Best Shots: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS, NEW AVENGERS, More

Best Shots: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots team in our Monday column. We've got books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Top Cow, BOOM! Studios and more for your reading enjoyment, and the reviews don't stop there — we've also got a ton of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's bring the lightning with a look at the second issue of DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents...

 

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by CAFU, Bit, Santiago Arcas, Chriscross and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

DC readers, if you know what's good for you, you should vote with your wallets on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and give DC a nice, strong message.

Tell them we need more books like this.

As someone who had no prior attachments to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents concept, I have to say that this book is quickly becoming my top pick across the entire DC publishing line. Borrowing a little bit structurally from Avengers Academy and taking a cinematic tone that evokes The Ultimates, this second issue defies the sophomore slump.

The big success that Nick Spencer has with this book is the sense of pacing — and the fact that at this point he can have his cake and eat it, too. This issue spends a large portion of its page count introducing us to the speedster Lightning, but Spencer is able to keep audiences interested not just with the characterization, but by using the super-cute couple of agent Colleen Franklin and salesman Toby Henston as a connection to keep the story moving forward. The result? You've got a tale with some real pathos and momentum, as Lightning rises to the top, loses it all, and then loses even more during his first run with the team. "Just put one foot in front of the other, as fast as you can," Franklin says. "Can you remember to do that?" "Miss," Lightning replies, "It is the only thing I can do." That's a solid gold moment there, and what's better, it's not the only one in this book.

Something that particularly interested me about this book was the art. In a lot of other situations, I'd probably be appalled that a book would use two artists on its second issue. But Chriscross feels similar enough in visual style that he meshes well with CAFU, giving a bit more depth with his rounded lines. In particular, Chriscross's level of detail helps a lot as he illustrates the last moments of a dying man, as he goes out again and again with saddening results. And CAFU? Man, CAFU is making this book the work of his career, with some real expressiveness to go along with the cinematic, super-powered fireworks. His characters are all gorgeous, but that's not what he really brings to the table. There's a double-page spread of Lightning cutting loose — the horror in his eyes, the spit flying through the air as he silently screams — it's more humanity than a lot of superhero comics have, and it really burns itself into your memory.

Now, I will say that this book can get a little bit wordy, particularly at the beginning, as the captions start piling up ominously. And there are a few times where the differences between the artists can get noticeable, particularly when Lightning's skin tone feels distinctively lighter with Santiago Arcas than it does Brad Anderson. These are mistakes, but considering how rapidly this creative team is maturing, hiccups do happen. And in the end, the end product speaks for itself: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is bar-none the best book I've read this week, and is as stylish as it is accessible. If you know what's good for you, DC fans, pick this book up, and get in on the ground level with a book that may soon enough become DC's next big franchise.

 

New Avengers #7

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Laura Martin

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Like any writer - or any human being, for that matter - Brian Michael Bendis has both strengths and weaknesses. But New Avengers #7 plays to his strengths so well, it’s hard to remember while reading it that he has any weaknesses at all.

This is a very funny issue. The pacing and plot are set up to provoke a laugh on almost every page, and the jokes, for the most part, manage to be funny without barreling into offensive territory. There are tons of sex and marriage jokes that aren’t sexist, which shouldn’t be as remarkable as it is, and there are also jokes upon jokes upon jokes that find their humor simply in the way they cut to the core of these characters that Bendis has come to know so well. This issue is a celebration of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and Spider-Man and Wolverine and the Thing and Dr. Strange and Victoria Hand and everyone else, and as a reader who loves these characters, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The humor also extends beyond Bendis’ facility with the team into the broader Marvel Universe. As Jessica and Luke search for a superpowered nanny for their baby, we’re treated to a wonderful two-page spread of characters interviewing for the job. Even the most die-hard Marvel Zombies might have trouble identifying all the characters depicted, but the combination of Bendis’ brief bits of dialogue and Stuart Immonen’s expressive faces tells readers all they need to know in each panel. Whether it’s poor, abused D-Man’s ever more pathetic pleas or shout-outs to niche Marvel titles like Nextwave and Guardians of the Galaxy in the form of appearances from Aaron Stack and Groot, this sequence takes Bendis’ trademark talking heads to a new level of humor and play.

Immonen’s art also provides some of the best gags. As the Avengers sit at the dinner table piled high with a celebratory feast, Wolverine is shown eating a completely different kind of food in every panel in which he appears, from a turkey leg to a rack of ribs to a whole lobster, shell and all. It’s these tiny details that prove just how much of an asset Immonen and colorist Laura Martin are to this book, which has often suffered from inconsistent art in the past.

Of course, the issue isn’t all fun and games. While Bendis is adept at using these characters for humor, he’s just as good at getting to the heart of their more dramatic sides, from Dr. Strange’s guilt to Victoria Hand’s unyielding convictions. Spider-Man’s resentment of Victoria, former employee of Norman Osborn, is handled especially well, as is Luke Cage’s struggle between his principled leadership stance of independence and the team’s need to accept help from Steve Rogers and the U.S. government. The argument Luke and Jessica have on that subject is an incredibly realistic depiction of a marital disagreement, and it gives me high hopes for next issue, which promises a date for the two of them.

Then, finally, there are the solutions the issue comes up with for dilemmas big and small, the kinds of solutions that manage to be unexpected and yet absolutely perfect. Squirrel Girl as Luke and Jessica’s nanny is an inspired touch, as is Wong as the New Avengers’ “Jarvis,” and the discussion of why Spider-Man can’t get an Avengers check (no public identity!) makes total sense. (Though it does make me wonder how Wolverine manages to have a bank account, as I’m pretty sure he has no genuine I.D.).

There are no supervillains in this issue. No one fights with anyone else; in fact, no one explicitly uses their powers at all. Future arcs might hit or miss the mark, depending on how Bendis sets up and resolves plots that will undoubtedly return to the realm of punching and blasting and stabbing. But right now, at this perfect moment of downtime, we have Bendis at his absolute best, reminding readers why they love his writing, and why they love the characters he writes so well.

 

Starborn #1

Created by Stan Lee

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Khary Randolph and Mitch Gerads

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Covers by Gene Ha, Humberto Ramos, Khary Randolph, and Paul Rivoche

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

Imagine The Last Starfighter meets the Never Ending Story, and you get Starborn.

Benjamin Warner appears to be your average wannabe hard sci-fi author that just can't seem to catch a break. His first book was rejected as it was too close to an existing author's work he was unaware of. I can't even tell you how many times that has happened to me. Yet, he continues to strive and write and do his best to get noticed in the world of literature. When he gets rejected again, that's when story starts really coming into motion. Benjamin comes face to face with one of his own creations at work and one of his childhood friends comes to his aid, for she is not what she appears as well.

Immediately, the striking style of Khary Randolph will hit you. Not quite Humberto Ramos or Eric Canete, but his art represents the best of what I love about both of those artists. The way the characters move across the page from the simple motion of checking the mail, to dodging a would-be knockout punch, it just comes at you. And fast. The character design for the aliens and other out-worldly creations look stunning and unique. Adding the colors of Mitch Gerads to it and it's kicked up to another level. The look to creatures' skins or the wonders of the majesty of outer space look tremendous. Seriously, a great combination.

The script itself hearkens back to classic Stan Lee stories of the everyman thrown into a not-so-everyday situation. Chris Roberson excels here as I can empathize with the character and has set up an intriguing story that I hope get its time to tell.

 

The Flash #7

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Scott Kolins and Brian Buccelato

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

For those who have been reading him for a while, it might seem like there are two Geoff Johnses. The first Geoff is the one I'll call "Event Geoff" — the Geoff that produces big set pieces, big mythology, big fireworks and even more importantly, big sales.

But I'd like to remind everyone of that other side of Geoff Johns: "Thematic Geoff." That's the Geoff Johns who made Green Lantern synonymous with "no fear." That's the Geoff Johns who wrote my favorite issue of Justice Society of America, where Liberty Belle taught Damage that just because there's a crack in something doesn't mean you throw it away. Those sorts of Geoff Johns stories have always been my favorite, because they remind you that superheroes are metaphors, that there's a message behind every single crazy high concept — you just have to look at it from another angle.

This lengthy examination just goes to show you: The Flash #7 might be a breather issue after the time-travelling first arc, but it's also a clear example of the more thematic side of Geoff Johns, which I'd argue has gotten overlooked recently with what must be exhausting efforts to outdo his previous event books. While this look at Captain Boomerang isn't a perfect work by any stretch of the imagination, it's a step in a direction that I really enjoy, showing that even the scummiest of the Rogues has a method to his madness. "What goes around, comes around," indeed.

If anything, I'd say that Johns has really picked up the art of the tease with this issue, drawing out a message but waiting to fully articulate it — and letting it punch you in the gut. The boomerang metaphor gets a surprising amount of mileage here, but Johns adds in layers using Captain Boomerang's continuity. His history with the Rogues, the Suicide Squad, even his own father, it all builds up to give real depth to an overlooked member of DC's stable. For me, the most chilling moment had to have come when Boomerang recalls how he learned of his true parentage, and killed his adoptive father: "Every time remorse for that starts to creep in, I remind myself that he's not me bloody father."

Regarding the artwork, with all respect to Scott Kolins, I think this issue will really prove to readers that Brian Buccelato is the secret weapon for DC's art team. Visually, Buccelato's painterly style gives Kolins' work a visual consistency to his predecessor, Francis Manapul. But Kolins displays a quality that's really surprising to me — he packs in the panels like nobody else in the business, making seven- and eight-panel pages somehow seem effortless. Sometimes, Kolins' sharp lines feel a little too square and geometric for a book that should be as stylish as The Flash, but he's definitively got some expressiveness if not subtlety.

Getting back to subtlety for a minute — I'll be the first to admit, this book ain't subtle, and occasionally even a bit overwritten. The downside of having such an overt message is that, well, it's really freakin' overt, so if you're looking for more ambiguity, more subtext, this isn't the book for you. And from a plot perspective, I'm not sure if Boomerang's overall mission made as much sense to me as his motivations for crime in the first place. But that said, this feels like a real switching of the gears for Geoff Johns, and it's one I can only hope continues. I think there's a deeper message that give superheroes their longevity, and I feel that tapping that well, giving each character that emotional true north, that is what makes truly compelling comics. It might not even have the title character in the book, but The Flash #7 is a book you should support, because it's a step in that right direction.

 

Witchblade #140

Written by Ron Marz and Saurav Mohapatra

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

"Come on, Gleason...like we didn't see this coming." — Sara Pezzini, Witchblade

I'm sure it's been said that nothing is more powerful than an imagination of a child. Or something along those lines. However, it's hardly said that a child's imagination could form the horrors that Sara and Gleason end up facing in Witchblade #140. If you haven't been following the events of Artifacts, first of all, for shame, and second of all, no worries. This issue concentrates more on the standard operations of two of New York's finest solving unknown mysteries and dealing with strange occurrences. So you won't be left out of the dark when you pick this up.

The issue starts off pretty standard from what we've seen before: Sara and Gleason investigate a brutal crime scene of some nightmarish creature and nothing but question marks emerge. A night doorman was horribly slaughtered, which is found unusual since the part of town was quite lavish. Sara and Gleason have a viewing of the security camera footage and it's not pretty what they find. Eventually they take to door-to-door questioning and run into a pair of some very, very odd children. The children like to draw and Gleason finds a comparison of one of the children's pieces to the creature that slaughtered the doorman. Of course we find out the real origins of the creatures and the two detectives find themselves surrounded.

From beginning to end, it reads like a classic set up. I love the little winks and nudges to fans. The paper the doorman is reading has hints of Dragon Prince. Also, the children's artwork was really done by children, including two of Marz's kids. Marz delivers more of the police side of Sara, and a bit of her humanity in a sincere moment in an elevator. While she admits it's not easy being her partner to Gleason, Marz shows that Sara needs him in her life. Stjepan Sejic conveys that emotion through his great use of facial expressions.

It is still a mystery to me on why Witchblade is not on everybody's pullbox. This is a good jumping point for new readers that have been curious about the buzz. It's engaging, accessible, and feeds that supernatural need that you might not be getting elsewhere.

 

Thor #618

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Rereading this issue, the thing that surprised me the most about Thor #618 is that this is the fourth chapter in Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry's run.

What do I mean? It's not to say that either of them are bad at what they do — but at the same time, their talents are somehow missing the mark, making this series feel a bit too slow, a bit too lightweight. It may look gorgeous, but four issues in, I'm still not feeling a hook.

Perhaps a lot of that has to do with the execution here. Pasqual Ferry's linework is immaculate, and I love the texture he brings his art. You can almost feel the grain of the pencils on every character, and the design he brings to everyone is really evocative with its sharpness. Matt Hollingsworth is an unsung hero out of all this, giving an atmospheric vibe to every page with his colors.

But the page structure, as blasphemous as it might be to say, almost feels too organic, with two-page sequences consuming two-thirds of the book. While that might allow Ferry to really pack in some "big" images, it also really makes readers burn through this book too quickly. Once you suddenly get to the end, you're left wondering — where'd this book go?

And that brings me to Matt Fraction. Four chapters in, and the real battle between Asgard and the invaders of the world tree has yet to be waged. Decompression has its uses, but at the same time, we're not getting a lot of depth in the characterization, nor are we making a lot of progress in getting to the actual conflict. Even with funny moments like Volstagg shouting at Balder that "you are a terrible king!", the focus on the rest of the goblins and monsters of the pantheon feels like ornamentation rather than essential storytelling, and it left me a little cold.

Now, that's not to say that there isn't a lot that could change. I think Fraction's ideas for Loki are inspired, and the last page brings a return of a longtime supporting character that could change the dynamic of Thor's family in a big way. And it's weird, because visually, this book is one of the most defined in the Marvel publishing lineup, and it's weird to think that it isn't as epic as it tries to be. But as far as a single issue goes, this one feels too little. And if the God of Thunder doesn't put pedal to the metal soon, it might go from too little to too late.

 

Knight & Squire #3

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Jimmy Broxton and Guy Major

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

Since its first issue, there have been two glaring problems with Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton's Knight & Squire. First and foremost, it's not an ongoing series. Seriously, a book this brilliant deserves as many issues as it can get. The second major problem is that I desperately want to read the 500-some-odd back issues of this title that clearly exist solely in Paul Cornell's mind. Every issue unleashes the kind of simple, gripping, and uniquely British wit and myth that many authors from back across the pond try to fit into their stories, but often wind up sacrificing for shock and awe. Issue number three is no different, introducing a villain that is at once quite literally (literarily?) classic and contemporary, and plugging him seamlessly into the ever-weaving tapestry of British super-heroics at play in Cornell's well-deserved fiefdom in the DC Universe.

It's a continual wonder to me that Cornell and Broxton manage to, in a book set in a place I've never been, make me feel more at home in their title than I have in most of DC's output for the last several years. Maybe it's Broxton's charming and deceptively simple art, or Cornell's way of conveying the meaning behind even the least decipherable molestations of the King's English, but the book feels fresh, and real, and exciting, and fun. Admittedly, I am something of an anglophile; sharing your family heritage with an entire region of England will foster some interest, so maybe I'm willing to indulge the eccentricity at play, but there's something viscerally witty about resurrecting King Richard III, and painting him every bit the sneering villain of Shakespeare's drama. Add to that the aforementioned sovereign's insufferable use of iambic pentameter, and a play at the throne that involves resurrecting many of England's most maligned monarchs, and the book reads like a perfectly balanced cross between "Black Adder" and "Detective Comics."

Paul Cornell's footnotes at the end of each issue only serve to make it more clear that this book is Cornell's love-letter to his homeland, to the comics, television, and radio that he grew up with, and his way of bringing a bit of his home to we unwieldy Americans, and that makes me love Knight & Squire even more. There's something that's immediately engrossing about a writer clearly writing what he loves, and it's that magnetism that has really drawn me into the book for the last three issues.

With only five issues left to hit the stands, there's still plenty of room for more of Cornell's romantic and ribald literary lark to grow, surprise, and entice, but I can't help but already dread the month I don't find this title in my pull box. Perhaps DC was trying to spare everyone the inevitable sorrow of cancellation by announcing this book as a limited series to begin with, but the done-in-one stories told so far really just feel like the tip of the iceberg of British heroic mythology that Cornell has hiding somewhere in his idea book, and I truly hope that he and Broxton get the chance to explore this world with more depth, even after the end of this title.

B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth - New World #5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

I've been following B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - New World since the first issue a few months back, and every time I start reading, it's with the hope that the Mignola magic would be there this time, instead of a well-executed but generic supernatural-action story. There's a certain vibe to Mignola's best work, even when he's not the artist - a combination of atmosphere, mythology and the unknowable that makes it more than the sum of its parts. New World has been the first Hellboy or B.P.R.D. series I've ever read where that unique sensibility has been missing.

This issue in particular was kind of a weak button. The main plot of Abe and Ben Daimio's battle in the woods get resolved within the first few pages in an anticlimactic climax that doesn't make much sense until Ben narrates an explanation to Abe as they do some clean-up. I'm not someone who asks for big action moments at the climax of a story, but I do like a sense of building towards something. As I mentioned in my review of the previous issue, I'm sure New World will read better in trade, but that doesn't mean that the individual issues don't need to stand on their own.

Not only does the issue not stand on its own, however, but the miniseries really doesn't either. What I walked away with was the sense that this was all merely a prologue to a more extensive arc that will be playing out in future B.P.R.D. series; again, that would be all right if New World told a satisfactory tale on its own. Instead, we get introduced to several subplots that will run through the future series, wrapped around Abe's horrific journey into the woods of British Columbia. All of the narrative elements are reasonably well executed, but the disjointed pacing and lack of a satisfactory ending for any of them leaves the series feeling incomplete.

Davis and Stewart's art remains well done, if a little sketchy in places for my takes. Some of the linework comes off as raw and unpolished, and while that sometime helps the energy of the panels, it often comes off as messy. I liked the execution of Ben's vision, particularly on the coloring end of things; I feel as if this team's strengths would be suited to a more surreal story instead of something (relatively) grounded in a realistic continuum.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - New World is clearly an essential part of the continuing B.P.R.D. saga, in that it establishes the new status quo of the agency and its major players, and introduces a variety of new story elements that will no doubt be making their presence felt over the coming months and years. As a singular work of its own, unfortunately, it falls a little short.

I Am An Avenger #4

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Sean McKeever, Colleen Coover and Lucy Knisley

Art by Sara Pichelli, Emily Warren, Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, Colleen Coover and Lucy Knisley

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Rarely do anthology books hit the ball out of the park with every single story, but I Am An Avenger #4 is one of those special few. Each of the four stories, though vastly different in style and content, offers a great perspective on characters who could use a brighter spotlight, and though they range from the exuberant to the bittersweet, all leave the reader feeling satisfied.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Ben Grimm story, “Everything will Change Soon (In Bed)” is the kind of Fantastic Four story that gets to the heart of what that team is: a family, through and through. When Ben decides to tell his teammates that he’s joined the Avengers, their reactions range from support to confusion to jealousy, and each character reacts in a different way. Johnny in particular fears his inadequacy and needs his sister to cheer him up, while young Valeria expresses her childlike fear of abandonment through her super-genius methods of staging a false distress call to bring Ben back into the fold.  Sara Pichelli’s clean, cartoony art makes those emotions clear; the conflicts are written on the characters’ faces even without the help of dialogue. Overall, though, the message is one that both works in an in-universe way and in a meta way, reassuring both the Fantastic Four and the readers that, while Ben may be an Avenger, his family will always come first, and he isn’t going anywhere.

In the second story, Sean McKeever and Mike Mayhew wrap up their three-part Firestar and Justice adventure, which brings the current ex-lovers face-to-face with their former selves and requires them to work together to save the world from Loki’s machinations. While the actual plot winds up feeling a bit rushed, wrapped up a bit too quickly and easily, the core of this story has been the interplay of emotions between Justice and Firestar, and here we’re left with their bittersweet parting, as they remember how good they were together in the past but can’t reconcile their differences for the future. As they walk away from each other on a dark, quiet street while their counterparts in the past clasp hands, I’m reminded of the also-excellent Civil War: Casualties of War issue about Captain America and Iron Man, which ended similarly. This sort of sad but inevitable parting is a perfect story element and serves to reinforce both the sense of history between comic book characters and their ability, used all too infrequently, to grow and change as time passes.

The final two stories in this issue are tiny, but what they lack in length they make up in quality. In the first, Colleen Coover spins a simple two-page tale of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman fighting crime and remembering why they became heroes in the first place. Coover’s bright colors and adorable art enhance an already cheerful story, one I believe isn’t told nearly enough in superhero comics. While tragedy abounds in comic books, including in the backstories of these two women, it’s also nice to remember that these people are heroes because they want to be, and that making the world a better place makes them feel good. In the second story, meanwhile, Lucy Knisley tells a one-page story about Young Avenger Stature interacting with Tony Stark, a man she’s known since she was a little kid and refers to as Uncle Tony. The story is the kind of adorable tale that juxtaposes superpowered elements (Stature destroys Tony’s car by growing, then shrinks in shame so she’s smaller than her cereal bowl) with the realistic day-to-day relationships between a teenager and her relatives, and Knisley’s funky, cartoony art allows her the freedom to revel in the depiction of both.

While I’m sure the I Am An Avenger stories will eventually be collected in trade, I urge all fans of these writers, artists, or characters to pick up this issue. It’s well worth the four dollars, especially as a sign of support for these mostly lesser-known creators and heroes.

Pellet review!

Rainbow in the Dark #1 and 2 (Published by KaBlam!; Review by Lan Pitts) Talk about a do-it-yourself project. Written, art, and lettering by indie sensations Comfort Love and Adam Withers comes another one of their unique tales that is a mix of fantasy, with Bohemian philosophies with a drop of Rainbow Brite. Donna White is your average teen, who lives in a normal world of black and white, that's not bad, or really exciting. That changes on her way to school when colorful creatures break through into her world, as well as even a more colorful band of freedom fighters that take rescue Donna and take her back to their world, full of feelings and emotions she hasn't felt before. Or dangers she's ever faced. At first read-through, it feels a lot like the Wizard of Oz meets the aforementioned Rainbow Brite. The character designs resemble rock and roll and rave fashions, and one of the characters even reminds me of Andre 3000 from Outkast. The story is intriguing enough to where I felt hooked and fell into the second issue where the world and the "Gloom" are explained. The dialog is thought out and sincere and the art truly fits the story being told. You might have seen this couple at numerous conventions across the country, and Rainbow in the Dark can be available online at their site, with .99 per issue. So if you're looking for something really different, I can easily recommend this title.

Trade review!

Captain America: No Escape

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser, Mark Pennington, Rick Magyar, Andrew Hennessey, Dean With, Elizabeth Dismang, Paul Mounts and Frank Martin

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Ed Brubaker’s earliest issues of Captain America succeeded because of the visual consistency in them. Other than one issue that was drawn by John Paul Leon, Brubaker had Steve Epting, Mike Perkins and Michael Lark working on his tales of Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier. While those three artists have their own unique styles, the worked together because they all share a realistic, shadowy feel to their work. They were great at drawing the story of the Winter Soldier, who lived and operated in the shadows. There was a great unified look to Brubaker’s story, no matter who drew it. New Captain America regular artist Butch Guice should have fit in perfectly with the work of his predecessors but if there’s anything that Captain America: No Escape shows us, it is that one penciller can be greatly affected by working with four different inkers.

In the current comic climate of digital inking, it may be hard to figure out what an inker does. “Tracing” is the most basic function; embellishing and enhancing the most complex. With an artist like Guice, an inker can put the final polish on Guice’s pencils or an inker can reduce Guice’s style to something that looks like an old issue of Captain America drawn back in the 1970s. Guice on Guice creates a timeless look to Captain America, part Kirby, part Steranko and part Epting. Guice has the power of Kirby, the use of space of Steranko and the action of Epting. And Guice inking Mitch Breitweiser, as he does in the second chapter of this book, is a lot like the earlier pairing of Epting and Perkins, where two different but complementary artists can work on one title without having their styles clash.

The main artistic challenge in No Escape is that the different inkers do not mesh together that well. The effect of different inkers produces pages that barely look like the same artist penciled them. As an inker, Guice is best able to capture his sense of design and lighting, sometimes at the cost of clarity in his own drawing. His pages look moody and stunning but also splotchy and undefined. When you get a more classical inker like Rick Magyar inking Guice, the linesmen on the art becomes more defined, sacrificing Guice's sense of light and dark for a more traditional comic look, making Guice look more obviously like Sal Buscema or even Jack Kirby. Magyar and Pennington give Guice an old-fashioned line, which seems out of place with the visual identity Steve Epting established on this book.

Just as the final art is a bit haphazard, never quite coming together fully, Brubaker's story never lives up to the potential of the first few pages of the book. Opening with Baron Zemo, a former Thunderbolt and longtime Captain America adversary, commenting on the failed reign of Norman Osborn, Brubaker builds on the works of Fabian Nicieza with the character. In the pages of Thunderbolts, Nicieza transformed the character from a two-dimensional villain into the hero of his own story, with his own goals and methods that, while not always right, were at least justifiable to him. Zemo became a sort of hero trapped by his own villainous legacy. Or maybe he was really a villain with heroic aspirations. Largely absent during the Dark Reign era, Zemo is back, able the view the wasted opportunities that Osborn had— probably similar to the opportunities Zemo had back during the earliest days of the Thunderbolts. Zemo can see the chance that Osborn had to change the world and the waste that it was that Osborn’s ego couldn’t get out if it’s own way.

As Zemo tries to be the hero of his own story, Brubaker has him take on a confusing role in Bucky Barnes’ life. Discovering the identity of the new Captain America and linking him to the past of the Soviet’s Winter Soldier, Zemo outs Bucky in public. At first it seems like a classic super villain move, revealing the heroes secret identity to the world. This lets Brubaker continue to examine Bucky’s worthiness to wear the uniform of Captain America. But that’s the story we’ve been getting since Bucky first donned the uniform. If we’re going to question his merit, sooner or later we’ve got to believe that Bucky is worthy. As he keeps on questioning it, Brubaker undercuts the power of his story, creating a question with no answer. Is Bucky deserving of the uniform? And if Brubaker can never really provide an answer, can we ever stop viewing Bucky as just keeping the uniform warm until Steve Rogers is back in it?

What trials and tests does someone need to go through to be considered a hero? That’s what Zemo tries to discover, using Bucky as his test subject. Whether he’s trying to destroy Bucky or mold him into his own beliefs of what a hero can be is never quite clear. Zemo should be a clear foil for Bucky but Brubaker leave Zemo’s own motivations hazy and that, in turn, leaves the whole story hazy. And how many more trials can Bucky go through before we accept him as the true Captain America and not another in a long line of stand-ins, who’ve kept the costume war until Steve Rogers returns?

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

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