Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots team and your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews! We've got books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and IDW, and that's not all — we've got plenty more where that came from at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's find out whatever happened to the Martian Manhunter, as we take a peek at Brightest Day #15...
Brightest Day #15 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Do you remember that Alan Moore story "For The Man Who Has Everything"? Take that story, arm it with a bloody meat cleaver and put the Martian Manhunter in the central role, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what Brightest Day #15 reads like. It's definitely got its share of violence to it, but there's something about the commitment to this "imaginary story" — particularly the strikingly abrupt, but charmingly forceful last page — that provides some memorable set-up to what will likely be a knock-down, drag-out fight between J'onn and a psychotic surviving Green Martian. I think, in certain ways, the structure of this book remains a bit of a double-edged sword: While I think focusing largely on just one story is to the benefit of the immediate action, it does give a bit of a jerky stop-and-start quality to the overall connecting Brightest Day narrative. But I will say this — visually, the single-story output really helps give some focus, as Pat Gleason's style really sticks with you. It may be a bit self-indulgent, but if you're looking for a violent little bit of psychodrama, this issue plays its premise to the hilt.
She-Hulks #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): Take a little Jennifer Walters, mix in a lot of Lyra, and stir with a dash of Bruce Banner— and you've got one of Marvel's newest female centric titles: She-Hulks. The premise is pretty simple, well — as simple as can be when talking about time travel and super-powers. Lyra is Hulk's daughter from the future; she's been transported back to our time and is being mentored by Jennifer Walters. Jennifer knows all too well how hard it is to live a normal high-schooler's life when anything and everything that angers you causes you to burst out of your clothing and turn bright green. The issue is a fun read and Ryan Stegman's art does a fantastic job of portraying the characters feelings as Harrison Wilcox's text moves the plot along. The book is fairly light-hearted and I'd definitely recommend it to teen readers.
Action Comics Annual #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Lex Luthor continues to fascinate in the two stories contained in this 46-page annual issue of Action Comics. Writer Paul Cornell has penned two tales from Lex’s past – when he had hair! - both of which deal with intriguing, villainous mentors. Did you know that Lex was “mentored” at various times by the mob, Darkseid, and Ra’s Al Ghul?! What makes the stories truly interesting, though, is that they both explore instances in which Lex could have gone in the opposite direction; instances where someone of his intellect, if he embraced a little humility, could have done good for the world; instances in which, instead, Lex continues to refuse to see anyone as his equal, becoming his own worst enemy despite his successes. There are differences in artistic quality, though, when it comes to the two stories. Whereas Ed Benes’ work on the Ra’s Al Ghul story, “A Father’s Box,” is lovely and clear, giving the story a fairy tale-like quality, Marco Ruoy’s work on the opening story, “Father Box,” was difficult to follow. This was a problem more in the layout of the panels, although facial expressions were difficult to read and characters difficult to keep track of, doing the story a disservice. Despite its flaws, however, this Action Comics annual is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the inner workings of one of the most captivating villains in the DC Universe.
Heroes for Hire #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I couldn't help but wonder after reading this first issue of Heroes for Hire — who's the target audience here? Considering the calls for making comics as accessible as possible, I was surprised at how much Marvel knowledge you really needed to appreciate this book. That's not to say that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning don't write some fun action beats, and the structure of their plot is really interesting once you see the connections between scenes — but I think even character captions like "Wingman for Hire" or "Mercenary for Hire" for characters like the Falcon or Paladin would have been not just helpful, but would have added a little bit more characterization for this book. Brad Walker, when he hits the big shots like Falcon flying overhead, is almost reminiscent of Paul Gulacy — but that said, there are a few times where his panel composition just does not work, keeping big moments like Moon Knight finding a bunch of kidnapped junkies from really sinking in. The overall premise of this book is actually pretty smart, but execution-wise, it's not quite hooking me yet — particularly, since I'm still not sure who the cast of this book is going to be. (Only two out of the five on the cover are actually in the book.) Even with its nods to The Warriors, this first issue doesn't make me want to come out to play.
Vertigo Resurrected: Winter's Edge (Published by Vertigo; Review by David Pepose): Now this is how you do an anthology book right. Vertigo picks a strong assortment of different winter-themed stories, and the vast majority of them are really heartfelt. While Neil Gaiman is the headliner for this book, I think that Paul Jenkins and Paul Pope really steal the show, with a sad romance story starring John Constantine. If you don't feel a lump in your throat after reading it, well, you've got no soul. Brian K. Vaughan also gets a great Swamp Thing story in the mix, and Dave Gibbons' chops as an illustrator are displayed proudly alongside a prose Constantine story he wrote. What's great about this book is that it really illustrates the range of the Vertigo catalogue, and that there are so many stories and venues and emotions that they could utilize in their books. The only hurdle I see with this book? The $7.99 price point — when you start approaching those kinds of prices, Amazon and Barnes and Noble start to come into play, and you can't help but wonder if there's a meatier book out there for a similar price. Baltimore: The Plague Ships #5 (Published By Dark Horse; Review by Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview). From the very first issue it was pretty clear that Baltimore: The Plague Ships was really penciler Ben Stenbeck’s show. His work in issues #1 and #2 was simply phenomenal, but as the series waded into a soggy middle, writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden were a bit lax in providing enough ambitious set pieces for their monster of an artist to sink his teeth into. This was a sizable flaw, since, at its core, Baltimore is running through too many timeworn gothic tropes to get by on its writing alone. Fortunately, despite some truly dire dialogue on the front end, Golden and Mignola’s scenario in the climactic issue succeeds in bringing out the best in Stenbeck. Another zombie fighting gothic fantasy is electro-charged by the ripe, relentless visuals Stenbeck puts on the page. Dave Stewart's coloring is, as usual, superb. A lackluster third and fourth issue kept Baltimore from becoming a full on classic, but this final issue makes it, at the very least, one of this year’s most beautiful comics.
Buffy: Season Eight #39 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Teresa Jusino): Well if this issue of Buffy: Season Eight wasn’t a swift, army-booted kick to the gut, I don’t know what is! This issue brilliantly ties together not only the events of Season Eight, but events from the TV show going all the way back to the episode Once More With Feeling. Giles’ song, “Standing,” will have an entirely new resonance for you now, and the events of issue #10 are clarified. After several issues of meandering confusion, Joss Whedon and Scott Allie have finally delivered a fast-paced issue with a huge emotional impact that answers very important questions and establishes a new, horrifying status quo. Some of artist Georges Jeanty’s strongest work is on display here as well. His images, morsel than the story, which is still a bit convoluted, give this issue its emotional punch. So much pain is captured in these panels, I can’t even tell you. No really, I can’t tell you, because if I say one thing too many it’ll spoil the whole thing. But rest assured that this issue is typical Whedon story plotting, and all those things you thought didn’t matter issues and issues ago totally matter. Issue #39 basically invites you to go back and read all the past issues again so that you can see how misplaced your misgivings were. Issue #40, Season Eight’s coda, looks to be gut-wrenching if anything can be told from Jo Chen’s cover image for that issue, which is a sad bookend for the cover of Issue #1. I can’t wait.
Strange Science Fantasy #6 (Published by IDW; Review by David Pepose): While I can't say that this is my favorite issue of the run, I can say that that initial take is a matter of proportion. While this last issue flies a little bit in the face of the continuity-free, high-focus spectacle of the previous five issue, you can't say that Strange Science Fantasy doesn't act as a (mostly) fitting capstone to a blast of creativity that few comics have been able to match. Scott Morse's way with dialogue and, in particular, his art and colorwork are what make this book — while I don't know if I necessarily was hooked to the comparatively muddier metaphor (or the too-literal twist ending) of this last issue, I love the dialogue that Morse puts in this book: "A handful of stories came alive at once. Once upon a time." Purely masterful. If you haven't been reading Strange Science Fantasy, you've been missing out on one of the most innovative and imaginative comics of the year.
Ozma of Oz #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): The first issue contained the ominous warning, "Beware the Wheelers," and issue two creates even more mystery surrounding these strange wheeled creatures that Dorothy and her hen-friend Billina encounter on the island they have washed ashore on. The hot pink cover is undeniably eye catching, and the Wheelers are creepy, but intriguing enough that I can really see a kid begging mom or dad to get them this latest installment of the world of Oz from Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. I was surprised upon reading the issue that while the Wheelers are definitely a threat to Dorothy and Billina, most of the issue is the story of Tik-Tok, a mechanical man that can think, talk, and move. He explains much of the history of the island to the two, and comes to their aid. The artwork in this issue is simply enchanting. It has a great storybook feel and I can't wait to see what happens next on Dorothy's latest adventure. What's your favorite comic of the week thus far?