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 reviews for you today, including books from Marvel, DC, IDW, Red 5 Comics and even a look at this weekend's box office titan, Thor! And that's not all — we've also got a ton of this week's reviews for you to enjoy over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a walk on the road to Schism, as we take a peek at Paul Jenkins' prelude to the next X-Men event…X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1
Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Roberto De La Torre and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Even as the Heroic Age and Fear Itself has trumpeted the comings and goings of Marvel's Avengers lineup, the series I've been most enthused about has to be coming from the X-Men event Schism. And if Prelude to Schism #1 is any indication, it sounds like my instincts were right on the money — this is a weighty story driven by mood and characterization, one that establishes the leadership of Scott Summers and foreshadows the inevitable conflicts to come.
In other words, Marvel — if this is the kind of storytelling we can expect for the rest of Schism, count me all the way in, because this was far and away my favorite book of the week.
And perhaps that's surprising, considering all the vitriol that's been laid at Paul Jenkins' feet. But even if you felt burned by Fallen Son: The Sentry or Captain Marvel: The Return, Prelude to Schism shows a surprising amount of confidence and skill from the writer — especially when he's just confident enough to be completely silent and trust his artist to get the right image.
What's interesting is how Jenkins injects a sense of tension early on with the script, even though we have no idea what the external threat is — it's something I imagine we'll get to with Jason Aaron, but in all honesty, this is the kind of script that gets you invested in the character first. With this issue, we get to watch Scott Summers through the eyes of Charles Xavier, and not only does it establish a nice bit of continuity for those who need a refresher, but in general it's a really touching, beautiful story to watch. This is a story of leadership, about fathers and sons, and the unspoken bond that comes from making the tough decisions.
Of course, this story probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well without Roberto De La Torre and Lee Loughridge. I have to give editors Nick Lowe, Daniel Ketchum and Sebastian Girner a ton of credit with putting this particular team together, because it absolutely fits — the artwork looks so shadowy, so moody, so foreboding, that you know something's on the outskirts of the panel weighing down on our heroes… even if you can't see it yet. De La Torre has that sort of Maleev moodiness but with a much rougher ink style, but his truest strength is that sweeping, cinematic kind of composition. His transition of having Professor X watching Cyclops to watching him roll through a field of wheat, pursuing an eerie beam of light, it's absolutely, positively elegant.
And to be honest, considering this book is a prelude to the actual event, I think Jenkins, De La Torre and company absolutely have done the right thing with this book. Does it step on the toes of Jason Aaron and Schism as a whole? No — I don't know much more about what the plot is going to be for that event than I did before. But that's not the point here — what Jenkins is doing is reminding us who the main players are, and how they came to be. He's reminding us why we care about Cyclops, about Professor X, and about the dream that shaped them both. There's no punching, there's little action, and even the conflict is more subdued than you might expect.
That's okay. It's also elegant, heartfelt, and emotionally resonant. It's continuity-heavy, but never inaccessible. It's moody, it's heavy, it's a book you'll want to read again and again. X-Men: Prelude to Schism isn't just the kind of book that makes me want to read an event — it's the kind of book I want to see publishers print more of every month of the year. As it stands, it's one of the best single issues I've read in a long time. X-Fans, this book marks the spot.Superboy #7
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Marco Rudy, Daniel Hor, Jamie Grant and Dom Regan
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
In a lot of ways, I have to applaud Superboy #7 for ambition, if nothing else. In the span of 22 pages, Jeff Lemire is able to put together a slick done-in-one action book that combines present-day superheroics alongside a frightening future world. With two very different artists on board for this book, I can't say that every choice works in this issue — but that doesn't mean I'm not happy to see these choices being made.
The first thing that I noticed about Lemire's writing for this issue is that he really does write with a visual bent in mind. He's never afraid to push his artists past what most might consider their limits — the first page alone is a seven-panel spread, with multiple images of Superboy's eye as he wanders towards an unearthly vision just out of view, and there are plenty more six- and seven-panel pages in this book, as well. Lemire's pacing also runs brisk, as he juggles two sets of threats simultaneously — and in terms of the plot, well, he taps into a tried-and-true well of fan-baiting with an alternate Justice League, but heck if you don't feel excited anyway.
But artwise, I'd say that while the two very different art styles is a visual plus, the execution isn't a knockout. Just in terms of layout, Rudy adds in a few touches — like puzzle-piece panel outlines on a couple of pages, or a weird squiggle when we see the big threat of this issue — that I think wind up being a little more self-indulgent and heavy-handed than was needed. Still, Rudy also brings in that unvarnished, retro kind of style that looks particularly interesting alongside the old-school thought balloons from letterer Carlos M. Mangual.
Meanwhile, the painted images — I'm assuming they were done by Daniel Hor, but the flowery daubs of color make it hard to discern some of the details — work in terms of tone and atmosphere, but comes at the cost of the clarity of storytelling. And to go back to the aforementioned artistic stretching, there are a few moments where Rudy isn't quite able to get all the panels in that Lemire is asking for — there's a seven-panel fight sequence that, even with a Dark Knight Returns homage in it, still feels too tiny to have an impact.
While I applaud Lemire for really making a satisfying 22-page chapter that feels self-contained enough to be worth the $2.99, there are a few things I think that could have been added to this book that I think would have made it more of a powerhouse. The first thing is resonance — outside of Conner saying he needed some space after the Doomsday debacle or maybe his wink to Psionic Lad, there isn't that moment that makes me feel truly invested in his arc, or that makes me feel as badly when he sees a post-apocalyptic world that he may have created. And bouncing off that, I feel like the characterization is tapping a little bit of an overused well in the whole Kent-vs.-Luthor genetic dichotomy — I would have loved to have seen just a bit more striking characterization, rather than the constant surprise and "where am I?" Conner gives in this alternate world.
Still, while the book is still rough around the edges, there is a lot of ambition going on in Superboy, as Lemire is really working hard to give you the most bang for your buck. In a deadline-driven industry where oftentimes getting the work done is more pressing than making a striking artistic call, the twin artists on this book make this issue pop out visually more than many books on the stand. The choices here don't always work, but at the same time, it's proof that Superboy is a superhero title with indie sensibilities that is always striving to grow.ENLARGE Avengers Academy Giant-Size #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Art by David Baldeon, Jordi Tarragona, and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Marvel
Review by Jennifer Margret Smith
There are many ways that Avengers Academy Giant-Size #1 could have gone wrong. It does, after all, represent the first significant writing of the Avengers Academy characters by someone who isn’t Christos Gage. While Paul Tobin has a proven track record of excellence, his ability to do justice to these particular characters was far from certain. Then there’s the inescapable fact that this story was initially supposed to be released as an Avengers Academy/Young Allies crossover miniseries and was (presumably due to the cancellation of Young Allies) later reduced to a single issue. While 80 pages is a more than generous length for a one-shot, I couldn’t help wondering, going in, if the restructuring might have done harm to the tale.
As it turns out, I need not have been worried. Avengers Academy Giant-Size #1 is a complete, all-ages adventure featuring two of Marvel’s best new teen characters, Spider-Girl and Reptil, fighting to save their friends and teammates from the machinations of Arcade, one of Marvel’s creepiest villains. Arcade’s modus operandi is the construction of elaborate games, mazes, and challenges that his victims must beat for a chance at survival, a kind of game show from hell. Tobin, like many writers before him, takes the opportunity that Arcade represents to make up unique and terrifying traps for each of the captured teen heroes that help to illuminate their characterizations for both familiar and unfamiliar audiences. From a room full of electrified, vacuum-powered tubes that trap the gas-transforming Veil to a game of human whack-a-mole designed to stop super-strong Young Ally Toro, Arcade’s creations highlight both Tobin’s diabolical brain and the heroes’ individual personalities, problem-solving techniques, and tenacity.
Between the complicated, character-focused set pieces, though, lies a story about Spider-Girl and Reptil meeting, working together, and developing a mutual crush that is picked up again in this week’s Avengers Academy #13. Their story is that of two insecure, relatively new heroes placed in an untenable situation with their friends’ lives at stake, and the way they manage to use their combined intelligence and skills to beat Arcade at his own game makes for a fantastic heroic journey for each. The light romance, though sudden, is adorable, and it’s a real treat to see a superhero story starring two Latino characters, one of whom is female, that bears no marks of tokenism.
Also thrilling is David Baldeon’s art, which has gotten better with every Marvel comic he’s drawn. His portrayals of the Young Allies characters have quickly become iconic in my mind, and he does a wonderful job of drawing teenagers who look like teenagers, with too-big ears and awkward expressions. He also does fantastic work with Arcade’s various androids and death traps, all of which look wholly original and genuinely menacing, even with the bright colors that Chris Sotomayor uses (to great effect) to heighten the all-ages appeal. Also genuinely menacing is Arcade himself, whose white suit, bow-tie, and bright orange hair have always made him a bit unsettling, but who here sports sunken eyes, a protruding brow, and a long, pointy chin that combine to make him truly scary.
The story itself does not feel overly hampered by the one-shot format, though I did find myself wishing that it had more space for the inclusion of the absent Avengers Academy and Young Allies characters, like Nomad, Gravity, Hazmat, and Mettle. The main drawback to this format, though, is the $8 price point. While this is a price that would be considered downright cheap if this book were a trade paperback or hardcover, it isn’t, psychologically, the kind of price that will convince a new reader browsing the shelves to pick up what appears to be a short, floppy one-shot. That’s a real shame, because Tobin and Baldeon have created a perfect nugget of a comic book that could be an easy jumping on point for readers unfamiliar with Avengers Academy and/or Spider-Girl. As it stands, this is a book that only hardcore fans of the characters are likely to pick up, and while it’s a treat for them (or, more accurately, “us”), it’s a shame that this story won’t have the chance to increase the fan ranks as much as it otherwise might.
Fear Itself: Spider-Man #1
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Mike McKone and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Teresa Jusino
Much of the action in the Marvel Universe happens in New York City, but there is no character through whom we more effectively examine what makes this city tick than Spider-Man. In this first of a three-part Fear Itself tie-in, we see how the events of Fear Itself are affecting the city’s inhabitants as fear spreads throughout New York causing everyone to respond to their basest instincts. Meanwhile, Spider-Man refuses to let anyone die as per his mission after the death of Marla Jameson, even as his own fears begin to take over.
Chris Yost has crafted a tight, and completely tense issue in which we see what fear is capable of doing to Spider-Man and the city. He includes a brave examination of a New York-specific fear, in which an angry mob suddenly turns on a Muslim cab driver (who was born and raised in New York), suddenly believing that he will be the death of them all. The cab driver, meanwhile, has had a fear of this happening for the past ten years - since the September 11th tragedy. Yost juxtaposing those fears with the otherworldly fears inherent to the Marvel Universe give this story depth. He also structures in three other anonymous New Yorkers dealing with their individual fears, and the rapid-fire view of each of these three people as Spider-Man is racing around trying to save people from themselves and each other drives up the tension.
And then, of course, there’s Spidey himself, whose fears about losing Aunt May and of not being able to save everyone manifest themselves in a near-crippling way. It is heartbreaking to watch this happen to this hero in particular precisely because Peter Parker has only recently begun to tame his fears under normal circumstances! His fears have always been a problem, and now they’re doubly so. When he’s dealing with Vermin at the end in a heart-stopping (and disgusting) moment when he’s overrun by NYC rats, the sense of danger is palpable.
Mike McKone’s art is great in this, particularly where the composition of his panels is concerned. He’s done an excellent job focusing in on the small moments in which people experience fear - looks in people’s eyes, bodies hunched over - the tension of Yost’s script successfully captured in all of their faces. The action sequences never feel overwhelming, and are incorporated with clarity. And yes, he captures the absolute skeeviness of a pack of rats in motion.
Fear Itself: Spider-Man is a tie-in that makes sense. Much like The Home Front, it examines not only what this new threat is doing to the superheroes fighting it, but the larger picture of what it’s doing to the city. New York has always been a main character in Spider-Man. It’s only fitting that it plays a prominent role in this story. The idea of Spidey being out of web shooters and attacked by a swarm of rats makes it difficult to wait for the next issue!
Moon Girl #1
Written by Tony Trov and Johnny Zito
Art by The Rhazzah
Published by Red 5 Comics
Review by Teresa Jusino
Moon Girl was originally created by Gardner Fox for EC Comics in the 1940′s, starring in three titles and credited with shaping EC’s sci-fi and horror direction. Now, the character has been revived by Tony Trov and Johnny Zito of South Fellini for a 5-issue story arc for Red 5 Comics.
Moon Girl is a former Russian princess who championed counter-culture and social revolution in the 1940′s. Now, in 1950′s New York, she looks to settle into a quieter life only to find her adventures have inspired a new generation of fanatics who enforce their own brand of justice and social upheaval. This first issue begins with Moon Girl defeating her archenemy, Satana, and getting her committed, only to have to deal with a fanatic/villain who seems to want to start a revolution using a kind of zombie army.
The idea to revive a character like this, especially a female protagonist, is an intriguing one. However, this comic is written as if a reader will already have a familiarity with her, which is most likely not the case. Rather than truly start from scratch and re-invent the character, Trov and Zito simply plop us into the middle of an adventure mid-stream, and have all of the characters interact with Moon Girl as if we’re already supposed to know who she is, and the kind of relationship she has to the foes she’s up against. That makes this a slightly infuriating read, because the reader wants to root for this character, but isn’t given much in the way of how or why. Yes, there are “supplemental materials” at the back of the issue, there to give the events of the issue more context. However, those materials shouldn’t need to be relied upon to give the issue context. That’s the script’s job.
There’s also the matter of it being set in 1950s New York. Comixology calls this “The Dark Knight meets Mad Men,” and it does seem to be trying to capitalize on a certain McCarthy-era, “atompunk” aesthetic that seems to be popular now. What is unclear is why. If you’re going to bring back a character from the past like this, there should be a reason why this character, and this world, is relevant now. Granted, this is only the first issue, but in a 5-issue story, the reader should have a sense of why this story needs to be told right away. That sense doesn’t exist here yet.
What does exist is wonderful, painterly artwork provided by The Rhazzah. It’s clear to see why this artist was chosen for this project, as Rhazzah’s work has a very nostalgic, almost “Dick and Jane” book quality to it that is very appropriate for the time in which this is set. If nothing else, Moon Girl is very pretty to look at.
Bringing back a forgotten female hero is a respectable goal, which is why Moon Girl deserves a chance. However, it now only has four issues in which to provide us with necessary context to enjoy and get something out of this story. If you are familiar with the original works of Tony Trov and Johnny Zito (Black Cherry Bombshells, The La Morte Sisters), you know that they are extremely capable of building wonderful worlds from scratch. Now, they’ve given themselves the difficult task of making someone else’s world new and relevant again. While Issue #1 of Moon Girl isn’t perfect, hope remains for Issue #2 and the potential of this talented indie comic duo.
Bat Boy: The Complete Weekly World News Comic Strips
Written and Illustrated by Peter Bagge
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Scott Cederlund
If you shopped for groceries anytime after 1992, there was no way you could miss Bat Boy, the cultural icon of many grocery store check out lanes thanks to the Weekly World News. Right up there with Elvis working at gas stations in Muskegeon, Bat Boy was the Weekly World News' sensationalistic half bat/half boy fictional headline. According to the less-than-reputable gossip rag, the mischievous Bat Boy got into trouble on a regular basis. We all saw and read the headlines of the paper even if we don't want to admit it. In 2004, the newspaper, as if tossing off all pretense about the veracity of Bat Boy, got Peter Bagge to begin writing and drawing a comic strip about the many headline-worthy adventures of Bat Boy.
Bagge, who had chronicled the 1990s in Hate, his wonderful part love-letter/part vitriolic reflections of the times, aims in on those scandalous and fictional headlines that amused us or made us shake our heads in disgust and throws them back in our face as he shows us everything that we hoped those headlines would be. Trapped to a time when Bin Laden was still on the loose and before Lindsey Lohan had her repeated public breakdowns, Bagge imagines what if all those headlines were real as Bat Boy tracks down Bin Laden, get thrown in jail with Martha Stewart before being adopted by her, becomes President and marries Abeyance, who's secretly a sasquatch. The headlines become real in their own way as Bagge shows us what a world with a real Bat Boy would be like.
Bat Boy revels in the fears, celebrities and culture of 2004 and 2005 so reading it in 2011, it already feels old and dated. You can even watch as Bagge himself must have gotten tired of trying to fit in some kind of social or political commentary as the last "act" of this book has Bat Boy finding others like him and being rejected by them for being too radical and dangerous. As he winds up his run, Bagge hits his stride as he actually beings telling a story in the strip. For most of the book, Bagge is having his fun with the character as he spends his time poking fun at the people who may have once thought that something as outrageous as Bat Boy could exist. In the end, to surprising effect and humor, he actually makes Bat Boy a character. It would have been fun to see where Bagge would have taken the strip once he jettisoned the headlines of the Weekly World News.
The characters, both real and imaginary, in Bat Boy are all characteristically Bagge's, with their spaghetti-like limbs flaying through the air. His characters look more like demented Muppets. They're wonderfully expressive as Bagge plays up the humor and the drama in his strips to illustrate the outrageousness of everything he's writing about. It's subtly different than his art in Hate. There his characters played out heir larger-than-life personal dramas as Bagge's art pushed the emotions of this characters. In Bat Boy his art just highlights humor and silliness in the situations that his characters get into.
I don't know anyone who really read The Weekly World News as anything other than kitsch, a diversion while waiting in line to get your milk, bread and ground beef for the week. None of us want to admit it but we all did it. Bagge tweaks that part of us that scoffs and chides readers of gossip magazines and newspapers as he enjoys following those tidbits of gossip to the ends we all think they went in the pages of those newspapers that none of us looked inside of. Except for when they just happened to fall out of their racks and open up to the pages that explained how Elvis was a masseuse living in Iowa City. I know for a fact that story was real.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston
Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski, and Mark Protosevich
Created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby
Produced by Paramount and Marvel Studios
Review by George Marston
At their best, movies, as a form of entertainment, are called on to inspire us. We cast aside our disbelief, our doubt, and our troubles for a couple of hours, and allow the impossible to become not only possible, but real. To see things that you've only dreamed of given shape, allowed to breathe, to move, and to speak is a phenomenon that can still be awe inspiring even in our age of jaded, nonplussed, technology-gorged irony. It's only fitting then, that when this medium of modern mythology is used to tell the stories of old myth, it can be at its most powerful, its most inspirational, and its most awesome. Granted, Thor, as it's based on Marvel Comics' conception of the classical characters, isn't exactly true to Norse myth, but it nails the comics, and it feeds that desire for inspiration, entertainment, and grandeur.
Director Kenneth Branagh obviously went into the film with this in mind, crafting an Asgard that relies heavily on Wagnerian opera for its soaring, gilded set-pieces, and even more on Shakespeare for its layers of family drama and regal politics. These are certainly areas with which Branagh is familiar, and his comfort with this level of sweeping drama shines through immaculately, aided by outstanding performances from Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, and Chris Hemsworth, who absolutely shines as the film's title character. As the three focal points for the film, and the fulcrum of its conflict, these three characters are perfectly embodied by their actors. Hopkins brings his usual air of proper stoicism to the role, and when that emotional wall is broken, it becomes one of the film's most powerful tools. Hiddleston as Loki finds the perfect balance of genuine concern for his family and home, self-serving greed, and scheming, occasionally brooding, evil. This will undoubtedly be a breakout role for not only Hiddleston, but for Hemsworth, whose brash arrogance is tempered by moments of absolute warmth and humanity, and whose performance as Thor is more than comparable to Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of Thor's compatriot Tony Stark.
Once the film reaches Earth, while the epic scope of Asgard and Jotunheim is lost, the movie finds a splendid element of humanity by focusing in on Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, and her research crew, as portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings, as they attempt to uncover a strange weather phenomenon that is, of course, related to the God of Thunder. Once Thor himself joins the bunch, the heavy drama of Asgard's political scene is given over to a lighthearted, but not silly, romp through a small town in New Mexico, as Thor slowly begins to understand why he's been exiled to Earth. It's really these scenes that make this film a great Marvel story, as the human element that Marvel's always been known for comes out. While that humanity is tempered with humor, it is also evident in Thor's eventual humility, and his triumphant return to glory. It seems that this film really captured something that DC has been failing to do with Superman on film since perhaps the first time that character was committed to celluloid, which is to inspire awe, and a sense of the impossible, while still grounding the story in its relationships.
Fans of Marvel's Thor, particularly the Kirby years, and the recent "Thor: The Mighty Avenger," will truly appreciate this film. The eye candy and easter eggs abound, with cameos (some brief, some surprisingly extensive) from the Cask of Nine Winters, the Eye of Agamotto, Fafnir, Hawkeye, Stan Lee, J. Michael Straczynski, and, of course, that all important post-credits sequence with Nick Fury, and a major plot point for Marvel's ongoing film saga that I won't spoil here. The best part? All of the characters, set pieces, and relationships get their moment to shine. From Sif and the Warriors Three, to the Frost Giants, to Heimdall, every character feels like they serve a purpose, and none feels wasted. Often in super-hero movies, important characters are thrown in, appear for one scene (or less), and are cast aside, with barely a cameo under their belt. Not so here, as everybody gets ample screen time, and most everyone gets an important role in the story.
By now, most of us will have seen Thor, formed an opinion, and probably spat that opinion all around the Internet, but for those few still on the fence, I say go for it. If you're a fan of the genre, and you enjoyed films such as Iron Man, then you will not be disappointed. Thor is a film that presents a grandiose, epic adventure, and makes it accessible, and even real, by finding a center in human relationships. If you like movies that inspire, entertain, and really evoke a sense of wonder and fun, then this is the ticket. To borrow from the bard, Thor shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than may be dreamt of in our philosophy.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!