Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rapid-fire reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of short-and-sweet looks at this week's books, including releases from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Dynamite. Want some more? Check out our collection of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's let Scott Cederlund take a peak at the latest chapter of Marvel's cosmic saga in Annihilators...
Annihilators #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund): In many ways, Marvel’s cosmic books from Annihilation to Guardians of the Galaxy have been war stories. Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning re-casted characters like Starlord, Nova and Ronan the Accuser and Rocket Raccoon to be characters caught up trying to fight for the safety of the galaxy. For the first time in a long time, the cosmic side of Marvel was interesting, fresh and new again. Abnett and Lanning’s Annihilators #1 feels like a step back, as they fall back into majorly powerful characters bickering about just how powerful they really are. With Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, Silver Surfer, Ronan the Accuser and Gladiator, Abnett and Lanning have lost the quirkiness that made Guardians of the Galaxy a must read and their story starts out. Annihilators #1 misses the adventure and fun that’s been a key part of Marvel cosmic under Abnett and Lanning’s watch. Luckily that fun shows up in the co-feature story featuring Rocket Raccoon, who’s fallen on hard times and begins the story working in the mailroom. It’s a fun, humane and touching story; all things that are sadly lacking from the main Annihilators tale.
First Wave #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): It has been an entire year since First Wave #1; the repeated delays on this book hampered the momentum. That aside, the conclusion to the Doc’s adventures in Hidalgo was a good one. Azzarello’s storytelling is solid and the action flows seamlessly. With so many characters, it would be easy to just rely on precedent, and let the reader’s mind fill in the blanks. But, Azzarello manages stunning character moments for almost every player in the line-up. Doc’s integrity shines, The Spirit’s quirkiness abounds, the Blackhawks are truly badass, Colossi steals the show with his perfect insanity, and Mr. Sunlight defines the essence of the story in one poignant sentence. Rags’ art is always worth the wait. His pencils are breathtaking and he gives distinct renderings of each character. The look in their eyes, the facial expressions, and the proportions, in general, are all specific to each character. That quality in Rags’ work is quite admirable, especially when it’s not uncommon for characters to only be distinguishable by their clothing. I do have a gripe with the inking. It is clearly rushed, and things were missed. In doing so, Ruffino’s beautiful colors swallow some of the details I know are there. First Wave #6 is a climactic ending to a good story, goodness that may only be appreciated once it is collected.
Takio Vol. 1 (Published by Marvel/Icon; Review by Teresa Jusino): Brian Michael Bendis must be the coolest dad. I say this for two reasons. First, he created Takio, the story of contentious sisters who become superheroes, with not only long-time collaborator Michael Avon Oeming, but with his daughter, Olivia. Second, he understands children on their own terms. I mean, sure, we’ve all been through it, but Bendis is adept at really capturing what adolescence is like. We already knew this from Ultimate Spider-Man, but in Takio he takes his understanding of the younger generations to a whole other level as we get to watch the careful, teenaged Taki and her boisterous seven-year-old sister, Olivia interact. He doesn’t just rest on snark and humor, either. These sisters genuinely care about each other, and we see that in the moments where little Olivia comforts Taki when she’s afraid, or when Taki protects Olivia from adults with questionable intent. Oeming has resisted making his art “girly,” which another artist might have done for a story like this. While Oeming’s work is lively, fun, and very child-friendly, there are also strong lines and angles that give his style a ruggedness as well. Sure this is a book about little girls, but these little girls are ready for action! Takio features endearing protagonists, believably conflicted antagonists (I hesitate to call them “villains” they’re so sympathetic), and captures what the birth of real-life superheroes might actually mean. I squeefully await Takio Volume 2. Also, I really want to introduce Takio's Olivia to Molly of The Runaways. They would get along so well!
5 Ronin #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Some concepts sell you right off the bat. Others, like 5 Ronin, kind of leave you scratching your head. Usually, I'm able to forgive these weird "because-no-one-asked-for-it" concepts, and try to give the book a chance. Unfortunately, 5 Ronin is a confusing, unexciting read that doesn't really do much to justify its "Marvel superheroes as samurai" premise. Part of the problem is Peter Milligan's storyline — part of the appeal of these alternate universes is to see how Samurai Wolverine adheres and differs from his mainstream counterpart. Instead, Milligan delivers a convoluted story about semi-identical ronin with hand claws. This might have been more understandable with an artist whose focus was on clarity — but Tomm Coker's shadowy mix of Maleev and Templesmith, while striking, also confuses with his too-dark linework and shaky composition. Sure, heads were cut off, and people were stabbed, but other than the change of scenery, what was the theme, the story, the point? I'd like to think of myself as pretty well-versed in following impenetrable superhero stories, but 5 Ronin has gone past my limit.
Green Lantern #63 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): It had to happen sometime — the artistic winning streak Green Lantern has had has finally run out. For the better part of three years, this series has had some great talents on board, including Shane Davis, Doug Mahnke, as well as the superstar-making turn by Ivan Reis. So looking at that, Ed Benes and Ardian Syaf have some major shoes to fill. Syaf, of the two of them, is the one that shows the most potential — his design work, particularly with Hal, has that Kubert vibe to it, but the panel composition still can't catch up to Geoff Johns's dense scripting, leaving a seven-page panel of scrunched-up figures and headshots. Writing-wise, Johns fares a bit better — while the multicolored Lantern corps still feels a bit too bloated, with characters like Indigo-1 and Saint Walker only getting the most perfunctory of lines, I do like the way that Johns is shaping the overall plot. The mythos of the Green Lantern Corps gets an interesting twist here, which is nice — but I'm not sure if it's enough to really stoke the fires of the War of the Green Lanterns. If the art doesn't shape up, this could be the beginning of a major backslide for one of DC's top books.
Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Shanna VanVolt): If there is something brilliant lurking in the panels of Axe Cop, it is probably a super smart dinosaur. The episodes come together like a child ordering whatever they want at an ice cream shop: “…and bananas, and nuts, and whipped cream, and bacon, and rockets ...” with the 6-year-old writer, Malachi Nicolle, gluttonously calling the action to his comic artist brother, Ethan Nicolle. I’d suggest you forget your diet of logic, grab a spoon, and dig in to the awesome. Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1’s challenge is length. In a move away from the one-off webcomics, Ethan maneuvers the short-attention-span ramblings of his little brother into some semblance of a first-of-three issue. The overarching plot complete with full-color, well-drawn, professionally produced panels actually heightens the absurdity of the tangential action by contrast. Every time you think that Malachi has hit a cadence of thought, something unexpected enters the scene. Malachi’s young brain seems to distill our own entertainment culture back to us into its pure form. He hits on everything people like in the swirling media cloud, and glues it together with imagination. Without the jaded hindrance of predictable cause and effect, the reader is faced with the absurd at every corner. I tried to analyze why the books resonate so well, but picking apart fun isn’t fun, so I did what Malachi would do: Ate a bowl of ice cream with the King of France who was wearing a hat made out of crystals. The crystals were magic.
Streets of Gotham #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): Installment five of the Heart of Hush arc is chock full of story designed to make your skin crawl. From the huge syringe on the beautifully rendered Dustin Nguyen cover, to the bed bugs showering down on Bats and Catwoman in the opening pages, to the plague infested rat and child that round out the story — Paul Dini's story doesn't hold back when it comes to the creepy factor. As much as Elliot is trying to wreak havoc on Gotham, nothing seems to be going his way, as his plan to unleash a plague is thwarted by a young boy and interestingly, a team not consisting of Batman. Dini is building this arc up to end the series with a big bang, and it's great to see a cavalry of DC heroes riding into Gotham to help him save the day. The dialogue between Bats and Selina dances the line of innuendo just enough to please any Bat/Cat shipper, and the inner dialogue of Elliot is enough to send shivers down the reader's spine. Nguyen, Derek Fridolf, and John Kalisz are a formidable art team, lending a muted, almost Victorian, look to the pages on the city streets. The art couldn't be more appropriate for a story evoking the threat of a new Black Plague. I'll be sad when this book is no longer on the shelves, but I'm savoring it for now as it rightly deserves. This is one of those books where the story doesn't outshine the art, or vice versa. The two work seamlessly hand in hand and it's strong sequential storytelling.
Daken: Dark Wolverine #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): There's something about Giuseppe Camuncoli that really just elevates Dark Wolverine. I think with a different artist, Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu's book might have felt too slow, a little self-indulgent with the world-building. And make no mistake, this book isn't perfect in that regard, with a couple of pages feeling like they could be trimmed — but Camuncoli makes this book absolutely sing. The look on Tyger Tyger's face as she hears about experimentation on children — and learns that they didn't see their captor's face — reeks of suspicion and barely-held revulsion. And Daken — hoo boy, Daken. Camuncoli should own his own sidewalk stand, because he sure knows how to make lemons into lemonade — even though Daken's costume looks like Tracksuit-Ninja Man, Camuncoli gives him that edgy smile, that homicidal glee when he throws Madripoor into chaos. That all said, the ending of this issue can't help but drag, as we suddenly get pulled into the city's internal politics a little too unexpectedly, for just a little too long. But for the first two-thirds of this book, it's a stylishly drawn crime drama that is flying under too many people's radars.
The Boys #52 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose): Garth Ennis has a gift. When he wants to, he can write circles around 99 percent of the comic book industry, bringing a naturalistic, almost novel-like approach to characterization and dialogue. Lately, however, that talent has been subsumed by a more sophomoric humor, which is good to bring in laughs but doesn't quite do the trick in instilling that deep investment in a character. Thankfully, The Boys #52 is not one of those books. Seeing Greg and Wee Hughie have a deep and honest conversation about not just the history of superheroes, but Hughie's struggles with the dark side of black ops is really enlightening, and does a good job at illustrating what has quickly become the series' main conflict. John McCrea and John Burns, meanwhile, take a surprisingly more subdued approach to their art — it seems strangely less expressive than in previous issues I've seen from them — but at the same time, that lack of overacting helps you focus on the words rather than the sometimes hammy approaches this book has been known to take. And I have to say, Ennis' flashback to Vought American's entry into World War II, that has the potential to make you laugh, cry and clutch your stomach at the horrors of war. This sounds like a really interesting place for the master of war comics and superhero satire to go, and I'm definitely on board to see where The Boys go next.