Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of bite-sized pellet reviews for your reading consumption, including the latest releases from Marvel, DC, Image, Vertigo and IDW! Want some more? We got you covered with a ton of back-issue reviews, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's see what happens when the Dark Knight takes on the White Knight, as we take a look at the conclusion of Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason's arc on Batman and Robin…Batman and Robin #22 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Superhero comics in general I feel can sometimes have a problem with pacing the climax of a story — when you've got characters who are expected to get into fights fairly regularly, it's hard to bring the story up to a fever pitch and really get readers on the edge of their seats. Peter Tomasi doesn't have that problem — it's been a long time coming, but seeing Batman and Robin take on the White Knight is a knock-down, drag-out fight that breaks bones while it gets you thinking. There are a lot of great moments to this book, which I think Tomasi and Pat Gleason can share equal credit for — whether its seeing Arkham Asylum glow eerily in the night, or Dick Grayson blowing the roof off of an elevator shaft just to get the jump on the White Knight, there are some hellaciously cool action beats that really get the blood pumping. That said, if there's one thing about this story that didn't quite wow me, however, it was the White Knight's motivations — yeah, he's a bit of a foil for Bruce and company origin-wise, but his connections to Doctor Phosphorus seemed just a little goofy to me. But the idea of whether or not the villainous apple falls too far from the tree — a question that Damian Wayne has to consider — gives this story some nice heft, and the rise in tension made for a striking conclusion to this storyline.
Amazing Spider-Man #658 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): I never read the Fantastic Four before now, but I’ve always loved Reed Richards whenever I’ve seen him in other books. Especially as one of the few people in the Marvel U who is an intellectual superior to Peter Parker. Spidey joining the FF was a brilliant choice. Issue 658 was a lovely first mission for the new team, and Dan Slott scattered some warm and funny moments throughout: Sue trapping a French mime in an invisible box, Peter hurriedly making peace with his coworkers as he’s rushing out to answer his first FF call, Reed and Peter geeking out about science. Javier Pulido’s artwork hearkens back to comics in the '80s, which gives the issue a nostalgic quality that’s appropriate for a story about bringing the old into the future. However, there were some things that were not so successful. I think that Spider-Man showing up for his first FF call in a blue suit like the old Fantastic Four costume was not only hugely insensitive to the team having lost Johnny, but hugely out of character for Peter, someone who has lost so many people and would not be so thoughtless in that case. Speaking of out of character, since when did Peter get so stupid about covering up his double life? And Carlie— works with CSI Carlie — has time to make snickerdoodles for Peter the day after she sees him? That whole subplot felt forced, and seems to be setting up the fact that Peter’s going to fill Carlie in on his other life, which I think he should, but it should happen more organically than this. Lastly, since when does Carlie have freckles? This is a small point, but seriously, Pulido’s given her freckles you can see from space. Generally, Amazing Spider-Man is a great read, but Issue #658 had some surprisingly weak elements.
The Infinite Vacation #2 (Published by Image Comics; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman): It’s inevitable that the word “trippy” (whoops) will be used in many a description of The Infinite Vacation. The term certainly fits, but this book isn’t just a trip down a hallucinogenic rabbit hole. It’s one of the most thoughtful and smartly constructed comics out there, period. Artist Christian Ward’s intricate splash pages continue to astound, and the Kool-Aid colors make them sizzle. Nick Spencer reveals more about protagonist Mark, who, like millions of people, compulsively buys his way into alternate realities. He’s been doing it for so long that he seems oblivious to the many consequences. That is, until three other versions of himself — Hacker Mark, Redneck Mark, and Nudist Mark — show up and announce that he’s in deep trouble. For the second time (nearly impossible under the circumstances), Original Mark encounters Claire, a “dead-ender” who has rejected the drug of life-hopping. She’s one of a few who’ve chosen to stick with the life they were born into, no matter how painful or tedious. This concept baffles Mark, whose technology addiction stems from crushing boredom. There’s nothing boring about this engrossing issue, which ends on a bloody shocking note. Start with #1 and get on board.
Uncanny X-Men #535 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men was my gateway comic. There are plenty of fans like me who, because of Whedon’s name, the plot elements used in the third X-Men movie, and/or the widespread critical acclaim, decided to pick up Astonishing even without prior knowledge of the X-Men or Marvel comics in general. So it’s a delight to see Kieron Gillen picking up where Whedon left off and continuing that compelling story in Uncanny X-Men #535, returning to the Breakworld and its constellation of characters to solve the problem of Kitty Pryde’s intangibility. Gillen excels at writing all of the main X-characters right out of the gate, and his return to the cast of his sadly-cancelled S.W.O.R.D. is an extra treat. I only wish the missing members of the Astonishing team – Beast and Armor – could be along for this ride. But even with that one conspicuous lack, this issue is full of witty one-liners, intriguing plot developments, and clever character moments (like Abigail Brand comparing her personality, hilariously and accurately, to that of Cyclops), all of which is illustrated with panache by Terry Dodson. If you’ve only ever read Astonishing X-Men, now would be a fantastic time to jump onto Uncanny. And if you’re already a long time Uncanny X-Men reader, this issue marks the beginning of what looks to be an exciting new direction for the book under Gillen’s pen.
Adventure Comics #525 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): It's not the most accessible read in the world, but Adventure Comics has one trick up its sleeve that'll make you forgive it — Phil Jimenez. People talk about visual storytelling, and being able to get the vibe and flow of a story just through the art? Jimenez has that in spades, particularly showing off the tension between Night Girl and Cosmic Boy with some real expressiveness. Hi-Fi's colors, some loud florescence occasionally tempered with real-world grays, are a great fit for this future world of aliens and bright costumes — it also gives this book a wild energy that'll keep you reading. The story itself, once you cut down the B-plot with Chemical Kid's father, is simple enough if you don't overthink it — basically, it's a final exam for two Academy recruits, even if the ending is kind of sad. If you have a bit more Legion knowledge — say, from Legion of Three Worlds — you'll also dig Paul Levitz's backup story with the Black Witch, which is much more resonant about a woman's power to triumph over evil. If this book didn't look so good, it might be a tougher read, but thanks to Phil Jimenez, Adventure Comics is one of the best-looking books that DC prints today.
Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Shanna VanVolt) : The bombast of the first issue wears down a little in this second installment. It is time for the reader to get over the flashy colors, ridiculous real-life instigators (Dick Cheney and Jay Leno), and gratuitous sex scenes, and see if this stylish shell of a comic has any substance. Verdict: It might. Reading Righteous Maker #2 is like scratching an itch you didn’t know you had. With Butcher Baker playing the hyped-up mustachioed truck-driving lush of a hero, his half of the story feels like a postmodern Smokey and the Bandit, or a modern urban Duke of Hazzard: ridiculous, but possibly representing some pertinent aspects of society. That is a big “but.” To try to reach through the cloud of hipness and grasp at the flame of why this book resonates would give you American Spirit smoke inhalation injuries. I still can’t tell if this book is trying to say something about the modern human condition through all the halftone dots and can of half-legible “La Fine Du Monde” beer. Instead, I’m content to watch this gaudy plot unravel. With the 2011 version of Burt-Reynolds-on-steroids in our hero slot, the evildoer’s side of the story has its own awkward clichés to play out. With a central bad-dude named “Jihad Jones” who bears quite a resemblance to a certain helter-skelter real-world killer of yore, you know that Joe Casey is trying to press buttons. Besides the presence of a murky misplaced metaphysical man-woman, those buttons may just be the right ones for insta-fun. There is only one certainty I take from Righteous Maker #2: Mike Huddleston’s art is refreshingly above the norm. An adventurous palette colors a mixture of thoughtfully laid India inks, crisp draftsman-like drawings, and potently anatomical scenes. While the art and the writing sometimes feel pretentiously cool, this book never feels boring. Maybe, at some point, it will begin to make a point, but I’m not sure if it needs to.
Iron Man 2.0 #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): After two action-packed issues of Iron Man 2.0, this quieter third issue might be considered by some to be a bit of a lull. But what Iron Man 2.0 #3 lacks in action it more than makes up for in characterization. From an early scene where a confident Pepper Potts negotiates with a military general to the final scene where Tony Stark gives protagonist James Rhodes a new suit of War Machine armor, the issue is packed with moments that reveal or reinforce the complications of the characters and their relationships with each other. Even minor, original characters, like a presumed secret agent named Kaylie, are imbued with personality and background courtesy of writer Nick Spencer. But it’s the final scene between Tony and Rhodey that really shines, highlighting their jovial, teasing relationship and using that relationship (which has had far too little emphasis in recent years, despite their film team-up) to make the stock, usually-boring “listing the specs of the new armor” exposition exciting in its own right. The combination of three different artists still creates a bit of visual whiplash, but Kano and Carmine Di Giandomenico both do admirable work on their scenes and Barry Kitson’s extended work on the final scene is both beautiful (his Tony Stark especially) and, with any luck, an indication that he’ll soon be able to take on the book full time as planned. Whether or not that happens, though, this book is a storytelling treat that is more than worth adding to any reader’s pull list.
Cinderella: Fables are Forever #3 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): One of the great things about Cinderella is that it not only focuses on mainstream fairy tales and children’s stories, but it explores the stories of other cultures. In Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love, Cinderella teamed up with Aladdin. Now, in Fables Are Forever, Cinderella comes into contact with the trickster-god, Anansi. Chris Roberson’s Cinderella is a wonderful, nuanced female character: good at her job, but not without failings; funny, brilliant, and beautiful. Dorothy Gale as a mercenary assassin with a chip on her shoulder about being from the country is also an amazing reinterpretation of a familiar character. Roberson has, in his Cinderella series, created not only stories that would appeal to fans of fairy tales, but to any fan of spy adventures in general. This issue was a slower read due to an overemphasis on flashbacks, but it is moving the story in exciting directions as Cinderella allows herself to get caught in a trap in order to get closer to finding Dorothy. Shawn McManus’ pencils continue to be hugely expressive and successfully balance the modern and the tropes of old fairy tales. You don’t have to be reading Fables to enjoy the thrilling life of Cinderella the super-spy in this immensely satisfying spin-off title.
Daken: Dark Wolverine #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): The last time that Marvel subbed out Guiseppe Camuncoli, I was convinced that Dark Wolverine had lost its edge. Well, score points for editor Jeanine Schaefer, because she let's Camuncoli tap out for an artist that's just as formidable: Marco Checcetto. Checcetto's artwork is the perfect template for colorist Frank D'Armata to go wild with the atmosphere — just on the first page, you're blown away at how beautiful — and how messed-up — X-23 and Daken look, as you see blood splatters and soot spraying around a dingy Madripoor street. Whereas Camuncoli was a bit less inclined to use shadow, Checcetto really drenches the streets in darkness, which plays up Daken's sinister side and makes the best use out of a costume that is still lacking in strong definition. It's a gorgeous book that still shares just enough in common with its previous iterations that you don't feel a huge swerve. But what about the writing? Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu play up the double and triple crosses just fine, but where they really excel is in the plotting — I'd argue that X-23 and Daken are overshadowed by the confrontation between Daken and Gambit, who looks more badass through Checcetto's eyes than I think I have ever seen him. While closer to the end the color and detailwork starts to lose its definition, this is a gorgeous book that'll really hit you in the gut.
The Unwritten #24 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): This issue provided the welcome return of one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite issues of this title so far! Pauly Bruckner, the rabbit formerly known as Mr. Bun who, in Issue #12, saw the difference between the real world and the world of stories and tried to awaken the rest of his fellow fictional characters to their condition. He is funny, lovably foul-mouthed, and determined to save himself from the world of children’s books. In this issue, a one-shot called “Stairway to Heaven,” he happens upon a stairway that countless animal children’s book characters are climbing when their native worlds are destroyed to reach their salvation - The World of The Maker. The idea of pursuit of the real world being a religion to these characters is an intriguing idea, and Mike Carey and Peter Gross explore it well. They’ve created a thrilling character in Pauly, and it was both inspiring and sad to watch him become a leader to this group of characters. Inspiring, because the reader knows that he’s right, and that there is a real world. Sad, because he is taking away the sweet naiveté of the characters and shattering their entire belief system. At one point, he wants to take away Turtle-In-A-Topper’s magic hat, and the turtle asks the heartbreaking question, “Without my top hat, what am I?” What, indeed? While the issue didn’t have Zelda Devon’s and Kurt Huggins’ wonderful children’s-book pencils, Peter Gross, along with Al Davison’s finishes accomplish the lovely change in style needed to tell this story. The Unwritten is a brilliant read, and you should be reading it if you aren’t already, and one-shots like Issue #24 that shed light on what’s going on in the fictional realm as the main Tom Taylor storyline is happening are generally brilliant.
John Byrne’s Next Men #5 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Scott Cederlund): There’s that old axiom for writers; “kill your darlings.” It’s meant to challenge writers to take risks with their characters. Well, John Byrne isn’t killing any of the Next Men yet, so soon after they returned from a prolonged hiatus, but he does brutally torture most of them in this issue, both psychologically and physically. The time scattered Next Men suffer at the hands of Nazis, Civil War-era slave owners, the plague and even at their own hand. Watching Byrne put his characters through the wringer, you’ve got to wonder if he even likes any of these characters or is he enjoying their suffering? Looking at his artwork, Byrne moves effortlessly between a number of past and futuristic time periods. His classic, traditional pages lacks the flash and pizzazz of many modern artists but continues to show off the strong storytelling that made Byrne famous back in the day. Even with how nice the book looks, we’ll have to see if getting through the violence and torture in John Byrne’s Next Men #5 pays off further on down the line.
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