Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, back from the great beyond with the crack-shot reviewers of the Best Shots team. With the first column of 2011 upon us, we've got a dozen books from DC, Marvel, Top Cow, IDW, Koyama Press, Sequart and a whole lot more. Looking for reviews from 2010? We got you covered with the Best Shots Topic Page here! And now, let's get our Spider-Senses tingling with a look at the fourth issue of Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine...Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #4
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Adam Kubert, Mark Roslan and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Sometimes, there are books that defy classification — Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine is one of those books for me. Sometimes, it's balls-to-the-wall, comics-for-comics-sake, tossing aside the need for cinematic structure or even a solid throughline, similar to DC's Batman: Odyssey. Other times, it feels like two top-tier creators just having a sometimes rude, sometimes crude jam session, and if you don't like it, take your $3.99 elsewhere, son.
Either which way, this is a book that'll work for you if you don't take your storytelling too seriously, and instead you read comics to take in the kind of eye candy that only Adam Kubert can provide. Kubert packs in the panels with a 90s sort of flair, and his gifts for expressiveness — seeing Wolverine sulk underneath a wrestling match is a pretty funny panel — are more overlooked than his talent for action. Justin Ponsor in particular deserves some praise, as he makes the visuals of Spider-Man fighting in a wintry forest look so, so different than the warm streets of Wolverine's NYC.
Jason Aaron, meanwhile, is all about letting all hang out in this book. If you're looking for his tighter fare, check out Scalped or Wolverine — but you can tell that he's just having fun playing in the toybox, with two of Marvel's most popular characters. Now, I've said before that this still doesn't feel like a case for Spider-Man and Wolverine — so if you read this issue, having read the previous three issues as well as these reviews, you're SOL. But Aaron's comedic bent is definitely out there in this issue, particularly showing Wolverine dealing with an arrogant teenage, wrestling-era Peter Parker.
There are little bits that'll make you happy in this book, and little bits that might grate on you. Showing who the main villain of the piece is, or touching upon some loose threads from Wolverine: Origin? That's a good thing. The main adversaries of this issue, a thug and a dwarf high on power from some time-traveling crystals? These two started to wear out their welcome pretty quickly, coming across as a bit flat, a sort of "THUG LIFE, @#S* ya'll" parody that grates even if it does fit into the context of their boss's plans.
For new readers, oddly enough, I don't know if this book would be considered so broad that it could bring in people, or so all-over-the-place with the storytelling that it might turn off skittish newcomers. It's certainly undisciplined, arguably episodic, but at the same time, it's got two creators who are doing their own thing, ignoring any sort of expectations or literary "rules" you might want to bring to their attention. It's popcorn entertainment, for certain, and if you're looking for continuity-light, crossover-free reading, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine is certainly as audacious as they come.Batman: The Dark Knight #1
Written by David Finch
Art by David Finch, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Russ Burlingame
I gotta say, while I haven't been crazy about a lot of his recent DC art, I love David Finch on Batman: The Dark Knight. This issue sees Bruce, having recently returned from his somewhat-dead state, looking for a missing socialite who, it's revealed in flashback, was friends with Bruce back before he was Batman.
Actually, I quite enjoyed seeing that flashback. The idea of the most badass dude in the DC Universe losing a wrestling match he starts with an adolescent girl was funny and sweet — and anything that gives Bruce character and personality beyond his tragic origin story certainly helps new or uninitiated readers (like those who come aboard via films, TV or new #1 issues) relate to him as a person.
Further, the fact that so little of his childhood has been explored during canonical stories, it's easy to create a story like this that both adds something to his backstory and takes away little or nothing, as it doesn't conflict with anything that exists.
In the wake of the Return of Bruce Wayne story, with titles and roles being juggled and new comics being created almost daily, it looks as though The Dark Knight will be the Batman title to watch for entry-level access; not only do we get Bruce-as-human and Bruce-as-Batman elements here, with some stunning artwork and strong storytelling, but we also get a glimpse of next issue's villain — and it's someone everyone who's ever heard of Batman will recognize.
Overall, this might not be the best Batman title on the market, but it'll be the most accessible and the one that readers not obsessed with today's continuity porn will be able to jump on.S.H.I.E.L.D. #5
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
It had to happen one of these days — S.H.I.E.L.D. had to take a breather from the spectacle, that lyrical mystery of the first four issues, and come back down to earth for some characterization and exposition. So looking at this fifth issue is a question of relativity: while the talents of the creative team are still readily apparent, this issue doesn't quite feel as epic as the ones that came before it.
Some of that might have to do with the lengthier delay between issues, combining with the fact that this issue in many ways feels like a bit of an interlude. Much of this issue zips past with the growing schism between Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton, who seem to be taking the tenets of the Shield in two very different directions.
In certain ways, while that sequence was beautifully illustrated and immaculately designed — particularly with the way that the years are listed at the bottom of the page — it also felt a little bit too light, and a little bit jarring as far as the overarching mystery of the book goes. For example, I found it a bit of a shock to see that the Star Child and Leonid the Eternal Dynamo were in fact two different characters — it almost made me feel like I had been led astray in the overarching plans of this book, diminishing from both characters a bit.
But if you've been wondering where the deeper characterization is for this book, this is definitely the issue for you, focusing on Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark, whose children would eventually grow into some of the boldest heroes of their era. Hearing Howard's rationale for leaving his family — if not his methodology — provides a stirring counterpoint to Richards, who vows that he will see his son again.
Now, because there isn't quite as much epicness to the story — I mean, how do you top Leonardo da Vinci flying into the sun and pulling a child from its core? — it means that Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain don't have as much material to work their magic. As I said before, the sequence showing the divide in the Shield is magnificently constructed, but it's missing something — a central focus — to really knock you out. Strain's colors also seem surprisingly muted here, with the exception of the Night Machine's shapeshifting partner, who absolutely pops off the page.
Part of the downside of having such an ambitious, sweeping story like S.H.I.E.L.D. is you have to keep the momentum going. With the delay for this book not helping the shift in narrative, even the most attentive of readers might miss this curveball. While there's plenty to like as far as the sheer ambition and stylishness of the team involved, this latest chapter is in the strange position of being the lightest issue of one of the strongest books Marvel is printing.The Flash #8
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Scott Kolins and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Russ Burlingame
Geoff Johns' ongoing rebirth of the entire DC Universe continues here, with an issue whose cover calls it “Reverse Flash Rebirth.” Thanks to Brightest Day and Time Masters: Vanishing Point alongside this issue, I’m pretty sure Professor Zoom has now officially appeared in more comics this month than Wally West — who was the title character of this comic for fifteen years until Barry Allen's “Rebirth” — has had in all of 2010. That said, Wally (along with the rest of the Flash Family) reappears next month (according to solicitations) as the story here begins building toward “Flashpoint,” the upcoming Flash-centric DC crossover Johns is writing.
I will say, before getting into the actual issue, that it's interesting to see that Johns and DC have determined Barry Allen became the Flash in the 21st century. Certainly it bags the timelines right now, although if they intend on keeping this version of the story as definitive for a while without more reboots I can understand why it makes sense. It's a trifling issue and the reference I'm basing it on was only throwaway, but I often wonder if DC's habit of tying themselves down to specific timelines makes the reality of their stories fall apart more than the kind of amorphous, traveling timeline of the Marvel Universe.
Certainly the way Zoom talks about the authoritarian regime of the 25th century — one that reveres time in the same way the Guardians of the Universe revere order, and where certain types of research and thought are considered off-limits — connections are easy to draw between the Flash and Green Lantern stories that Johns has been working on for the last ten years or so. Thematically, Zoom seems to set himself up as a twisted, misunderstood hero, a trait that Johns has him share with the 21st century Zoom, Hunter Zolomon.
The tinkering with time here is likely to get our self-styled “hero” in trouble, though, not only with the Flash Family, but with the Time Masters and any number of other heroes or villains in the DC Universe who want to either use time travel for their own ends or keep others from doing the same. Ultimately it's a great stage-setting issue with a strong grasp of Thawne's character.
The art is another issue, for me — while Kolins' work on the Flash has historically been pretty hard to argue, this issue is very monochromatic. When every character appears to be pretty much only in the gaudy red-and-yellow color scheme, it seems a waste of the detailed coloring and realistically shaded work Kolins and colorist Buccellato bring to the table. Ultimately there's nothing wrong with the art, per se, but it just doesn't “feel” right for the story.
As a standalone issue, this is really strong. It clearly is laying the ground for something big, and likely will tie into the upcoming final issue of Time Masters: Vanishing Point, but as has often been the case with the early, ambitious chapters of Geoff Johns's biggest stories I wonder whether half of what's done here will ever be followed up on.Echoes #1
Written by Josh Hales Fiaklov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
True, it's only day three of the New Year, but I think I've read my first favorite issue of it. Echoes, not to be confused with Terry Moore's Echo, tells the story of Brian Cohn, diagnosed schizophrenic who makes the most out of life despite his condition. His father is dying and has had complications with Alzheimer's. On his deathbed, Brian's father tells him a secret and what Brian finds is earth-shattering and disturbing. Of course the experience is even worse when our protagonist has missed a dose of his anti-psychotics.
Right off the bat you'll notice Rahsan Ekedal's almost watercolor/inkwashed pages. The decision to just go with grayscales enhances the mood and atmosphere the book is trying to convey. It reminded me of the video game Hotel Dusk with it's noir approach, though Echoes has more of a horror edge.
Being the first issue out of a planned five issue series, there is a lot of set-up, I mean, this is primarily all there is here. However, the ending is the hook that will reel you in. Josh Hales Fiaklov has set this up where this could go in a multitude of directions. You can sense the paranoia and confusion going through Cohn's brain. The panel construction is dynamic that utilizes an interesting layout that gives the book the horror feel I mentioned early. With a comic, the wandering eye can spoil pages, but how this is set up, there is still a sense of danger and suspense lingering in the air.
Fiaklov excels at exploring the human brain and how it process such tragedy, even a confused one like Cohn's, which is easily the selling point on something like this. If you're looking for something new, give this a gander. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.Daken: Dark Wolverine #4
Written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, Onofrio Catacchio and Frank D'Armata
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Maybe it's the pheromones, or maybe it's the anything-goes manipulative nature of the character, but it's pretty striking: Daken: Dark Wolverine seems to go great with just about anybody. While the previous issues gave the son of Wolverine a perfect foil with Mystique, seeing the return of the Fantastic Four shows that Daken is a character who fits right in with the Marvel Universe as a whole.
In a lot of ways, the FF really steal the show in this issue, as Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu show that they know the characters — not their cosmically epic context, which Jonathan Hickman has mastered, but the characters — in a way that's almost reminiscent of Mark Waid, or Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Seeing Reed and Sue Richards actually flirt — nay, actually engage in pillow talk — suddenly makes for a much sexier first family of the Marvel Universe.
Yet the surprises don't end there. There's a glint of cold rage that pops up in Sue that shows a hidden depth to the character, and there's a wonderfully subversive streak to the relationship between Daken and Johnny Storm. But perhaps my favorite part of the book was Way and Liu's take on Ben Grimm, which shows a little bit of a sharper edge than I think the big softie has had in awhile: "Mind if I snuggle up on that chair with you?" Daken asks. Ben replies: "Mind if I throw ya off the building?"
As far as the action goes in this book — and there is action — it's a little bit of a double-edged sword for Guiseppe Camuncoli and company. There's a sequence that's done in darkness that I think is a little shaky as far as the visual continuity goes — really, a rare misstep as far as Camuncoli and colorist supreme Frank D'Armata go — that somewhat flat-tires a big reveal. But Camuncoli's expressiveness and character design is what keeps this story flowing — the sharp edges have a surprising amount of heart to them, and the little touches of inventiveness give even more sparks of characterization to Marvel's oldest team.
While the hiccups in the action mean that this fourth issue doesn't quite stack up to the visually engrossing previous chapter, Daken: Dark Wolverine is a book that is still exceedingly enjoyable to read. Daken might not be growing as a character — but then again, how many villains are out to learn something? He's more of a dark angel who remains resolute, sowing doubt and dissention across everyone he meets. Combine this resourceful, unpredictable lead with some striking artwork and the overhaul of a seminal Marvel fixture, and Dark Wolverine is a recipe for success.Teen Titans #90
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood and Jason Wright
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
This title’s rehabilitation is still in the early stages, but J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott are proving to be skilled therapists. This new chapter of Teen Titans is beautifully illustrated, and it’s following a classic formula that works so well for a book about super-powered adolescents: Action + Adventure + Angst. And while I had my doubts about Damian joining the team, he and Rose are becoming an entertaining pair of antagonists. Plus, it’s not really the Teen Titans without a Robin — even an annoying one.
Krul seems to have a good handle on who the characters are, and how they have evolved. Cassie is now credible as the Titans’ leader. She’s authoritative and dignified, and in my opinion, it’s the first time she has seemed worthy of her connection to a certain Amazonian princess. Instead of drawing her like a Forever 21 refugee, Scott makes Cassie elegant and powerful. (Note to Wonder Woman revisionists: This is how you make a well-known character look fresh and youthful.) Jason Wright's color work is top-notch, too. It's moody where necessary, but things like Cassie's glowing lasso and the bay outside Titans Tower leap off the page.
It’s fitting that the story revolves around an alienated high schooler who, having recently acquired powers, is going all Carrie on his enemies. But it’s not just Revenge of the Outcasts here. Even the pretty and popular have their weaknesses, and an evil biology teacher has found a way to exploit their insecurities, calling the entire high school “a giant Petri dish.” Krul’s messages about modern youth are sincere without going overboard. Early in this issue, Raven says something particularly touching about how the “tentative connections” of social networking can make a kid feel even more alone.
But back to Robin and Ravager. They’re a hoot together, trading barbs while bonding ever so slightly through their fondness of kicking butts. These two have quite a bit in common, and let’s face it; the proceedings would be a little bland without them. There's nothing bland about this issue, which is another big step toward a long-awaited Teen Titans comeback.Spotting Deer
Written and Drawn by Michael Deforge
Published by Koyama Press
Review by Zack Kotzer
Last year Deforge turned the comix scene on high alert with a inspirational overload known as LOSE (oddly enough, it was a story that dealt with the difficulty of inspiration) and ever since an amass of followers, myself included, are enticed by the opportunity to get our creepy mitts on any new works he churns out. Spotting Deer isn't a new issue in the LOSE series, nor is it clocking in the same amount of content, but familiar strong themes and unmistakable style still provide much satisfaction to those hooked by Deforge's underskin anomalies.
Spotting Deer is a hypothetical ethology on a hypothetical species. The deer, which is actually a hermaphroditic slug, portray certain traits and habits found in other species though in a single package is odd and uncanny. Traits and habits displayed by homo sapiens included. For while some of the compilation is about the creature in its own habitat, most of it is about either humanities reaction to the bizarre deer, a la pop culture, to the way they have adapted to our own environments and social circumstances. But as per usual with Deforge, even that is only part of the story, as there are brief moments where the lights turn on that reveal the story may actually still be more about the story teller, be that Deforge himself or a persona he's injecting.
Deforge's art is now printed in glorious color, and it's a change up he's clearly not going to let pass by. In the same way he mastered black and white previously to either magnify gruesome detail or block out the sun completely, color becomes a great advantage. With much of the imagery magnifying biological dissection, a lot of the color irradiates in ways as sick and pale as they are fitting, like the most fortunate of printer hiccups. Glowing and habits of light are also important, as they accompany the spotting deer's most prominent features, and Deforge's strange shades of light work well, be they contrasted by other day cycles on the page or are hued as if covered by a stage light.
It's not quite the gloriously reckless as his first issue of LOSE, but it's not quite as quickly alienating as his second. Spotting Deer is a good middle ground between the two, does not feel quite like a design savvy nightmare as it does a drug trip in the dark written by the Kids in the Hall. For Deforge fans recent or otherwise, this is yet another secret gem in his small but quickly growing library. For everyone else, where the hell have you been the past year?Gotham City: 14 Miles; 14 Essays On Why The 1960s Batman TV Series Matters
Written by Chuck Dixon, Jim Beard, Paul Kupperberg and more
Edited by Jim Beard
Published by Sequart
Review by Jeff Marsick
I love Sequart. If you’ve never read one of their well-researched and thought-provoking books that put comics and their cultural influences under the microscope, you would do well to get started with this one. Gotham City: 14 Miles takes the 1966-68 Batman television show and effectively dissects it with a critical scalpel, laying bare all the things that were right about it, everything horribly wrong, and why culture and comics are forever changed (for better and worse) by its existence.
I fondly remember watching the show as a six and seven year-old (reruns in syndication, not the original airings, mind you) and aside from Johnny Sokko and his flying robot, it was the coolest thing on the picture box. But in my senior year of high school the veil was lifted via a commentary in my sociology text that mentioned how campy Batman was. Campy? What? No no no. I remember Batman was for REALS, yo! Sure enough, watching an old episode as a just-about-to-graduate, I realized how shudderingly atrocious the show could be. (Note I say “could be”. One name alone is reason enough to watch at least a few of the episodes: Yvonne Craig. But I shan’t digress…) How had I been hoodwinked as a kid? Further, how had DC Comics allowed this to happen to the Dark Knight Detective? And P.S., how did the viewing population go ga-ga over this circus of silliness (especially that cringe-inducing Batusi)?
All is explained within. Robert Greenberger’s “Bats in their Belfries: The Proliferation of “Batmania” is a fascinating look at the engine that drove this leviathan. For a brief time, like a flare suddenly bursting, Batman affected society’s compass in every direction, from fashion to merchandising to even the Pittsburgh Steelers. One fact I found particularly intriguing was how the show caused sales in the comic to leap from almost 454,000 issues to over 898,000 issues! Paul Sanderson’s contribution, “The 1960s Batman TV Series from Comics to Screen” is another page-turner, an examination of the symbiotic relationship between the two mediums. The show was clearly influenced by the comic, but you’d be surprised how the comic was affected by the show (see Mr. Freeze).
Lest you think this all just a love-fest by professionals bathing in fond remembrances, pour yourself a drink and settle in for the other offerings. Chuck Dixon doesn’t pull any punches in his examination of the villains (“For my money, the best Batman and Riddler movie is Die Hard With a Vengeance.”), nor does Robert Weiner in “Theater of the Absurd: The 1966 Batman Movie” or Will Murray’s “Jumping the Bat-Shark: The Demise of Batman.
Whether the topic is gadgets, gals, or Aunt Harriet, these essays are thorough, objective and academic. Don’t think, however, that that last point means dull or dry. It’s 265 pages that flies by like a book half that. Capping it is another thirty pages as two appendices: the first is an episode list and the second is a discography of musical spin-offs inspired by the show. I defy you to read this book cover to cover and find a pebble unturned.
Excellent work by Sequart. If you’re a Bat-fan, this is required reading. Go out and pick up their other books, as well. You’ll be smarter for it.
True Blood #6 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Russ Burlingame): IDW's comic adaption of HBO's True Blood series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels draws to a conclusion this month with a n action-packed final issue that's fun and frenzied, with art that alternates between pitch-perfect and too murky to understand. Flashing back and forth between the stuck-in-a-room A plot at Merlotte's that's been going on since #1 and backstory revolving around Bill and his family, it's the flashbacks between the antagonists and Eric which is both most fascinating, from a writing standpoint, and hardest to understand due to dark, murky and sometimes hard-to-understand art. While a number of comics fans and critics have had a hard time getting into this title, True Blood fans on the Internet have generally enjoyed it, and as someone who walks in both of those worlds I can see both sides. Honestly I'd prefer to have seen a little more of this miniseries, as maybe an eight-issue run instead of these six would have made for a more balanced story that was a little clearer and took more time for character and plot development. It's clear that this series is meant for the hardcore fans, and those are the people it spoke to. If you come to this story a blank slate, not only would it not have been particularly entertaining, but I think a lot of it would have been very unclear as the miniseries didn't stand on its own very well. That said, those of us familiar with the characters and concepts of Bon Temps will have plenty to chew on with this final issue, and the eventual collected edition should help some of the comprehensibility issues.
King! #2 (Published by Blacklist Studios; Review By Jeff Marsick): The team of Hall and Bradford (the same ones who brought you Robot 13, y’know, the comic I just won’t shut up about?) are back with issue two in this off-beat series about a pro-wrestler turned supernatural bounty hunter. In the first issue, our hero in gold-rims took on zombies, and in this go-around he’s hired to dispatch some unruly bloodsuckers in a small south-of-the-border town. Fisticuffs and shotgun blasts ensue, and when the smoke clears, it turns out the job is only just beginning. Fantastic artwork and a whole lotta fun. Buy this book!What was your favorite comic of the week?