Best Shots: WOLVERINE: BEST THERE IS, ACTION COMICS, More

Best Shots: WOLVERINE, ACTION COMICS

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots team for today's review column. We've got books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and more, and the reviews don't end there — for more back-issue reviews, just check out <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/topic/best-shots">the Best Shots Topic Page</a>! And now, let's see if Charlie Huston and Juan Jose Ryp are the best there is at what they do, with a look at their new mature-readers book, Wolverine: The Best There Is...

 

Wolverine: The Best There Is #1

Written by Charlie Huston

Art by Juan Jose Ryp and Andres Mossa

Lettering by Clayon Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

<a href="/13273-mutant-previews-generation-hope-2-wolverine-best-1.html?iid=000/017/910">Click here for preview</a>

There's a brand of comic that maybe I should just call the "emotional hardcore" comic — no, it's not about Jimmy Eat World or Dashboard Confessional, but a kind of profoundly , profoundly personal brand of mainstream comic that doesn't so much play to readers' expectations as much as it is an expression of the creators' own wishes.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these comics often get a lot of heat and debate from readers and fans. Think about books like , or the wildly uneven as two recent examples of creator style going before story or even previously established characterization. It's their ship, and love it or hate it, you're just along for the ride. Wolverine: The Best There Is is one of those books. And while it can be just as uneven as some of the previous titles I mentioned, there's some real sizzle to Charlie Huston and Juan Jose Ryp's violent, sometimes over-the-top look at Marvel's most dangerous mutant.

There's a lot to be said about a good first impression, and I will say this: Huston and Ryp open this book up with a bang, putting Logan through his paces in a dirty underground mutant dogfighting ring. The atmosphere is instantly grimy and unsettling due to Ryp's artwork, which is like a dark nightmare of Keith Giffen or Scott Kolins genetically altered with a strain of Frank Quitely and raised with some of the sensibilities of Paul Pope. Is it violent? Oh, you better believe it. And sometimes, the faces can get uneven. But there's such a unique personal tough to Ryp's work, particularly when you see the look on Wolverine's face when he's ready to cut loose. Pretty scary stuff.

Charlie Huston, meanwhile, really alternates between some pitch-black bad-assitude and some weird, quirky humor. Seeing Wolverine cut a woman's hair with his claws is mildly amusing the first time, and it's hard to decide whether or not it gets funnier or not after he does it a few more times. There's a sense of craziness in all these shifting tones, which perhaps helps set up the profound uneasiness of this book: There's plenty of questions that are raised but not answered, and the only conclusion is violence. Maybe we're supposed to see the world from Logan's perspective. It's weird, but again, it's something I don't think anyone but Huston would have come up with.

Who knows — maybe I'm being too nice. Maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there. But as far as in-the-moment, how-does-this-individual-product-look-on-the-shelves, I have to say, the weirdness of Wolverine: The Best There Is helps give this series a little bit more legs against the horde of other Wolverine titles in shops. Are there going to be people who hate it, who want to know exactly what they're getting into and be disappointed without the answer? Oh, absolutely. This book is an acquired taste, absolutely. It's insanely personal to these two creators, and it's that lack of convention, that artistic rebelliousness, that has me on board for the next issue. I don't know if I'd call it The Best There Is, but it's got its claws in me. Let's see if the second issue makes that stick.

 

Action Comics Annual #13

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Marco Rudy, Ed Benes, Val Staples and Jason Wright

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

<a href="/13281-dc-previews-action-comics-annual-13-secret-six-28.html">Click here for preview</a>

Even Horatio Alger would tell you that the self-made man often needs some help along the way — and when it comes to Lex Luthor, let's just say that his benefactors have a distinctly darker set of ambitions. Giving Paul Cornell's Little Mastermind That Could some deeper context within the history of the DC universe, this is an annual that brings the best out of all the creators involved.

For those who haven't seen Marco Rudy's work, this annual is a great place for you to see the range he brings to his work. Moving from unassuming and realistic at the beginning — reminding me a little bit of CAFU mixed with the clean, almost animated lines of Rob Haynes — Rudy really succeeds in his unorthodox panel layouts, which are probably the closest in ambition DC has to J.H. Williams III. And wait until you see Darkseid — suddenly, Rudy busts out his best impression of Chris Samnee with his dense shadows, but gives Darkseid an almost cartoonishly evil smile, showing that his malevolence knows no human boundaries. Darkseid simply is. Meanwhile, Ed Benes produces some of the best pages I've ever seen him do, in a second feature showing Lex's partnership with Ra's Al Ghul. Combined with the colorwork of Jason Wright, Benes reminds me just a little bit of current superstar David Finch, but with a bit of a cleaner line that's a little bit reminiscent of Todd Nauck.

But this book wouldn't have worked — couldn't have worked — without some stellar writing from Paul Cornell. Cornell plays the larger-than-life qualities of Darkseid and Ra's Al Ghul and contrasts them magnificently against Lex Luthor's analytic mind — and his endless hubris. Lex Luthor is finally getting that which has eluded him so long — no, it's not ownership of Metropolis, but a solid metaphor behind his actions, a message that shows the argument between intellect and ambition. Where does potential end and overreaching begin? is Lex Luthor's story, an undoing that will bring him down and have him crawl back on top, again and again and again.

What's perhaps the greatest success from Cornell and company is that they've taken what is essentially an anthology format — two free-floating, presumably continuity-light stories in the greater DC Universe — and gives it some real weight. Who is Lex Luthor? That's the question that Cornell has been answering throughout his run on Action Comics. With this annual, he deviates from the hunt for the Black Lantern energy sources and cuts straight into the character of Lex Luthor himself. Every man has friends and enemies, but with Lex Luthor, he always manages to find a way to make people both. This is an ambitious annual with some ambitious creators, and unlike the titular character, this book is able to reach its lofty goals with gusto.

 

Heroes for Hire #1

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey, and Jay David Ramos

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel

Review by Jennifer Smith

<a href="/13274-event-3-view-shadowland-heroes-for-hire-chaos-god-squad.html?iid=000/017/930">Click here for preview</a>

It’s hard to talk about Heroes for Hire #1 without referencing the twist ending, so for those who haven’t read the comic yet, I advise you to skip this review until you’ve gotten a chance to read it.

Heroes for Hire starts out promisingly, with a surprise appearance from the under-utilized Sam Wilson, the Falcon. He’s soon joined by the Black Widow, and later scenes showcase Moon Knight and Elektra. In all of their work on Marvel’s cosmic titles, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have proven themselves savants at the art of balancing a large cast of B-or-C-list characters and giving each of those characters a moment to shine. With Heroes for Hire, the writers continue to display that talent in spades, showcasing each of these disparate heroes and successfully introducing them to potentially unfamiliar readers. I still have no idea who Moon Knight actually is, having read only a handful of comics in which he’s appeared as a minor character, but that didn’t matter here – Abnett and Lanning let me know, through dialogue and action, that he’s a guy who doesn’t mind using intense violence to get drugs off the streets, and that’s all the knowledge I needed to enjoy his appearance. At the same time, however, long-time Moon Knight fans are likely to get an extra kick out of his scene, just as I did from Sam Wilson’s. That balance between audience targets – the knowledgeable and the new – is something few comic book writers achieve, and it’s something all other writers should aspire to.

The premise, as set up initially, is a great one, too. It posits Misty Knight as a figure not unlike DC’s Oracle, “hiring” and directing heroes from a remote location using information from a secret source. I loved seeing her assertiveness in the role, her absolute confidence that the other heroes would do what she said when she called to cash in her favors, and I liked the idea that she’s keeping this new endeavor from Iron Fist, her close friend and ex-boyfriend. Too often stories revolve around male heroes keeping secrets to protect their more innocent girlfriends, but in Misty’s case, much like the dynamic between Clint and Bobbi in Jim McCann’s Hawkeye and Mockingbird, it’s the woman who needs to protect the more innocent man. While too much of this kind of secret-keeping can be a problem in itself, I’m pleased, for now, with the role reversal.

Art-wise, the book demonstrates stark strengths and weaknesses. Brad Walker’s pencils are detailed, with particularly dynamic action scenes. I also appreciate his attention to detail in his depiction of different faces. This is especially important when it comes to characters of color, who too often in comics are drawn exactly the same as white characters, leaving the job of differentiation to the colorist. Here, Sam and Misty are very clearly African-American in appearance, and Elektra’s Mediterranean heritage is evident in the one panel that shows her face. Unfortunately, the flipside of this attention to facial detail is that Walker tends to zoom in on faces to an uncomfortable degree, making the book feel somewhat claustrophobic. The numerous close-ups on Misty’s lips are particularly scary; though showing her mouth is a necessary device to convey her role as a long-distance director of action, she probably shouldn’t look like she’s about to eat the reader.

Then there’s the ending. We learn, in the last few pages, that Misty is not actually controlling the action at all; instead, the Puppet Master has her comatose in a hospital bed, her bionic arm hooked up to machines that allow him to direct her actions and make her believe she’s in a control room, making the decisions for herself. What bothers me about this is not so much the image of female victimization — I have no doubt that Misty will break out of the Puppet Master’s control within a few issues. However, with Marvel’s recent track record of cancelling small books by issue 5 or 6, I worry that this is the only story we’ll get to read. The setup in the first part of the book is so great that it will be a shame if it’s never put into effect more genuinely, and even if that’s in Abnett and Lanning’s plans (i.e. Misty decides to run Heroes for Hire the way the Puppet Master made her believe she was doing it), I’m cynical about the book’s chances of surviving long enough to tell that story. What we’ll be left with, then, is a story primarily about a male villain victimizing a female lead, and that’s not the legacy this book should leave.

I truly hope Heroes for Hire bucks the trend and lasts far longer than a miniseries length. But, with that future so precarious, I’m not sure I can recommend this book to others without some important caveats.

 

Marineman #1

Art and story by Ian Churchill

Colors by Ian Churchill and Nicholas Chapui

Lettering and Design by Comicraft's Starkings, Betancourt and Roshell

Published by Image Comics

Review by George Marston

<a href="/13279-image-previews-for-12-2-marineman-1-27-1-shadowhawk.html?iid=000/018/029">Click here for preview</a>

It's a rare thing for a well-known creator to gamble with a style and story unlike anything they're known for. Sometimes, it's a pleasant surprise, shedding new light on a talent that you may have written off. Others, it's the perfect example of a failed experiment, particularly when a creator known specifically for writing or drawing moves into the other side of the equation. Marineman actually falls squarely in the middle; Ian Churchill's new, clean, almost cartoonish style is a breath of fresh air, but the story he's crafted around it is a bit of a snoozer.

Marineman tells the story of the unlikely named Steve Ocean, an underwater explorer, and the host of a Jacque Cousteau style oceanic biology show. As "Marineman," Steve learns and informs his viewers about the mysteries of the ocean and its inhabitants, but behind the scenes, Steve has a dangerous secret. A secret that... only shows up in the solicits. And that's the problem. We, as readers, know Steve has something to hide, we know he's a superhero, or at least that he will be, and that his father is some kind of government scientist. Almost all of that knowledge comes from reading the synopsis provided by solicitation, as the only element of Steve's exciting life as a superhero that appears on the actual page is a visit to his father's secret Navy laboratory.

Most of the issue is spent on panel after panel of characters lounging around while endless word balloons crammed with exactly the kind of words that, when translated to pictures, make an exciting comic book, drift in and out of relevance. Based on the amount of words per panel, and the panels per page, I'd guess that Ian Churchill is singlehandedly putting Richard Starkings' kids through college. If half of the things that Marineman spends much of its near endless word count describing were shown on the page, I might have had an exciting time reading this issue. The other half of the mountain of dialogue could easily have just been thrown away, as most of it is spent explaining what "free diving" is, or dispensing factoids about marine life that obviously fascinate Ian Churchill, but serve no relevance to the story. It's very cool that Churchill so clearly wants to nurture the image of his hero as a purveyor of oceanographic knowledge, but less talking heads and cargo shorts and more adventure and costumes could have really hooked me, as the promise that, one of these days, we might actually see Marineman do something other than make fart jokes or talk about lemon sharks, or tell the history of a secret pirate cave or any of the 5 million other things he does besides actually doing anything is the only thing that might make me take a look at issue #2, because I really did enjoy the art, and the character design.

All in all, it's very clear that Ian Churchill is the biggest fan of his own creation, a character seemingly designed to relate all of Churchill's knowledge of undersea creatures to his readership. I feel a little bad for how tedious this book was to read, as Churchill's afterword makes very clear his desire to see this character, one he created and has been working on since he was a child, come to life, because honestly, that love DOES come across in the book. I just wish that Churchill knew better how to hold back some of those bits of info that seem to fascinate him at least until their relevant in the story. As it stands, Marineman is a great looking book that misses a lot of opportunities to be exciting. If Churchill can evolve his writing to the level his art reaches on this title, it'll definitely be a book to come back to in future issues.

 

Batman: Orphans #1

Written by Eddie Berganza

Art by Carlo Barberi, Juan Vlasco and Chuck Pires

Lettering by John E. Workman, Jr.

Published by DC Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

I'm not quite sure what DC is out to accomplish with Batman: Orphans, a standalone two-issue miniseries that takes place in some nebulous pre-Infinite Crisis continuity. It's not as if there's some profound lack of Batman comics on the stands that needed to be addressed, that's for sure. Other than throwing a bone to newly promoted Executive Editor Eddie Berganza (although I can't imagine anyone knew that when production started), I really don't can't see a reason why this got the green light.

The plot concerns a group of would-be Robins recruited by a Fagin-like Batman impersonator, one of whom ends up dead, spurring an investigation by the real Robin (Tim Drake) and Nightwing. I'm virtually certain I remember an almost identical story playing out in some previous Batman comic, but regardless of the premise's originality, it's Berganza's execution that really drives this one into the ground.

With dialogue that even a tin ear couldn't love, virtually no regard for structure or transitions, and only perfunctory efforts to give any characterization to the band of apprentice crimefighters, getting through the 40-odd pages of story here was an effort. And, just for fun, we get a cookie-cutter reporter character who is, of course, trying to make her career by getting the true story on the Batman, and narrates the issue for us. Does she have anything to do with the main plot? Not from what I can see, but why not throw in one of the most clichéd archetypes in all of popular fiction for no reason?

There's also some kind of subplot with the Penguin and some missing Lexcorp equipment, but honestly I can barely remember it even now as I type, and I'm not going to waste my time rereading it. The prize for Most Irritating Aspect, however, has to go to the reporter's photographer sidekick, who shares a name with a well-known actor and speaks almost entirely in quotes from said actor's films, because he thinks it's funny. This might have been a decent throwaway joke ten years ago, but Berganza just keeps going back to the well, over and over, like it's the biggest innovation in humor since the chicken crossed the road.

The art doesn't help matters. Barberi's got an eye for a nice image, such as the first page with the fake Robin's body lying in the rain, but storytelling isn't his strong suit. The lack of establishing shots and transitions can at least be partially blamed on the script, but Barberi's layouts made what was already a poorly structured story flow even less. The lettering even bothered me, with most of the dialogue in a weird italic font that made everyone seem like they were emphasizing everything they said.

There's too many good Batman books out there to lay out time and money for a bad one; leave this orphaned on the shelf. (See, I can make bad jokes too!)

 

Rasl #9

Written by Jeff Smith

Art by Jeff Smith

Published by Cartoon Books

Reviewed by Scott Cederlund

An art thief, the President and God take a walk down a street. In most cases, that statement would be the beginning of a joke, leading up to some kind of inappropriate but amusing punchline. Everyone would laugh and then tell another joke and move on with their lives. But for Jeff Smith and Rasl #9, that’s the plot as Smith slowly progresses his story along with another issue. Of course, his art thief knows at least as much about Nikola Tesla as he does about Pablo Picasso, if not more. His President is a lanky, wavy haired man who believes that he’s seen aliens because someone had to be the first person to see a UFO and so why couldn’t it have been him. And God is a young girl, blankly staring into some space that only she’s aware of. Yeah, Rasl has trouble believing he’s sharing the road with the President and God, too.

Each issue of Jeff Smith’s Bone was packed with story. In the end, he had many characters and story lines to juggle and he did a wonderful job with that. Even though it features small, cute little Shmoo-like characters, Smith built the story up to be a Tolkienish epic and each issue, particularly by the end, had many life-or-death circumstances. Rasl is a different creature as Smith is taking his time. He’s maybe just under halfway done with this story (he says in the letter pages that there’s maybe 12 issues left) and it feels as if he’s approaching this book must more deliberately than he did with Bone.

This latest issue is certainly much more meditative than any issue of Bone was. Beginning with his own creation myth, Smith breaks this issue up into three parts; the origin myth, Rasl’s walk with the President and God, and a chase seen with yet another unknown character. Like he does with the main character, I think Smith is enjoying keeping the reader disoriented and in the dark a bit about the grand scheme of his story. Is this a story about an art thief? About a scientist? Are the two even that far apart? Just as Rasl’s true role in any of these cosmic shenanigans is up in the air, Smith deliberately leaves the reader disoriented and unsure after each issue. But the fun with this series continues to be trying to fit all of the different pieces together to discover Smith’s bigger picture.

Rasl #9 may not be one of the most coherent issues of the series but it’s great fun to watch Smith carve out his story, finding it as he goes along. The fact that this is such a huge departure from Bone shows just how brave he is but as he builds up his story, adding element on top of element to it, you can see Smith working without a safety net. He’s introduced a lot of different moving parts to this story, some existing on parallel worlds, without ever fully bringing them together yet. Rasl #9 introduces more intriguing parts as Smith continues to build up the layers of his story. Smith blends art, science and religion into a narrative alchemical stew to make one of the tastier comics being published right now.

 

Generation Hope #2

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Salvador Espin and Jim Charalampidis

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

<a href="/13273-mutant-previews-generation-hope-2-wolverine-best-1.html">Click here for preview</a>

Generation Hope #2 continues the introduction of the Five Lights, the first new mutants to emerge since the Decimation storyline in 2005. Hope Summers, born following the Decimation and raised in the future by Cable, has returned to the present as a teenager and is leading the X-Men to the five young mutants, each of whom proves unable to control his or her powers without Hope's help.

Gillen and his art team give us some straight-ahead mutant action in this one, as Hope, her new recruits, Cyclops, Wolverine and Rogue take on Kenji, whose powers have made him into a late-stage Tetsuo from Akira. My favorite X-writers have always been those who manage to depict the struggle between the humanity of mutants and their inherent otherness, and the battle with Kenji depicts that dichotomy beautifully. Hope and the X-Men have to try and contain a being who has, at least for the moment, transcended all human morality as his mind and body are changed by his abilities. They recognize that Kenji is not fully in control of his actions, but also know that if they can't pull him back from the brink and remind him that being mutant and acting human are not mutually exclusive, they may need to take drastic action.

I like Hope very much as a character; she's like a more successful version of what Bendis and Peter David tried to do with Layla Miller. Being raised across the timestream by the world's ultimate soldier has made her pragmatic beyond her years, but also instilled within her a reverence for life that drives her every action. Unfortunately, Kenji takes her out of the game pretty early on here, and the older X-Men have to step up and continue the fight. Gillen doesn't quite nail Cyclops' voice here, although I do like his Wolverine. The other four of the Five Lights haven't made much of an impression on me one way or the other yet, but Gabriel gets a couple of nice moments here.

Salvador Espin's art is a great fit for Gillen's story, shifting from Kenji's fleshy chaos to a cleaner look for the other characters with aplomb. His backgrounds were a little lacking in places, and the characters aside from Kenji came off as almost too simply drawn sometimes, but the storytelling was direct and organic throughout.

The case could be made that the sprawling cast of the X-books doesn't need any more additions, but what I've seen so far of Hope and the Lights shows a lot of promise, and as long as the title character can get back into the mix soon, I'm on board at least for the duration of the miniseries.

 

Secret Six #28

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

<a href="/13281-dc-previews-action-comics-annual-13-secret-six-28.html?iid=000/018/049">Click here for preview</a>

What's the definition of a good character?

There's a lot of different answers to that question, but one that sticks out to me is the Homer Simpson Theorem: You can put that character in pretty much any situation and still be able to come up with a good story.

So maybe it's appropriate to say that Secret Six has a little bit of Homer Simpson in it. Placing the Six in the barbaric world of Skartaris, Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore still make it all feel strangely appropriate, placing some epic set pieces against some moments of truly chilling human drama.

I think a lot of that comes from Jim Calafiore, who shows some surprising design chops as he tweaks the superheroic styles of Bane and Scandal and the gang, and injects them with the sort of savage sword-and-sorcery of Skartaris, the world of the Warlord. I love the battle axe, fur cloak and purple bandana that Bane sports throughout this issue, and even weirdness like Scandal's thong or Deadshot's chain-mail belly shirt have a sort of weird retro fantasy appeal. Calafiore also does some great work with the emotional moments of this book, particularly showing the tiny Black Alice stand up for herself against the hulking, axe-wielding Bane.

Gail Simone, meanwhile, brings in a story that deals with the morality of war and superhumans. While I don't know if that moral necessarily succeeds in articulating itself to the reader — or rather, really the reader and hooking them into the message — Simone's plotting is what really matters here. She gives Calafiore a lot of cool moments to present, showing off Black Alice, Giganta and the relationship between Bane and Scandal particularly well. For my money, however, it's the last three pages that are worth the price of admission, as Simone wraps up a continuity thread that I don't think many readers will even realize was hanging. But it's a damn good ending.

There's a lot going on in Secret Six #28, and make no mistake, this is definitely not an issue that you can just "jump into." This is payoff all the way, and for those who have been keeping up with the advanced-level continuity of this arc, this book has some real fireworks, emotional and otherwise. Maybe having a little bit of Homer Simpson isn't a bad thing for this gleefully sick, profoundly dysfunctional family of killers: It makes every trip, no matter how far removed, into a fun, darkly comic journey.

 

She-Hulks #2

Written by Harrison Wilcox

Art by Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski and Guru eFX

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

<a href="/13275-mix-3-view-she-hulks-2-women-of-marvel-2-ozma-of-oz-2.html?iid=000/017/949">Click here for preview</a>

It's official — as far as the Marvel Universe is concerned, two She-Hulks are better than one. With a fast-paced, funny script from Harrison Wilcox played to the hilt by some career-making linework from Ryan Stegman, this is a book that'll make you see green with excitement.

Considering a lot of people won't know who the heck Harrison Wilcox is, let me give you an answer: He's one of the all-too-rare exceptions of a TV writer making good on the comics page. Formerly of the writer's room, Wilcox excels because of his uncomplicated plots, allowing for the characterization to really set the tone of this book. And the fact that he juggles so many different kinds of settings — high school angst, meeting up with an ex-boyfriend for coffee, fighting a bunch of super-powered apes — it balances a human resonance with the kind of crazy, light-hearted superhero antics that are surprisingly endearing.

But it's Ryan Stegman who really lights this book up. Bringing in some Hulk-sized talents to Jen and Lyra, Stegman draws action and expressiveness with equal aplomb. I really enjoy the clean, almost geometric linework he brings to the page, reminding me a bit of David Lafuente with a little bit of that Aspen sexiness. His panel composition is particularly striking, as he manages to take five-panel fight sequences and really make them sing — whereas a lot of other artists out there might just cram them into mush. He's also a great fit for Guru eFX's colorwork, which absolutely pops off the page — in particular, there's a page with the She-Hulks bursting through a window that crackles with a swashbuckling energy to it.

You like high school drama? She-Hulks has it. You like monkeys? She-Hulks has 'em. You like engaging female characters that are sympathetic and endearing? She-Hulks has 'em in spades. High-energy, high-accessibility, high-fun, this is a book from two creators who definitely deserve some wider recognition after this miniseries concludes. As Lyra's high school travails might prove, it's not easy being green, but it sure is easy to follow this book.

 

Women of Marvel #2

Written by Various

Art by Various

Lettering by Various

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

<a href="/13275-mix-3-view-she-hulks-2-women-of-marvel-2-ozma-of-oz-2.html?iid=000/017/956">Click here for preview</a>

In the second of this only two issue series, Marvel again brings us an assortment of strong female characters from creators they bill as "talent to watch out for." With a Greg Land/Justin Ponsor cover featuring Songbird, Sue Storm, and She-Devil — the book certainly has shelf appeal, but the appeal does not end there.

The book consists of three short stories including the cover girls, and ends with a one page featuring Lyra (who's also on stands this week in her own book. The first story, "Back Then...," is a sweet twist on the classic Cinderella tale. Valeria and Franklin are supposed to be napping, but Valeria weaves Sue Storm's origins into a tale that has Franklin gasping in anticipation. The art style reminds me of , and it is a highly out of continuity story, but still a really fun read because it's just so darn cute.

Second is the story of Songbird, "Wake Up Screaming," which takes on a much darker tone. As she faces Screaming Mimi, we read a lot of internal dialog that explains much of what makes her character tick. The art is colorful and the characters look fantastic. There's a bit of cheesecake appeal in the visuals, but nothing that's going to send you into a diabetic coma.

The last extended story is Shanna the She-Devil in "Heart of Darkness." Now if you're familiar with literature and film history, you'll know that the 1902 novella by Joseph Conrad served as inspiration for the film . So if you were wondering — yes, there is a "the horror, the horror" quote. Centered around a group of plane crash survivors in need of rescue, Shanna must deal with their extreme chauvinism to do the right thing. I know that it is a major part of the story, but the male characters were just SO unlikeable that I really had trouble getting into this one. Add to that, some fairly inconsistent art and I'd say this one is one you could just pass over to get to the final page, which left me in stitches. Lyra needs a prom dress. Oh sure, she can fight off foes like the best of them — but prom dress shopping is a whole different situation.

Aside from the one weak story, this book was a great read. Whether you're looking to expose yourself to unfamiliar characters, or new artists and writers, I definitely recommend this book. It's only a two issue series, so it's easy on the wallet (although if you fall for any of the characters/writers/artists, you may find yourself adding titles to your pull box at the LCS). I do wonder what Marvel has planned next. We've had , we've had quite a few one shots, and now we've had this two issue series. I'd like to see the publisher pick something and stick with it. I'd be glad to collect any of those, but the sequencing and pacing of these various series seems a bit disjointed and when I check the upcoming books each week or read Previews, I really have no idea what to watch out for since it keeps changing. I will say this — I make no bones about tending to read DC books over, Marvel. However with these books featuring strong female characters. . . I'm noticing more and more Marvel books in my stacks at home. Mission accomplished, Marvel.

Trade Reviews!

 

Brightest Day Volume 1

Written by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Fernando Pasarin, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado and Peter Steigerwald

Letters by Rob Clark Jr. and Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Scott Cederlund

One of the best lines from Final Crisis occurred during the funeral for the unceremoniously killed Martian Manhunter. On the red plains of Mars, Superman delivers the eulogy before an assembly of other heroes. At the very end, he concludes his touching speech with the words, “We’ll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection.” It’s a wonderful comic book-y line to be delivered with all sincerity by the big blue boy scout during what should be a somber moment. Whether it was the character’s prayers (that was a Grant Morrison scripted comic after all) or just the plans of DC’s writers like Geoff Johns, J’onn J’onnz, along with 11 other characters, was indeed resurrected in final pages of Blackest Night. So, the question needs to be asked, after you’ve been killed and brought back to life, what do you do next? For DC Comics, that answer turns out to be that you just roll the characters into your next event book and try to act like nothing extraordinary has really happened.

Brightest Day is the story of those returned heroes and villains, though the couple of villains are swept off to other books. Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi follow the once-again continuing adventures of Deadman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Firestorm, Hawk, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman as they try to adjust to being alive again. None of them seem particularly happy to be, you know, not dead anymore and you’d think that these characters have witnessed and even participated in enough reincarnations that they would be old hands at it by now. For a book that promises the “brightest day,” there sure is a lot of scowling and hand-wringing going on in this book as no one seems particularly pleased to be alive and kicking.

The problem with Brightest Day Volume 1 and Blackest Night before it is that neither book embraces its core concepts nearly enough to have any fun with them. In superhero comics, we’ve seen the ideas of life and death become meaningless as no one ever really stays dead except for Bucky and Uncle Ben. And we all know what ended up happening to Bucky but at least Ed Brubaker had a unique twist on that character’s return in the pages of Captain America. There was a story there at the beginning, right when the Winter Soldier was introduced and Brubaker carried it through with moving the character forward at a brisk pace. Johns and Tomasi really had an opportunity with Brightest Day to do something new with the idea that all dead characters will eventually come back but instead they treat these resurrections like every other resurrection we’ve ever seen before. The resurrection of dead characters continues to be a cliché in Brightest Day, with this story being nothing more than what we’ve seen when characters like Superman or Wonder Woman have returned from the grave.

In Brightest Day Volume 1, there’s no celebration of life or of hope. Superman could have prayed for all the resurrections he wanted but the returned Martian Manhunter just mopes around Mars. There’s no embrace of his friends, no love of his cookies, no sign that anything now is going to be any different than it was before. If Blackest Night was supposed to close the door on a cycle of event storytelling, where all of DC Comics moved along on the same cog, Brightest Day feels like it’s taken two steps back and blends in anonymously with past DC events. It’s truly gotten to the point where this is just a continuation of yearlong storylines, began before any Final or Infinite Crisis. Max Lord? Jade? Hawkman? Hawkgirl? Hawk? Captain Boomerang? These were all characters which served as fodder for the great story engines of DC’s past. And here they are, returning us just right back to where we started.

The art in Brightest Day Volume is a homogenized mish-mash of artists with the same general style and narrative chops. Like 52 before it and the current Justice League: Generation Lost, Brightest Day Volume 1 features a number of artists whose styles mesh nicely and play well off of one another. Green Lantern family veterans Ivan Reis and Patrick lead the charge, defining the two possible extremes of the art. Reis’s smooth Neal Adam-ish realism is nicely balanced by Gleason’s Mahnke-like sense of design and weight. Just as they nicely co-existed in the various Green Lantern books, their artwork in Brightest Day is some of the more solid storytelling highlighted in the book. The other artists fall into the spectrum somewhere between Reis and Gleason, balancing easy storytelling with maybe a small flair of artist flourishes. The best and worst that can be said about any of DC’s project like this is that none of the art stands out; none is infinitely better than any of the rest but none also stands out as a weakness. It all blends together until you can hardly tell that there’s a different artist working on two facing pages.

Death and resurrection have become meaningless in comics and instead of embracing some of the absurdity about it, Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi just wallow in the clichés the same way that everyone before them have. Brightest Day Volume One is full of grimacing heroes, all with their own deep, dark private secrets that will threaten to destroy them and their loved ones. Or at least, the plot is something like that as these recently resurrected superheroes continue to do just what they did before. While there was something sublime in Final Crisis about Superman praying for resurrection, Johns and Tomasi don’t write a story about resurrected characters; they write a book about characters being the same kind of superheroes that they were before. There’s nothing to be learned, no wisdom or knowledge to be gleamed by resurrection. Just more grimacing and more fighting.

 

Archie Firsts

Written by Vic Bloom and various

Art by Bob Montana and George Frese

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Old comic books tell a fascinating story about America’s cultural evolution, one that’s both charming and, sometimes, cringe-inducing. But they also give the reader an appreciation of the things that remain relatively unchanged, such as teenagers’ inscrutable slang, Daddy-o, and hormone-induced hijinks. Archie Firsts, one of several vintage Archie anthologies being released by Dark Horse, achieves all of the above, and it’s a treat for nostalgia junkies.

Archie Firsts collects the very first appearances of the main Riverdale players, and there’s a striking difference between their earliest incarnations and the versions we’re now familiar with. The first time we see Archie, he looks an awful lot like Howdy Doody, and he’s showing off for a sweetly smitten Betty Cooper. Here, Betty looks more like a tween, not the knockout girl next door of the Dan DeCarlo years. Veronica, however, is even sultrier in her debut than she is today. She looks like a haughty movie star with her mile-long eyelashes and daring, red carpet gown. “Just think how having a date with this Archie,” she says, waving a mash note from the lovestruck commoner. And who knew that Jughead, of all people, was responsible for Veronica’s relocation from Manhattan to Riverdale?

The stories follow the classic Archie formula of misunderstandings, mishaps and love troubles, and some of the gags remain surprisingly sharp. One story about an all-female football game is sexist as all get out, but it’s also a hoot. What really stands out is the impeccable draftsmanship of illustrator George Frese, who began drawing Archie in the early 1950s. His line work is so clean and deceptively sophisticated, and his influence on the artists who followed couldn’t be more apparent.

Because these stories date back to the 1940s, the less-than-enlightened moments are unavoidable. One is blatantly racist, and there are several aren’t-gals-silly storylines. The references to corporeal punishment and high school fraternity hazing are alarming by modern standards, but I’m glad these comics are uncensored. They make Archie’s recent milestones — first interracial romance, first openly gay character — all the more significant. For those of us who grew up with the gang from Riverdale, is a delight and a must-read.

What was your favorite comic of the week? What was your favorite comic of the week?

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