Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! Even with the snow smashing the country (and halting comic book shop deliveries nationwide), your favorite reviewers bundled up, trudged through the elements and came back with a dozen reviews for your reading pleasure! We've got looks at Marvel, DC, Image, Vertigo and IDW -- and that's not the end of it: We've got plenty more at the Best Shots Topic Page as well! And now, let's check out the new writer behind Superman's quest for truth, justice and the American Way, with a look at Superman #707!
Superman #707 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): I think a lot of people expected an overnight turnaround with the announcement of J. Michael Strazcynski taking over Superman -- I know I did -- which made his jarring new direction even more disappointing. So I hate to say this, because I really, really dig him as a writer... but Chris Roberson can't make that immediate turnaround either. The plot for this issue -- credited by Strazcynski -- is what's nagging here: The very idea of Superman trying to kill a news story feels extremely distasteful to me, considering the "American" theme of this arc. Where Roberson does succeed -- mostly -- is the vibe that Superman gives off. Outside of a genuinely uncomfortable argument with Lois, he's completely dropped the holier-than-thou attitude -- whether or not the super-conflicted attitude he's replaced it with will succeed moving forward is still up for debate. The art, by Allan Goldman, however, is the biggest weakness, and what keeps this book from really establishing a clean break from the past -- the impact of the new writer fades because Goldman is so similar to Eddy Barrows, with little to really pop off the page (outside of some way-too-strong colors by Marcelo Maiolo) as far as a design perspective. I love Chris Roberson's previous work, and I love the Man of Steel, but I will say that while their first issue together makes some steps in the right direction, it still doesn't achieve liftoff for me.
Amazing Spider-Man #651 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): The first story in which Peter Parker hits the “Big Time” is over, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the Parker Angst gone! We are now seeing Spidey at his most heroic. Not that he’s doing anything that’s any more dangerous, though his needing to rescue the Black Cat from Kingpin was plenty dangerous, but we get to see him actually own being a hero without the constant distraction of whining about how hard he has it. We get to see him actively using his science brain in all aspects of his life, first to stop Hobgoblin, then to make advances at work! His trademark quips feel more grounded -- less defense mechanism and more an actual part of his personality. And his relationship with Black Cat seems less like a desperate, ill-advised love affair, and more like a pairing of equals who genuinely care about each other. The best moment, though, is when Hobgoblin flips Spidey’s trademark slogan by saying “with great responsibility comes great power.” Phil Urich as Hobgoblin feels like what would happen if Peter had turned out morally questionable rather than squeaky-clean, and I’m looking forward to watching these two sides of the same coin meet up again! Could’ve done without the joke about Tron, though. That joke’s not going to be funny in 5 years...if it ever was!
The Infinite Vacation #1 (Published by Image Comics; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman): Nick Spencer, you’re blowing my mind. In these days of overly hyped events that often fail to deliver, I mean that as a huge compliment. This first issue, presented with Christian Ward’s beautifully psychedelic art, is thrilling, frightening, and nothing short of dazzling. The Infinite Vacation is also a hell of a commentary about the mingling of marketing, technology and wish-fulfillment. It feels both futuristic and immediately relevant in our push-of-a-button times. A young man identified only as “Mark” lives a countless number of alternate lives based a whim, thanks to “patented transversal displacement technology.” Most of the population lives this way, but (of course) it’s not a free service. And if Mark is any indication, it’s not a ticket to bliss, or even basic contentment. No matter what life he “buys,” he winds up bored or, in some cases, dead. Oh, and if he takes off his nametag, he’ll land in a nightmare scenario. Heavy, man. The new year is in its infancy, but something tells me The Infinite Vacation is on its way to being one of 2011's finest.
Batman and Robin #19 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This is what I'm talking about! I'll be honest, I felt a little bit of trepidation for Paul Cornell, following up on the wildly innovative run by Grant Morrison. Seeing the first few issues of this new arc, with rock-solid Bat-artist Scott McDaniel, part of me wondered if this would be just running in place, mining on the duo's previously-established "known quantity" factor rather than anything they brought to the table specifically with this book. Well, let me be the first to tell you -- this issue is clever as hell, as Cornell brings some real meaning to the villainess known as the Absence. The other thing that Cornell does -- which, come to think of it, I've never seen him do as well as he has in this issue -- is bring a real sense of dread to the proceedings, bringing in deathtraps and taking them away all in rapid fire. McDaniel's is also bringing some of the best work I've seen from him in the last few years -- there's some great expressive choices he makes here, particularly looking at Batman through the hole in the Absence's head! Alex Sinclair is a great fit here for the colors, giving real weight and pop to McDaniel's lines. Want to know why the Absence is such a great name for a character? Seriously, pick this up -- it's smarter than you'd think.
Daredevil Reborn #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Just when I thought I was done... they pull me back in. By the end of Shadowland, I was more than ready to take a break from the Man Without Fear -- but with a streamlined story from Andy Diggle and some breathtaking art from Northlanders artist Davide Gianfelice, we're treated to a surprisingly fun story that has no tights, no superheroes, just Matt Murdock trying to lay low... and getting into some real trouble along the way. Now, I won't say that the plot is the most original thing in the world -- I'm sure there are plenty of stories about a skilled badass suddenly walking in on Corruptcopville, USA -- but after all the weird mythology of Shadowland, it's a palate cleanser. The real appeal of this book, however? Gianfelice's artwork, which has shades of Eduardo Risso mixed with the edgy lines of Guiseppe Camuncoli. He makes what could have been a lackluster spinoff book into something that looks beautiful, particularly in a lightning-fast sequence of Matt Murdock flipping over a speeding police car. Occasionally, Gianfelice's linework comes off as just a smidgen too thick, but the sheer expressiveness and design he gives Matt (even with that trashy goatee!) is well worth your time. I never thought I'd be back on board with Daredevil -- not after his forced fall from grace -- but I'll tell you, with this artist on board, my interest in the guardian of Hell's Kitchen is surprisingly renewed.
Knight and Squire #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Issue #4 of Knight and Squire is by far the best of the lot so far! While the first 3 issues relied a lot on being quirky and on funny references to Britishness, this issue wisely steps away from that before the novelty has worn off. There are still plenty of references to Britishness. Apparently, Cyril thinks that Americans whine too much about their feelings! There’s also an American butler with a hilariously all-over-the-place way of speaking (I defy you to tell me where in the U.S. he’s from!) to compensate for Batman getting to have Alfred. However, this issue focuses much more on character, which is what Paul Cornell does best. We get some lovely insight into Knight & Squire’s backstory, and into just how wonderful Beryl is; we get a really interesting way for Cyril to have it out with the darker side of himself; and we have love, romantic and otherwise, something else that Cornell writes well. Beryl’s reaction to Cyril’s inactive armor is so touching, as is Cyril’s defense of her to her new superpowered love interest. For the first time, I care about these characters as people, and am interested in sticking with them for the long haul.
Captain America: Man Out of Time #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith; Click here for preview): While the first two issues of Captain America: Man Out of Time largely focused on creative retellings of old stories – Steve Rogers’ WWII origin, and his revival in Avengers #4 – issue 3 finally branches out into new territory, and the book is all the better for it. While there have been countless stories about Steve’s angst about Bucky’s death and his difficulty adjusting to the modern world, this is the first time we’ve seen him actively wanting to go back in time to save Bucky and live out the rest of his life in his proper timeline. Mark Waid has depicted Steve’s mental state with psychological complexity throughout this mini, but in this issue we really feel for Steve, as everyone, from Tony Stark to the President of the United States, thwarts his desperate desire to simply go back to where he belongs. Amid this deeply internal story, the issue presents a fantastic look at the growing friendship between Steve and Tony, as Tony takes him out on the town for food, music, and a few history lessons along the way courtesy of the empty Air and Space Museum. Steve’s admiration of the advances in equal rights is particularly heart-warming, a slap in the face to the more closed-minded Ultimate incarnation of the character, and his realization that he may not be needed in the modern world thus feels much more optimistic than pessimistic on his part. It’s clear this mini will have to accomplish a few things to get to a satisfying conclusion – making Steve feel useful and necessary in this future time, and giving him a new family in the form of the Avengers. But Waid is such a creative, original writer that I can’t begin to predict how he’ll get there, and I’m more than willing to go along for the ride.
Spawn #200 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): When I heard that Spawn was about to reach its 200th issue, I couldn't help but be happy for Todd McFarlane and company -- when I first "discovered" Spawn at the ripe age of 13, it reignited my love of comics, as I drank in the hyperstylized artwork and "resonated" with the I-don't-know-who-I'm-supposed-to-be themes of the book (which, in retrospect, yeah, went on way too long). So it was a little weird jumping back into Spawn and not getting a whole lot of impact for what should have been a most auspicious anniversary. Instead of focusing on the history of Spawn -- either Al Simmons or Jim Downing -- we're treated to the origin of the Omega Spawn, which, okay, is certainly important for the Spawn mythos, but doesn't really give a lot of emotional connection with the characters involved. There's some fight sequences, and seeing Todd McFarlane's visual stamp on the characters he created is always a treat -- but at the same time, this book is also extremely overwritten, heaping on mythology and philosophy but holding out on simple things like introducing the characters by name. 200 issues later, the questions surrounding Spawn and his world are still being asked, and it's almost reminiscent of the self-indulgence of the last two Matrix films. There's some cool moments to be certain -- seeing the Spawn costume fight on its own is pretty rad -- but this book is for diehards, and diehards only.
Captain America: The Korvac Saga #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview): Dear Marvel, here’s how you get me to buy all of your comic books in 2011 -- put the flame headed Nikki on the cover. For those of you who don’t remember your old '70s-era cosmic Marvel or your '90s-era pre-Image Jim Valentino series, Nikki is a member of the original futuristic Guardians of the Galaxy. Along with Starhawk, Yondu, Charlie 27, Martinex and Vance Astro were the futuristic Avengers, figthting the lizard-like Badoon in the 31st century. Of all the stories that they could re-imagine to star Captain America, I don’t know how Marvel picked Jim Shooter’s Korvac Saga but Ben McCool and Craig Rousseau have taken the very basic plot of Shooter’s story and made a fun, continuity-light romp through space and time in the second issue. While McCool relies a too heavily on talking heads and exposition in this issue, creating pages and pages of colorful characters just standing around and talking about their problems, Rousseau turns in some wonderful art, a fascinating cross of Michael Avon Oeming and Howard Chaykin. And I really don’t know who the target audience for a book like this could be but seeing Nikki, Starhawk and Vance Astro on the cover battling Captain America makes me think that this book was made just for me.
The Unwritten #21 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): The Unwritten has upped the adventure and suspense this month (as I predicted it would in my review of the last issue)! The wonderful thing that’s happening is that we’re getting to see the strength of the three main characters independently of each other as they each deal with their own personal dramas. Tom is finally forced to relax and let go a bit as he’s been sucked into Moby Dick with no way of escaping the story, and when he finally figures out a way to escape, he ends up breaking the novel (Vince Locke’s artwork captures this moment beautifully). Lizzie, ever level-headed, is not only dealing with Richie’s being a vampire but working through her feelings about Tom. She’s not pining and she’s not being whiny about it, but you can feel the love that’s there in a completely mature way. And Richie, despite being a vampire, is still struggling with the entire notion of any of this fictional stuff being real. Tom’s experiences inside Moby Dick, as well as a harrowing sequence featuring Lizzie, Richie, and a creepy puppetmaster make this issue electric. Anyone who tells you that prose fiction can’t be exciting doesn’t know what they’re talking about!
Heroes for Hire #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith; Click here for preview): Had this been the first issue of the new Heroes for Hire series, it would have been a strong introduction. We find Misty Knight commanding a fleet of superheroes to take down a dangerous weapon flooding the streets, and we see Silver Sable, Ghost Rider, Satana, and Paladin following her directions and taking down the bad guys with flair. We’re also shown that, though Misty thinks she’s in total control of everything – her code name is, literally, “Control” – she is, in reality, a sedated captive of the Puppetmaster, and not (as Paladin discovers) holed up in a central office. Unfortunately, this is not the first issue of the series, and as such it feels like a script copied and pasted from the first issue with the names of the heroes and villains changed. Every beat of the first issue, from the formulaic multi-hero takedown of a street-level menace to the conversations Misty has about her role (that Danny would be upset with her if he knew about this, that she’s still recovering from her non-pregnancy) are repeated here, with Paladin’s discovery the only glimmer of forward momentum. Abnett and Lanning know how to handle a wide variety of B-and-C-list heroes and write strong action plots, but unless those plots are differentiated from each other soon, I can’t imagine sticking with this book much longer.
John Byrne’s Next Men #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Scott Cederlund): After an exposition heavy first issue, John Byrne settles into the story of his time-lost heroes and actually gets to tell a story. Scattered to various time periods, the Next Men don’t even have time to try and figure out where they are or how they got there. Tony Murcheson finds herself in Civil War-era south and gets mistaken for a runaway slave. Another one finds himself in Germany during World War II with no memory of his own name or where he’s from and is accused of being a Jew who escaped from a concentration camp. With the heavy history-lesson that the first issue provided, going over the events of the original Next Men series from the early 1990s, Byrne rapidly settles into his strong storytelling grove, giving most of his characters a bit of space this issue but moving all of their stories forward. And more than he did in the first issue, he creates a sense of mystery in this issue; how did these characters get where they are? Why are they there? He reignites the drama and intrigue that all comics need. The first issue was a download of information but this second issue is a feast of story, a fine taste of the story and art that Byrne can still produce. The original run of Next Men remains one of Byrne’s best comics of the last 20 years and John Byrne’s Next Men #2 feels like he’s picked up right where he left off.What were your picks of the week? Sound off here or use #RamaRev on Twitter!