Best Shots Comic Reviews: UNWRITTEN, ULTIMATE AVENGERS, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Lan Pitts here, taking the reins from your usual friendly neighborhood host, David Pepose, while he is off in distant lands visiting other Peposi. The Best Shots team is in full form today as we deliver some hits and misses from DC, Marvel, Vertigo, and Drawn and Quarterly. As usual, we have you covered with the Best Shots topic page here. So without further delay, let's dive into Jennifer's Unwritten review.


Unwritten #22

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross, Vince Locke, and Chris Chuckry

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Mike Carey's The Unwritten is essentially a grown-up version of that old chestnut of a high school English assignment: write a story that features characters from different books you've read interacting with each other. It's an assignment I remember completing multiple times, from a 9th grade story about Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea winding up on The Most Dangerous Game’s Ship Trap Island to a 12th grade project envisioning a dinner party where Hamlet hooks up with Pip from Great Expectations. What all of these projects have in common, beyond their pedagogical purposes, is a focus on the idea that all of literature is interconnected, that the great human creative unconscious is not segmented but part of a grand, unified, invisible whole. No writer writes in a vacuum, and all stories are influenced by other stories, constructing and deconstructing and overlapping with each other.

By definition, Carey's story is not unique. Thousands of high school students, not to mention professional writers from Jasper Fforde to Bill Willingham to Neil Gaiman, have played with this basic model of literary connection. But what makes The Unwritten so special is its willingness to examine the very foundations of literary creation, to literalize the magic that goes into the creative process and the power that stories and characters have over culture and society. The thinly-veiled Harry Potter analogues at the center of the story are perfect for The Unwritten's purposes, highlighting as they do the most significant and widespread Western story of a digital era that has changed the way we as a culture react to and share stories. Who's to say, for all practical purposes, that Harry Potter isn't as real as The Unwritten's Tommy Taylor appears to be?

This issue, though, focuses more squarely on the internal workings of fiction, expanding the logic of the world Carey is building to encompass such subjects as the seams between fictional worlds and the power of metaphor channeled through physical objects. The last page is a particular delight, extrapolating outward from the great whale of Moby Dick to all other whale stories. Who's to say that the whales that swallowed Pinocchio, Jonah, Sinbad, and Baron von Munchhausen weren't all the same whale, teaching each character a lesson through parable? The appearance of Sinbad is particularly notable because the dialogue from Sinbad and all of his sailors is written in Arabic letters. While I don't personally speak Arabic and cannot comment on the authenticity of the text, this creative decision eliminates the presence of problematically transcribed broken English or the assumption of English as a universal language. Literature, Carey drives home, is not limited to Anglo-Saxon sources, and the language barrier between protagonist Tom and Sinbad's crew is absolutely appropriate.

Artist Peter Gross and collaborator Vince Locke do an excellent job as always, bringing to life scenes as disparate as the inside of a whale, a sunny tropical island, and a marionette show in a small cottage. The marionettes of Savoy, Lizzie, and Tom are especially well done, managing to look like the characters themselves and like dolls simultaneously. And that scene adds yet another layer to the meditation on stories and storytelling – the idea that time has no meaning within a story world, and that the future can be written as easily as the present, to be used or discarded later down the line in revisions. With each new character and concept, Carey digs ever deeper into ideas of literature, authorship, and the very nature of fiction, without allowing dry, critical essay-style theoretical writing to replace the wildly entertaining fiction he himself has created.

Vertigo has always been the place for fiction about fiction, but with Sandman long done and Fables sticking strictly to its fairy tale origins, The Unwritten is the ascendant king of the subgenre, and may very well turn out to be the best of them all. Carey and Gross have been nothing but consistent since the series' inception, and 22 issues in, I still find myself on the edge of my seat, eager to see what concepts and stories The Unwritten will illuminate next.


Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Jeff Huet, Sunny Gho, and Jim Charalampidis

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

Sure, it's an issue number one, but it's not a book you pick up on a whim and figure it's a proper starting spot. I've been away from the Ultimate line for a bit so it was a surprise to see the Triskelion's been teleported to the Iranian Desert, and I wasn't savvy with the reference to vampires. Minor details, though, and I got through it (as will you) because the draw is that cover (okay, one of the covers) showing the two Ultimate teams going all fight club on each other. That’s what we came for.

While not the fastest moving of issues that Mark Millar has ever written, he's working that slow burn, getting all of the elements arranged just so. Someone has stolen genetic material from Gregory Stark's facility, the place where they were developing the next generation of super-soldier, essentially the replacements for the New Ultimates. If the Russians or the Chinese are behind the theft and get this out into the world, well that's just going to raise the term 'weapons of mass destruction' to a whole new level of deadly. Cap takes a squad out to investigate where they discover a unique test subject and unveil a revelation that sets the stage for the fisticuffs to come. The last page isn't much of a shocker, given what we know about these teams (even if you've taken a series or two off), but it is enticement enough for the next issue.

Mark Millar as writer is pretty much reason enough to be getting this series, but you can't overlook the sensational art by Leinil Yu. The opening sequence with a train meeting Thor's hammer in the mountains of Bulgaria just sucks you in to the issue right from the first panel. He's the perfect artist for the big blockbuster event this book is sure to be, and it helps that Sunny Gho colors him with darker tones, hinting that what's coming isn't going to be pretty.  

Get on board with this six-issue series right here. I think this is going to turn out to be one of the best series done under the Ultimate banner and probably one of the most talked about with ramifications that will be felt for years down the line. 


Batman & Robin #20

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Patrick Brousseau

Published by DC Entertainment

Review by George Marston

Batman & Robin has been one of my favorite DC books for a while now. It was in this title that, for me, the promise of Grant Morrison's "Batman" run really came to bear. He managed to reign in some of his wide vision enough that he actually told a story that existed on the page, and without need of a third party explanation. So, naturally, when I heard he was moving on from the title, I was certainly disappointed, but news that, not only would Dick Grayson still be in the title as Batman, but that Peter Tomasi, no stranger to writing Dick, would be taking over, I was relieved. Further, I was very glad to see Patrick Gleason get the bump up to the big leagues. His work on Green Lantern Corps was consistently some of the best that DC has had to offer for the last several years, and knowing that he and Tomasi worked so well together really made me excited for the start of this run. So... Why do I feel so... underwhelmed?

To start, I should make it clear that, by no means, do I expect Grant Morrison style stories from Peter Tomasi. There's just too much of a difference in sensibility to even lay that burden at either man's feet. However, I enjoy Tomasi for his own merits; his editor's eye, his sense of pacing, and the humanity of his characters. I thought he did a hell of a job on Nightwing a couple years ago. All of that aside, the scripting and pacing, two things that are normally his strong suit, suffer here. There's a bit of a disjointed feeling from one scene to the next, and not much weight is really given to any particular scenes or developments, even when it's made clear by the characters that whatever event just took place must be of grave importance. On top of that, his characterization of Damian is a little bit hackneyed. There's not much depth to him in this issue. Whereas some writers have shown that, while he is a brat, he struggles with his sense of duty and justice, Tomasi just focuses on making him kind of a pain in the ass.

Patrick Gleason's art was another source of some disappointment. I have universally enjoyed the preview art that's been released for this run, and I was really expecting him to fully indulge his use of strong, weighted blacks coupled with crisp and intricate linework, but really, the art in this issue kind of struck me as business as usual; the kind of thing you'd expect to find in any other Batman title. Maybe it's the coloring, which never really meets the right palette, or maybe it's Gleason trying out some tricks and tools he's not had a chance to use before, but the look of the book never really sang, and didn't particularly stand out.

Honestly, it feels a lot like Tomasi is trying to match Morrison's cut and paste, splatter paint style of scene structure, and in doing so, isn't quite being true to himself. It's not enough to drive me away; I still have faith that once Tomasi finds his own feet on the title, this'll still be the Bat-Book to watch, but right now... Well, let's just say there's a lot of room for improvement. Gleason and Tomasi have proven that they have the chops, both as individual creators, and as a team, to handle a title of this level. They just need to remember to rely on the things that got them here in the first place, and trust their own work and the quality of their voice as a team. I can't say I'd recommend this title right now, but check back in a couple issues, and I truly think I'll be whistling a different tune. 


Osborn #3

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Emma Rios and Jose Villarrubia

Lettering by VC's Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

Osborn is the kind of comic that leaves readers feeling like something cold and slimy and creepy-crawly is slowly spreading across their skin, sliding over their goosebumps and sinking into their pores.  For most books, that wouldn’t necessarily be a compliment – but for a miniseries about imprisoned homicidal sociopaths, there’s no higher praise a reviewer could give.

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios have taken horror to a new level with Osborn #3, a comic where the evil of mutant supervillains having a battle royale in a prison is matched by the more mundane evil of politicians and bureaucrats.  While Norman Osborn’s attempts to take over a prison and amass an army to escape are intriguing, far more interesting are the machinations of the politicians who put him in that prison in the first place.

Chief among these is Senator Sondra Muffoletto, a new character who has come alive under DeConnick’s pen and whose journey in this issue is both compelling and sympathetic, despite the immorality of her actions.  Unlike her colleague, Senator Morrison, who is part of the Goblin-tattooed cult attempting to break Osborn out of prison, Muffoletto helped to secretly transfer Osborn to a more secure prison far underwater in an attempt to stop him from escaping. Her fall in this issue, foreshadowed by her eloquent comparison between failing leadership and flinching lions early on, is painful to watch, as her well-intended bad behavior leads the Goblin cult members to hang her out to dry.  It’s not an easy feat to make readers care so much about a brand-new character within three issues, but DeConnick has accomplished all that and more.

Emma Rios’ art could be stronger on the larger splash pages and fight scenes, as several pages take some concentration and revisiting for readers to truly parse the action.  But she absolutely shines on the more intimate, character-focused pages.  One early scene features Senator Muffoletto talking to her staffers while preparing to eat a hamburger, played out over two pages of close-up shots of her face in an 8-panel grid.  For lesser artists, this would be an exercise in copying and pasting the same panel sixteen times, since no new “action” takes place.  But Rios devotes detailed attention to each and every panel, emphasizing every change in the Senator’s facial expressions and gestures as she pontificates.  Similarly commendable are the pages featuring Daily Bugle reporter Sarah Saulsby attempting to call for help for her coworker Norah, who has been investigating Osborn.  The detail in her various pained and frustrated expressions is only matched by the detail in her movements and environment as she scurries around her paper-crowded cubicle to find the information she needs, buried under her claustrophobic collection of post-it notes.

Rios also excels at the creepy and unsettling, adding a hanging eyeball or splatters of guts to pages that otherwise focus on relatively mundane conversation.  This creepy atmosphere is a perfect fit for DeConnick’s story, particularly when she shows Osborn’s descent into sadistic madness or the coolly evil machinations of supervillains June Covington and Pryor Cashman. These small moments bring an unsettling human element to the bombastic prison riot that forms the central action of the story and continuously increase the tension that climaxes with Osborn’s discovery of reporter Norah Winters’ spying presence in the prison, a cliffhanger sure to send chills up any reader’s spine.

All in all, at this halfway point, DeConnick and Rios are continuing to hit the ball out of the park, creating a stand-alone story that will make a fantastic trade paperback and hopefully set up great things to come for all characters and creators involved.  I eagerly anticipate the next two issues and the mix of horror and psychological complexity they will surely hold – even if I know they’ll likely leave me with a terrible case of the heebie-jeebies.


The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul, Scott Kolins, Joel Gomez, Steve Buccellato & Michael Ateyeh

Lettering by Rob Clark Jr., Nick J. Napolitano & Sal Capriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

You know what Geoff Johns doesn't get enough credit for? Writing great villains. Who is more interesting right now: Hal Jordan or Sinestro? Even during his original run on The Flash, when it was Wally West in the costume, it is the work Johns did reinvigorating Flash's Rogues, giving characters like Captain Cold, Heatwave and Mirror Master a real sense of personality and purpose, that stands out. Maybe it's the thought that great heroes need to have great villains that pushes Johns in that direction lately but his villains are easily more engaging and fun than his heroes right now. In The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, Johns has plenty of villains to play with as he introduces a futuristic band of Rogues who have come to our time to arrest the Flash for the murder of Mirror Master while the current-day Rogues launch into their emergency plans since Barry Allen has returned to Central City.

With the Rogues, Johns has a new character to play with; the recently returned to life Captain Boomerang, who's trying to get back in good with Captain Cold and the other Rogues. Boomerang was never really a part of his old Flash story. Much like Barry Allen, who returned from death in Final Crisis, Boomerang has to prove himself all over again. For the Flash, he's got to show the Central City Police Department that he's still a good forensic scientist. For Boomerang, he's got to prove that he's still a Rogue; that he's still a villain who lives up to the code of honor that Cold and the Rogues hold themselves to. They may be bad men but there's plenty worse than them. Johns has these two characters that have gone through such similar experiences but who couldn't be more different. Both have to be asking themselves, "why am I still alive?" Flash: Rebirth answered that a bit for Barry Allen but the world is still going to throw challenges at both men, making them prove to themselves whether they're deserving of the life that they've been given.

For Johns, the moral compass of the Rogues has always been Captain Cold. Like Barry Allen, Cold has a set of rules that he lives by. While the Flash is running around trying to solve a murder mystery, the far more fascinating aspect of this book is Cold versus Boomerang. Boomerang needs to prove that he’s still a Rogue and I think that Cold wants him too. Captain Cold wants Captain Boomerang in the Rogues but he refuses to give his old comrade his place back. Johns isn’t just writing villains here; he’s writing brothers in arms. That’s been the best part of his Flash stories (and maybe why Flash: Rebirth feels so stiff— no Rogues in that book.) Sure, the book is called The Flash and it has to star a speedster (does it really matter if it’s Barry, Wally, Jay or even Bart?) but it’s the Flash’s villains and how they deal with the madness of life, death and resurrection that’s far more interesting than the murder mystery being bandied about. As he showed in the under-rated Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge, it’s the Rogues against the world. No one is on the Rogue’s side. With Johns writing them, that small band of brothers is far more lively and interesting than Barry Allen can ever hope to be.

On Johns’ first Flash run, he had the distinctive art of Scott Kolins (who contributes a couple of short, backup stories here) and now he has Francis Manapul, fresh from his Adventure Comics run. Manapul’s artwork on The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues is as expressive and touching as his work on Adventure Comics was and he seems much more comfortable with the fast paced action of Flash than he did with the awkward Dawson Creek-ish plot of Johns’ Adventure Comics story. With Steve Buccellato’s distinctive, soft color palette, Manapul creates a world of speed, emotion and action. Manapul and Buccellato’s visuals give Johns’ story a vibrancy that just redefines what a Flash comic book needs to look like.

It feels like it’s been a long time since we had just a Flash story and not something tied into the larger DCU megastory. Well, there’s still those ties as this story, particularly through Captain Boomerang and his connections to DC’s Brightest Day, Johns uses them only as he needs to and as he explores Boomerangs re-entry into the lives of the Rogues. For the first time in a long time, though, this book feels like Johns isn’t trying to build to a larger story even though I guess he is with Flashpoint coming up. He’s able to disguise those mega plot points in a story about Rogues, murder and characters just trying to define their role in Central City again. The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues is first and foremost a Flash story and Johns and Manapul have reminded me just how much I have missed those. Batman may have the lunatics and Superman may have the powerful villains but Flash has the Rogues. That means he has a group as tight as any superhero team challenging him. It’s not about Barry Allen or Wally West; it’s about the how the villains define the hero.


Widowmaker #4

Written by Dwayne Swierczynski

Art by Manuel Garcia, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bit, and C. Garcia

Lettering by Nate Piekos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Widowmaker was the kind of mini-series I'd like to see more of from Marvel Comics. It was fast-paced, well written, well drawn, and for fans of the characters involved, it actually had some weight. Unfortunately, its ending was more fizzle than sizzle, despite a great build up. The book, as many mini-series must be, was a bit quick from the start, with lots of quick cuts, implied scenes, and momentary gaps, but it didn't really suffer for that until the last issue. I wouldn't say it was disappointing; the ending was fine, and the lead up to Hawkeye's next mini, Blindspot, was natural, it's simply that this issue didn't engage me like the previous three.

Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the creative switch-hit that took place (understandable, as these four issues were originally planned for a crossover between two separate titles), particularly in the different writing styles of Jim McCann and Dwayne Swierczynski. McCann's scripting may be a little more expected, or perhaps less aloof in many cases, but I really do find his take on Clint, Bobbi, Dominick, and even Natasha to be more engaging than Swierczynski's. That said, I much preferred Manuel Garcia's art on this issue to Travel Foreman's in Swierczynski's previous contribution to the mini. I generally like Foreman's art, but it didn't really click with me on Black Widow, or in this title. Garcia's art, while somehow rougher around the edges, struck me as more personable, and a little less rushed.

All around, I really wish that both Marvel and DC would follow more of the format that Jim McCann's ongoing Hawkeye saga seems to be taking, as a series of mini-series. It's a good format, allowing creators and characters that may not get a lot of play more room to breathe, and it's certainly working here. Widowmaker was a really fun spy story with plenty of connection to the Marvel Universe at large, without being so beholden to continuity that it didn't stand alone. The last issue was a bit underwhelming, but not enough to discount the entire story.


Birds of Prey #9

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Inaki Miranda, Nei Ruffino

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Click here for preview

As we enter the third installment of the four-part "Death of Oracle" arc, Oracle is very much alive. However Black Canary has been infiltrated by Mortis, a character who has the ability to drive one to insanity and suicide. The first few pages of this issue are positively heartbreaking as we go inside Dinah's mind as she revisits all she has lost over the years. Babs, Bats, and Hawk are dealing with that situation the best they can as the rest of the team continues to deal with the fallout of the Calculator's hunt for Oracle, being held hostage. We get Lady Blackhawk talking smack to their holder, Huntress's inner monologue, and Dove ends up flipping out and really showing the other two what she is physically capable of.

Did I cover everyone? Yes, I covered everyone. In this issue, Gail Simone does a superb job of balancing this ensemble cast of characters in a way that seems to have been lacking in some previous issues. While Babs is cut off from communicating with her Birds, there is a sense of teamwork that I've come to expect from this series. Previously unfamiliar with the art of Inaki Miranda, I found myself gleeful at her depictions of the team. She's mastered the ability to draw a strong set of female characters without wandering into cheesecake territory, and Nei Ruffino's coloring skills are spectacular as usual. You know a colorist is good when you actually pause from reading to think "wow, Barbara has fantastic skin."

I'm not going to lie — I just don't see Simone actually killing off Oracle. I doubt you do, either. There's enough of an event at the end to make you think "well, maybe. . ." but it's really far more likely to be more of another one of Bab's smarty-pants diversions in an effort to disarm Calculator and get her team back to safety. Is this issue a jumping in point? Absolutely not, but as someone who's been reading this book from issue #1, I can't wait to see how this arc wraps up so I can encourage more people to jump on board at the start of the next arc.



Written by Joe Ollmann

Art by Joe Ollmann

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Review by Scott Cederlund

As I'm the same age as John Olsen, one of the main characters in Joe Ollmann's Mid-Life, I've wondered what my generation's mid-life crisis is supposed to look like. I want to know the signs to look out for so I'll recognize my own crisis because I've often thought that whatever I have will be quite different from my father's generation's mid-life crisis. For varying reasons, there's no bright red Camaro waiting for me. Nor is there a toupee because I don't even know where I’d buy one if I needed it. I always pictured my own mid-life crisis would involve a near-mint copy if Giant Size X-Men #1 and a life-size replica of Han Solo frozen in carbonite as my wife and son stand by and bore witness to the sad, little man I become. Joe Ollmann shows me just how much farther I have to fall as John Olsen’s mid-life crisis sucks into it his two teenage daughters, his second wife, their four year old son and a children’s performer named Sherry Smalls who’s going through her own mid-life crisis. Looking at Ollmann’s story, an issue of X-Men and a giant Han Solo doesn’t sound too bad.

Mid-Life starts off looking like a straight forward alt-comix autobiography as the circumstances around John Olsen’s life mirrors Ollmann’s own life. He begins the book with short vignettes of Olsen’s life, from having to clean out cat poop over and over again to having to figure out how to relate to his teenage daughters when he’s still young enough to be mistaken by strangers as their boyfriend rather than their father. Mid-Life is a comic confessional out of the Joe Matt, Chester Brown and Jeffrey Brown school of autobio comics.

Ollmann comes off completely and bluntly honest in the opening pages. He's funny, painful and deceptively open about how confusing it is to be a 40-year-old man. When he introduces Sherry Smalls into his story, that's where you've got to start wondering how much of this is autobiography. Like John, Sherry is going through her own crisis; mid-30s, single but in an on again/off again relationship more because it's easy than fulfilling. Being forced to choose between who she wants to be and who she's actually becoming, Sherri is actually going through the same turmoil as John. Both characters are going through the same crisis but Ollmann shows how their own life experiences change and affect how they deal with the idea that they’re aging faster than they every expected to.

Playing John and Sherry off of each other, Ollmann has them develop a flirtatious and potentially more involved relationship. She's constantly looking for "the one" and he's trying to find something that doesn't remind him who he is and what his real responsibilities are. They need one another even if they're the completely wrong person for the other. Ollmann shows both characters at a point in their lives where they need some kind of assurance that they’re still wanted and that they’re still attractive to members of the opposite sex.

Mid-Life is all bout choices and decisions. It’s about what John and Sherry decide to do and, more importantly, what they decide not to do. Ollmann has both characters constantly questioning their own actions. At every moment, they’re wondering if they’re doing the right thing. He follows both characters until their lives intersect on one night in NYC, when John is looking for a reason to forget his wife and family and run away with this charming girl. Sherry is looking for a shot at normalcy and happiness. Ollmann makes their conflicting needs the center point of the book and then shoves them together, waiting to see the choices each will make. Both are looking for happiness but can they find it together?


Cinderella: Fables are Forever #1

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Shawn McManus and Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Chris Roberson's first miniseries about the Fables incarnation of Cinderella, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, was one of the best comics of 2010. So it's no surprise that the first issue of the sequel, Cinderella: Fables are Forever, sets up a story that promises to be just as strong as, if not stronger than, the first.

Once again, Cinderella is on a mission, a spy assignment from the Beast that harkens back to an older mission Cindy once undertook in the Soviet Union. The never-aging, long-living characters of the Fables universe make for particularly effective players in decades-spanning tales, and Cinderella's stories are able to incorporate both Cold War spy tropes and modern adventures into their plots without violating real-world timelines. The connection between these particular missions is yet another Fable, one who (spoiler alert!) makes perfect sense as a rival for Cinderella. What other characters, after all, are as tied to the power of magic shoes as Cinderella and Dorothy Gale? As Code Name: Silverslipper, Dorothy is a spy to match Cinderella in cunning and skill with none of Cinderella's high moral purpose. Once thought dead, she's back in action and ready to make Cindy's life as difficult as possible as she attempts to investigate the murder of a fellow Fable and the power machinations of the 13th floor sorcerers.

While Roberson's writing is phenomenal, artist Shawn McManus deserves as much, if not more, credit for maintaining a consistent visual style that manages to straddle the artistic line between an espionage story and a fairy tale. Cinderella and other women in the book spend much of the flashback action in bikinis, but the figures are just cartoonish enough that I never felt the need to hide the pages while reading in a public place. Cinderella is an utterly competent adult spy, with grimaces and fierce determination clear on her face in confrontational scenes, but she retains vestiges of the fairy tale figure of yore, with her pretty upturned nose and delicate bones and big, innocent green eyes. The theme of Fables has always been one of characters attempting to live lives that develop long past the confines of their original stories, but, as McManus makes perfectly clear in his art, many of the trappings of those stories remain. This is especially evident in the character design for Dorothy, whose red pigtails and freckles stand in stark, creepy contrast to her actions and expressions.

McManus also does an excellent job with scenery, from quaint Fable farm cottages to 21st century New York City to the landscapes of Soviet Russia. The Soviet scenes, with their muted colors courtesy of the fantastic Lee Loughridge, are especially interesting for the way they manage to express both the positives and negatives of the Communist experiment and the nationalistic feelings of a Russian fable. One of the strengths of the Fables mythos overall is its expansiveness, including as it does communities of Fables all over the world, in addition to the largely Western European Fables who make up the New York-based community. Russian Fables are a new addition to this landscape, and I trust Roberson to explore them with equal measures of creativity and sensitivity as this story continues.

Cinderella: Fables are Forever #1 does everything a first issue should do, setting up its protagonist, antagonist, and primary conflict while laying the groundwork for world-building and the twists and turns of plot. Everything about this issue – from Cindy's past with Silverslipper to the tiny anthropomorphic spoon-soldier spying on her activities – builds just the right amount of anticipation in readers, readying them for what will surely be a wild and exciting ride to come. Whether you’re a long-time Fables reader or a complete newbie to Cinderella and her world, this is definitely a first issue that shouldn’t be missed.


The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4

Written by Sholly Fisch

Art by Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, and Gabe Eltaeb

Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

If you’re a fan of the cartoon version of Batman: The Brave and the Bold — And really, who isn’t? — you’ll have a blast with its comic book counterpart. Like the show, it’s appropriate for kids while providing the kind of sly, wink-wink humor that only adults will appreciate. The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4 is especially entertaining for readers who like the idea a Batman-Wonder Woman romantic coupling, and I certainly do.

 Up on Mount Olympus, Eros has his skirt in a bunch because Diana is pummeling villains instead of spreading love, or so he believes. Wonder Woman and Batman happen to be together at a crime scene, and the meddling God of Desire zaps them both with a potent love spell that kicks this issue into high gear.

Part of what makes Sholly Fisch’s story so funny is the way he scripts the reactions of others, including the press, the super-couple’s enemies, and Batman’s old flames. Hell hath no fury like a jealous Talia al-Ghul.

 Rick Burchett’s lighthearted illustrations are wonderful, and there’s a great bit that shows possible domestic scenarios in the BatWondy household. Burchett gets to strut his stuff with a ton of character guest appearances, from Adam Strange, to Plastic Man, to Egg-Fu. His style remains true to the cartoon, and I’m also a for the classic styling that references the Silver Age. Add Gabe Elataeb’s sunny colors and Dan Davis’ crisp ink work, and the images are pure fun throughout.

The All New Batman: the Brave and The Bold #4 is a winning, self-contained story that any reader can jump right into, and there’s a satisfying resolution. All that's missing is that jazz-tastic theme song.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution #1

Written by Robbie Morrison

Art by Trevor Hairsine

Colors by Jorge Gonzalez

Letters by Saida Temofonte

Published by DC Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

In early days and, sadly enough, to this day, games aren’t widely renowned for their narratives, no matter their triumphs or capabilities. Deus Ex, and the works of Warren Spector in general, are fondly remembered to break the mould, greatly integrating solid characters and dialogue with the also uncanny actions and interactions. It has also held up its ‘cyber-punk cool’ more reasonably than The Matrix and the myriad of trench coat filled Salvation Army stores could tell you. Comic books, most of the time, are arguably 80% narrative if not more, and being a ‘good read’ shouldn’t be such an anomaly to many comic readers. So Deus Ex, well regarded storyteller of the video game world, meet cross-promotion comic, general bane of storytelling and future dusty bin filler.

Cyberpunk has generally had a falling out with pop culture. It had its moments, sure, but it’s getting harder to make its case. Perhaps with iPod fatigue or robots that do little more than dance, we’re growing more comfortable and less fearing of these humming trinkets that surround us. So time for another angle, and maybe it’s not the machines that are the problem but us. More so perhaps this is a problem we’re not exactly estranged to in the present. This tie-in is essentially a sneak peak at new protagonist Adam Jensen, somewhere in between a corporate agent and Robocop, becoming more machine than man and more disliked than appreciated. This is a prequel to the Deus Ex games entirely, showing a world where, as usual, there is powerful sentiment opposing to dramatic changes. For fans, this should be something that would capture a lot of interest, right?

Let’s not forget that we’re dealing with a tie-in, much like the tie-ins to Gears of War, World of Warcraft, Kane and Lynch or whatever dreams may come, these things are becoming a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, and it’s hardly a surprise when they feel like exactly that. The pieces for a decent story are all here but the craftsmanship is kind of messy. The factors that pit the rivaling parties aren’t really explained to great detail, and a lot of the paranoia factors come off as nothing more than simply paranoia (soon to be confirmed paranoia, but still.)

It also doesn’t help the aggregation much that there is little breathing room between moments when someone’s nerves aren’t being stepped on, and we’re quickly led to believe this is a dreaded world where even basic friendships are impossible. Morrison treats Jensen, whose icebreaker is the entire purpose of this book, as a man made up entirely of smug machismo and grumpiness, and there are very few warmer human qualities to convince us there is still a personal battle for his humanity at play.

Hairsine’s work isn’t really picking up the slack either. The art seems pretty rushed, there are certainly ups and downs but there’s a consistent amount of hilariously ugly facial expressions being tossed around the pages. This isn’t some punny lick on his name, though it is convenient to mention, but the way he specifically draws Jensen’s hair is kind of ratty and atrocious, it looks like how it feels when you just got your hair cut short. Gonzalez’ coloring is doing a lot of the back work, bringing the best of times to something that resembles Stuart Immonen, though maybe the way Jenson’s teeny tiny shades fit on him just reminds me of how Machine Man looked in Nextwave.

Deus Ex is a bit of a letdown. I know I shouldn’t have so much faith in a tie-in, but it’s a tie-in to something best remembered for its captivation. After such a dramatic trailer for the game, full of imaginative imagery and artisan pastiche, it’s a dirty shame that none of it has appeared to cross over into the comic adaptation. The action is nothing you wouldn’t see the Punisher or Wolverine accomplish, and the sentiments in general seem more inspired by other gritty comics than the material it’s based on. This won’t sully the good name of the games past or present, but it certainly doesn’t help itself.

JIMENEZ Draws & Designs for ADVENTURE
JIMENEZ Draws & Designs for ADVENTURE

Adventure Comics #523

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Swands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jeff Marsick

Teams in training books always have so much potential to be good stories, but too often they fail to rise above the formulaic and predictable. Take, for instance, this issue. Glorith, a young girl with the ability to manipulate magical energies, has been selected to attend the Legion Academy. She leaves the nurturing care of her teachers Blok and the Black Witch, bound for Earth alongside five other members of her class. Glorith, like her mates, are quickly pigeonholed into tired and stereotypical roles: Chemical Kid is the arrogant rich kid who hasn't found a rule he can't rewrite; Gravity Kid is the pretty-boy teacher's pet; Dragonwing is the female with 'tude, the resident cynic sartorially futuristic goth; Grava is the team's designated sycophant, not a wannabe as much as a wanna-fit-in, clearly the one with the lowest self-esteem; and Variable Lad is going to be the designated lackey and odds-on favorite cannon fodder. If this was Star Trek, he'd be red-shirted crewman who only gets a line or two of dialogue before his demise (Variable Lad gets three in this issue). Glorith gets to play the gosh-gee-whiz hick girl discovering the big city who wins most likely to save the day in a who-thought-the-quiet-chick-had-it-in-her splash-page moment.

There are two big problems with this issue. The first is that it is heavy on the “Tell” and light on the “Show.” One example is instead of allowing the reader to play voyeur as Glorith stumbles through the bonding dance with these odd characters who are her “new friends”, we're force-fed her thoughts via correspondence to a friend. That's just cheating the reader, in my book. It cheats us out of OUR bonding with Glorith by denying our ability to experience the Legionnaire process along with her. The art team is fantastic, so give them some more leash and let them run.

The second problem is that there are never any stakes involved. There's nothing here for us to care about these characters, no challenges that we're rooting for them to overcome. Despite Dragonwing's rebuttal to Chemical Kid's assurance that one day they'll all be wearing rings (“We are years away from being Legionnaires…if ever.”) there's nothing to back her up that being the next members of the 'A' team isn't a certainty. Even when there's an obligatory training sequence that's meant to be punishment and lesson rather than actual skills refinement, there's no sense of danger or risk. At least with the X-Men in the Danger Room the team knew (and so did we) that the drills were live and one wrong step could get you shish-kabobed. Not at Legion Academy, though. Night Girl gets schooled in such a way that it makes you pity her while further despising the punk that Chemical Kid is. If this is how soft-shoe their training is going to be, then you have to wonder how tough the Legion of Super-Heroes really is once you get past the core roster.  

This issue could have been so much better, but instead it runs laps on the same track as other similar books before it. It's not horrible, it just lacks a pulse. It's a shame, too, because the art team of Jimenez and Lanning is the best thing going here, the panels drawn with a Perezian quality that makes you wish there was more meat on this bone.

The title page boasts that this issue is “The beginning of a new journey…”, but if that's the case, then after reading this issue you're probably better off skipping the next few issues and coming back when the marquee says “The journey ends”.

Pellet Reviews:


New Avengers #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lan Pitts, Click here for preview): These days I tend to lean towards more Vertigo and independent titles, but I found it hard to turn down a chance to read something with Howard Chaykin's name attached to it. Especially when his art pertains to Nick Fury hunting Nazis in the 1950's. Going back and forth between Nick's backstory and present day with the Avengers surveying a small remainder of H.A.M.M.E.R. are looking to make more trouble. As usual, Bendis gives a solid read with bits of humorous dialog that he's known for that always gives the impression that these people aren't just team mates, but actual friends. It's an interesting contrast to see Chaykin and Mike Deodato work together because of their contrasting styles, but nothing distracting that takes one out of the story. Since this is the beginning of a new arc, it's not quite clear on what to expect, but I am sure Bendis and company will deliver.

Twitter activity