Hello, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Review Team! It’s Tuesday, but have no fear — we have tomorrow’s reviews for you, today! Whether its the anniversary issue of Action Comics, the latest Walking Dead or BOOM! Studios’ new Planet of the Apes, have a ton of upcoming releases for you to discuss. Want to see more? We’ve got your back, all at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let’s go up, up and away with Paul Cornell and company, as we take a sneak peek at tomorrow’s big anniversary… Action Comics #900…
Action Comics #900
Written by Paul Cornell, Damon Lindelof, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, David S. Goyer, Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman
Art by Pete Woods, Jesus Merino, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal, Gary Frank, Ryan Sook, RB Silva, Rob Lean, Miguel Sepulveda, Matt Camp, Brian Stelfreeze, Brad Anderson, Blond, Java Tartaglia and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Rob Leigh and John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Lex Luthor might just be the greatest criminal in comics. Not because of his megalomaniacal drive, or his seemingly limitless access to Kryptonite — but because on the 900th issue of Action Comics, the big celebration of Superman… and it’s Lex who totally steals the show.
Of course, after nearly a year’s worth of Lex Luthor-centric adventures, it would make sense of Paul Cornell to warm up to the self-described greatest criminal mind of all time. Which is what makes this 900th issue of Action Comics a mixed bag of almost NASA-scientist level precision — where Lex goes, the story flies. When it’s tying up loose ends for the Reign of Doomsday event, well, the heft is there, but the overall execution feels more dutiful than dynamic.
That all said, it does take a little while to build up to that point. While the setup takes a little while to rev up, seeing the little touches that Cornell brings to Luthor — calling Superman “the ultimate paternal safety net,” telling the Man of Steel that he only “simulates” human emotion — these are the things that show how twisted Luthor’s view is, even as it shows he’s more petty than noble, more delusional than brilliant. But at the same time, it gives Cornell the opportunity to walk through memory lane, showing Superman’s history not by era, but by tragedy. It’s a hook we don’t see much of for Clark, but it leads to one of the surprise moments of the book — namely, seeing a true reckoning between these two enemies, a real understanding, and one that shows truly why Superman is the better man.
Whew. So you’d think with a thing like that, you’d be in the clear. You certainly would be for the conclusion of the The Black Ring Saga. But this is an anniversary issue — and there is another Superman event going on. The Reign of Doomsday. For pure action junkies, this might be for you — but for me, the event has felt a little formulaic, a little too reliant on the punching and the historical cache of Doomsday as a character, rather than fleshing out the differences and temperaments of Superman’s supporting cast. There’s certainly fighting here, but the 13 or so pages here feels empty, and ultimately drags down an otherwise strong conclusion.
Now you’re probably wondering why I’ve waited to discuss the art. It’s definitely all over the place, as you might expect from a big anniversary like this — you can understand the appeal of having as many people put their stamp on it as possible. Pete Woods is far and away the best of the two main artists here, bringing a clean line to Superman and Lex that evokes shades of Terry Dodson and Mike McKone. His layouts in particular are improving, with a real cinematic vibe as a tiny Superman floats in space in front a gigantic glowing Lex Luthor. (Comics, everybody!) Jesus Merino, going inkerless on the book, doesn’t fare as well by comparison — maybe it’s the scratchy character designs, or the small figures that are supposed to be imposing and powerful, but it’s just not my bag.
But this book wouldn’t be an anniversary book without backup stories. There are a ton, but for my money, the best one has to be Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook, doing a short story about life on Krypton. It’s a character piece, aided by those moody eyes that Sook gives his characters — just rereading it blows me away. It’s the best looking pages in this entire book. Geoff Johns also gets in a nice, quick hit, again showing that when he wants to, he can write some of the best damn characterization in the business, with a cute four-pager about who’s coming to dinner at the Kent household.
Paul Dini, on the other hand, doesn’t quite connect with a four-pager with RB Silva, and while Miguel Sepulveda brings out a Kitson-esque vibe with David Goyer, Goyer’s riff on truth, justice and the American way tries to be topical but just comes off as naive and more than a hair self-righteous. The last story — scratchy, sometimes Mahnke-esque storyboards by Matt Camp alongside a script by Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman — feels a bit like Superman: The Animated Series, although it suffers by ending on the same punchline as one of the previous shorts.
All in all, considering that this is the 900th month of publishing for Action Comics — and, by extension, the superhero-driven comics industry as we know it today — I have to applaud DC in pulling out all the stops for this book. It’s clear that they’re happy we’re along for the ride, and all this love for Superman does wonders against the more, err, reserved response the man gets in his own title. But like the Superdictionary, it’s Lex Luthor who gleefully steals these 40 cakes and eats them, too, bringing a surprising amount of character development in a comic that also simultaneously celebrates why Superman has endured for all these years. The Man of Steel may have been tarnished, but he’ll never break — and while this book is far from perfect, Paul Cornell’s honesty with Luthor is showing that he might have the strength to tackle the Last Son of Krypton as well.
The Walking Dead #84
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Colin Bell
Regular readers of The Walking Dead will be going into this issue in much the same frame of mind that I was following last month’s cliffhanger: Is Carl dead, and if not, how can he possibly survive after having a fair portion of his face shot off? Bonus questions: If he does survive, just how fed up of getting shot will he be? Has Rick’s son taken the most bullets over the course of these eighty issues?
Writer Robert Kirkman still knows how to push his readers’ emotional buttons, and with the face removal of Carl going into the closing issue of this “No Way Out” arc there’s an incredible sense of impending doom for both the residents of Alexandria and the cast that have led this book since the first issues. Things are looking surprisingly grim, and so it’s to some surprise that Kirkman manages to wring out one of the most uplifting and hopeful endings that The Walking Dead has ever presented, and it’s all due to some deft character work and a late realization from lead protagonist Rick Grimes. It’s been a long time coming, and will hopefully lead Rick away from some of the more shady decisions he’s had to make in recent times.
Neither Rick’s epiphany nor the way the people of Alexandria handle their predicament comes out of left-field - while it may be a swifter resolution than you might have expected, it’s perfectly in keeping with precedents set in the book as far back as when it was set in a prison. What Rick and his crew do with the insight they gain in this issue is anyone’s guess, but where they’ll be is certain - after cutting and running from everywhere they’ve tried to settle over the course of the book: the camp outside Atlanta, the Wiltshire Estates, Hershel’s Farm, Woodbury and the prison; it seems as though the gated community of Alexandria is where they’ll make their stand for the foreseeable future.
The combined team of Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn continue their sterling work, as they have been at a consistently high level for seven years now. Adlard's pencils and inks convey the emotion on a character's face with the sparsest of lines in one panel before providing detailed all-out zombie carnage in the next - and this issue contains a particular amount of zombie carnage following a fairly dry spell prior to this arc kicking in.
That said, a fair portion of this carnage remains off-panel. By remaining tightly focused on the characters and their actions within in the skirmish, and pacing the fight in a manner that's as swift as the reactions of the protagonists, Adlard cannily creates the feeling of our heroes being surrounded by danger as oppose to just showing them surrounded. This textbook show-don't-tell approach adds to the reader's unease immeasurably, with many fan-favorites put in enough jeopardy to convince you that they won't make it out alive. The tension is ratcheted up until one glorious two-page splash that works as a brief respite for both the reader and those caught up in the undead onslaught, and it's a moment in a book packed full of them - through the issue Kirkman and Adlard afford punch-the-air character moments to many of the cast.
It’s surprising that a book with not only this kind of longevity but a successful television series adaptation under its belt has to continue to promote itself by occasionally bowing to comic book convention. Labeling the events of the past few issues with the title “No Way Out” and calling it an arc, much like it did with the similar “Fear The Hunters” storyline back in the early sixties of the book, is presumably geared to pick up a few new readers - but they should know that The Walking Dead is not a book that moves from arc to arc with everything tied up in a bow at the end and the occasional reset when the writer feels like it. Character motivations shift organically, and there are ramifications and occasional zombie-attacks a-plenty. It’s relentless, ongoing serial sequential storytelling at its best, and at over eighty issues in with no signs of slowing up, The Walking Dead continues to be one of Image’s flagship titles, and surely the modern benchmark that all creator-owned books aspire to.
Detective Comics #876
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and David Baron
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the idea of genre and comics. I know that, contrary to the belief of some, superheroes are a genre, not a medium — but the thing about these genres is that, like potato chips, you don’t have to stop with just one.
Case in point: Detective Comics #876. This issue, perhaps more than any other, hits its stride following the adventures of Dick Grayson, the Batman of Gotham City. While the Grant Morrison flagship title Batman Incorporated feels more like Batman-as-globetrotting-secret-agent, Scott Snyder paints this book almost like Batman-meets-Law-and-Order.
What do I mean? Just the facts: We’ve got striking, bizarre crimes that lead to even more striking complications. We have Dick Grayson being the caped investigator trying to piece together the suspects. We even have the light character development — not enough to ever derail a character, but enough to get people like Grayson or Jim Gordon invested — and that’s even more important to emulate. Sure, Snyder doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but this absolutely does work, and it gives a breath of story diversity to a market that oftentimes doesn’t veer past straight beat-‘em-up action.
The other thing about this book that’s interesting to me is Jock. It took me awhile to understand it, but I think I actually have Jock all wrong — he’s got that gritty, hard edge that, with the right colorist, would look a lot like Alex Maleev or David Mack. These hard-bitten, shadowy characters just exude mood, and there are sequences here — particularly watching Grayson tumble through the sky, slipping through panel to panel like carnival rings — that look really breathtaking. And while Jock’s expressiveness isn’t his greatest strength, he does make strides toward making up for it by use of body language and composition within a panel.
But that all said, I think Jock’s work gets tripped up by the colorwork. David Baron anchors his pages with particular color themes, which is all well and good, but things like skin tone — particularly at the beginning of the book, which is cast against a drab green lab — makes the pages come off as really flat. It’s only when Baron gets a bit more theatrical — namely, when Dick goes to interrogate a potential suspect against a dark blue sky, or when he’s literally swallowed whole inside a glowing red deathtrap — that the coloring adds to the drama, rather than takes it away.
Aside from a slightly less nuanced bit of color that I think detracts from Jock’s potential, there is a lot to like about this first issue. It’s definitely different, more down-to-earth than some of the zanier or continuity-driven fare of some of the other Batbooks — and unlike many other series in the DC pantheon, it’s taking the superhero genre and adding a little bit of other kinds of stories, which freshens up icons that otherwise could be a bit overwrought. While the jury’s still out if Snyder can pull the dismount with the conclusion, this is understated but extremely elegant setup.
Planet of the Apes #1
Written by Daryl Gregory
Art by Carlos Magno and Juan Manuel Tumburús
Lettered by Travis Lanham
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Shanna VanVolt
When traveling space, time, and species, things get confusing. Planet of the Apes #1 is trying to build its nest in a very odd corner of the franchise: the period after the five films, but before the first. A little explanation is in order: Pierre Boulle’s original novel and the films and TV shows later made from it, involve time travel. As such, the final three films of the series are, time-wise, prequels to the first.
Confused? Well, so is this book. The elements of a good epic saga are there, but they are muddled. A combination of odd art choices, confusing societal makeup, and few surprises make this first issue seem unsure of its own footing.
That hurts because Daryl Gregory seems to really want to take the reader deep inside the bowels of the 5-movie epic. Perhaps too deep. Weird 1970s sci-fi may be among my favorite things, but I haven’t made it past movie three: Escape from the Planet of the Apes. This book takes place, according to BOOM!: “before the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie in the continuity of the first five films!” Even their marketing department couldn’t think of an easy way to say it. For the non-Ape-aholics, knowing that Beneath the Planet of the Apes (#2) destroyed the world, so that Escape from Planet of the Apes (#3) sent things back in time, and the remaining two movies prequel-crawl back to the original movie from there, is too much to ask of a reader.
First off, Carlos Magno’s art is muddy. His pencils seem strong and his compositions are well balanced, but that base is difficult to see through ink lines that look like runny mascara. He seems to despise clean shapes, and uses a lot of cross-hatching to bury them. A subdued earth-tone palette washes over these blotchy inks, failing to add needed clarity. I know we are dealing with “damned dirty apes,” but that doesn’t mean everything has to look dirty.
The aesthetic we end up with is more akin to a low-res 1930s Classics Illustrated interior than cheesy low-tech early-70s cinema. Perhaps that is a move to give Planet of the Apes #1 legs outside of the movie franchise, but the lack of crispness throws the reader off.
However, when the reader isn’t wondering why that ink mark is there or when the astronauts are coming, Gregory’s writing does a good job at laying the building blocks for an epic war. The humans are living in a ghetto, and an assassination is set to explode into a species-war between apes and humans. A strong female human character is our point of view for narration, and Gregory’s smart writing does well to illustrate the tensions between Ape and Man.
While Planet of the Apes #1 is cultivating a good set-up for a complex societal war, some lightness feels missing from the book. It is very dense and serious, and lacking in surprises. Much of the movies’ appeal was based on their ability to blow people’s minds with left-field revelations. I mean, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the first film, but the Planet of the Apes is Earth. There has yet to be mention of any time travel, space travel, or telepathy, or any of those sci-fi incorporations that gave the movies a fun, schlocky punch.
I suppose the reason to buy this Planet of the Apes #1 is the writing. Gregory’s first issue holds promise for a well-written battle saga. If that is your cup of tea, have a sip. However, the art and tone never really reached a point of clarity for me, and the magic of 70s sci-fi spectacular just wasn’t there.
Morning Glories #9
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazo
Lettering by Johnny Lowe
Published by Image Comics
Review by Colin Bell
Continuing in the same vein as the last couple of issues, ,Morning Glories #9 sees Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma turn their spotlight onto a single character — in this instance the stoic and mysterious Jun (although to be fair, it could be argued that any one of the leads in this book could be labeled "mysterious").
Where this differs from previous issues though is in its setting — the past stories focusing on Zoe and Hunter have flitted between the here and now of our story and flashbacks to the characters' youth. This issue layers on some trademark Glories complexity by balancing the expected Jun-centric flashbacks with flashbacks to the mysterious cliffhanger of the third issue. So in essence, it's a book running two concurrent flashbacks, one of which was originally flashed back to six months ago, if you follow. This is the kind of dense storytelling that Morning Glories is getting a reputation for, and in a modern landscape of comics that can be breezed through in a few minutes it's refreshing to find one that demands that the reader keep up and pay attention.
When Jun first encountered his doppelganger at the end of the third issue of Morning Glories, speculation at the time would've had you believe that it was a clone, or a time-displaced version of the same character. Sensibly (and somewhat unexpectedly) Spencer revealed last issue that the character was Jun's twin brother, and this issue explores what happened immediately after Jun's brother pointed a gun at Jun's head, and what brought the two of them to MGA in the first place, and therein lies this issue's trademark twist.
Joe Eisma's art remains consistently pretty and to my eyes reminiscent of Adrian Alphona's early work on Runaways, and I hope to see Eisma continue to grow into a more distinct style much as Alphona did. I was enamored in this issue with Eisma's depiction of a brutal act of violence — implied at first in a series of four panels taking up a page as the wickedly nonchalant Miss Daramount checks her watch whilst Johnny Lowe's lettering and the off-panel Mr. Gribbs do the rest. All implication is unexpectedly thrown out the window in the next panel which shows Gribbs' handiwork in all its gory glory.
Both Spencer and Eisma can also be commended for the emotional depth given in this issue by cutting back and forth between the past and present of Jun and Hisao. The panel-to panel juxtaposition between the brotherly love they once shared and the hurt and confused reactions of the present day are genuinely affecting, and a lot of this is down to Eisma's portrayal of the boys.
At the end of this issue, we have an agenda revealed and we know a little bit more about one of the main cast who was previously the least fleshed-out. The only concern you could express is that whilst you've got to marvel at the amount of plates that the Morning Glories team have spinning, you also have to wonder how much more can be crammed in to the plot before it becomes disorientating. It's a fine line between "mysterious" and "annoyingly evasive when it comes to answers", but I have faith that Spencer will keep the book on the right side of the divide.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
When we last saw Velocity, she was not in the best of situations, as it appeared she had finally been bested and literally lost her head. It's been a while since the previous issue so the so to have to wait to see how she pulled off being alive in Top Cow's Artifacts event was, shall we say, less than fun.
With barely twenty minutes left on her clock, Velocity still has to defeat Dr. Paine and cure herself with the antidote. How will she manage? Well, let's just say she'll have to be in more than one place at once. The finale is much like the previous issues, full of Velocity's trademark sass, which Ron Marz fully takes advantage of with her narrative that fills the story. This is an unusual move for Marz, has he is from the school of "don't tell, just show" in his storytelling.
If there’s one other misstep, it’s that we never really feel the threat of Dr. Paine. The issue wraps up almost too easily and lil' Vee is off to take down her next cybernetic nuisance. Then again, Velocity didn't take the doctor all that seriously, much like everything else, so it's almost as if we have to rely on the timer to feel the suspense as it gets closer to zero. The explanation of how she survived happens about the middle of the story, which I feel should have happened in the beginning as it made the issue feel almost like a recap. Though, the expression Kenneth Rocafort gives her while explaining it was quite cute and perfectly gets the character across.
Speaking of Kenneth Rocafort: Whoa. He fully takes advantage of Velocity's powers, as she's literally racing the clock, and has a blast with the sci-fi imagery of the Cyberforce world. The two-page spreads are gorgeous and immaculate, and you find yourself poring over the details of the page. HIs kinetic style is the perfect fit for the character and I couldn't see any other contemporary artist even coming close to something this flat-out good. Sunny Gho's colors over the art seems fitting as I think a less-muted pallet would have been too much and you might have lost some of Rocafort's details.
I've enjoyed this quick run with the character (pun totally intended) and would love to see more of her around outside of Cyberforce. She's a stark contrast to most Top Cow characters with her brash, witty sense of humor and snark. If you missed out the first time around, I highly recommend you search for the trade when it comes out. It's been a blast, Vee, I hope to see you again.
Danger Girl Vs. Army of Darkness #1
Written by Andy Hartnell
Art by Chris Bolson and Adriano Lucas
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Review by Shanna VanVolt
In a zombie-thirsty American pop-culture, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is a powerful book. It not only holds the ability to bring new life to the dead, but also to infuse new life into action-dependent comic books. In Danger Girl Vs. Army of Darkness # 1, the mysticism brought to this escapist series makes for a welcome enemy.
This franchise crossover book, with Army of Darkness’Ash Williams paired with Danger Girl’s Abbey Chase is unusually successful, making for a Barbie and Ken of fantastical realms. J. Scott Campbell’s cover, plastering Abbey onto Ash with guns a-blazin’ and wayward body parts scattered in their wake, illustrates exactly the kind of intensity this series is setting up to achieve: gluttonous ridiculous action.
So far this issue, the first of six, is all Danger Girl. Hartnell does a good job at setting up the action against the foil of Danger Girl Val’s humdrum life and vapid girl friends. Val has to leave the conversation about whether or not she should text a guy back because Abbey is in trouble, and she has a job to do. The scene captures the escapist beauty of the series. It takes the reader out of uninteresting reality and lets super-spy mode kick in.
Bolson does a great job on art creating larger-than-life action. He puts Abbey Chase, a girl more beautiful than could actually exist, in stark contrast to the gory destructive havoc she wreaks. He delivers panels on top of panels of explosive action. It is cluttered, but in a good way, like a bomb(shell) that just keeps exploding.
The action breaks for just long enough to get the set up nailed down in this running start of a first issue. It reads like “BOOM BOOM BOOM, bad book, DOOM!” And I like that pacing. We have not yet completely entered the crossover part of the book, but I cannot wait until we get more guns and hunks and explosives on the scene. My life is kind of boring, and this is my retreat.
Love of Danger Girl has always felt to me like a dirty little secret. I know I’m supposed to be offended by gratuitous scenes of impossibly hot women trashing everything they see, but I’m not. There appears to be no great underlying metaphor, and no real moral implications, and I can’t get enough of it. We’ll have to see how Hartnell and Bolson handle the onslaught of Ash and/or Evil Ash (which will it be?) into the series, but as Danger Girl Vs. Army of Darkness #1 stands now, it’s a smash.