Ahoy ahoy, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of reviews from a ton of publishers, including DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Vertigo and Red 5 Comics. Want some more? You got it, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's start this column in Gotham City, as I take a peek at the new creative team over at Batman and Robin!Batman and Robin #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Peter Tomasi knows Dick Grayson. It's evident from the first page of Batman and Robin, and in certain ways, that deft hand at the new Batman's characterization even puts him above flagship Bat-scribe Grant Morrison. What surprised me the most about this book was the fact that I enjoyed the quiet scenes — the scenes with the Batmen kicking back and watching a movie — even more than the action sequences. Pat Gleason was another surprise in this book — his wildly kinetic style actually simmers through the beginning of this book, with some of his more exaggerated shapes staying cool... and then he wallops you across the face with a surprising action sequence that really plays to his strengths of energy versus matter, fear versus strength, darkness versus light. The one downside of this book? Tomasi's still getting a feel for Damian Wayne, who sounds a little more like a street tough than the upper-crust killer Morrison had previously set up. But Tomasi has recalibrated his voices in the past, and as far as first issues go, that's a pretty minor misstep for an otherwise fantastic opening issue. Amazing Spider-Man #654 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Are you one of those comics fans who desperately wants some palpable, tangible changes in their comics? Point A to Point B just isn't enough, you need movement? Well, Amazing Spider-Man #654 should be the comic for you this week, because Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente really give a lot of heft to this final chapter of the Spider-Slayer saga. I know that a lot of people might have some issue with the death in this chapter — hint, it's not who you think — but the thing that particularly surprised me was how Slott, after giving so much good stuff to Peter, has now taken away one of his most necessary assets. You want to make Spider-Man a different kind of crimefighter? This might just be the way to do it. Stefano Caselli, meanwhile, really tears out in this issue, and I love the way that the fight goes from sundown to night, thanks to some really smart colorwork from Marte Garcia. Combine that with an introduction to the new Venom? This is an issue that'll really stick with you. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Gods #2 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Scott Cederlund) Even though the cover says this is #2 of Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis’ latest miniseries, the more interesting fact is pointed out just inside the book; this is the 75th issue of B.P.R.D. This book has been around a deceptively long time and has always contained top flight work by these creators. Mignola and Arcudi are busy building their new world in the wake of the last miniseries. As nature has been supernaturally altered, the world has literally become hell on earth. For example, a volcano has suddenly appeared and wiped out Houston. The world is changing and the B.P.R.D. is at the center of it. But Mignola and Arcudi don’t make it that simple as the team has to deal with its own inner personal conflicts and struggles before it can do anything for anyone else. That’s always been the struggle in Mignola and Arcudi’s stories; the team’s the inner turmoil versus its responsibility and duty to protect the world. As always, Guy Davis pulls everything together. His artwork shouldn’t work but there’s a weight and solidness in his lines that consistently makes B.P.R.D. one of the best looking books. In this issue, he draws everything from 3 people basically having an H.R. type meeting to monsters in ancient times, filling them all with deep personality and a real presence on the page. Magus #1 (Published by 12 Gauge Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview) There’s a lot to like in this introduction to a world where the seal between the magical and earthly realms has been ripped open. Pockets of miracles and chaos have broken out across America and the globe, everything from a resurrected family pet to a dragon flying over Manhattan. These acts, which take place outside the “normal” flow of magic, appear to have been triggered by a single, powerful being. However, the U.S. government isn’t exactly rolling out the red carpet, which raises questions about where the real danger lies. Is the unnamed catalyst really a threat, or just a convenient, misunderstood scapegoat? And how does it connect to the mysterious young woman who escapes from a mental institution? Jon Price’s story moves along briskly and doesn’t get too bogged down in exposition and obscure, supernatural details. Rebekah Isaacs’ smooth, expressive art takes center stage, most notably in an apocalyptic, two-page spread of destruction inside a shopping mall. It’s a stunning image, one of several that are enhanced by Charlie Kirchoff’s vivid, glowing color work. Magus #1 will certainly hook fans of paranormal stories, but it's an accessible, appealing comic book, period. Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview ): Plastered on the cover and the recap page of this issue are “Death of Spider-Man” banners but guess what? I can’t find any mention of Spider-Man, Peter Parker, webs or arachnids anywhere in this book. What’s up with that? What you do get is Captain America, Thor and Giant Man trapped in a situation where they don’t know who their friends or their enemies are. Mark Millar’s story is all over the place, picking up threads from other books, making this not a very new reader friendly #1 issue. Characters are introduced and their relationship with existing characters is unexplained and unexplored. It’s a whirlwind of action in this issue but it’s like Mark Millar forgot that what made his original Ultimates book successful was the re-imagination of Marvel characters. There’s nothing in these characters in this issue that separates them from their Marvel U counterparts. Captain America is Captain America; Thor is Thor. What was great about Millar’s Ultimates is that the characters were recognizable but different. In this issue, they’re just recognizable. Batgirl #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith): Batgirl #18 is a Valentine’s Day issue that feels like a Halloween issue, a contrast that’s appropriate for a character who serves as one of the few bright spots in a city shrouded in darkness and full of evil clowns. The one-shot story itself is largely inconsequential, telling the tale of a strange little Nightcrawler-esque witch-boy named Klarion and his beloved familiar, a cat whose mate Batgirl must help Klarion find to prevent it from going on a murderous rampage. Bryan Q. Miller’s jokes are cute and the book is light and fun as always (which, considering it opens with a pimp’s heart being torn out, is impressive in itself), and it could function quite well as an exemplary but continuity-free introduction to Batgirl’s world for new readers looking for something different in their weekly haul. But the real star of the issue is artist Dustin Nguyen, who brings bright, cartoony delight with his pencils in the Gotham sequences and dreamy, ethereal grace with his watercolors on the first and last pages and the sequence in Klarion’s homeworld of Limbo Town. Under Nguyen’s brush, even pilgrim costumes hold a certain unsettling beauty. Batgirl #18 may not advance the overall story of the title, but few comics on the shelf are simultaneously this fun and this gorgeous. Wolverine #5.1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose ; Click here for preview ): It's funny to see where Wolverine has gone these days, especially under the purview of writer Jason Aaron. Aaron has drenched Wolverine with some seriously black comedy, topping it off with a surprising amount of... sweetness? From the get-go, Aaron gives readers an easy-to-grasp voice of the Ol' Canucklehead, and gives him some R-rated cannibal crooks to duke it out with. Jefte Paolo, however, might not be the most accessible artist in the world — he's got that hard line, like a seed of Bill Sienkiewicz, but I think that might be a bit of an acquired taste. Aaron also gets to be a little bit self-indulgent by bringing the Avengers into this book, and I think that decision is double-edged: On the one hand, it's great to see how the different characters of the Marvel Universe see Logan (and the moment where we see Spider-Man is the funniest bit of the book), but on the other hand, isn't the point of these Point One books to give readers an easy jumping-on point for the character themselves? In that regard, I feel like more introspection, looking at Wolverine's storied past through the decades, might have been more helpful to new readers. Still, the character in this book is rock-solid, and that'll certainly please fans, if not new readers. Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #1 (Published by Vertigo; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman): After an action-packed caper that teamed her with Aladdin, Fabletown's top spy returns for another miniseries with roots in the Cold War. You know a book is going to be fun when the title character says, “A Russian winter in a bikini? That can be murder.” The story goes back and forth between present day and a 1983 assignment in the Soviet Union where Cindy faced assassin "Silverslipper." Long thought dead, Cinderella's foe appears to be back from the grave and planning one hell of a rematch. As in the previous "From Fabletown with Love" mini, Cinderella remains a delightful character with a quick wit and hard right hook. The flashbacks to the early ’80s — complete with hot tubs, big guns, and tiny bathing suits — provide a meaty backstory and a good bit of mystery. Just who is this Silverslipper with her terrifying, perfect set of gleaming teeth, and why does she have it in for Cinderella? When her identity is finally revealed, well, let's just say I didn't see it coming. Chris Roberson has written an entertaining, fast-moving story, and Shawn McManus’ art is distinctive and sharply detailed, as always. This comic is worth buying for Chrissie Zullo’s gorgeous cover art alone, but for Fables fans, there's plenty more satisfaction to be found within. Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #3 (Published by Red 5 Comics; Review by David Pepose): Daaaaaw. This issue is really sweet, with a hint of Robo romance just in time for Valentine's Day. The secret of this book's success is that Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener have always given Robo such a visceral personality — the idea that this robot will argue with his creator and storm out like an angry teenager is, well, what makes this book more human than most. It's kind of sad to see Robo and Mr. Tesla separated, but Clevenger knows that'll pluck on the heartstrings. Wegener, meanwhile, gives so much expressiveness to Robo — the lower eyelids rise when there's a smile, while the upper eyelids show a glare. And Robo's big moment with Helen? Daaaaaw. In a lot of ways, the pulp influences of this book are just window dressing, and aren't even really that necessary — it's the characterization underneath that really makes this book a winner. Go Robo! X-Factor #215 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith; Click here for preview): While Peter David does excellent work with ensembles and solo characters alike, his best writing is often the kind that takes one or two characters from an ensemble and zooms in on them, highlighting their hopes and fears and way of relating to the world and making their place in the ensemble that much stronger as a result. Such is the case with X-Factor #215, a one-shot client-of-the-week issue that largely focuses on Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller. While the case itself is interesting enough, it’s the interaction between Jamie and Layla, and the things that interaction reveals about each of them, that brings the comic to another level. Since their trip to the future, Layla’s sudden adulthood, and their surprising first kiss, Jamie and Layla have both been a bit off-kilter, individually and together. With that issue David expands on the effects of that loss of balance, exploring just how uncertain the normally-composed Layla actually is and the extent of Jamie’s (externally-enacted) internal conflict regarding his feelings for her. David, to his credit, is slowly turning the two of them into a viable romantic possibility, something I never expected when the vision of their future marriage first appeared and Layla was still a child, and that potential relationship serves to shed an even brighter light on their characterizations. Valentine DeLandro’s art can be a bit inconsistent, with characters’ faces constantly changing from page to page, but that’s the only real dampener on what is otherwise another predictably excellent issue of X-Factor.
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