Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with a tidal wave of Rapid-Fire Reviews, courtesy of the Best Shots Team! We've got books from Marvel, DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse, IDW, Oni, even Archie — and that's not even the end of it. If you want to take a look at our back issue reviews, including two takes on the death of [NAME REDACTED, SUCKAS] in Fantastic Four, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, flip on your tiara as your Vanessa Gabriel checks out Wonder Woman #606...
Wonder Woman #606 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): Blood, death, and Hollywood clichés seem to be par for the course since issue #601, and Wonder Woman #606 qualifies for round five. With Hester and JMS credited as writers, I assume Hester is following JMS’ story notes to complete this arc. I’ll gladly give Hester some credit here, as there is a marked difference in the writing. Hester takes the edge off the cliché, and makes the story kind of kick-ass. I didn’t roll my eyes at every other page. Eduardo Pansica’s pencils were solid, and he created some truly beautiful panels. There were a few failings in detail, but I suspect that has more to do with the multiple inkers. I’ll be honest and admit I have a soft spot for the Amazon warrior culture, so the moments with Diana and Philippus in this issue definitely choked me up a bit. I also enjoy Diana’s foes being of the mythical Greek persuasion. The reoccurrence of the little Wondy voodoo-type dolls, all dressed in various classic star-spangled getups, stirs bratty Diana’s senses that something just ain’t right. Perhaps it foreshadows a move back to classic Wonder Woman town soon than later, but not before a battle with some undead Amazons. Fantasy and fisticuffs are in store, and I’m okay with that … for now.
Uncanny X-Force #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund) For one brief moment in Uncanny X-Force #4 Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña look like they’re going to take the easy way out and fall back on the clichéd optimism that is a staple of X-Men stories, displaying an unearned optimism about the future. Luckily Remember and Opeña show us just why this isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill X-Men book. The team, designed to be the black-ops of mutant teams, are pushed to see just how far they can go. They discover that the dreaded Apocalypse has been resurrected as a young boy, full of a hope and potential that could make him anything but the monster that the X-Men know he has been in the past. Is this team that was brought together to do the dirty work of the mutant race capable of living up to their purpose? Remender and Opeña conclude their first story arc with an in-your-face attitude, forsaking good taste and the safe narrative path to tell an enjoyably different X-book story that’s willing to go where other books won’t go and can’t go. In this issue, they play up to the expectations of what a team of heroes should do before showing us just exactly what this team has to do. Remender must be having a great time writing the two unconventional team members Deadpool and Fantomex as he gives them the meatiest moments in the story and Opeña has a wonderful detailed but loose style that flows on the page from panel to panel, creating some of the smoothest action sequences in comics today.
New York Five #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Jennifer Smith): If there was one flaw in the stunning New York Four, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s graphic novel project for the dearly-departed Minx line, it was the disproportionate attention given to one of the characters, Riley Wilder, at the expense of the other three that made up the titular “four.” With New York Five, Wood and Kelly have endeavored to correct that imbalance, throwing more of a spotlight on Merissa, Lona, and Ren as well as a new character, the homeless Olive. As the new miniseries begins, the reader is introduced to the conflicts facing each of the main characters, problems that range from family issues to romantic drama to academic peril, and while Riley remains our first-person narrator the ensemble feels much more alive and multi-faceted. With that one problem cleared up, the series is free to shine with all the strengths of its predecessor, including Wood’s ability to create a vivid portrait of New York City in all its diversity and grandeur and Kelly’s stunning linework that serves to bring that city – and the characters – to life. Kelly’s art has matured since New York Four, but his character designs remain consistent, each girl unique in features and personality. Wood, meanwhile, continues to use his ample talents to get inside the mind of girls just past adolescence and spin a tale about growing up and learning to survive in the big city. For fans of New York Four, or fans of YA literature in general, I can’t recommend this highly enough.
New Avengers #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This is an issue of New Avengers that plays to Brian Michael Bendis's strengths — namely, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Considering Bendis has given the most life to these otherwise blank slates over the years, their banter feels natural, and the question of Jessica's future is a legitimate one. Yet reading the book twice over two days, it was striking to me how quickly the shine can fade — going through the lengthy dialogue (particularly a splash page with 29 word balloons) did feel a little bit more like a chore the second time through than it did the first. But the real interesting part of this book has to be Daniel Acuña — you wouldn't think of his dark, posterized look at something for Bendis's more lighthearted Avengers team, but that contrast really kept me interested. Acuña has a knack for making little details stand out, whether it's the embarrassed waitress waiting to take the bickering Luke and Jessica's orders, or the blue outline around Doctor Doom as he charges up an energy bolt. That said, rereading this book, it's hard to argue that much happens, you know? There's arguing, and there's punching, and there's humor, but are there answers? Don't get me wrong, the "funny Avengers" book certainly has its merits, but it's also missing out on some heft.
Zatanna #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald, Click here for preview): I have a love/hate relationship with this issue of one of my favorite series on the shelves right now. Awhile back, DC gave us a sneak peak at the upcoming anniversary covers and there was a bit of outcry in my social circles regarding the design on this one. We get that Zee is in motion, but... she's cut off at the knees and it gives her legs an odd chibi-style appearance not befitting the rest of her characteristic Stephane Roux styled sexiness. Add to that, the lack of her having as distinguishable symbol as many of the other books on the shelf today do — and we have a top hat that appears to be plucked out of Microsoft Word clip art. They say don't judge a book by it's cover, and this is the perfect example of that saying. That out of the way, this issue continues the arc involving a murderous puppet by Paul Dini with art by Cliff Chiang, as well as features a back up story focused on a young Zatanna by Adam Beechen and Jamal Igle. Side from hating the cover, what do I love about this issue? So much! Dini's arc takes us back in time to Zatanna's childhood and her relationship with her father — showing us that he didn't hold back any punches when it came to protecting his daughter. Chiang's art is solid, panel construction is fairly simple, and that last splash page made me squeal in Zatanna fan-girl glee. Beechen's back up takes us back to Zatanna's teen years (whoa, Zee — I had that same Mayim Bialik/Blossom style hat with the flower!) and revolves around an incident that occurs shortly after Zee gets braces. It's laugh out loud funny and just a genuinely fun interpretation of a usually sexy, ass-kicking, heroine. Interestingly, both of these stories take us back to Zee's childhood — it's nice to see a character that hasn't always had a huge following get her own book, and I commend the writers for giving proper attention to her back story and really fleshing out the character for newer readers.
Archie #617 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): What do you do when you’ve ticked off the leader of the free world and one of his biggest political opponents, and they show up on your doorstep? Run like hell. Archie and Reggie do a lot of running in this issue, after misleading photo ops with President Barack Obama and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — used to boost their respective student body president campaigns — backfire. This conclusion of Alex Simmons’ “Campaign Pains” story takes a nonpartisan approach, focusing on misinformation’s explosive effects rather than the red-blue divide. The fleeing and chasing go on a little too long, and the story is cautious to a fault. However, Dan Parent’s artwork, combined with Digikore Studios’ coloring, is vibrant and fun to look at. There’s a particularly humorous panel where Reggie, busted and sweating, looks positively terrified of a steely-eyed Palin. Everything wraps up in a neat, lesson-learned package, but at least Archie #617 avoids any forced, Kumbaya moments between Obama and Palin.
Infestation #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose): As far as opening shots go, Infestation is certainly a thick book, with 32 pages of story (40, if you count the preview pages for the book's assorted spin-offs) in this $3.99 package. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning not only give a perfectly valid explanation of how zombies can attack all these different properties (Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, in case you're counting), but they also do a great job in introducing the Covert Vampiric Operations team, which I had never actually read before. In a lot of ways, I'm surprised by the amount of range they show in what could have been a phone-in job — in particular, I love how funny the military's superstitions are about the hordes of the undead — "let's just remember the catch-all phrase 'cadavers animated by an engineered viral strain of unknown origin.'" David Messina's artwork also looks really sharp, with some particularly lush inkwork by Gaetano Carlucci — in certain places, it almost looks animated, that's how clear the images are. While some of the in-story explanation isn't always perfect — zombie machines kind of made me groan a little — this is definitely a weighty start to a so-crazy-it-might-just-work crossover.
Justice Society of America #47 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): What can I say? I love the way this book looks. Scott Kolins really brings a rough, iconoclastic geometry to his characters in this book that flies in the face of the JSA's traditionalism. There are a lot of great beats here, whether it’s watching Dr. Fate extract a team member's very soul, or zooming in on Dr. Chaos's crooked teeth. Combine that with some eye-popping colors from Mike Atiyeh, and you've got yourself just a visually interesting book. It's also got a lot of stuff going on, courtesy of Marc Guggenheim — while the writing is a bit imperfect as far as the dialogue is concerned, you'll realize by reading it that this read still has plenty of meat to it. Subplots abound, and the good part is that many of them — like Dr. Midnight trying to diagnose a fallen teammate, or Mr. Terrific getting locked in a battle of wits, or Dr. Fate and Lightning being locked in another dimension — show the range that the JSA has to offer. That said, there's one subplot — with Green Lantern — that doesn't get far enough in this issue, which is a shame, since that's one of the big visual beats of this book. Still, I'm having way more fun reading Justice Society of America than I have in a long, long time. Captain America #614 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith): Ed Brubaker is on a roll. After some doldrums, the Trial of Captain America storyline has reinvigorated Captain America, providing excellent courtroom drama and a great new villain in Sin, the scarred daughter of the Red Skull. Bernie Rosenthal (Bucky’s lawyer and Steve’s ex-fiancé) has some especially great moments in this issue, tearing down the credibility of prosecution witnesses and proving, by means of the terrifying Faustus, how easy mind control can be to achieve. Faustus himself, always a fascinating (if unsettling) part of Cap books, heightens the drama with his presence and powers, and the book’s cliffhanger ending foreshadows some great battles in the issues to come. Unfortunately, the six credited inkers and four credited colorists on this book make the art a bit of a mess. There are some scenes – Steve Rogers fighting in a suit in the courtroom, Bucky in the back of a police van with Faustus – that look great, and Guice’s layouts are consistently creative and perfect for the moods of different pages. Overall, though, the ink and color changes make the character designs look completely different from one page to the next, spoiling the cohesion, and there isn’t enough division between different stories to justify the effect. Hopefully by next issue the book will have fewer cooks mixing the broth, allowing Brubaker’s story to shine like it should. Scalped #45 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): This issue of Scalped marks the beginning of a new story called “You Gotta Sin to Get Saved,” and it has a lot of what makes the title Jason Aaron’s best work. Lincoln Red Crow, chief of the Lakota on the Prairie Rose reservation, is starting to repent for all the horrible things he’s done to gain and keep power as he’s being challenged by a tribal elder — his mentor — for his seat on the tribal council. Meanwhile, he’s trying to groom Dash to replace him, seemingly attempting to atone for his sins; and Dino Poor Bear seems to be forming a deeper attachment to Carol than is probably good for him. Aaron excels at blending the elements of crime fiction with deeply human storytelling. Each of these characters has a fully realized inner life, and Aaron makes sure we know that even the smallest characters in this book matter. Finally having someone legitimately challenge Red Crow’s authority, and having him accept that, was a brilliant choice in that it allows the story to go even deeper into what Lakota culture means, as well as what being a man means to all the characters involved. R.M. Guera’s work continues to be perfect for this story, his rough lines managing to create tender images despite themselves. Scalped continues to be a deeply compelling piece of work. X-23 #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): X-23 is a character who is best when she’s alone. Obviously, the point of this title is that she’s learning to not “need to be alone” so often. She’s learning to accept help and learn from others, which is great. Yet Gambit’s reappearance in the current story arc, “Songs of the Orphan Child,” sort of dampens the experience. Whereas it would have been interesting to see how X-23 would’ve handled Miss Sinister if left to her own devices, we now have Gambit as another nagging voice, second-guessing her, almost acting like a father. Whereas that sort of interaction makes sense with Wolverine - and would be a lot less cloying - here it just seems like interference. Especially since X-23’s big-sisterly interaction with a fellow clone named Alice is much more compelling to watch. Marjorie Liu started this title with a strong X-23. Flawed, but willing and capable of handling herself and achieving her own redemption. I hope she continues to allow her to be that. Will Conrad and David Lopez give us lovely, precise, detailed artwork, and there’s never a question of where the reader’s eye is supposed to be. My only question: Does every girl have to wear pants that ride so low on her hips?
The Sixth Gun #8 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Scott Cederlund): In the first story arc, Drake Sinclair was one tough son of a gun, cold and focused on his mission. Now that it’s done and Sinclair sort of won, he faces the inevitable question of “what next?” For him, “next” is trying to get rid of the six mystical guns he fought hard to collect and to try to bring his friend back to life. The bravado of the first six issues gives way to the somber reflection of the survivors in the second part of “Crossroads.” Sinclair dives into the deep swamp, looking for any magician or charlatan who may be brave or stupid enough to take the guns away from him as Becky Montcrief also has to adjust to a life wrapped up in these mystic six shooters. As you read this issue, you realize that Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have revealed just enough about these characters to let you know who they are without disclosing everything about these characters yet. They’ve created complete characters who still have plenty of room to grow and surprise the reader. That Sinclair, who was so directed and so focused in the first story arc, is now lost, searching for some salvation or relief from his duties, shows that these aren’t single-faceted characters. Bunn and Hurtt have built this series for the long haul, creating a rich cast and giving their characters plenty of room to succeed and to fail. The story of the six guns is really still just beginning and I think there’s going to be a lot more dark days for Sinclair and Becky before they are relieved of their burdens.
Teen Titans #91; Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): With apologies to Obi-Wan, these are the Teen Titans you’re looking for. Writer J.T. Krul and artist Nicola Scott have thoroughly resuscitated this series, which feels classic, yet modern without trying too hard. I had my doubts about Damian’s addition to the team, but he and Rose are becoming quite the dynamic, dysfunctional duo. When they aren’t trading verbal jabs (Rose: “You’ve got a strong kick for having such little feet.”), they bond ever-so-slightly through their mutual love of punching things. There's plenty to punch. A black hole is devouring a high school, and the students within have been turned into metahuman attack monsters. The culprit is a sociopathic biology teacher with a taste for abduction and experimentation. While he looks like a cross between a monk and a Renaissance fair re-enactor in costume, he’s no joke. Scott gives him a cold, dead-eyed look that suggests a total lack of empathy, which makes him fully disturbing. Teen Titans #91 is a heavy-action issue with just the right dash of drama between lovebirds Cassie and Conner.
Conan: Road of Kings #2 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by David Pepose): It was difficult deciding whether to take on Conan: Road of Kings as opposed to Dark Horse's other barbarian hero, Kull, but I think was made this book win out was Mike Hawthorne. Hawthorne has a nice sense of character design that's has a real geometric style to it — Conan himself has a real pointed chin, and that edge to his smile is somewhat similar to Guiseppe Camuncoli, but without some of the crinkling Camuncoli can bring to his expressions. Roy Thomas, meanwhile, is kind of funny with his shorthand for Conan — basically, our hero is a total jerk. But that strength actually gives Conan his energy, outside of the heroic Kull — it means that he's unpredictable, that he could ditch his companions anytime he felt like it, and that ratchets up the tension a bit. If there's one disadvantage to this book, however, is that the action feels a little bland — not that it isn't well put-together, but it doesn't hook my interest past even the first fight. There's clearly something missing from this book that would make Conan: Road of Kings a must-read book, and it's not the visuals. What can be done to make the character seem fresh and new and interesting again? That's the question Dark Horse should be figuring out.
Ultimate Spider-Man #152 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): It's the little things that I think matter most — particularly in Ultimate Spider-Man. Sure, Brian Michael Bendis does have a subplot going that's pushing forward with the Black Cat and Mysterio — but y'know something? That's not even why I read this book anymore. Plot-wise, the book doesn't move a whole lot — unless you count Iron Man being a bonehead and causing trouble for Aunt May — but it's the character interactions that really sell me. And one of the big reasons for why that is? David Lafuente, who goes far beyond expressiveness with his characters, to the point where they are just out-and-out actors. (I mean, jeez, the look on Aunt May's face when Iron Man nearly wrecks Peter's secret identity made me feel bad. And who doesn't see why Peter loves Gwen, when you see her heart on her sleeve like that?) Bendis and Lafuente deliver a really powerful reunion between Peter and Gwen that is ambiguous enough to lead in a lot of different directions moving forward. Even throwaway gags, like Iron Man being a total putz of a teacher, show some great promise moving ahead. The next issue can't come soon enough.
Illyria: Haunted #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Teresa Jusino): Illyria is one of the more fascinating characters in the Whedonverse, and this title shows us why. We’ve seen her in previous Angel tie-in titles questioning her relationship to others and wondering about Fred (the young woman whose life she took and whose body she’s now using), but now she’s taking the next big step. Figuring out who she is and what her place is as an all-powerful demon in a human body has become such a priority for her that she’s asked for help. Not just from anyone, but from Spike of all people. In this issue, she has arrived “home,” and while she finds something she’s been missing, she also releases something she shouldn’t have. Writers Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner write Illyria’s thoughts and dialogue with sensitivity, balancing her demon side with her irrepressible human side. However, having her arrive at an answer that seems to lead to another demon is proving less interesting that then previous two issues of watching Illyria question. Elena Casagrande draws characters beautifully, but the action in the panels is sometimes unclear and muddled, making it difficult to follow what’s going on. IDW made a wise decision in focusing on the story of such an intriguing character. The trick now would be to keep her intriguing.