Best Shots Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA, GREEN LANTERN, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Happy Monday, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the crackshot reviewers of the Best Shots team! We have a ton of reviews for your reading enjoyment, including works from DC, Marvel, BOOM! Studios and Oni Press. We've also got a ton of back-issue reviews as well as <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/topic/best-shots">the Best Shots Topic Page</a>. And now, let's wave the stars and stripes with Jennifer, as she takes a peak at the Point One spectacular for Captain America

 

Captain America #615.1

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Mitch Breitweiser and Bettie Breitweiser

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

<a href="/13557-cap-3-view-and-batroc-1-cap-615-1-man-out-of-time-5.html?iid=000/034/991">Click here for preview</a>

Ed Brubaker has said on many occasions that the Captain America stories he imprinted on were written in the 1970s, when espionage and discourses on the complicated nature of patriotism filled the pages. Back then, Nick Fury was a force to be reckoned with, Sharon Carter was a great love interest and an even greater secret agent, and Steve Rogers was a man with a mission – and a dash of self-doubt. The influence of those stories has been abundantly clear throughout Brubaker’s years-long run on Captain America, with plots revolving around spies, intrigue, and corruption in government. But with Nick Fury out of play and former sidekick Bucky Barnes taking over both the costume and the title, it’s been a long time since Brubaker has had the chance to write the kind of story that could have been transported directly from the brain of Steve Englehart or other 70s writers.  

Now, Nick Fury is back in action, Steve Rogers is back from the dead, Sharon Carter has mostly recovered from her brainwashing, and Bucky is off in the limbo of a story that last saw him about to be jailed in a Russian prison. All of the chess pieces are back on the board for a great 1970s story, and Brubaker has taken the opportunity presented by Marvel’s Point One initiative to write exactly that.

Captain America 615.1 is a story about one thing: why Steve Rogers needs to be Captain America. Steve has essentially been a paper-pusher since his return from the dead, barely squeezing in a handful of frontline missions now that he’s in charge of all U.S. security. He’s getting restless, and the country is, too – without Steve or Bucky in the costume, the nation faces a Captain America-shaped void. Naturally, someone tries to fill that void, a former soldier pumped full of super-soldier-like chemicals and stuffed into Steve’s costume. But when that soldier nearly gets himself killed on his first mission, it’s up to Steve to save him and convince him to stop. In doing so, Steve has to face the truth: that the country needs Captain America, and if he doesn’t take the role, he’ll feel responsible for what happens to anyone who does.

The art-and-color team of Mitch and Bettie Breitweiser does a fantastic job in all of this, conveying the energy and movement of explosions and shield-slinging like few other artists. With his cocky grin and hard eyes, replacement-Cap looks significantly different from Steve Rogers even behind his cowl, an achievement in itself, and the character design for Sharon Carter is particularly delightful. The Breitweisers have taken on Captain America stories several times before, but seeing their art on the character is always a treat.

What makes this story a great 70s story, though, beyond the action scenes and the meditations on the “meaning of Captain America,” is the reveal at the end: Nick Fury had engineered this entire situation, from the soldier’s training to his capture, to convince Steve he needs to be Captain America again. Sharon, in a great example of “show-don’t-tell” storytelling, demonstrates her shrewd deductive skills by figuring out Fury’s plan and confronting him, but ultimately the two agree to keep the secret. This is a nice moment, highlighting the professional relationship Sharon and Fury have always had and simultaneously adding layers to her relationship with Steve. We now know that she, like Fury, is willing to lie to him for his own good – a trait that makes her more like Fury and her fellow former SHIELD agents than she is like Steve himself. Fury’s actions are less surprising, but it’s hard not to get a kick out of Fury being a manipulative genius with the most rationalized intentions.

This story also serves another important function, however: convincing the reader, at the same time it convinces Steve himself, that Steve needs to be in the costume. Bucky has risen to new heights as a character, but he never inspired people the way Steve did, and while others have successfully taken the mantle from Steve before, while he was presumed dead, Steve is incredibly hard to replace while he’s alive and active.  There are things inherent to his character – his ability to take all blame and duty onto himself, his absolute love for and belief in his country, his power to inspire others with every word and act, and most of all his unfailing dedication to justice – that made him the perfect candidate to become Captain America in the first place and have not disappeared in all the years since. As Marvel gears up to put Steve back in the costume to coincide with this summer’s Captain America film, issues like Captain America 615.1 go a long way toward justifying that decision, and ensuring a bright future for Steve Rogers.

 

Green Lantern #64

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champgne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen and Randy Mayor

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

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For a few years now, DC has been split into three distinct camps. Morrison and the Batman universe, the disappointing Straczynski re-imagining, and the house of Geoff Johns. Although he's had a few bumps since wrapping up , Johns' overall path for Green Lantern has been consistently entertaining. With Green Lantern #64, another chapter begins for Hal Jordan and his fellow emerald protectors. The War of the Green Lantern kicks off with Jordan's unlikely band of allies continuing their search for the stolen entities, each member of the emotional spectrum questing for the their personal reasons. While at the other end of the galaxy, old time DC villain Krona has declared total war on the arrogant Guardians of Oa, using each Entity of the emotional spectrum to infect every ring-slinger in the galaxy.

Green Lantern #64 reads like a prologue issue. A lot needs to get covered while still maintaining a sense of excitement, and it is a credit to Geoff's storytelling abilities that with so much set-up and exposition, he still maintains a level of enjoyment. When sexy scary Lyssa Drak explodes from the Book of the Black like an evil headliner at a bachelor party and acts as an evil Greek chorus, you don't really mind. Then again, those moments are painfully short in this opening salvo. Most of the issue is a series of talking heads, be it the Guardians, Krona, Jordan, or various ring-bearer each explaining why they hate their enemy of choice. Even during the fleeting moments of action, the bulk of the characters continue their ranting about why they're there and whose agenda they're following. As a whole, John's writing is efficient if not wholly inspiring. That being said, the issue truly pops off the page, with all the credit going to Doug Mahnke and his team.

The art is simply stunning. is going to be Doug's real moment to shine. Even during the multiple talking heads moments with the title, Mahnke is able to bring a sense of excitement and tension on the pages. His composition and panel layout draws you into the action and depending on the character, will effect your emotion. When he moves in tight on Hal Jordan, you get a sense of what drives him to betray his friends. You feel the anger and hate that literally bleeds out from Atrocitus' eyes.

There is simply no such thing as a throwaway scene under the pen of Doug Mahnke. It is nice to see his take of the various Lanterns within the book. While there are set rules with each characters appearance, Mahnke provides subtle lines that really bring out the unique quality of each character, particularly with the individual members of the Green Lantern Corp. After reading this issue, you will understand why the book has four Inkers. This book is a beast. With the full emotional spectrum cut loose, we readers are treated to a visual feast for the eyes. There simply isn't a missed tone, an incorrect color, or a sloppy line. The book has some literary hick-ups, but those mistakes simply vanish under inspired art of Mahnke and his team.

Green Lantern #64, I get the sense that Johns is attempting to return to his glory days with the , but those are some extremely large shoes to fill. The potential for another mini-event blockbuster is there, bubbling just under the surface like the emotions the Guardians so despise. Without a doubt, the artists are bringing their A-game in this book. Now it is time for Johns and the other writers to prove they can keep up. This issue isn't perfect, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking titles on the spinner rack right now. A good start.

 

FF #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jamie Trecker

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The relaunch of Fantastic Four can be summed up in a single word: disappointing. This is a tepid first issue that, in attempting to reintroduce a team that every comic book fan is familiar with, fails to show imagination or fundamental delight. It’s the most dismaying of all failures: an entirely unnecessary book that detracts from the work that precedes it.

Allegedly, this “new” Fantastic Four title represents a “change in the status quo” of the Marvel Universe. It’s not; it is a storyline that that looks squarely back at the title’s past and as such comes off as hollow. It begins with a stunt — the apparent “death” of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch — and follows on with a team-up that was first seen in the 1960s. Again joined by Spider-Man, this not-very-new “Future Foundation” will apparently do futuristic stuff. This concept is then further undermined by the creators’ choice to have the cliffhanger feature one of the team’s oldest foes.

Pretending the future can be found in the past is a common disease afflicting tentpole titles at the Big Two. I don’t entirely blame Hickman; a lot of this is due to corporate editorial gutlessness. Unfortunately, a team like the Fantastic Four is so key —and so monetized — to Marvel that truly radical shakeups are now impossible. The fact that companies are torn by a desire to keep their characters recognizable — and thus exactly the same — ultimately means that potential new fans are turned off by continuity, while existing fans end up getting bored.

What’s maddening is that when a good creator is allowed to cut loose, the results can be thrilling. Hickman showed how cool S.H.I.E.L.D. was unburdened by that guy in an eye patch; he doesn’t have that license on a team that has to make cameos in ten other company titles and perhaps a movie or two. So what does happen in FF #1? Not much. The team eats dinner — four pages worth. The Thing sulks. A.I.M. makes an appearance, freeing the Wizard. Since we’re speaking of continuity, it’s worth noting that the Wizard seems nothing at all like the genteel schemer seen recently in the pages of the various Hulk titles. Epting has two nice splash panels — which, in truth, really equates to two fewer pages of actual story.

To his credit (and against some fanboy howling) Hickman tried to push the boundaries of what the Fantastic Four might become in the self-titled book that preceded this one. He made the team into the “imaginauts” of the Marvel Universe, investigating the weird tendrils left over from the Kirby and Kane eras. There were a lot of balls in the air — parallel Earths, multiple iterations of the same character, weird wars between worlds — and more than a few of them were dropped. Often times you felt that Hickman was trying to cover up for his inability to connect threads by throwing something new and wild at you. That said, his Fantastic Four was never boring, and the characters were perkier than they had been in years. Reed Richards was almost impish and Ben Grimm was positively gleeful. It was a fun read.

This book, in contrast, is not. Weighed down by the moodier pencils of Epting (who worked wonders on Captain America and the late, lamented El Cazador) this incarnation seems freighted down not only be grief, but by its own tangled fictional past. The team now wears clean white uniforms, but displays little joy. It’s also rather peculiar: since everyone on the team knows who Peter Parker is, why does he keep his mask on to eat? Isn’t that just ridiculous?

Sadly, this book comes off as a foot on the brake. The Fantastic Four under Hickman had gone from an afterthought on the market to a book I looked forward to reading. On the evidence, FF #1 fails to build on that.

 

Batman, Inc. #4

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnhamand Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

After three relatively mild and straightforward issues, Grant Morrison once again plunges us down the rabbit hole in Batman Incorporated #4, “The Kane Affair,” where he begins examining another lost-to-time aspect of Bruce Wayne’s past; the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane. Before the redheaded modern day Batwoman and even before the redheaded Barbara Gordon, there was this brunette and yellow-clad Batwoman, emulating Batman’s more innocent crime fighting style even as she was trying to win his heart. She is one of those aspects of Batman’s history that belongs to the 1950s and early 1960s and that has been largely ignored since the days that Julius Schwartz was charge at DC. Morrison briefly reminded us Kathy Kane in the post-”Batman RIP” issues where she popped up in the collage of Batman’s Silver Age memories while he was under attack by Darkseid’s cronies. There she flickered in and out of Batman’s mind, the brief moment in 70-odd years of continuity and memories.

During the whole “Return of Bruce Wayne” portion of Morrison’s mega Batman story, Morrison’s stories were clear and concise. Even if the way that they fit together was a puzzle, the individual issues were some of the most crisp stories that Morrison has written. After the patchwork “Batman RIP,” where anything and everything went, Morrison told some of the most linear stories to tie together the death and resurrection of Batman arc. Batman Incorporated looked to be an extension of that storytelling until this issue, where he uses the modern Batwoman to dive into the origin of the original Batwoman, calls back the post-RIP memory of Batwoman and even begins tying her into the story of the Club of Heroes that Morrison resuscitated during his “Black Hand” story arc.

If the first two issues seemed like Morrison’s promised bare-chested-Batman-as-love-god, Batman Incorporated #4 returns to the feverish attempt to remind us that the Batman of today is the same Batman who had golden and silver age adventures. Sooner or later, Morrison will get us to admit that the same Batman who had his back broken by Bane is the same one who used to have his own imp Bat-Mite and his own dog Ace, the Bat Hound. In Morrison’s mind, there haven’t been any revamps or reboot that wiped out any previous history. All of those stories have existed and happened to the same character. It had to be only a matter of time before we came around to Batwoman and the many romantic entanglements that Batman has suffered through over the decades.

The charm of this issue and Morrison’s whole take on Batman is that continuity can be fun. Comic book readers have gotten so used to ignoring large swathes of comics that they say they love. Looking at the Batman comics of the last 30 years, it’s easy to believe that Batman comics actually began in the 1970s, ignoring the goofiness of giant typewriters, Composite Supermen, crime fighting dogs and imps, or a dark haired Batwoman who seemed more interested in finding a husband than she did in emulating the Dark Knight detective. Morrison embraces that silver age corniness but not in a kitschy way. He embraces the 1950s Batwoman with the same verve that he does the 2011 Batwoman. They’re both now part of the Batman story and both wrapped up in Morrison’s own metastory.

After three issues of Yanick Paquette’s solid, dark, moody and action-driven Batman, Chris Burnham’s playfulness captures the ridiculousness of Batman’s history better than Paquette could have. With a line similar to Frank Quitely’s artwork, Burnham adds in a waggish quality to the artwork, able to pull off the silver age goofiness of the Batwoman flashbacks while drawing lively action scenes of the modern day Batman and Batwoman. Bunham’s expressiveness is one thing many of Morrison’s Batman artists have been lacking. Morrison has had some wonderful artists and Burnham shows this issue that he’s among them with the way he adapts the silver age scenes with a lighter hand than other artists that Morrison has worked with.

Morrison continues to dredge Batman’s history to find ways to make it all work together to tell new stories. Just as he’s managed to bring back Bat-mite, hypnotic time travel experiments and even lost Wayne relatives, he now turns his attention to Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman. While Morrison has added nothing completely new to the Batman mythos, he’s continued to show that Batman comics didn’t begin in 1986 with Frank Miller’s or even with the 1970s Batman run by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Everything that Morrison digs up is there in the history of Batman. That historical emphasis, subtle in the first few issues of Batman Incorporated come out strong again this issue as the past is pulled into the present, as two generations of Batwomen fight, as Batman is forced to remember one of his early loves and even as Batman has to fight on old character who was created to be an Argentinian Batman.

 

Hellraiser #1

Written by Clive Barker, Christopher Monfette

Art by Leonardo Manco and Charlie Kirchoff

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review By Jeff Marsick

If there was an Eisner category for creepiest opening two pages, Hellraiser #1 would be the runaway favorite (between this and Richard Kuklinski's tell-all, , I'm never going to look at holes in the ground the same way again). From the first panel, Mssrs. Barker and Monfette have you by the throat as they drag you through this new incarnation of Clive Barker's lauded horror franchise, aided by the rough Maleev-ish pencils of Leonardo Manco and the moody colors by Charlie Kirchoff. If you've not seen the movie , it would behoove you to give it a watch, as there's a certain level of familiarity necessary to make this title fully accessible not only to newbies but those of us who've forgotten bit parts here and there.

The central character is, of course, the iconic Pinhead who seems to have tired of his lather-rinse-repeat Cenobitian existence of harvesting human souls and needs something more, something that lies beyond just the skin. I like this version of Pinny. There's a depth to his character that I'm impressed Mr. Barker and Mr. Monfette have infused in him, and even if he prattles too much like a valedictorian with word balloons filled to bursting with exposition than actual dialogue, I'm there with him, wanting to know what he's got up his leather sleeve.  

Wherever his road leads, Kirsty Cotton is set up to play the yin to his yang, something I find a little dull, at least at this point. I realize that horror franchises dote on the tropes, and it's not without a Laurie Strode, a without a Nancy Thompson, or even a without a Brody, but I would have rather had a different leading protagonist and then weave the Kirsty canon in at some later point. The first issue is a little early to be making judgment, so I'll call this plot point ball one instead of a full-on strike.

While the set-up seems decent, I still felt rushed, like I was forced item-by-item along a shopping list of beats that were meant to ensure that all the demographics had been appropriately acknowledged for a series opener: Plot and twists for newbies, check. Titillation of those who take two scoops of gore with their bowl of horror, check. Wink and a nod to the fanfolk who have every movie on Blu-ray, check. I could have used a little compression, a little slowing down of time to really amp up the horror quotient (I was surprised that a pending Cenobite sushi platter went from “Hey, what's this box thingy?” to “It's the Rubik's cube from Hell!” in just four panels), and could have done without Kirsty's sex scene that felt both obligatory and unnecessary as filler.  

It's easy to overlook those misgivings, however, given the artwork (which is the book's high point). Leonardo Manco has done a nice job tapping his inner nightmare for some of Hell's visuals, with the bellows in the Tower of Teeth and Tongues enough to keep you up at night. Organ pipes made of the damned? Creepy cool! The full-page splash on page thirteen of Pinhead and the unholy organ in the background really should be sold as a poster, suitable for framing. The pencils are great, but ultimately they're just dead lines if they can't be filled in with some character. Good thing Charlie Kirchoff pulled out his box of Crayola bleaks to give it all a dreary and dreadful look. I feel that good horror comics have colors that are dark and subdued, with blood that looks like it's been dried on the page, and this book delivers.  

I wanted to love this book, wanted to be right there with all of the reviews that gush and fawn and seem to celebrate this as the next 'It' title in horror. Visually, yes. It's a feast. But overall I can't get my meter above three out of five stars. I'm looking forward to issue two, but it's going to need to be a stronger performance for me to stick around any longer.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man #156

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Teresa Jusino

<a href="/13560-spidey-4-view-ult-doom-spider-man-osborn-spider-man.html?iid=000/035/061">Click here for preview</a>

In the regular Marvel U, Peter Parker has gone through some big changes, all for the better. He has a great new job, a great new girlfriend in Carlie, he’s great friends with MJ, and he’s a man with a mission: no one dies on his watch. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter’s going through some changes, too. J. Jonah Jameson he’s Spider-Man after their harrowing encounter with Chameleon. This has caused him an unexpected improvement in his work situation. Like his Marvel U counterpart, Ultimate Peter Parker now has a better paying job - he’s back at the Daily Bugle with a bump in pay, after having been fired from his crappy fast-food gig - and JJJ, because he feels he owes Peter his life, has agreed to never fire him because he understands that sometimes Peter will be off doing… . His only condition? That Peter provide the Bugle with exclusive Spider-Man stories. Not a bad deal, right? In other news, Peter’s gotten back together with MJ, is still good friends with Gwen, and has managed to bring the long-estranged Kitty Pryde back into the fold at the Parker homestead.

And…he's going to die?

Issue #156, the first issue of “The Death of Spider-Man”, is where things start to get dark for our hero. It is now Captain America’s turn to come and train the young web-slinger, and he makes no bones about telling Peter that not only is he training him against his better judgment, but that Peter has been fighting villains as if death weren’t a possibility at every moment, which makes him act carelessly. As if being harshly reprimanded by Captain America in a graveyard weren’t bad enough, Norman Osborn is not only very much alive, but has escaped from the Triskelion with several of Spider-Man’s worst enemies and is making a bee-line straight for him to kill him.

Brian Michael Bendis sure knows how to up the stakes, I’ll give him that. However, this issue is structured strangely, the story bouncing between S.H.I.E.L.D and Osborn and Peter and a random glimpse of Ben Urich in a way that doesn’t allow the story to settle anywhere in particular so that you can feel anything. Also, this Death of Super-Man story is veering eerily close to what was so wrong with Amazing Spider-Man before the breath of fresh air that was Big Time - a Rogues Gallery from Spidey’s past come back for a big event just for the sake of reliving the Good Old Days. This is turning into The Ultimate Gauntlet. (P.S. — I hated The Gauntlet.)

Wasn’t Ultimate Spider-Man was supposed to be a respite from all of that? Wasn’t the entire point of Ultimate Spider-Man that it was new and different? Would new villains be too much to ask for? Would an entirely new set of challenges be out of the question? The fact that Peter is now being trained by other, more experienced superheroes was a great step in the right direction, as that’s something that’s rarely addressed, if ever: the fact that young Peter Parker might just be bad at being a superhero. He isn’t “misunderstood” by Jameson and the public…he’s just , because . That is interesting. What isn’t interesting is Norman Osborn. Again. Coming after Spider-Man. . With every other villain Spider-Man’s fought a million times.

Also uninteresting are Mark Bagley’s pencils. It’s hard to believe that he’s the artist that was on when I first got sucked into the title. When David Lafuente came on board, I thought that he and Ultimate Spider-Man were a perfect marriage, precisely because his style makes the book feel like it’s about a teenage boy, . His style has a youthful exuberance that might have made the danger coming up for Spidey that much more poignant, because it would’ve provided an excellent visual counterpoint to the harshness of the story. Instead, we have Bagley being not only really literal with his interpretation, but also making the young characters in the story look old. Seriously, in an early scene with Peter and MJ at the diner, they both look about thirty.

I hate to say it, because Ultimate Spider-Man has generally been a wonderful title and one of my favorites, but if this issue is any indication of where this title is headed stylistically and story-wise, it’s going to prove very disappointing indeed. What Marvel should remember is that big events aren't the only key to a reader's heart, nor do readers need to be pandered to by recycling old favorites. A reader's only real requirement is that the stories be good. Brian Michael Bendis knows how to tell a good story. He should trust himself to do that without relying too heavily on the crutch of canon.

 

Superman/Batman #82

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Chrisscross, Marc Deering and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

It's funny. When Superman/Batman was first released, it was trumpeted as a powerhouse book for DC Comics, with Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness tag-teaming on DC's biggest icons. Yet over the years, the book seemed to become almost a chore for creators, as DC struggled to find the new A-listers to take on an iconic but continuity-free book of the World's Finest.

But looking back, even that downturn can be an opportunity in the right hands. After all — there's nothing more freeing than when you're underestimated.

Case in point: Cullen Bunn and Chrisscross' "Sorcerer Kings" storyline, which has that sort of variant-action-figure, parallel-universe visceral appeal that is easy to overlook but even easier to be seduced by. While there's a little bit of friction still between the creative team, they throw caution to the wind and each bring an infusion of quality to a book some have already written off.

For my money, Bunn is proving that he gets DC's heroes — even if Batman continues to steal the show two issues in a row. As we follow the World's Finest as they race to stop a magical apocalypse from brewing, Bunn gets these great lines for each character. Watching Batman shrug off demonic blasts as puffs of smoke is one of those fanboy fist-pumping moments, especially when he snarks back: "Parlor tricks." He also deserves some credit for some fun ideas, particularly the magically inspired Batwing, as well as the idea that a magically powered sun might do some very interesting things to a solar-powered Man of Steel.

Chrisscross, meanwhile, is a little bit more hit and miss. There are times when his panel composition feels a bit too tight — particularly on the first page — but when he connects, damn if he doesn't evoke Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines when he draws Batman. There are some moments that he absolutely sells — he draws a wonderfully creepy alternate version of the Creeper — but at the same time, there are other pages that seem to be unclear about what the major action is, so those don't quite hit as hard as you might expect.

That's actually probably where this book stumbles the most — you know when you see a team that really works well together, where the writing works to pace the art, and the art never feels cramped to accommodate the script? That's the big hurdle that Superman/Batman has right now — fitting the writing to the page. Chriscross has some pages that look downright cramped, to the point where story moments like someone shrugging end up getting lost. And on Bunn's side, there are some moments where the dialogue definitely could have been trimmed, giving some more room for the art.

In short, Superman/Batman isn't perfect at this point, but at the same time, it has the potential to be an underrated gateway comic, particularly for fans of the Superman/Batman animated series. Bunn's got the voice for the characters, and is able to put them in otherworldly situations that are accessible and will hook even the most slightly curious person. There's some flaws in the execution, however, which will likely tweak the more detail-oriented — but at the same time, this book isn't just free of continuity, but of those lofty expectations, and that's what gives this arc the freedom to succeed.

 

Thor #620.1

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Mark Brooks, Sonia Oback and John Rauch

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

<a href="/13559-marvel-hero-3-view-ff-1-silver-surfer-2-thor-620-1.html">Click here for preview</a>

It's amazing how marketing can change a book. Take Thor #620.1, for example. If this book had been marketed, as, say, a Marvel Adventures book, I probably would have been hooked as an 8-year-old. But when you take it in the context of Marvel's Point One initiative, it stumbles. Put against Matt Fraction's slow but epic run on Thor, this book ends up feeling like filler.

Now don't get me wrong — this book, which has Thor fighting the Grey Gargoyle, is entirely self-contained, and the gist of Thor's story is told pretty succinctly. But that all said and done, there's plenty of missed opportunities from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's script, with a number of giant splash pages to throw in Thor's entire supporting cast, or to try to explain the entirety of J. Michael Straczynski's run. It's certainly G-rated, and it's simple enough that you could give it to any young reader and they're probably adore it.

The reason for this? Mark Brooks, whose cartoony style doesn't quite scream "Thor" to me — likely, again, because of Fraction's more metal take on the character. But Brooks deserves a lot of credit for going outside of his comfort zone: He is certainly accessible with his designs, evoking just a shade of that iconic Olivier Coipel look. He definitely makes the Grey Gargoyle bat out of his league, as he cracks open a statue and reaches for the kill.

Now, does this fit in with Matt Fraction's story, or anything he's foreshadowed? Not even close, and in that regard, this Point One book does not succeed whatsoever. It's far from sophisticated, the characterization is, well, almost completely lacking, and diehard fans are going to be turning up their noses at the drop in ambition. But this book is also an interesting exercise in not just misplaced marketing, but in looking at a single issue on its own merits, divorced entirely from any preceding issues or future storylines.

In regard, I think Thor #620.1 is a book that would be excellent for young readers who are itching to learn about that new summer movie after asking " who is that long-haired guy with the hammer?" Thor #620.1 ain't deep, and it doesn't really even accomplish it's stated efforts, but I think there's some redeeming factors for this book yet.

 

The New York Five #3

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Ryan Kelly

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Review by Erika D. Peterman

It doesn’t matter whether this touching series ends with fireworks or on an ambiguous note. With only one issue to go, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Five has been quietly captivating and a worthy sequel to

Riley, Merissa, Lona, Ren, and newcomer Olive all bring distinctive elements to the story. By turns sympathetic, brave, and infuriating, these young women who are finding their way in New York hold the reader’s attention throughout. The city itself is a major part of the story, but you needn’t have come of age there to relate. The players range from privileged and sheltered to struggling and hardened, and some things about young adulthood in America are universal.

With the exception of street kid Olive, the main players are NYU roommates who are interviewed regularly by an unseen therapist. No matter how confident they appear to outsiders, the therapy sessions, which are being videotaped, bring out their vulnerability. Even when the characters’ answers to Dr. Paka’s questions are vague, Kelly’s captivating art tells the reader plenty about what’s going on in their heads — self-conscious hair-tugging, a lack of eye contact, etc. I can’t imagine anyone other than Kelly illustrating this story, because his style is so central to the comic’s overall impact. It’s not just the way he draws the characters, but the sense of place he provides. His black, white and gray color palette sets just the right tone.

While there’s been no shortage of drama in The New York Five, I appreciate how Wood has so far avoided soap opera histrionics and predictable plot twists. However, he drops at least one bombshell here, one I didn’t see coming. He also gives Olive her first major scenes, which give us a fuller picture of who she is and where she came from. The most enigmatic character — and the most frustrating — is Lona, still obsessed with her professor’s perceived injustices. However, her intractability and her troubling behavior are fascinating, even though one gets the sense that she’s beyond help.

I’m a little sad that this story is coming to an end, but there’s no doubt that Wood and Kelly could successfully extend the narrative if they chose. In the meantime, they’ve provided a rich story to savor.

 

Captain America: Man Out of Time #5

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel and Frank D’Armata

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

<a href="/13557-cap-3-view-and-batroc-1-cap-615-1-man-out-of-time-5.html?iid=000/034/997">Click here for preview</a>

Writing a character as old as Captain America is always a challenge. How do you find new things to say about a character who’s done almost everything already? How do you find new ground to cover, new stories that still get to the heart of who the character is? How do you reveal something new about the character’s personality or history or worldview without contradicting what’s come before? The task is daunting. And to accomplish all of that in a story that is by its very nature repetitive – a retold origin story – is next to impossible. Unless, of course, you happen to be Mark Waid.

Captain America: Man Out of Time #5 marks the conclusion of Waid’s miniseries, a return to a character upon whom he left his indelible mark in the 1990s. The story has been solid throughout, delving deeper into the time right after Steve Rogers was found frozen by the Avengers and woke up to a world half a century past the one he’d left. Waid has used the miniseries to explore Steve’s PTSD in the wake of Bucky’s death, establish his growing friendship with Tony Stark and the other Avengers, and emphasize just how much changed in the world during the decades Steve spent encased in ice. Waid even made time for a lovely reunion between Steve and an elderly man who had been his commanding officer during the war – a new character appropriately named Jacob Simon, after Captain America’s creators.

But the most striking part of the series has been Waid’s willingness to ask a question no one so far has asked about those early days: if Steve woke up in a world where time travel had been invented, why wouldn’t he have tried to go back to the time he’d left, the place where he felt he belonged? And, whether or not that journey was ultimately possible, or advisable (given the potential damage to the timestream) would Steve have been happier if he had gotten to live through the late 1940s and beyond? What made him decide that staying with the Avengers in this strange new world was his best option?

With this final issue, Waid answers that question by granting Steve his wish and sending him back, in the midst of a battle with Kang, to 1945, right after the victory in Japan. In desaturated tones provided by colorist Frank D’Armata and expressive pencils from Jorge Molina, Steve finds himself able to buy a hot dog from a cart, watch the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field, wear familiar clothing, and read the 1940s Daily Bugle in a New York deli. But he soon realizes that even in the world he thought he knew, he doesn’t quite fit in. Everyone he knows in the 1940s is still overseas, unreachable even by telegram. The world he remembers is one at war, and in this postwar time, Steve is no more comfortable with his surroundings than he was in the late 1990s he visited. He no longer remembers how to be a civilian. He no longer has friends around him. And he begins to realize that the future – a future where some, though by no means all, social ills have been ameliorated, where he’s begun to make friends and a life, where he can be a soldier once again – is the place he truly belongs.

This is a brilliant move on Waid’s part. By placing Captain America in the position of all the returning WWII GIs who had difficulty adjusting to desk jobs and marriages after the battlefield, Waid makes a strong case for the importance of Steve’s place on the Avengers, and the thus far unexplored wish-fulfillment aspect of that role. We see, through Waid’s writing and Molina’s strikingly elegant art, that Steve Rogers in the future has the chance to make a life for himself in a way he never could have if he hadn’t been frozen – as a soldier, as a citizen, and as a part of a newfound family. He can listen to Bing Crosby or Radiohead as he chooses, blending his new life with his old as he appreciates the distinctly American beauty of the Grand Canyon. He can keep fighting the world’s wrongs. He can be Captain America and Steve Rogers, and find some kind of peace even while battling evil.

With Captain America: Man Out of Time, Mark Waid makes a strong case for Steve Rogers as a man of resilience and determination, of rigid principles but surprising adaptability in the face of new information and new situations. He makes a case, in short, for why Steve Rogers is such a wonderful character. Any fan would do well to pick it up and see the results for themselves.

 

Stumptown HC

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Matthew Southworth, Lee Loughridge and Rico Renzi

Published by Oni Press

Review by Aaron Duran

In 2009, writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth introduced us to a darker side of Portland, Oregon and a tough as nails private eye named Dex Parios in Stumptown issue 1. After months of painful delays that grew into a full year, we finally learned all about . And now, 18 months after that first issue hit the stands we finally get to sit down and read the sordid tale in its entirety. We get to learn just why the granddaughter of Sue-Lynne, the head of the Wind Coast's casino, disappeared without a trace. We learned what drives Dex to take five knuckles to the jaw and a couple of slugs to the chest. We learned just how gritty and ugly and beautiful the City of Roses can be. After all that time, with the graphic novel now out for all to read, we have to ask. Was all the waiting worth it? In a couple of words, hells yes.

Rucka writes with a cinematic style, and so it is only fitting that the first thing you notice when reading Stumptown is the beautiful art by Matthew Southworth. Upon a first read, Southworth's art looks simple, with his thick lines and very deep shadows. It is only when you look closer and really focus on the work that you notice his skill. He mixes hyperrealism with his locations and backgrounds. For the reader that lives within Portland, like this reviewer, it's wonderful to see the attention to detail Southworth provides. But he's clearly going for more than “name that landmark” for us Portlanders. Indeed, Portland is a character itself within Stumptown and Southworth's art makes sure the reader never forgets that with his visuals. And yet, for all the detail he gives the locations, he pulls it back a bit when it comes to the characters. This contrasting style lends itself to the kind of story Rucka is trying to tell. Buildings, bridges, and landmarks; all these things are a binary element of life. They simply are, unlike all the characters inhabiting the world of Stumptown. This is a world of muted morals and Southworth's art supports it in every way.

It takes someone with a knowledge of the basic A-B-C style crime story to work outside those lines. Rucka understands that the reason and situation around the crime is far more interesting than the crime itself. A young woman's gone missing. Okay, that makes for solid prime time entertainment, but never as interesting as the why. It is a credit to Rucka's skill as a storyteller that we learn the hows and why half way through the story, and yet there is still plenty to discover. His characters are unique and each one has a distinct voice. When Dex survives her early brush with death, she's hitting on her male doctor, only to later claim she hasn't closed the doors to a same-sex relationship as well. This isn't done in an attempt to titillate or shock the reader. Rucka knows that life is complex and his characters are equally complex. Dex Parios is discovering her own life as she investigates the lives of others, and Rucka doesn't shy away from asking honest questions. How many personal ethics would you be willing to bend or break if it meant keeping your family safe?

Stumptown is a wonderful return to classic crime noir fiction. No one in the book is completely pure and sure as hell isn't innocent. Dex Parios is a deeply flawed heroine, but in her flaws we see her potential. With Rucka's honest character growth and eye towards future stories, teamed with Matthew Southworth's graceful art and colors; we can count all more twisted tales within Portland and the lone proprietor of Stumptown Investigations. I just hope it doesn't take a full year to see the next part of the story.

Pellet Review!

 

5 Ronin #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; <a href="/13558-street-4-view-daredevil-deadpool-power-iron-5-ronin.html">Click here for preview</a>): This series has been visually intriguing for the feudal Japan setting, but each issue's story is bereft of any real calories. If it's all set-up for a big brouhaha in issue five, then it'll all be worth it, but with issue four continuing the streak of falling short of my expectations, I'm concerned that the final “Deadpool” issue is going to leave me greatly disappointed on this series as a whole. So far we've seen Wolverine, Hulk and Punisher as Ronin, with sneaky Deadpool a minor thread interwoven into their journeys. Now Psylocke as a courtesan, O-Chiyo, takes center, but she's as out-of-place with this group as the artwork is. To this point it's been dark and moody, very Kurosawa. Now the halogens have been hit and the series becomes less cinematic and more comic booky. A clarification: Goran Parlov's art and Lee Loughridge's colors are wonderful, I think highly of their work and I would buy any superhero book this pair worked on. But for the tone that's been set for three issues thus far, they are out of place: the artwork is far too pretty and the colors far too bold. It's not Peter Milligan's best storytelling, either, being heavy on the 'tell' while forgetting the 'show'. O-Chiyo really isn't all that interesting, even less so when Logan arrives and their relationship hits predictably violent beats. One issue to go, to see how it all blends together. The series needs a big finale to save it.

In Case You Missed It!

 

Yo Gabba Gabba HC

Written by Various

Art by Various

Edited by James Lucas Jones and J. Torres

Published by Oni Press

Review by Aaron Duran

Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a kid. Not a care in the world. No real deadlines other than waking up in time on Saturday morning to watch my favorite cartoons. The only real fear I had to deal with was how I was going to survive the sharks that swam under my bed. You know, the ones waiting for my chubby little toes to dangle from the side. When the whole world was new and exciting, packed with adventures and excitement. But, life doesn't work that way. We grow up, we get older. We saddle ourselves with adult responsibilities and cares. Childhood is only something you look back at, something you fondly reminisce about when you hang out with your adult friends. You swap stories about riding bikes until the sun set. Neighborhood block parties. Recreating your favorite scene from with that one friend who seemed to get every single vehicle you wanted but your parents said they couldn't afford. Then, once in a while something comes around that allows you to go back to that life, if only for a fleeting moment.

Yo Gabba Gabba from Oni Press is one of those fleeting moments. The new hardcover is filled with colorful tales of adventure, with just the right about of danger that can only be imaged by young children. Of course the world is being invaded by toy stealing aliens. Toy stealing aliens that seem completely unstoppable. We're just another planet in their relentless quest to take every single toy in the known and unknown universe. There's no way to stop them. Unless, of course, we all learn to stop being selfish with our toys and remember that working together solves everything. And just like that, Yo Gabba Gabba brings us back to those wonderful days. Days when sharing with your friends and fellow good neighbor saves the world.

The stories in Yo Gabba Gabba are pleasantly simple in their attempt to both teach and entertain the young reader. Lacking a full narrative, the book is a collection of short stories. Reading Yo Gabba Gabba is like watching an episode of Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood, with a sprinkling of The Electric Company and the Muppet Show. The colors and lines take full use of the many talented creators, each one making sure to tell a story simple enough for a child to understand, while never once talking down to them. An example being by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dave Crosland. Each character in the story represents an aspect of raw emotions. Characters filled with hope, fear, happiness, sadness, and excitement all work together to remind the reader that inspiration can be found anywhere, but especially with your friends. The colors pop and make sure a young reader never once loses interest in book.

Yo Gabba Gabba was exactly what I needed right now. A book that reminded me that just because I was older, just because the modern world had many expectations of me; I still needed the basics. I needed to remember that I can always count on my friends. That together, nothing is insurmountable in this big scary world. And maybe, just maybe the world isn't all that scary. It's big. It's bright. It's loud. It's Gabba baby!

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