Greeting, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with a heaping handful of Rapid-Fire Reviews from the Best Shots Team! We've got books from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Top Cow, and that's not all — we've got tons more at the Best Shots Topic Page. Now, let's turn up the heat in Hell's Kitchen, as George takes a look at Black Panther: The Man Without Fear...
Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): A lot of people will be skeptical about this book; it's difficult when a fan favorite character leaves the spotlight, particularly when he's making way for a character who, while he has his fans, has had a tough time connecting with a mainstream audience in the last few years. Make no mistake though, this book is worth the read. If fans of Matt Murdock (who does appear in this issue) can bring themselves to give the title a chance, they'll be met with the same kind of borderline pulp crime action that Daredevil himself has cultivated for the last decade or so. David Liss does a great job of portraying Black Panther's determination, and in some ways, his consternation at the nature of the common people of Hell's Kitchen. The only time his writing gets a little overwrought is the scene where Vlad the Impaler explains his origin in detail. It gets a little verbose, and a lot of his explanation comes off as unnecessary, particularly when he's explaining the same powers he's using. Francesco Francavilla, who handles all the art chores, from pencils to colors, is a force of nature. His tone fits the story perfectly, and his storytelling is clear and engaging. With only one issue down, it's hard to say that all skeptics will be won over, but if things keep going in this direction, those who remain on board will be rewarded.
Supergirl #59 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This is the way to bow off a book. Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle have been as consistent as they have been underrated through the majority of their run on Supergirl, but make no mistake, they take what could be an underwhelming premise — a clash with the Dollmaker — and turn it into a strong character-driven piece that wraps up all the elements of their run up nicely. Jamal Igle in particular really plays up both the expressiveness and the mood of the story, letting Cat Grant really steal the show as she glowers over her young, deranged kidnapper. I also really enjoyed the nice little moments that Gates and Igle bring to this, whether its having Supergirl punch out a Christmas-clad Superman-Batman Composite or the smirk on Superwoman's face as she confronts her sister, Lois Lane. Considering this is just the second chapter of a two-part story, I'm really surprised at how well Gates has planned out his character beats — "Goodbye, Superwoman. I don't miss General Lane," Lois says. "But I miss my sister already." It may not have been the flashiest book on the stands, but Gates and Igle brought quality and consistency to an often-maligned character of the DC mythos. And this finale is just one more reminder of what this team always was under their guidance — a class act.
Amazing Spider-Man #650 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): The best part about “Big Time” is that it introduces us to new additions who allow us to see the characters we know and love differently. First, there’s the new team at Horizon Labs: Max Modell, Peter’s really cool, brilliant boss who just may figure out Spider-Man’s identity if Peter doesn’t figure something out soon; Sanjani, a fellow scientist at Horizon who is a perfect counterpoint to Peter in that she’s smarter than him in many ways, which also gives her the dangerous need to push further and further to keep from being bored; and Bella, another Horizon scientist who stops the new Hobgoblin with Lady Gaga music, keeps a blog, and is developing a crush on the “new guy.” And what about that new Hobgoblin! I know plenty of folks were upset about this, but I think that Phil Urich is an intriguing new villain because of his spotty, superpowered history, his connection to the Daily Bugle, and his infatuation with Norah Winters (my favorite ASM female!). In addition to new characters, we’re seeing old characters come together in different configurations to shed new light on Peter. There’s a scene between Peter, Carlie, and MJ that is both hilarious, and insightful in that it highlights the differences between the two women, and why Peter might be with either one. “Big Time” is taking Amazing Spider-Man in some exciting new directions, reinvigorating the title and making it fun again!
Green Lantern #60 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): I'm a sucker for hero-versus-hero fighting, and Geoff Johns clearly knows how to write to scratch that particular fan itch. Even while the ever-expanding mythology regarding the various emotional entities isn't slowing down, the main focus of this issue — Green Lantern versus a Parallax-infected Flash — stands on that singular appeal. Doug Mahnke is a big part of that, as he knocks a two-page spread out of the park, with the Flash absolutely cleaning Hal's clock in a strobe-like fashion. Mahnke's sharp edges work really well with this Parallax-Flash composite, and it gives a sense of forward motion and malevolence that really makes this issue hit harder than it might otherwise. I also really enjoyed the imagination that Johns brings to this, particularly showing how Parallax's influence can change Barry's power set, and showing that the relationship between Hal and his one-time possessor is more complicated than he's ever let on. The end of the book drags a little bit, focusing on the emotional entities like Parallax and Ion, but I'll give Johns credit for tapping into another well in DC lore that hasn't been scratched in awhile.
Wolverine #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I may not like the art in this book, but I can admit this: holy hell does Jason Aaron up the stakes in this issue. Without giving too much away, Aaron revisits that No Man's Land of Wolverine continuity — Wolverine: Origins — and suddenly gives it some real resonance. While the cover might focus on a fight between a possessed Wolverine and Colossus — and I'll admit, it's got its moments, particularly seeing adamantium versus organic steel, or even Wolverine's taunts about Colossus's sister — but the real meat of this story happens in Hell. But that said — and I hate to beat a dead horse — for me, Renato Guedes doesn't feel like a great fit. While sometimes he evokes Yanick Paquette's art style, things like Wolverine's pointy hair, or even the layout of the stripes in his costume, it has the ability to look either super-stylish or, taken at its most literal, extremely goofy — and for me, it came off as the latter. Aaron, however, continues his winning streak with his back-up story, which packs together some insane character concepts — Cannonfoot? Really? A guy called Cannonfoot? — and writes just perfectly for Jamie McKelvie's increasingly superheroic style. This second feature has some real punch to Wolverine, and it gives a little more sympathy to his status quo. While visually the book isn't my favorite, the story certainly is the best chapter Jason Aaron has done with this arc.
Batman and Robin #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Sadly, this is the penultimate issue of Paul Cornell’s story, “The Sum of Her Parts.” Sadly, because we’ve been introduced to a fascinating new female villain in The Absence, and it’s a shame that we won’t get to watch her wreak her unique brand of havoc for much longer. The Absence is compelling, because while she is completely outlandish, she’s also grounded in a very honest, human place. The Absence’s motivation of wanting to be missed is completely relatable, and she is an example of what I consider to be a “well-written female character.” Her feelings, actions, and motivations are neither glorified, nor vilified, despite being the villain here. She is multi-faceted, and while no one would agree with her methods, she is understandable. What’s wonderful about how Cornell tells her story is the respect he pays her through the characters, forcing the reader to respect her too, even as she’s collecting “Girlfriend Body Parts” in a big bag and carrying an enormous pair of scissors from the Gorilla Grodd Collection of Enormous Stuff™ (“We Don’t Just Make Battle Spoons Anymore!”). Scott McDaniel’s art is fine for the most part. I only wish more attention were paid to the details of the hole in The Absence’s head. There were times when the bottom of her head covering was in different places, and I found myself thinking, “We should be seeing ‘hole’ here,” or the size of the injury in relation to the rest of her face would vary. As The Absence teaches us, very often it’s the spaces where things are missing that are the most important.
Strange Tales II #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lan Pitts; Click here for preview): Oh, my! Santa, can I please have more of these? Talk about funny, intriguing and definitely something different, Strange Tales II is the second part of Marvel's mini-series that takes Marvel's characters and mythos, but in the hand of today's top independent artists and writers, like Tim Hamilton, Terry Moore and Kate Beaton. We have all corners of the Marvel Universe covered and the thing is, Tim Hamilton's Machine Man and Morbius story is so beautiful and just out there, I would easily just buy a mini-series based off just that. Now, of course these are all out of continuity stories, but Beaton's 12-panel story featuring Rogue was just downright hilarious. Also, James Stokoe needs to draw Galactus more. A lot more. It's quite offbeat, but was fun to read. The last story in the issue is probably the real kicker, as it was written by the late Harvey Pekar, who died earlier this year, with art by Ty Templeton. The story is, like the rest of the issue, out there, but you can't help by grin while you read it. I really hope Marvel continues this line.
Birds of Prey #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): There's a great deal of affection among colleagues in this issue, which is a fun read from start to finish. Gail Simone keeps finding new ways to demonstrate the Birds' friendship and commitment to one another, and even Batman (Bruce, not Dick) gets in on the warm fuzzies — sort of. There's also some good, old-fashioned brawling while Barbara comes to grips with her role as Oracle and whether it's endangering her loved ones. I don't know if there's anything cooler, for example, than seeing a wheelchair-bound heroine take down some thugs in a Gotham alley. Simone's witty dialogue is the gift that keeps on giving, and it is in full effect when Lady Blackhawk, Black Canary and Huntress take Dove to a strip club. Yes, it's as hilarious and bawdy as it sounds. After a couple of BoP issues with more than one illustrator, it's nice to one penciller, Adrian Syaf, providing a consistent look. Syaf has a talent for facial close-ups, and they manage to shine through the too-heavy inking. Equal parts warm and raucous, Birds of Prey #7 is another fine chapter in this evolving team's book of adventures.
Witchblade Annual #2 (Published by Top Cow; Review by David Pepose): There's a real simplicity of design to Witchblade Annual #2, but I think that just gives you more room to appreciate it. Looking at a Witchblade bearer who fought in Stalingrad in World War II. "The Angel of Stalingrad," I love the no-nonsense characterization that Ron Marz gives his heroine, particularly adding in a subtle sensitive side to a Witchblade who isn't an avenger as much as a soldier, a protector. But I think that the real draw here is Tony Shasteen and J.D. Mettler, who don't mess around with crazy frills or edginess to this Witchblade's design — it has that utilitarian feel of a Russian soldier, with the alien sharpness of the Witchblade gauntlet (and by the end you even get a sleek steampunk vibe). In general, the visuals here are really striking — there's this element of photorealism that Shasteen brings to everything, but Mettler's inks really toe that line between comics and filmic qualities, making it look more natural than the more raw work of Alex Maleev. While the interlude with Matt Haley felt a little too short to grab me, I'll also say that Matthew Dow Smith delivers a punchy prose-with-pictures story that works as a nice palate cleanser. The relative street-level "normalcy" — as well as Smith's speedy pacing — makes it a great counterpoint to the more larger-than-life settings in the other two stories.
The Unwritten #20 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): First, the cover. I want a poster made of Yuko Shimizu’s cover of this issue so that I may purchase it and hang it in a lovely frame. It’s gorgeous and evocative of so many of the themes of the series. I think I’ve made similar comments about these covers in previous reviews…this is getting to be a trend! This issue is very much a midway point between bits of excitement. However, while the plot of the series doesn’t move very far in this issue, some exciting things happen to the individual characters that set up what will inevitably be some major upcoming events. Lizzie and Tom are now an item (well, they’ve had sex, anyway), Ritchie may be turning into a vampire after being attacked by Count Ambrosio, and Tom’s been transported into Moby Dick (the book, not the whale). The way that Mike Carey structures his issues has long been one of this title’s strengths, so that even a mid-point issue like this doesn’t feel boring, because the way the story is told is constantly changing up, keeping your brain active, focused, and attentive. This issue, Part 2 in a story called “Leviathan,” is told like a collection of short stories and manages to cover a lot of ground in short snippets, reading like the calm before a storm.
Star Wars Legacy: War #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund): I wonder if Star Wars Legacy: War #1 is one of those books that is going to get passed up by a lot of people because it’s a “Star Wars” book? Whether it’s a predisposition to licensed comics or just to anything tainted by George Lucas nowadays, it feels like this book can get lost on the racks. And yes, John Ostrander and Jan Duursema are writing and drawing a “Star Wars” comic, complete with Jedis, Sith, a somewhat whiny Skywalker but luckily there are no Ewoks to be found anywhere in this book. What they are starting in this book is the Star Wars story we hoped the prequel movies could have been— a sweeping epic that does not get weighed down with the need to sell toys and glasses at Burger King. Ostrander and Duursema’s expand on the Lucas’s stories and themes but create a much richer universe in Cade Skywalker, Darth Krayt and the ousted Imperial government. Ostrander and Duursema have created a truer and deeper story about power and rebellion, carved out of the remains of the franchise that was left after Revenge of the Sith. What comics have you read so far this week?