipped together more than a dozen reviews over Wednesday's big releases. We've got tons of books to choose from, including comics from DC, Marvel, Image and even Drawn & Quarterly! Want some back-issue reviews? No sweat, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's get our Spider-Senses tingling with a look at the second chapter of Big Time in Amazing Spider-Man...

 

Amazing Spider-Man #649

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

This sophomore issue from Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos may continue the set-up of Spider-Man's new status quo, but it's the Hobgoblin who absolutely steals the show in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Using a villain who's a perfect fit for Ramos' cartoony style, Dan Slott makes comics continuity work for him in rebooting this often-overshadowed member of Spidey's rogues gallery.

For my money, Slott and Ramos really win you over in the first eight pages of this 30-page spectacular, with their reintroduction of Roderick Kingsley. Just seeing the Hobgoblin cut loose on the first page is enough to hook you in, as Ramos turns the Hobgoblin into a ruthless demon in hot pursuit, firing automatic weapons with glee on his steel-edged Goblin glider. "When all you got is your work, you better enjoy what you do." It's a sharp introduction, and the twist that the creators give absolutely turns this storyline on its ear. Without giving too much away, the villain's new status quo is a real scream.

But that's not to say that the rest of the set-up for Big Time isn't satisfying, as well. We're still getting the grand tour of Peter Parker's new job and living situation, and what's most striking about all of this is how much Slott and Ramos pack on a page. Lots of five, six, even seven-panel pages abound here, and that's because Humberto Ramos can stack insets like nobody's business — and to be honest, when you've got this much character in Slott's dialogue, are you really going to complain when you get a feast of it? And seeing Spidey interact with such a wide number of people — ranging from the Black Cat to a really heartfelt scene with Aunt May — it helps flesh out our hero, and give him a world that readers can really sink their teeth into.

I think much of this story wouldn't work — or at least would feel overwritten — if it wasn’t for Humberto Ramos, however. I was initially a bit skeptical when I heard he was going to be the opening artist for this new run, having felt even some of his previous Spider-work had been a little too rushed for my tastes. Maybe it's shifting tastes on my part, or maybe it's the characters he's working on, but two issues in, and Ramos feels like he was born to draw this story. There's a real expressiveness to the characters, both in their faces and in their body language — in particular, the scenes with the Hobgoblin's new weapon look amazing, as you can see the pain even on Spidey's masked face.

For 30 pages packed with storyline, Amazing Spider-Man really feels worth the $3.99 price tag. Some might argue that there's a hefty amount of "telling" in this story as much as "showing," but two issues in, I'd argue that it's "introducing." Seeing Dan Slott begin to establish his own vision on the Spider-Man franchise is something that's been long overdue, and I'm confident that with the new status quo and the new villain in place, the third act is going to establish a sense of scale for this new run. Two issues in, and I'm already hooked again — and you should be too. If you haven't hit the Big Time yet, you owe it to yourself to give Amazing Spider-Man a read.

 

Detective Comics #871

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Jock, David Baron and Francesco Francavilla

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

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Detective Comics. I've always wondered why DC doesn't take the titular word more seriously. For what feels like eons this series has basically been Just Another Batman Book, as opposed to a title that affords a different take on the cowled one, or at least one that allows the reader to see why he's supposedly the world's greatest detective. Sure, we're TOLD that, but we're never allowed to really SEE it. Probably the last time we saw his skills in serious action was way back in Identity Crisis #1 (but you'd be forgiven if you'd forgotten, since that was before the Dark Knight "Detective" was effectively neutered by Mr. Meltzer in issue seven) and it's been a constant chapping of my backside that Detective hasn't been a smarter book than simply fisticuffs and the next chapter in the big event du jour.

Enter Scott Snyder, he of the American Vampire fame, who at this point in his career should be an automatic pull in everyone's comic file. I don't care if he's doing a twelve-issue series on the history of paint drying during the Renaissance…buy it because it will be fantastic. Right from the jump here in issue 871, the tone of the book is refreshing, with Dark Knight Dick waxing a tone-setting voice-over about Gotham which re-establishes in our heads that the city isn't just some place you Google Map, rather that it's a mean and menacing creature in and of itself. There's something clean-slate about this opening, as if in the first three pages we are witnessing a reset button being pressed on this part of the Batman mythos.

The issue's inciting event is a prep-school incident where a bullied student Killer Croc's out on his tormentors. This puts Dick onto a case involving highly dangerous materials that have been five-fingered from the police evidence room, and it's right there where this book suddenly becomes what it should have been all of these years: a little CSI meets Dan Fortune sprinkled with some hints of Raymond Chandler and Philip MacDonald. It's a more sophisticated look at the Dark Knight that doesn't need action and violence in order to propel the story. A great scene is when Batman is skulking through a suspect's apartment and at the last moment catches that the skell is tracking him with night-vision goggles and drawing a bead with two fists of heat. Turn the page and Batman's suddenly face-to-face with the suspect, who is now in a Batarang cocoon and hanging upside down in the stairwell.

How'd it happen? How'd we go from A to D without those dance steps in-between? Doesn't matter. And the story is better for it. Of course, it helps when Jock is your artist. I love his minimalism, his ability to tell a sequential story without cluttering the panels up with 'stuff'; backgrounds are bare unless there's something necessary. It's nice and neat and distraction-free. His Batman is mysterious, yet fearsome at all the right moments. This is a formidable creative duo between artist and writer. In fact, despite a teeny-tiny nitpick*, I'll go so far as to say this is the best and probably most perfect Detective story in at least a decade.

But the goodness doesn't stop there. The noir-ish back-up, part one of "Skeleton Cases" with Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, is just as pitch-perfect as the main event. Francesco Francavilla's artwork is terrific, a master of using shadows to convey mood and atmosphere. The colors give the story a spooky, haunting feel, which is perfect given that Gordon seems to be on the trail of a ghost of Christmas past and he just may end up worse off for it. Normally I'm a wait-for-trade kinda guy, especially with DC's headliners. I just don't think that their storylines have been compelling enough to justify buying the individual issues. This issue, however, is an exception and definitely worth every penny. Scott Snyder and Jock have returned Detective to must-have status.

*When Batman's in the suspect's apartment he mentions seeing "…everything from Glocks to MK-51s and back again." Seeing as the MK-51 is a shipboard deck-mounted fire control system, what Batman probably meant to say was "HK-51", which is a Fleming Firearms conversion of the Heckler and Koch G3 assault rifle. Besides, the HK-51 is much smaller and far easier to get up a flight of stairs into an apartment.

DeFalco Returns to THUNDERSTRIKE
DeFalco Returns to THUNDERSTRIKE
 

Thunderstrike #1

Written by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz

Art Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema and Bruno Hang

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Click here for preview

Kevin Masterson is a full-blown teenager, and it turns out he's kind of a jerk. Hoo boy.

In fairness to temperamental adolescents everywhere, he's got a pretty good excuse. I mean, if your dad was a fairly normal dude who got thrown into the deep end of superherology, only to end up six feet under, it's fairly likely you'd turn out a little pissy too. And if you had to watch almost every other dead superhero turn up no worse for wear like clockwork after six to thirteen months, knowing that there was no chance your pappy was getting a return ticket punched from the pearly gates, you might harbor some hostility. Every kid wants to believe his parents could be superheroes, but Kevin Masterson found out his dad actually was one just in time to find out that the old man was never quite fit for A-list status.

The first issue of the revamped Thunderstrike is something of an odd creature; it's an exercise in nostalgia, but nostalgia for 1993. If Marvel held a contest for the series least likely to be revisited, there's a good chance that at the very least Thunderstrike would make the ballot. A shadow of a character who's iconography was never quite on par with some of the other household names of comics, it stands to reason that the recent increased popularity and focus on The Mighty Thor opened the door for this spin-off to get another whirl. And while it's a new generation of Masterson on the marquee, it is original Thunderstrike creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz at the creative helm.

Frenz and DeFalco team with longtime House of Ideas artist Sal Buscema for inking finishes on this retro-bution. These creators have an unmistakable style when it comes to superhero storytelling. They don't aspire to imitate some of the younger voices in comics; experimental artists whose renderings are as meticulous as they are laborious or writers whose ears are slightly better tuned for modern dialogue. Let new bands play their new music, these guys are practiced and accomplished at playing the standards. For them, there is a certain sort of hero, a certain sort of superhero comic, a certain rhythm that should pace a comic with `Marvel' on the masthead.

This goes for both style and content. From the collaborative “co-plotter” credits, to page layout and action choreography, everything screams “Classic Marvel.” Frenz and Buscema's representation of Steve Rogers is a straight channeling of Jack Kirby's visual cues, right down to the brow line. The effect of this approach is an efficient shorthand that wastes neither line nor panel. Then there's the character of Thunderstrike himself. The original, Eric Masterson, was a flawed, in-over-his-head superhero in the mold of Peter Parker. He could have been a Parker, but his feet of clay were a failed marriage and a child that he struggled to be accountable to. He had the look and the power set, but lacked the confidence, and sometimes capability, associated with the spandex set.

So he died. And his son grew up resenting the world that beat down his dad, and never gave him a fair shake. But these are superhero comics, so there's never an excuse to leave a good legacy at a dead end. Eventually worldwide top cop Steve Rogers came calling, and now Kevin will get a chance to work out his issues with some super-physical therapy. It won't come easily for Kevin, and it shouldn't, because it didn't for his father, either.

It's difficult to critique this issue in a vacuum. It's difficult to imagine enjoying it fully without being fully invested in both Marvel tradition and lore. In fairness, it seems like it is less for the uninitiated than it is meant for the core readership with fond memories of stories past. The characterization has clumsy moments of telegraphed emotions, but the actual character decisions of and surrounding Kevin read as honest and veracious. The only thing that rang slightly less than true was the reverential tones Cap struck for the original Thunderstrike. Eric Masterson's dedication, effort and heart were unquestionable, his actual accomplishments were less than stellar. The character, and perhaps by extension the comic book title, didn't make it because in the end, they weren't quite good enough.

Thunderstrike was the aging AAA call-up who had a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues. For as long as he was there, he deserved to be there. But while he could make good contact on a solid fastball, he never could hit the curve. Maybe his son can.

The world still needs heroes: that's what Odin saw fit to write on the slightly-less-enchanted-than-Mjolnir mallet he created for Masterson, and it's still true. For Frenz and DeFalco, it still needs a specific kind of hero. The second-generation sorta-Thor was a hero with more heart than talent. Maybe the third generation's got the goods.

 

Batwoman #0

Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

Art by J.H. Williams III, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

If there is one thing that I would have wanted out of Batwoman #0, it would have been an actual Batwoman story. Sure, Batwoman appears in this book but it’s mostly about Batman’s investigation into who she is as he suspects that this new red-headed caped crusader is really Kate Kane, military brat and party girl. As we saw in Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s Detective Comics run, Kate Kane is a study in contradictions, the trained soldier who is also one of the bored rich, unable to focus without having a battle ahead of her. In this new primer on the character in Batwoman #0, J.H. Williams III is joined by W. Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder, but instead of showing us the life of Kate Kane, they show us the lengths that Batman will go to do play detective.

Maybe the recent reconfiguration of the Batman books, with Bruce Wayne trying to incorporate the Batman persona, provides some reason to write a book about Batman investigating Batwoman. Williams III and Blackman take steps toward integrating Batwoman with the larger Batman mythos with a story of Bruce Wayne investigating Batwoman, following her around in the day and in the night. If you read any of her Detective Comics run, there’s little new information in this issue. Thanks to Batman’s investigations, this issue amounts to little more than a vague “day in the life of” type of story.

Greg Rucka made Kate Kane a fascinating character, full of all of these intricacies that often seemed contradictory but spoke worlds about her. Through her words and actions, she became one of the most refreshing new additions to the Batman family of characters. By telling the story completely from Batman’s perspective, Williams III and Blackman obscure those intriguing character traits of Kate and present her just another member of Batman’s entourage. After this issue, she’s merely just another Bat character, a member of his ever-expanding army. There are so many of them running around that she’s lost her individuality and intrigue.

From the Detective run, we know what J.H. Williams III is capable of when it comes to the artwork. The artistic wildcard in this book is Amy Reeder, who will be splitting art duties with Williams III when the series begins. Williams III and Reeder literally split the art chores in this issue, splitting most pages in two with one drawing the top half and the other drawing the bottom. Williams draws Batwoman’s story in that fantastic moody and sculpted style of his. Reeder draws Kate’s story and is marvelously expressive and full of potential energy, waiting to explode. Williams III is such a subtle and quiet artist while Reeder is so lyrical and emotional. It would be fascinating to watch them tackle a whole story arc with this split-page style, telling two parallel stories like this issue does.

I feel like this book must have served the purpose of it; sell Batwoman to Batman fans. But if that was the case, then this story should have been in a Batman book, not a Batwoman one. As an introduction to the series and character, it’s perfectly fine. It hits all of the notes an introduction probably should but does this character really need an introduction at this point? Rucka and Williams III have already done that excellently in their Detective Comics run. What would it have hurt to have this book hit the ground running, propelling forward Williams III and Blackman’s story, rather than looking to the past and rehashing what we already know?

 

Uncanny X-Force #2

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Jerome Opeña and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Want to know the real X-factor in comics these days? It isn't high concept, and it isn't continuity. It's voice. And thanks to Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, voice is a quality that Uncanny X-Force has in spades.

And for me, I think that voice is what carries this book. With any other creators, I think this issue of Uncanny X-Force would have been a bit of a wash. As far as a status quo, new direction of the book, I'll admit that I don't quite know where this book is going. And for most creators, that'd be a bit of a deal-breaker. But most creators don't have the chops this team does. Rick Remender's dialogue is the standard that the rest of the Marvel line should be striving for: The vast majority of the characters — particularly Wolverine, Deadpool and Fantomex — have such striking, crystal-clear voices that you really pay attention to every single balloon. (Particularly Wade Wilson fighting the Horseman War and singing Edwin Starr. Hilarious.)

Yet just looking at this book on a macro level, it's clear that Remender and Opeña are injecting strains from other comics into the X-Factor genome, and the book has a particularly interesting flavor because of it. Take a bit of Batman and you get Cavern-X: "In case we're ever wiped out, there'd be a reminder to the future of our struggles," Angel explains. Take a bit of science fiction — or even Remender and Opeña's claustrophobic sci-fi work on Fear Agent — and you get an ambush and crash-landing on the blue side of the moon. Unencumbered by the day-to-day struggles of Utopia, Remender is able to really broaden not the universe of the X-Men, but rather the range of stories that can be told with them.

Jerome Opeña, meanwhile, is a beast of an artist, whose composition and shadows should scare the living daylights out of any penciller who isn't willing to go for broke like he is. He gives Uncanny X-Force more than personality, he gives it perspiration and a pulse, with environments that loom over you with the shattered head of a Sentinel. In particular, there's a great moment where we see the interior of Cavern-X, and we see images from all the various eras of X-Men lore — and a picture of Wolverine and Nightcrawler playing baseball. I won't lie — that moment had me going for a bit. Colorist Dean White is a bit of an acquired taste, but I think the garish hues are pretty perfect for this off-kilter team engaging in psychedelic, literally unearthly adventures.

But that all being said, just looking at this issue as objectively as I can — this second issue does slip a bit from the first one. Certainly there's some fighting that goes on, but the new Horsemen don't feel quite as thoroughly constructed as our heroes — at least not yet. And while slick fighting has its pluses, it drags a little by the end because the stakes and direction still don't feel very established. Don't get me wrong, going to the moon is pretty killer — but why? On the visual side of the equation, as much as I enjoy Dean White's colorwork, there are a few times where he and Opeña aren't quite on the same wavelength — for instance, when the horseman War forces a crash-landing, it took a couple of reads to figure out just what happened on the page.

The verdict I'd give for Uncanny X-Force may sound more reserved than I actually mean: The story isn't as strong as it could be, but the execution is positively killer. There's so much of a personal touch to all this high-flying adventure, that I'm more than willing to give it some latitude as far as getting to the point. This isn't a straight-up retelling of the recent X-Force saga as much as it is a remix of New X-Men, with lots of different bits of inspirational shrapnel. If it can really land the dismount and really articulate what the modus operandi of this book is going to be, Uncanny X-Force is going to be the X-book to beat.

 

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #6

Written by Roger Langridge

Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

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I can't believe I got teary-eyed reading a Thor comic. I can't believe I'm admitting this to the public at large, either. That's just how good Thor: The Mighty Avenger is. This is a series that, as someone who tends to lean more toward the DC side, I never planned to get into. However, my roommate started picking it up when it began and I read the first issue out of sheer boredom one day. Needless to say, as I sit here tearing up over issue six — the book satiated my boredom and has been a must-read each month since. Of the many Thor titles on the shelf today, this one is the only one marked as an all-ages book. I've said it before, and I'll say it again — all-ages books are not just kids' books. Sure, kids will enjoy this book. But Langridge and Samnee clearly don't create this book just for kid readers. This is a great example of an all-ages book that can appeal to young, old, and in-between on so many differing levels.

Enough about the series as a whole, let's look at what makes issue six really shine. The issue begins with Thor and Jane sharing a romantic evening overlooking the Aurora Borealis, and is interlaced with a story featuring Thor finding his way back to the Rainbow Bridge — only to find he cannot cross. Upon meeting Heimdall guarding the bridge, he learns that Odin forbids him to return and Heimdall (taking the form of Fin Fang Foom) is at liberty to take any actions necessary to enforce this. While the exchange begins as a physical altercation, we learn that Heimdall really will do anything it takes to obey Odin's orders, including emotional manipulation in addition to physical battle.

This book works for several reasons. First off, it's a great introduction to the Thor mythos and doesn't assume the reader has any previous familiarity with the character. Secondly, it's got a great balance of action sequences and character development scenes. And third, Langridge's character development brings an endearing quality to these characters that as an adult reader I find refreshing in a book that I thought was just about a big Norse dude with a fancy hammer. Oh, and that doesn't even address the book's art style! With Samnee's strong lines, character styling that borders on an animated style, and Wilson's simple color palette — this book has a consistent look that lets the story take the main focus on the first read, but deserves a second look through to appreciate the art. I think sometimes things that appear simple require the most effort to appear to be quite so simple, and this book is an example of that. As I take a second walk through to appreciate and critique the visuals of the book, I find myself really enjoying the subtle nuances of the facial expressions that complement and propel the story so well.

Those that follow comic news have heard this series faces cancellation in the new year. As with most situations, this has inspired outcry and appeals to Marvel to not cancel the book. Sadly, as we all know, after the announcement is likely too late to share love of the book for it to be saved. I'm proud to say this is a book I've covered previously, shared with friends, and followed from its outset (albeit under unusual circumstances). It's a joy of a read — and if it has just recently come onto your radar due to the cancellation buzz, please give it a look. A trade will be released eventually — but at only six issues in, it is be an easy book to get caught up on and get on board to enjoy the ride to the end.

 

Fantastic Four #585

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Russ Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

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Perhaps it’s unfair to describe Fantastic Fourwriter Jonathan Hickman’s style as “de-compressed”. Sure, the narrative often seems to inch along in each issue, and arcs, such as the current “War of Three cities” story stretch on and on, with elements seemingly forgotten then picked up in force, but what Hickman is really doing is not de-compression, but a juggling act. The chief fault of de-compressed writing is the fact that, often, it seems like nothing happens. But In Fantastic Four a heck of a lot is happening every issue, it just seems like each issue brings up a new “big thing” with a delayed resolution. It’s better to call what Hickman does “novelistic”. Multiple plots, subplots and character arcs are being woven together with an eye on the far horizon. There’s an endpoint here, and very little in the way of obvious delay tactics, the reader just has to be committed. Committed like a reader bogged down in the midsection of a Russian novel.

Of course, when the threads start to wind together, when everything converges, as they have in the last two issues, Hickman seems to be conjuring bona-fide magic. This issue has Reed going on a road trip to Nu-world with Galactus, while Sue is front and center to witness Namor pulls a move that may finally usher in this “War of Three Cities” Hickman has been hinting at since his earliest issue in the run. Meanwhile, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are babysitting the super-genius tykes of reed’s “Future Foundation” giving that little sub-plot some face time (not to mention giving Johnny and Ben some sharp Character moments) and to counter point the Future Foundation, we get a sequence of with the “Cult of the Negative Zone” Hickman brought up and then dropped to the background a few issues back.

This issue is, above all else, a reminder that Hickman has everything under control. He hasn’t forgotten a single dangling thread of narrative. It’s also a shot of espresso for readers like me who have gotten a little drowsy watching Hickman’s juggling act. Not only is Hickman touching on each plot point, he’s ramping each of them up to critical mass. Hickman knows exactly what he is doing, and it is up to the rest of us to sit tight and trust to the master plan. Either that, or wait for the collections. Never was there a title more tailor-made for the trade-waiters.

Artist Steve Epting is quickly developing a technique to effectively merge his grounded style with the far-flung nature of the FF. If his art lacks giddy flamboyance, it excels at tangibility to Hickman’s far-flung craziness. One panel, an extreme long-shot of a silhouetted Galactus floating above the skyline of Manhattan is as perfect an evocation of Marvel’s ethos of the mythic among the mundane as anything Alex Ross put to paper in Marvels. From the cosmic interior of the Taa II to the courts of Atlantis, Epting’s illustrations are like courtroom sketches from the fantastic beyond.

If Fantastic Four stays focused on paying off the moments set up in this issue and refrains from spinning off too many more sub-plots, this run could very well be the sort of FF epic that fans have been hoping for for decades. If Hickman can pull these threads together as tightly as they deserve, Fantastic Four might really have a shot at once again living up to its hoary old tagline of “Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine.”

 

Justice Society of America #45

Written by Marc Guggenheim

Art by Scott Kolins and Mike Atiyeh

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Who would have thought the senior statesmen of the DC Universe could have such a rebellious streak in them? But make no mistake, there's nothing else quite like Justice Society of America in DC's publishing lineup. Reading almost as an unorthodox response to DC's traditional classic leanings, the JSA has a visual style that is as enthusiastic as it is rough around the edges — and that's what gives this book its energy.

Much of that vitality comes from artist Scott Kolins, who has really gone through a remarkable visual transformation over the past year. Working with colorist Mike Atiyeh to create a more painterly, less rugged style, the duo's artwork absolutely smolders on the page. Sharp edges abound, as Kolins gives Jay Garrick and Alan Scott a dressed-down redesign as we flash back to a black ops mission in World War II, and it's really incredible just to see how many panels Kolins can pack on a page without anything ever seeming muddied or squashed.

And Kolins' other visual collaborators here — colorist Mike Atiyeh and letterer Rob Leigh — both work wonders to really establish the atmosphere of this book. Atiyeh's colors bring heat and energy to every page — particularly the eerie green glow that flashes in Alan Scott's eyes. Leigh, meanwhile, still brings the art-deco vibe with his character captions, a nice touch of class that works well with the sharp, punk-by-way-of-Rockwell linework that Kolins brings. You don't see many comics in the DC Universe that look like this, and particularly you wouldn't associate Kolins' angular linework with characters as seemingly "traditional" as the JSA — but that's why the visuals here crackle.

But you also have to give Marc Guggenheim credit here, because he's given Kolins some powerful fuel to work with. The story is certainly simple, but by giving some human context to the action of last issue, Guggenheim is building some set-up that's a satisfying read in its own right. While I wouldn't say his dialogue is his strongest suit, Guggenheim blasts through these 22 pages with sheer enthusiasm — particularly, seeing Jay Garrick and Alan Scott in World War II, tapping into a deep well of untold stories with gusto.

That said, this comic isn't going to reinvent the wheel, and it's certainly got its rough edges. There's a cameo from Superman that, at least as far as this issue goes, could have been filled by any flier from the JSA, and certainly the debate of superheroics versus property damage isn't exactly a new argument in comics. But even if you don't believe that Alan Scott is really going to be quadriplegic, this is a comic that moves fast and juggles a lot of different ideas at once. Two issues in, and we're far from a sophomore slump: With a sharp, almost rebellious visual overhaul to these DC mainstays — and a sense of pacing to match — this may not be the deepest run of Justice Society of America, but it's certainly getting to be one of the most fun.

 

Captain America #612

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

There’s been talk of late about the influence of the personal and the autobiographical upon comics journalism. Some creators and fans feel that intensely personal reviews obscure the more objective strengths and weaknesses of the works they discuss. While I agree that striving for objectivity in evaluation is an important and worthy goal, I also believe that it’s an impossible goal to ever fully reach, since all reviews are composed from the reviewer’s unique perspective. Even more importantly, in a medium like superhero comics that relies so heavily on history and nostalgia, I strongly believe that the personal may be not only unavoidable, but desirable.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that Captain America #612 is the Bernie Rosenthal issue, and I couldn’t be happier.

Bernie Rosenthal is a character who, due to gaps in trade collections, has nearly been forgotten in Marvel Comics. A major player in the J.M. DeMatteis and early Mark Gruenwald issues of Captain America in the early 1980s, the spunky Brooklyn glassblower dated and eventually got engaged to Steve Rogers, only to dissolve the engagement and move to Wisconsin on a heroic, though not superheroic, path of her own: becoming a lawyer. Since then, she’s appeared only twice: as a lawyer in the 90s, defending Diamondback in court, and in last year’s Captain America #600, reacting to the anniversary of Steve’s death. Now she’s back, as Bucky’s lawyer, looking like House’s Lisa Edelstein and ready to defend the current Captain America in the trial of the decade.

Seeing Bernie as a confident lawyer controlling the media spin surrounding her client is obviously a delight for Bernie superfans like myself. But it’s also an example of one of the best things about mainstream superhero comics: the availability of 40+ years of serial history as ingredients for the stories of today. Rather than creating a disposable new character or using one of Marvel’s superpowered lawyers (Daredevil or She-Hulk) who are busy in their own books, writer Ed Brubaker has plucked Bernie from the past to use her in a role for which she’s perfectly suited. She’s just obscure enough that Brubaker can use her however he pleases, but her connections to Steve Rogers (and to Jack Monroe, who Bucky killed as the Winter Soldier) give her presence more emotional weight than a new character could hold and open up exciting storytelling possibilities. And none of this would be possible without the weight of serial nostalgia and the personal connections of fans to the stories of the past.

Beyond the Bernie bits, Captain America #612 is a very strong issue. Butch Guice’s art always looks best when he inks himself as he does here, and Bettie Breitweiser’s colors are perfect for the melancholy tone set by the brooding prison scenes. Guice’s faces are especially good, with a clear distinction between classically-handsome Steve Rogers and similarly blond but more rugged and mean Master Man, as well as an older, more contemplative look for Bucky that makes clear the weight of his history on his features. Most of the plot developments, like the transformation of Sin into the new Red Skull, have been long in the making and are not surprises, but they do add to a sense of impending doom and the ramping up of tension as the trial begins and all the various players move into place.

If there’s a weak point to the issue, it’s Sean McKeever’s Nomad co-feature. While I’ve generally been a huge fan of McKeever’s work with the character, both here and in the sadly-cancelled Young Allies, this particular chapter is gratuitously violent, the kind of over-the-top torture that would make me uncomfortable when applied to any character, much less a teenage girl. While the arc started strong, with Nomad teaming up with Black Widow, and may ultimately end strong as Nomad presumably survives and defeats her captors, this middle chapter feels unoriginal and over-the-top, cribbed from any number of torture-interrogation scenes in comics and film without much character specificity.

As a whole, though, Captain America #612 is a fantastic reading experience, one that left me both satisfied and eager for the next issue – and not just because of Bernie Rosenthal.

 

New Mutants #19

Written by Zeb Wells

Art by Leonard Kirk and Guru eFX

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Nothing concludes in this issue.

Normally, the lack of a conclusion in a serialized story wouldn’t be a problem. But New Mutants 19 is advertised, in giant letters on the cover, as the “Fall of the New Mutants Conclusion.” Optimistically, I hope this was an error, that the cover was made before the story was actually completed and writer Zeb Wells realized belatedly that he would need another issue to finish his arc. But even in that scenario, it’s a fairly major marketing error (since the cover would have worked perfectly well without that text). And if this is meant to be a conclusion, it’s indicative of a serious storytelling problem, since it resolves absolutely nothing and ends on a massive cliffhanger. Were the eventual trade paperback of this arc to be released with this as the last issue, I wouldn’t blame readers for blinking at the end in confusion, feeling frustrated and deeply unsatisfied.

That’s not to say that this is a bad issue. In fact, it’s a great display of Zeb Wells’ ability to use his characters’ various superpowers to creative and interesting ends. In the past he’s done a particularly great job evolving Doug Ramsey’s language-comprehension power from mere multilingualism to a knowledge of anything that can be interpreted as language, from body language to networks to fighting styles. Here, Wells applies that creative logic more widely as the team fights an array of mutant adversaries whose powers run the gamut of possibilities. Sometimes, this creativity is expressed through the ways that the adversaries try to counter the New Mutants’ powers, such as strapping TNT to Sam Guthrie so that using his blasting power would kill everyone in the room. Other times, it’s expressed through the new characters themselves, who can do things like tasting emotion, chopping off bits of themselves to create miniature duplicates, and blasting power rays from full-face lenses that block out all sensory input. All due credit goes to artist Leonard Kirk, who brings these powers to brilliant life, lovingly detailing even the most hideous mutations (like an entire body covered in toothy mouths). The characters aren’t particularly pretty, but the history of the New Mutants is one of quirky, distinct faces and features, like Sam’s big ears, and Kirk’s art fits into that tradition perfectly.

Great characterization moments abound, too, as the captured New Mutants try to come to terms with their fates and the fates of their friends. The interaction between Dani and Sam is particularly nice, calling back to their surprise kiss at the beginning of the arc, and the normally happy-go-lucky Roberto displays more maturity than most would think him capable. The real star, though, is Karma, who may ultimately be the person to save the team, as she uses her powers of possession to communicate with and help one of the most reluctant adversaries. Throughout Wells’ run on the series, Karma has had a starring role, using her powers and her personal strength to reveal other sides of villains and get herself out of tricky situations. Though she’s paid the price for her bravery, losing her leg and very nearly her mind, she shows no sign of backing down, and her arc has been one of the most interesting in the book.

Unfortunately, these moments of character development and creativity come in the middle of a plot that’s muddled at best and has been dragging on for far too long. While this incarnation of New Mutants has, for the most part, done a great job of balancing conflicts of the past with new-reader-friendly stories, this particular storyline is tied confusingly to decades-old stories without nearly enough exposition to carry it forward, and the characterizations and motivations of the new adversaries, mutants and soldiers alike, have been thinly drawn. This issue should have been the conclusion it was advertised to be, and the fact that the story seems to have no end in sight is not a comforting one. After two issues in a row of almost nothing but fighting and torture, I’m ready for a new story to start, so Wells’ writing strengths will be able to truly shine.

Acme Novelty Library #20

Written and Drawn by Chris Ware

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Review by Scott Cederlund

All comic book stories have a shape to them, even if it is only an amorphous blog that fills in the page count that a cartoonist has. With most Chris Ware books, you are aware of the sculpted shape of his tales, even if it’s only due to the labyrinth-like construction of his pages. Acme Novelty Library #20 is the continuation of his recent Rusty Brown story, but only tangentially. Rusty Brown only makes a brief cameo as Ware tells us the story of Jordon Wellington Lint in this book. Lint’s story falls into the typical Ware man-child story category, similar in his emotional development to Jimmy Corrigan but what’s always fascinating in a Ware book is to see how he constructs that story.

Jordon Lint’s life takes on a couple of interesting shapes. The first shape that Ware uses is a circle as he tells Jordon’s story from birth to death. This is the story of Jordon’s whole life so those are the natural beginning and end points to this story. Ware presents both in the same fashion, with a similar fade in and a dissolve accompanied by a jangle of panels and information. There’s the similar disorientation associated with both events, an awareness of time and space without the faculties to put them cognitively together. The way that Ware enters and exits his story with these events create a loop as if Ware wants to give Jordon another chance at life and another chance and actually being a nice person.

Another shape that this story has is that of a flat line, mostly reflected in Jordon himself. Throughout the book, Ware returns to one panel — a full-face shot of Jordon, reflecting that particular time in his life. It’s the same image over and over in this book; Jordon just looking out at the reader with a blank expression. Sure there are changes over the years that pass — mullets, receding hairlines, goatees, mustaches, wrinkles — but what hardly ever changes are the eyes. Occasionally there’s a bit of fear in them but Jordon’s eyes never show any signs of actual life. There’s a blankness behind them, a stunted display of the emotions, hopes and fears that most people actually display in their eyes. Ware shows us the ups and downs of Jordon’s life but they hardly ever register with Jordon. There’s a sameness that exists in him, a lack of emotions that just stopped developing during childhood.

Even with that lack of character in his main character, Ware produces a roller coaster-like story. The visual structure that he often uses, with the panels falling back on each other and snaking through the page creates the effects of a roller coaster. You never know where the story is going to go but Ware makes it easy to follow, laying down the tracks for you to follow. But more than the page, there’s the unique hope he repeatedly gives to Jordon. While Jordon really stops growing during childhood after the death of his mother, he lives a long life and, for the story to be successful, you’ve got to feel like Jordon is capable of change and maturity. Ware does give you that hope, repeatedly and often. He gives his character every possibility over a lifetime to actually make something worthwhile of his life and become a character that we could like. It’s thrilling to get to those points, where he finds his version of love and happiness but there are the plummets as well, where you see how low and despicable Jordon could be.

Acme Novelty Library #20 is full of shapes. That’s how Chris Ware tells his tales, by creating forms and shapes in the process of storytelling. Even when the story is flat and shows no development, that’s a key characteristic to Ware’s life story of Jordon Lint, a man who has every opportunity to grow up a bit but is determined to remain a little boy, clinging to his mother’s blue dress.

Pellet reviews!

Black Widow #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; Click here for preview): This is part three of the “Kiss or Kill” storyline, brought to you by the team of Swierczynski and Garcia. Ever since journalist Nick Crane tried to turn Black Widow's head into a canoe as revenge for his father's death, the lad's life has been one harrowing roller coaster of torture and near-death experiences. Last issue it looked like he might finally be getting free of it all, but then Crimson Dynamo and Fantasma arrived on scene and it's up to the Widow to keep him alive. Problem is, even if she's good enough to succeed, someone out there wants her and Fatale (and all the other hot female secret agents/assassins) deader than a movie about Wonder Woman. In the end, it's all just foreplay for the coming Widow Maker mini-series due out in a couple weeks. This story has been fantastic, easily one of the best on Duane Swierczynski's resume. I know there's some complaints that this series is devoid of serious super-powering, but personally I think it works better that way, especially with the writer of The Blonde at the helm. However, it's a shot of adrenaline too late given that the title is terminated after this issue. I still say go out and buy these three issues. It's well worth it.

Murderland #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Three issues in, and I'm still not quite sure what this book is even about — but damn if that artwork isn't super-pretty. Think of a bubble-gum pop grindhouse movie, and that's the sort of vibe that David Hahn weaves with his slick lines, a splice between Tom Grummett and Jamie McKelvie if I ever saw one. There are some nice character beats here as well with Arabber, particularly when law enforcement pays a visit to his grandmother. That said, the organic feel of this series has petered out a little bit in this issue, and so if you haven't checked out at least the second issue of this book, you might get left in the dust a bit. What's really great, however, is the back-up story in this book — even without the context of knowing who this character is, there's a real showmanship about crossing the line between power and paranoia. Not the strongest issue of the series, but there’s something to this book that makes it stand out. Here’s hoping by next issue we’ll know what that is.

Animated Shot!

Young Justice: "Independence Day"

Featuring Jesse McCartney, Nolan North, Khary Payton and Jason Spisak

Produced by Cartoon Network and DC Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

It's hard to believe it's been about four years since the DCAU has had a show like this. Serious in nature, animation carrying a darker tone and rich with DC mythology. While this is far from the animated Teen Titans show from before and not exactly the Legion of Superheroes show either, Young Justice certainly made an impact.

While this isn't an actual adaptation from the late 90's series starring Superboy, Robin, and Impulse, it does mix and match different parts of Titans/JLA lore, having Dick Grayson back as a teen Robin that comes a bit too implusive, teaming with a recently-cloned Superboy, and the new Aqualad that was introduced in Brightest Day. While I'm all about having Dick Grayson and Wally West/Kid Flash on a team again, I can see where a younger audience would be confused, so the main question is "who is this show for?"

The show starts with members of the League that have wards and partners, ie Flash, Batman, Green Arrow, and Aqualad and each team defeated an ice-themed villain like Mr. Freeze, Killer Frost, Icicle, Captain Cold. "Today is the day," each ward says, and we get the idea that it is seriously important to them. We find out soon, it is the day they are invited to visit the Hall of Justice. Though as it turns out, they still have limited access, and this does not please Roy Harper one bit, resulting in his departure (and I'm sure eventual return as Arsenal).

A while later, Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash eventually have their own adventures and uncover some seriously strange things going on in Cadmus, which leads to the discover of Project: Kr, aka Superboy. The idea of Robin being a smart alec computer hacker is a good combination of Tim and Dick, and he certainly moves like Dick, giving a cackle here and there, just taunting the bad guys. Classic Robin. I'm not too familiar with this new Aqualad, as I haven't been following Brightest Day or anything he's appeared in, but I like the design and his waterblades.

Other little tidbits are the big baddie being Blockbuster (hello, alliteration), Zatara being included in the League (Italian accent and all) and I love how Red Tornado and Black Canary will serve as mentors and trainers to the team. The addition of Miss Martian (voiced by Danica McKellar) adds that extra bit of contemporary mythos and another powerhouse to the team. The animation is sharp, and very different from the usual Bruce Timm-style fare, but still works. Everybody looks crisp, clean, and just damn cool.

I guess the only real complaint I have is that this was just the pilot/movie premiere, and the series doesn't start until about January. With creators boasting that in the first season it will showcase over 150 characters, could this be the show DC Universe fans have been waiting for? Time can only tell, but I'll be along for the adventure.

What was your favorite comic of the week?

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