Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Rapid Reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of books for your reading enjoyment today, including books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image and Archaia. Want some more? We've got a ton of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's see what happens when Four becomes Three, as we take a look at the final issue of Fantastic Four...
Fantastic Four #588 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): The problem with a silent comic? You've got to have the right artist on board, or the whole enterprise collapses. Unfortunately, that's what I'd say happens in this final issue of Fantastic Four. I can understand why Nick Dragotta was brought on board for this book, stylistically — he's got a look that evokes people like Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, and even a little bit of that Jack Kirby unrealism. But there are a lot of "sellable" moments to Jonathan Hickman's script — like a look of horror on Sue Storm's face as she literally buckles under the news of her brother's death — that don't have any life to them, which seems almost criminal given the context of the story. It's just too bad — again, Hickman's script is great, giving each of the characters a response that just rings true. (Particularly Valeria, who gets an incredibly chilling moment.) If anything, the back-up with Mark Brooks shows the expressiveness that that the main story should have had — seeing the angst on little Franklin Richard's race will really pluck on your heartstrings, even for a character most people don't even like, and Hickman's take on Spider-Man is absolutely the kind of thing I want to see more of. The back-up story makes this book a win in my book, but I still think this issue could have been more of a slam-dunk.
Detective Comics #874 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Francesco Francavilla is a talent in the industry, and it's a credit to the Bat-editors at DC Comics that they've given him the spotlight like they have on Detective Comics. While his linework perhaps isn't as crisp as the mainstream would like it to be, he's got a real sense of drama to every shot, and he's only getting better as each issue progresses. (Not to mention the fact that he does his own colorwork — seriously, he is a stellar one-man band!) Francavilla's pulp-noir stylishness, in my opinion, does give Detective Comics a bit of a visual atmosphere that I don't think Jock's ultra-sharp lines necessarily did — you feel the mood, the shadow, the horror as Snyder builds up James Gordon, Jr. into something other than human, a true psychopath who may or may not be struggling with his killer instinct. If anything, I think the sequence with the Gordons is far more powerful than Batman and Red Robin, which feels a little sketchier (and almost a little gratuitous) after the rock-solid introduction. But I'd be lying if I didn't say this: This is the best issue of Scott Snyder's run yet. Suspenseful, atmospheric, Detective Comics finally has its edge back.
Turf #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund): War is brewing between vampires, mobsters, aliens, cops and even a member or two of the press in Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards’ Turf #4. This latest issue jumps around between the various factions as they are all barely being held together. The vampires practice their own form of racism against those they consider half-breeds, particularly the dueling brothers at the center of the storm. While the sturm und drang centers on a vampiric mob war, Ross’ story is about characters who aren’t fully embraced by what you would assume are their people; a mobster isn’t mobster-ish enough, the vampires aren’t full bloods or the cops are dirty. Ross’s plot revolves around people who aren’t fully what they appear to be or don't really belong with the people that they are forced to live and work with. The way Ross plays with these character contradictions pulls in the reader even if Ross and Edwards’ storytelling isn’t always as strong or clear as the story needs. They alternate between characters and scenes quickly and without always establishing how one relates or doesn’t relate to the one that preceded it. Even if the transitions are wonky, Edwards’ art is luscious as he perfectly plants you right in the middle of Prohibition-era New York City.
X-Men #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Well, I have to give Victor Gischler some credit here — this is a comic with a message, in a time where a lot of comics are more excited about the fireworks. But, I'd also argue, that message stops this book in its tracks — it's X-Men as CSI with Spider-Man as a surprisingly forced narrator, with a focus on the effects of bullying. Don't get me wrong, I like the gesture, and I actually like the way that Gischler has different characters reflect on bullying — Spidey's disgusted, Emma is contemptuous when people actually break, and Wolverine looks at geekdom as a whole other universe. The whole thing, though? It doesn't really play to Chris Bachalo's strengths, making it feel like a wasted opportunity for such an A-list talent (to the point where Gischler has to draw an extended World of Warcraft analogue to give him some action before the end of the book). When the book does finally warm up in the last seven pages, you see Bachalo get to draw an absolutely badass Wolverine that has the boxiness of Olivier Coipel, the design of Herb Trimpe and the grit of David Finch. But this book does have a few things working against its top-notch art team — a slow build-up, an afterschool special message, and a weak villain. It's a bit of a step down from last month.
The New York Five #2 (Published by Vertigo; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman): “Mistakes were made” could well be the title of The New York Five #2, and if you’ve seen the cover, you know where this is going. Sensitive Riley is still smarting after falling out with her big sister, who is now an up-and-coming alt-rock musician. Unfortunately, Riley's actions in this issue make things worse — a lot worse — and they lead to an almost unbearably suspenseful ending. However, it’s Merissa who is emerging as the most interesting character in this successor to The New York Four. Her friends know her only as a confident, larger-than-life man magnet, but she is secretly buckling under the weight of a family crisis: a frail mother and a mentally ill brother who is coming apart. Ryan Kelly’s panels here are just devastating, particularly the sequence of Merissa talking to her brother’s doctor on the phone. Writer Brian Wood packs plenty of story into a single comic without cluttering the narrative. Even without any exposition, it's obvious that Ren has made (or is on her way to making) another unfortunate relationship choice. Her giddiness in an interview session just seems ... off, especially since she was last seen talking to a man who seemed to be very married. Meanwhile, perfectionist Lona’s fixation on her creative writing professor has gone from creepy to illegal to downright frightening. This is another riveting entry in a series that, so far, is living up to its predecessor.
Teen Titans #92 (Published by DC Comics; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman): Tim Drake is reunited with the Titans family in this issue, and I think fans of his will be pleased with the results. There’s no avoiding fireworks when he and Damian are in the room, and judging from their internal monologues, they won’t be friends anytime soon. Fortunately, their conflict is good comic book fodder, and this issue is rock-solid. Teen Titans #92 is essentially one big throwdown with the Calculator and some highly motivated robots, and there’s no doubt at this point that J.T. Krul has a great understanding of each character on the team. The big adjustment here is the transition from previous artist Nicola Scott’s clean illustrations to successor Georges Jeanty’s heavier style. I will admit that I prefer a smoother look, but Jeanty’s art is pleasing in a number of ways: First, I like his interpretation of the characters’ faces (even if Cassie looks an awful lot like Buffy) and his talent for conveying emotion. Second, Jeanty really knows how to draw children, something many artists seem to struggle with. Damian looks believable as a 10-year-old instead of a squished version of an adolescent. There’s a pleasant surprise at the end, showing that the little scamp has a heart — however tiny — after all. If you dropped this book a while back out of frustration, it's safe to visit Titans Tower again.
King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by David Pepose): Tomas Giorello is probably the best comic book artist you've never heard of. Think of a missing Kubert with a hint of the grittiness of Jerome Opena, and you've got Giorello in spades, a real monster of an artist who makes every panel look hulking and larger-than-life. It's Giorello's artwork that really makes King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 a treat to read. Timothy Truman, in many ways, delivers a script that's reminiscent of 300, giving Conan a brutal edge with a rocket-fast script that introduces protagonist, antagonist and goals, all while wrapping it up with a flashback narrative sequence. That's no mean feat. There's some great dialogue here, particularly a captured Conan lecturing his oppressors — "You dare to sit there, sipping wine and tutoring me on sovereignty? You, whose fathers handed you their crowns on gilded platters?" Conan shouts. "What you inherited without lifting a finger — I took!" Seems like there's a little bit of character development even for an icon like this barbarian. It's easily one of the best-looking books in the Dark Horse pantheon, up there with Hellboy, B.R.P.D. and Baltimore. Check out a legend in the making and buy this book.
Feeding Ground #4 (Published by Archaia; Review by Teresa Jusino): Issue #4 marks the first issue of Feeding Ground that I’m reading, though I’ve been intrigued by the concept of the title since I saw the first issue being presented at the New York Comic Con last year. Set at the Mexico/Arizona border, it examines the issues of border control and illegal Mexican immigration through the prism of... werewolves. It may sound like those things shouldn’t go together, but writer Swifty Lang manages to successfully combine elements of genre storytelling with a heartfelt, character-driven examination of what these issues mean to people. The pop culture element doesn’t detract from the more serious-minded topics discussed. In fact, as those werewolf elements are being slowly reinvented — the wolves resemble less those in Twilight or True Blood and more the apes in the Planet of the Apes franchise — they have a seriousness all their own, because we don’t already know what to expect. It’s a smart choice that each issue contains the story in both English and Spanish, which shows respect to the people that may be the most interested in this story’s telling. Michael Lapinski’s art and colors successfully capture both the mood of the story and the hard, desert location in which the story is set, and I have to make special mention of the cover — a rabbit head that looks like a piñata but also looks like a severed rabbit head with flies swarming the wound — for so effectively capturing the tone of the issue. Issue #4, “Severed Ties,” makes me want to catch up with what I’ve missed as well as continue reading, if only to see what happens to Flaca, the little girl turned werewolf at the center of a sort of custody battle between her human family and her new werewolf brethren.
Power Girl #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): For all the press — both good and bad — about DC's flagship franchises, they've been printing a lot of under-the-radar gems that have the potential for some real greatness. Power Girl is one of those books. Even though it's a tie-in to Judd Winick's more popular series Generation Lost, the characterization here feels deeper, and the expressiveness by Sami Basri shows that there's a real talent being overlooked here. A lot of comics jump in with the action, which often drowns out the exposition and the character work, but Winick manages to have his cake and eat it too, giving a really compelling first few pages that introduce the all-too-imperfect Power Girl. Basri, meanwhile, I think has been unfairly maligned, coming on the heels of Amanda Conner — but you know what? Basri does some great things with P.G., whether its a wide-eyed look of surprise or an irrationally angry scream on her face. Combine this with some soap operatic subplotting (and I mean that in the best possible Claremont-ian way) and even an amusing tangent with Batman, and you've got an imperfect, but altogether entertaining issue. Don't overlook it.