Best Shots Reviews: UNCANNY X-FORCE, BATMAN AND ROBIN, More

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 your reading enjoyment, including books from Marvel, DC, Dynamite, IDW, BOOM! Studios and more! And now, let's kick off today's column with a fall from grace for Warren Worthington III, as we look at Uncanny X-Force

 

Uncanny X-Force #10

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Billy Tan, Rick Elson and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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While the team might have lost its artistic fastball in the latest issue of Uncanny X-Force, that doesn't mean Rick Remender can't still hit a home run. Even as he works with an art team that isn't quite have the sizzle as before, on a purely story level, this is a great character piece between the two leaders of the team.

As I've been reading Uncanny X-Force, I've been continually thinking two things, as far as Rick Remender's writing is concerned: He's built up Archangel more compellingly than any writer I can remember, and he's wisely backed off from using Wolverine too heavily. This is the payoff — this is where all that investment in the characters works to Remender's advantage, because he puts some real meaning behind a crucial fight scene, and shows just how far gone Archangel has become.

Of course, that's just looking at this story from a plot perspective. Remender here really uses continuity to his advantage, going back as far as Wolverine's first encounter with Warren, and uses it to play up the sadness and terror that his transformation has ensued. This is like a stellar slasher movie mixed up with a battle of brothers — it may even be the best issue Remender's written yet.

And that's a good thing, too, because — comparatively speaking — this is also the weakest issue of the series as far as the visuals go. Part of that is with Paul Mounts joining the book as colorist — he uses some of the same color tones as Dean White and Matthew Wilson did before him, but he doesn't saturate the page with it, which means that some of the more theatrical color choices don't get broadcast as loudly and proudly as before. It also means that that the painterly style for Billy Tan is lost, bringing this artist's streak down to earth. Rick Elson, meanwhile, looks a bit like Tom Grummett — it's perfectly straightforward, even a little bit cartoony, but that kind of flies in the face of the tone of this issue.

Ultimately, depending on how you get your kicks from comics, the latest issue of Uncanny X-Force may seem like a mixed bag — or perhaps to be more accurate, it finally doesn't hit the high bar that it's been setting for itself month after month after month. Visually, the book doesn't quite go for the jugular the way that it has in the past, and that's mainly because the unifying factor — the color — doesn't click this go-round. But it could be much worse — thankfully, Rick Remender knows when to go for the knockout. And with this script, he absolutely scores one.

 

Batman and Robin #23

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Guillem March, Andrei Bressan, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

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Do any of you have that irrational hatred for something? I don't mean real hatred. I'm talking about that viscerally dorky rage that can only come from the deepest recesses of the fanboy or fangirl. I'm talking about the kind of geek rage that can only come from things like Greedo shooting first anger, Firefly getting canceled after one season, or 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. For me, all of that nerd rage can be explained by two words. Jason. Todd. I can't stand that character. Yes, I was one of the people that paid to off him years ago. Yeah, there was some angst to follow, but the whiney little brat was gone. Then he wasn't. I know, comic book logic. No one stays dead, but even for comics his reason for being back is incredibly dumb. Punched back into existence? Was he glad to be back? Of course not, because this is Jason Todd and nothing makes the little sucker happy. So now he's DC's Punisher and the whole Bat-Family cuts him some slack because he's had a tough time of it. Well now he's back again, within the pages of Batman and Robin #23. By now, I am fairly certain by now my editor is pulling his hair out because I've wasted so much space simply whining and complaining about a fictional character. Such is the nature of an irrational geek. But, what pains me even more about this issue starring Jason Todd is... I kind of liked it.

Of everyone that has ever tackled Jason Todd as a character, Judd Winick seems to have the best grasp. He understands the balance between an angry man with an agenda and a sniveling brat with blatant daddy issues. He's taken Jason Todd, and his new persona The Red Hood, to an all-new and interesting level.

The issue opens with the obligatory flashback to heydays of Batman and Robin II. A little reckless, but filled with the drive and desire Bruce needs in a sidekick. This cuts immediately to a fun conversation between two men that have both, literally, returned from the grave. As always, Jason is quick to banter, while Bruce Wayne is all business. Winick does a good job of immediately showing the root of so many of Jason and Bruce's issues. Jason always wanted, even needed, a father figure. Bruce could never make that connection to his young ward and years later continues to pay the price for that flaw. While both characters have long since moved past the place of no return, Winick is smart in reminding us of their dichotomy.

The Red Hood wants and receives a transfer from Arkham Asylum to a general prison in Gotham. Everyone from the reader to the entire Batman gang knows why. Jason wants to get back to doing what he feels Bruce lacks the stones to do, kill the bad guys. Clearly, as the issue unfolds we see that Jason has an even deeper plan than simply dealing death in the big house. That fact becomes more evident as the book proceeds. Winick is drafting a family drama with this issue and something tells me that by the time his arc is wrapped, no one will be left untouched. In fact, he drops a huge hint as to Jason's plan on an emotional level when he asks Bruce, “How's Damian's mom," a great reminder that this man knows exactly where and how to hurt the Dark Knight. Although Winick's wrap up to this issue felt a little forced, I am still very interested in where he is taking the character.

Guillem March and Andrei Bressan share penciling duties in this issue. I found Guillem's lines a little too angled for my tastes. I understand it is a stylistic choice, but the characters look a little out of proportion and that was distracting at times. Andrei's art in the second half of the book really connected with the story and events. His lines have a greater fluidity and sense of motion. It also feels like Andrei is more comfortable with breaking from traditional panel layouts and does so with better skill. While I see the skill in Guillem's work, I do think the story would be better served if Andrei were the primary artist for the remainder of the arc.

While I doubt I'll ever be a card-carrying member of the Jason Todd fan club, I like the direction Judd Winick and the rest of the team is taking the character and I'm looking forward to the rest of the story. Coming from someone that dropped 50 cents to off that guy years ago, that is high praise indeed.

 

Alpha Flight #0.1

Written by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak

Art by Ben Oliver, Dan Green and Frank Martin

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

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Writing the first issue of a new Alpha Flight series must be a daunting task. The characters are all old and venerable, but many of them have sunk into obscurity in recent years without an ongoing Alpha Flight title to keep them in the public eye. That means that a new first issue has to do double-duty, introducing all of the characters to a potentially unfamiliar audience without upsetting or boring the old guard of fans who are already passionate about them. In addition, a new Alpha Flight series must present the team as a unique entity, distinctly Canadian and different in fundamental ways from American super teams.

Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak have been working together for quite awhile now, mostly on the various permutations of Incredible Hercules, and with this first issue that collaboration proves itself a well-oiled machine. Not only do they manage to hit every item on the above checklist, they also manage to create a one-and-done superhero adventure that any reader, Alpha Flight fan or otherwise, could follow and enjoy.

Here the team (plus the surly Northstar, who claims not to be interested in joining them despite his assistance with the mission) is called together to fight adversaries that threaten to disrupt Canadian elections (elections that involve Alpha Flight’s former government liaison Gary Cody). The political context is distinctly Canadian, and the variety of threats allows each team member a moment to define him or herself for the reader while kicking supervillain tail. Shaman fights in his astral form while his physical body performs surgery, Sasquatch transforms mid-leap and falls from the sky to battle a man with a metal exoskeleton, Northstar and Aurora show off their flight and speed, couple Guardian and Vindicator fight as a pair, and Snowbird shows up unexpectedly in a very well-handled reveal. Even Marrina, largely absent from the issue, gets a nice shouty moment.

It’s also important to note that Northstar’s civilian boyfriend, Kyle, who has only appeared on panel a handful of times, plays a major part in the plot of the issue, and is the primary motivation for Northstar’s participation in the mission. Like most civilian significant others in superhero comics, Kyle finds himself in serious danger from which he needs to be saved. While this could be construed as a damsel stereotype, it is the very similarity to the common heterosexual “partner in distress” story that makes the plot so remarkable. Northstar’s relationship with Kyle is simply a fact of the comic, neither ignored nor made into an after-school special, and when they share a reunion kiss at the end of the issue, it works on two levels – as a perfectly natural moment within the world of the comic, and as a moment of triumph for the world outside. Northstar was one of the very first openly gay superheroes in comics, yet this is possibly the first – at the very least one of the first – times he’s gotten to kiss a man on panel. Progress indeed.

Ben Oliver’s art is a nice complement to Pak and Van Lente’s writing, with jagged, intersecting panels, fluid action, and lovely rendering of both the human characters and non-human elements like monsters and Snowbird’s animal forms. Frank Martin’s coloring, meanwhile, while a bit overly-murky at times, gives a nice sense of texture to Oliver’s art, adding depth and shadow to skin tones and fabric. All in all, it’s quite a pretty book, made prettier by the elegance of the classic Alpha Flight costumes and character designs.

Alpha Flight is slated to be a maxi-series, and this Point One issue is only the beginning. But based on this issue alone, I foresee great things to come from Pak and Van Lente, and I’m filled with hope that their work will herald a resurgence for these characters lasting far longer than the planned run of this particular series.

 

Rocketeer Adventures #1

Written by John Cassaday, Mike Allred, and Kurt Busiek

Art by John Cassaday, Mike Allred, Michael Kaluta, Mike Mignola, Jim Silke; with Laura Martin, Laura Allred, and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Chris Mowry and Mike Allred

Published by IDW

Review by Aaron Duran

When Rocketeer Adventures hit the shelves at my local comic book shop, it was interesting to see how many people thought IDW was making a comic based “on that Jennifer Connelly” movie. Even those that knew the Rocketeer was a comic before a movie commented on how the character must have fallen back into public domain. I can't really be annoyed at either thought. Indeed, it is a testament to Dave Stevens and his love for the pulp era of storytelling that so many people thought the Rocketeer has been around for decades; generations even. As many fans know, Hairy Cell Leukemia took Dave Stevens far too soon from the world in 2008, although even before his passing, it had been years since ace pilot Cliff Secord took to the skies with his fantastic machine. Still, the impact the Rocketeer had on the comic fan and comic creator simply cannot be denied. As is evidenced by the fact that IDW has lined up an all-star cast of comic book writers and artists playing in Steven's wonderful world.

First up is aptly named short, The Rocketeer, by John Cassaday. A tonally perfect homage to the pulp era, the story opens with a narration that brings the reader immediately up to speed. Bad guys have kidnapped the Rocketeer's girl, the stunning Betty. There really isn't much more of a plot to wrap up. This is distilled Saturday movie matinee action. Cassaday's art and words are a perfect match, and the colors from Laura Martin (who was Dave Steven's choice to re-color the original Rocketeer stories) make this opening story tale from the page. One moment, Cliff Secord is the perfect example of a stoic hero, the next he's the love-struck goof that we love. Cinematic action, great one-liners, and the perfect ending has you primed and ready for more adventures.

Mike Allred writes, draws, and letters the next short, Home Again. To be honest, I was a little confused as to the story. Something mysterious is going on and dark forces are at work as Cliff brings in a second helmet and rocket pack. But, that all takes a back step to Allred's gorgeous pencils. His Betty is a real beauty, and when the Rocketeer is frozen by her visage for just a moment, you believe it. His heavy lines, combined with Laura Allred's wonderful choice in coloring really pays when the Cliff soars through a New York night. In fact, I am pretty sure I'd been happy if the whole story was nothing but the Rocketeer weaving around the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. Like the story before, Home Again is all about having fun.

Finally, we have Dear Betty by writer Kurt Busiek. The only real narrative of the comic, we watch the Rocketeer's adventures through a series of cryptic letters to his one true love, Betty. Busiek does a wonderful job of showing Betty's torn emotions. She is the star of the stage, adored by fans and leading men alike. And yet, when the lights go down and she's alone with her thoughts, all she can do is read Cliff's letters and carry on. Yes, this is a lighter take on what many loved ones must have faced in the war. However, in a book so deeply entranced within the pulp genre, this is perfectly fitting. Michael Kaluta's pencils have a rougher edge compared to the previous two pieces, but his eye for details brings the setting to life. The small postcard glimpses into the dangers the Rocketeer faces are both exciting and excruciating. (If only because I want to read those stories. Now). Toss in Dave Stewart's muted colors and you have the most realistic Rocketeer tale of the bunch.

An eerie pinup by Mike Mignola and a rather sexy homage to the Saturday Evening Post by noted Betty Page artist Jim Silke round out what just might be a perfect comic book. The Rocketeer Adventures reminds me why I first grabbed a four-colored floppy off the spinner rack. No matter how dark the skies, I can always look up and see a hero flying in to save the day. The Rocketeer is that hero. We may have lost his creator, but he's in good hands. Welcome back buddy, we missed you.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #661

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Reilly Brown, Victor Olazaba and John Rauch

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

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This is the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man I’ve ever purchased. I’ve read a few trade collections in the past, but though I’ve always liked Spidey in theory, his solo adventures have never quite grabbed me the same way his appearances in books like New Avengers have. I always figured it would take something special to make me pick up the flagship Spidey title. And that something special, as it turns out, is Christos Gage writing Spider-Man’s interactions with the kids of Avengers Academy.

This issue represents a short departure from Dan Slott’s ongoing Spider-Man narrative, and fans of that narrative might be disappointed by the detour. Disregarding this issue, however, would be the comic equivalent of failing to stop and smell the flowers. In this comic, Gage uses his abundant talents not just to introduce his new characters to the mainstream Spider-Man audience, but to write a truly great Spider-Man story that gets to the heart of who the character is.

By placing Spider-Man next to the teenage heroes of 2011, Gage is able to throw into sharp relief how much comic book character development has changed over the years. The things that seemed perfectly logical in 1963 – like Spider-Man giving up a potentially lucrative career in wrestling to fight small-scale crime – seem antiquated to the savvy kids of 2011, who live in a world of high-profile celebrity charity efforts and wealthy individuals who incorporate themselves to avoid pesky legalities. Spider-Man represents an older model of teen hero, one whose high school history of wedgies and formal dating makes him the laughing stock of the jaded Millenials.

But while a good portion of this issue is devoted to this kind of hilarious meta, much of which pokes fun at Peter Parker and his history and abilities, the story is, at its core, a story of what makes Spider-Man special and important, despite those loser tendencies and old-fashioned qualities. Hank Pym may tell Peter, when he recruits him to be a substitute teacher at the Academy, that they regularly use him as an example of the ways teen heroism can go wrong, but what Pym doesn’t point out is that Peter survived all those missteps, and lived to tell the tale.

Peter Parker’s past is full of woe, but his own inner strength and convictions allowed him to live through the pains of being a teenage hero and grow up to be the strong, secure adult he is now. Toward the end of the issue, when Peter realizes that a fear-inducing villain has been heightening his anxieties, Peter is able to break the spell by acknowledging his own inadequacies and fighting anyway, refusing to let imperfection be an excuse for not fighting as hard as he can. It’s a fantastic example of great power and great responsibility coming to the fore in a practical, motivational way, and a brilliant character note for Gage to strike. Coupled with the reflections on teaching and pedagogy, a strength of Avengers Academy from the beginning, this issue represents Gage’s writing at its finest.

The Avengers Academy kids all have great moments, too, using their distinctive powers and personalities to fight off the villains, and the continuation of this story in the next issue promises more fun to come. Reilly Brown is well-suited to the task of drawing teenagers, and his art is yet another highlight of the book, though Victor Olazaba’s soft inks combined with John Rauch’s understated colors feel at times incongruent with the sharper, dynamic, cartoony action. The art is still extremely effective, however, and Brown does an especially good job drawing faces in states of nervousness and anxiety – a must for an issue all about insecurity.

Rounding out the issue is a silent 8-page vignette by Paul Benjamin and Javier Pulido, following Spider-Man as he goes through his daily to-do list. The art is bright and vivid and the storytelling quite clear, a fact that can’t be taken for granted in a silent tale. There’s nothing especially new or surprising about the story, but in its own way it gets to the core of who Spider-Man is as much as Gage’s does, and it makes for a worthy complement to the main story.

All in all, this is an issue that is well worth its cover price. Whether you’re a fan of Gage and his Avengers Academy or simply a fan of Spider-Man as a character and as an icon, you can’t go wrong by picking up this book. 

 

Heroes For Hire #7

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Tim Seeley and Jay David Ramos

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comic

Review by Kyle DuVall

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Sometimes I wonder If Heroes For Hire writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are as good as I think they are. Maybe I’m just a sucker for their methodology. Their penchant for pulling mid-level characters deep from the Marvel reserves and throwing them together in over-the-top, vintage comic book plots seems aimed dead center at my own sensibilities.

Then I pick up a book like Heroes For Hire #6 and it becomes clear that DnA are doing much more than riffling through The Complete Handbook Of The Marvel Universe and picking characters at random. Abnett and Lanning are not delirious creators like Grant Morrison, throwing every wild original idea they can come up with on the page, nor are they ruthless re-contextualizers like Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar, but they are top-notch writers nevertheless. Abnett and Lanning work like master chefs with the gigantic pantry of the Marvel U at their fingertips. Even if you are not re-inventing gastronomy, pulling stock from that pantry takes its own special kind of genius. You can’t just say “hey, everyone likes chocolate, everyone likes Steak...let’s make Hot Fudge Filet Mignon!” You have to complement the ingredients just right, even when they are wildly divergent. In short, these guys really know how to cook, and when DnA bust out the caviar and truffles it’s excellent, but when they start cooking up the tripe and Spam, watch out! That's when things get really tasty.

Heroes For Hire #7 is a prime example of a 5-star DnA recipe. At a quick glance, it looks like Abnett and Lanning have been randomly riffling the guidebooks and spinning the wheel of tropes again. This issue features Paladin and Spider-Man chasing down Batroc The Leaper and running headstrong into an illegal pit fighting operation involving dinosaurs smuggled from The Savage Land, and The Scorpion. The brilliance here isn’t just the gonzo nature of the story. It's about the way the main characters strike off each other for a specific purpose: the purpose of characterization. Yes, in that brilliant mess of a babbling 9 year old’s plot, it’s still all about the characters.

To wit: Heroes For Hire is increasingly becoming centered on Paladin and Misty Knight, with the dependable but purely third-string hero interested in the Metal-armed Ms. Knight, but crippled by an inferiority complex that can’t help but get worse in light of the revolving itinerary of bad-asses who saunter on and off of the Heroes For Hire payroll. Last issue, To really turn the screws on this subplot Abnett and Lanning put Paladin up against one of The marvel Universe’s greatest running gags: Batroc Ze Leaper, and then they had poor paladin get served up like a soufflé by the flying frog. To add insult to injury, Spider-Man, heroic heavy hitter and a+ smart aleck, swung in to clean up after the purple mercenary. Issue #7 continues with Spidey running down The Leaper, having a rhetorical field day at The Leaper’s expense all while Paladin has to catch a cab to the villains’ secret hideout and suffer humiliating small talk from a nervy cabbie along the way.

What really works about the mix up is not just the fact that Spidey is such a high profile hero and Batroc is such an ostensibly goofy villain, it’s also the way DnA exploit that armor of cockiness the insecure Peter parker sheathes himself in order to highlight Paladin’s insecurities, and the way Batroc is tailor-made to bring Spidey’s quippy side out. Those wonderful barbs thrown at Batroc just add insult to injury for The Paladin, especially since he spent most of his fight with Batroc in the previous issue trying to convince Misty how dangerous Batroc really was. Of course, there’s an additional level of meaning for the readers because we know that, beneath the bravado, Spidey himself is a lot more insecure in general than Paladin knows, which sets up the potential for some proper bonding between the two heroes as this arc moves along.

But enough technical stuff, on a pure, giddy, surface level this is an issue that has things like Spidey quoting Ghostbusters and nerd-outing blaxploitation bad girl Misty Knight by throwing around Star Wars analogies, Dinosaurs, Batroc twirling his moustache, Ninjas...And those exchanges between Spidey and Batroc Mon dieu! These guys know how to write Spidey dialogue, and they know how to put him in a deliciously sticky situation that brings out his best.

In terms of art, this issue has penciler Tm Seeley filling in for Brad Walker. Seeley is certainly a big step up from the last fill-in artist, Robert Atkins, who capped off the series’ crucial first arc in issue #5 with rushed, vague pencils and workmanlike layouts. Seeley is not only a more skilled draftsman and portraitist, but a much better visual storyteller all around. His figures get anatomically wonky at times, with a kinetic full-page spread of Batroc falling flat due to some weird figural distortions and perspective problems, but Seeley definitely gives a respectable, if not excellent, showing. And Seeley definitely can’t be faulted for that goofy, over designed new scorpion costume; a clunky boxy exoskeleton with scorpion “claws” that deprive the villain of opposable thumbs. How does Scorpion even turn a doorknob with those stupid metal mittens? Does he just bash through every door like the Hulk? What if he drops his keys? How would he ever pick them up again? Let’s not even think abut how he would go to the Bathroom.

Heroes For Hire continues to define itself sharply even in the context of its unabashed eclecticism and unrestrained sensibility. This is a superhero book unbound by the demands of a narrow cast or fiddly continuity, yet still resolutely character-focused. Abnett and Lanning positively own this premise and run with it like Quicksilver, all the time keeping their figurative eyes on the personalities they shuffle through their frenetic pages, no matter how far out of left field they come. Heroes For Hire is the superhero book for those who don’t care about giant events and revisionist one-upsmanship, the hero fix for those who don’t care about shock storytelling and earth-shaking plot gimmicks. Heroes For Hire is the book for anyone who ever visited New York city and hoped against all hope that they might look up and see The Falcon casually gliding between the skyscrapers or anyone who imagined they might turn a corner and witness Iron Fist practicing his katas on the edge of a rooftop. In short, if you love the Marvel Universe, you’ll love this book.

 

Power Girl #24

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Hendry Prasetya and Jessica Kholinne

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

In many ways, this issue of Power Girl brings Judd Winick back to his roots — this is a comic with a message. Focusing less on Power Girl and more on a misunderstood villain, it might be a heavy-handed book — okay, it's definitely a heavy-handed book. But even as Winick stacks the deck to pluck at your heartstrings, he succeeds in creating a compelling premise, all while continuing his winning streak with artistic talent.

Following a string of non-topical writing with Justice League: Generation Lost and even the preceding issues of Power Girl, it's bittersweet to see Winick return to form, as we follow a Quraci metahuman who gets tangled up in the overheated rhetoric of the War on Terror. Imprisoned by the government after he tries to save the plane he's on — he's mistaken as a terrorist — he winds up butting heads with Power Girl (and Batman) as he struggles to break free. This is bittersweet in that, yeah, it can get a little manipulative with its argument, but at the same time, at least this comic means something, right?

And to Winick's credit, he also gives Power Girl a compelling side story. For those just catching up, P.G.'s had a seismic shift in her personal life, as she reassumed her civilian identity as Karen Starr. This is the personal resonance — and I'll have more to add on that later — that gets us invested in Power Girl, and makes us hope that she'll be different than the rest. It's not a huge step in continuity, past what I've already said — it's about a woman who doesn't like being told what to do, even as she's taking a profound personal and professional journey. I think we can all relate to that one, can't we?

Now, this story might not have been as fortunate without a sharp artistic team on board. Thankfully, artist Hendry Prasetya is the perfect successor to Sami Basri, with a style that doesn't seem jarringly different, but adds something new in and of itself. Prasetya in certain ways has a design sense similar to Francis Manapul with the occasional sharp linework of Jim Calafiore, but what really stood out to me about his work was his expressiveness. If you're not rooting for Power Girl the moment she's pouting in the Batcave, well, you're probably a grump, and this book is not for you.

That all said, however, the book's biggest weakness — or greatest strength, depending on your personal tastes — is that it definitely veers into the territory of "Afterschool Special," showing readers that it's okay to have an Arab with superpowers. (And if Winick and DC can continue to use this character in the future, even more kudos to them.) If Winick had set up the other side just a little bit more — given a hair more humanity and understanding, rather than portraying the military as itchin' to lock somebody up — the story would have been stronger for it. Yet I find myself a bit more forgiving than others might — it's heavy-handed, it's occasionally clumsy, but I still root for the characters, I still applaud the story that's being told. It's old-school Judd Winick, and I'm still glad I'm on board.

 

Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion #1

Written by Joe Harris

Art by Jose Malaga and Renier Petter

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Click here for preview

Dynamite successfully revamped Vampi for a modern audience with their main Vampirella series. Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion #1 returns her to her scanty triangular onesie and offers up some continuity from her world before Dynamite. For an extreme character with roots in horror exploitation, Harris and Malaga bury their reverence for Vampirella in bunched-up plots and pictures instead of resurrecting the free spirit of the original icon.

Malaga has been given the gift of drawing Vampirella. Her unabashed sexuality is, historically, playing grounds for prominent artists to display some gorgeous comic art. Adam Hughes, Mark Texeira, the fantastic Jose “Pepe” Gonzalez, and the magnificent Frank Frazetta have all lent their hand to Vampirella’s body of work. With her return to classic costume in VATSL #1, Malaga has an opportunity to draw new admirers to a beloved heroic vixen—or at least keep up the good numbers from the main series.

He doesn’t completely miss, but he doesn’t nail it. Vampirella, at her most impossibly buxom, has never made me wish I could look like that. Instead, when a comic scene is so racy as to alarm mothers and excite readers, I wish I could draw like that. While still compelling, Malaga doesn’t push his art far enough to acknowledge his freedom and ignite that jealousy. He is inking his own lines, and a lot of his well-laid pencils get eaten up by over-inked shadows and cross-hatching. The scenes certainly lend the plot to a glorious cheesecake camp— seedy strip club, underground subway/internet sensation kink group, vampire chick vs. vampire chick fight— but the embrace of pin-up/fantasy art seems missing…along with a lot of belly-buttons. The heavy shadows create a timidity in Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion #1 that has never been ascribed to the character herself. I want to see a fearless beautiful vampire brazenly fighting evil. Malaga needs to turn on the lights, and lighten up the panels to let that be on display.

The cover-the-entire-page panel layout that works well in the main series also seems distracting here. Malaga is very good at posing his characters (even if half of them are hidden in the inks), but he doesn’t allow for a focal point by filling in almost every page with a myriad of visuals. How can we get the point that Vampirella is crucial to the action when she cannot even emerge victorious from her backgrounds? The only page with less than three angle-changing panels is the last one, which is focused more on a blast than the bombshell.

That said, you can’t go too far astray with beautiful women, and Malaga offers plenty to see. The Sisterhood makes an appearance in this issue, and their outfits, knights-meet-nuns-meet-Florence Nightingale, are a mastery of costuming.

They are also a nod to Vampirella’s past. Joe Harris seems to have done his research on the character and is bringing in some plot aspects of yore. The book starts with a character from around the 1991 Harris Comics time period, and the Sisterhood comes out of some of Grant Morrison’s storylines from the same publisher. “Scarlet Legion” itself is a tribute to the Vampirella fan club of said name.

With all that steeped in past versions of the pious vixen, Harris is still searching for his own story in this first issue. He lays down a foundation reminiscent of Hellboy limbo: Vampirella is an otherworldly being who is actually good, but made from evil things, so she can never fully be trusted by the definite defenders of goodness in the world, because those bad aspects want to exploit her. Harris also gives some page-time to the dichotomy of an ancient battle occurring in a modern world. Like the art, with so much going on in VATSL #1, the plot doesn’t go far enough in any direction. A certain amount of far-fetched fun is to be expected from the maybe-alien, maybe-demi-goddess good-but-vampire Vampi, but Harris plays it relatively safe with a too many plotlines swirling around a warn-out vampire tale.

Through the shiftless clutter, Harris and Malaga could still pull out a good Vampirella romp. The plot, while overstretched for explanation in this first issue, has introduced some new possible directions for the character. For me, the most important aspect of Vampirella has been the playful and unapologetic art, and I hope Malaga and Harris can dig her out of the dusty backgrounds of her old self and put her back on the fantasy pedestal where she belongs.

 

X-23 #10

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Sana Takeda

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Teresa Jusino

Click here for preview

X-23 is trying so hard to be normal, but she just can’t get out of her own way. Issue #10 of X-23 is the beginning of a new story arc, “Touching Darkness,” a story that will involve not only Gambit (her partner in the previous story) and Wolverine, but Jubilee, who is now a vampire. The story begins with X-23 cutting herself, Gambit attempting to celebrate X-23’s birthday, and her violently lashing out at Gambit before coming to her senses.

Marjorie Liu has a great deal of respect for this character. That much is clear. She respects what the character has been through, and seems to want to allow her to piece her life together in her own time. However, at the top of every new story arc, the reader is re-introduced to the fact that X-23 is volatile. That she was raised to be a killing machine and has a lot of guilt over her past. The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any progression for her. Does her guilt repair itself the way her wounds do? One would think that after seemingly destroying the Weapon X program with her “brother” (or would it be son?), Daken, that she would be a little better, see a little hope — especially coupled with the love and patience she’s been given by everyone in the X Family. The fact that she seems to be even worse now than she was is either really sad, or really repetitive, and I can’t decide which. Depression is not something that’s easily gotten over under normal circumstances, let alone when you’ve been raised as a killing machine.

However, from a purely narrative standpoint, it doesn’t necessarily make for interesting storytelling. What is this character without her past? Obviously, it is the journey of this character to figure that out for herself, but the reader should have some sense of that even if the character doesn’t, and we don’t yet. We know she’s trying, and so yes, she’s a character who tries. But her guilt remains her defining characteristic, which isn’t the strongest choice for her. Not anymore. Been there, done that.

The most striking part of the issue, however, is the scene at the end where X-23 cuts her own neck and allows Jubilee to drink from her, after spending the entire issue not trusting her. What I hope is that this moment is X-23 turning her desire to hurt herself into a desire to help someone else with what she can do. What I fear is that it’s yet another moment of masochism, allowing an “evil vampire” to drink from her because “that’s all she deserves.” The final image of Jubilee about to drink from X-23 was beautiful, and not just a little bit hot, but it was unclear how either party felt about it.

Sana Takeda’s artwork, however, is reason enough to pick up this issue. In addition to being a great jumping-on point, because it’s the start of a new story, it’s also a chance to have a look at Takeda’s beautiful, manga-inspired art. She has a similar style to Jo Chen, and it’s lovely to see that style as interior art as opposed to just being on a cover. While I don’t believe in such a thing as “boy comics” and “girl comics,” as I think that all comics can and should appeal to both genders, I do appreciate it when a comic’s art style matches its protagonist and the kind of story being told. X-23 is a story about a female protagonist written by a female writer, and Takeda’s art (as has been the case for all the artists on this title so far) is very feminine. It’s a perfect match for this title.

Issue #10 is a solid issue in and of itself. My only hope is that the character of X-23 will continue to evolve, rather than continually be stuck in a pity party. I’m waiting for Liu to show us exactly who this character is, not just who she was.

 

Walt Disney Treasury Donald Duck Volume 1

Written by Don Rosa

Art by Don Rosa, Scott Rockwell, Mike McCormick, Nea Aktina A.E.,

Susan Diagle-Leach, Jake Myler and Hachette

Lettering by John Clark, Deron Bennett and Bill Pearson

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Scott Cederlund

OK, I'll admit, I thought I knew what a Donald Duck comic book was like going into this book. Donald Duck gets into trouble and his nephews, his girlfriend or his uncle watch and maybe try to get him out of it. And there are a couple of examples of that kind of storytelling in Walt Disney Treasury Donald Duck Volume 1 and they're pretty entertaining. In fact, the book opens with one of those kinds of stories as Donald Duck tries to teach his nephews a lesson by making them believe they're seeing animals that couldn't possibly exist. The story is full of sight gags as a parade of unreal animals walk past Huey, Dewey and Louie but they're able to identify each and every one of them thanks to their scout book. In this story, Don Rosa has fun making Donald more and more exacerbated as no matter how outrageous any animal he puts together, they are accepted matter-of-factly by his nephews. If you watched any Donald Duck cartoons growing up, the first story in this book may be exactly what you'd expect from a Donald Duck comic book. It's Disneyfied slapstick.

Of course, Rosa is also the cartoonist who gave us The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a wonderful fictional history of Donald's miserly uncle. With Rosa, there's more than just slapstick in these stories, although there is plenty of that as well. Rosa's stories highlighted in this book show off his wonderful sense of timing as each and every punchline is delivered at the perfect moment. In these short stories, Rosa, through very clear storytelling, delivers every double take, every pratfall and every punchline with pitch perfect timing, not wasting a single panel or page. No joke or expression falls flat as Rosa gives perfect lessons in how to tell short, humorous stories. Walt Disney Treasury Donald Duck Volume 1 even shows Rosa's process as it reprints his breakdowns from an unfinished promotional comic for Disney World. Even in its rough state, this story shows Rosa's dedication to storytelling even as he's selling Disney attractions.

There are more than jokes to Rosa's stories though. Two entertaining stories show how well Rosa is at doing adventure stories with these characters. Spurred on by Scrooge McDuck's need to own everything, Donald and his nephews travel the world in these stories to bring back exotic treasures for their beloved, yet stingy, uncle. Rosa shows that these characters can do more than the jokey short stories that show how silly and simple they are. These adventure stories are rich and exciting, inspired as much by Indiana Jones as they were by Walt Disney.

Walt Disney Treasury Donald Duck Volume 1 is a wonderful tour through what Donald Duck stories can and should be, showing them as what you think are and of how ambitious and awesome they can be. It's easy to overlook Rosa as simply a "Disney artist," but it's a shame to overlook his amazing storytelling. Taking Donald Duck, often the butt of jokes in short Disney cartoons, Rosa showed how humorous and adventurous the character can be. In Rosa's hands, there's more to Donald Duck, his nephews and his family than simple jokes and slapstick. Rosa continually shows great comic timing even as he shows just how rich the characters are.

 

Hawkeye: Blindspot #4

Written by Jim McCann

Art by Paco Diaz and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

Hawkeye: Blindspot #4 marks the conclusion of Jim McCann’s character-defining Hawkeye saga, and while McCann is surely moving on to bigger and better things, his presence in Hawkeye’s world will surely be missed. No other writer has given such careful thought and consideration to this consistently-sidelined character, making him a true power player in the Marvel universe and defining his place in that world for future writers to pick up as they choose.

The most significant contribution to the Hawkeye mythos in this issue is the full integration of the resurrected Barney Barton into Hawkeye’s current story. Here McCann explains just how Clint Barton’s presumed-dead brother is alive and well, and exactly why he’s currently reveling in his role as antagonist. It’s a clever, logical explanation, with truly devastating consequences, and it sets up a world of possibilities for Clint’s future. Hawkeye’s rogue gallery has always been a bit anemic, and the introduction of a new nemesis, particularly one with such strong, conflicted ties to the hero, is a brilliant move on McCann’s part. In one issue, Barney manages to both save and threaten his little brother’s life, and while Clint’s love for his big brother is still clear, they can’t help slotting themselves into Cain and Abel roles that will surely haunt them from this point on.

Unsurprisingly, Clint’s temporary blindness is also cured in this issue, wiping his physical slate clean for his concurrent appearances in the Avengers titles. While the resolution is a good one, incorporating both Barney’s story (since he can provide compatible stem cells) and Clint’s history as Goliath (which gives him access to the Pym particles that make the healing possible)., I do wish Clint’s blindness had had more time to take its toll on the character. As it stands, Clint is only truly blind for about half an issue, during which he engages in some creative fighting to compensate (expertly choreographed by artist Paco Diaz). If this miniseries had been a bit longer, there might have been more room for Clint to cope with total blindness, or at least grapple with the prospect. But I can’t blame Jim McCann for working with the space allotted, and the pacing of this issue is very good for the length of the story presented.

Diaz continues to do great work overall, not just in choreographing the action but in drawing expressions of anger, frustration, determination, and sadness on the faces of his characters. Barney and Clint manage to look related without being identical, and Diaz once again makes use of subtly different character designs to make distinctions between the group of well-muscled blond men (Clint, Steve Rogers, and Don Blake) all gathered in one room. Tomeu Morey on colors makes his mark as well, particularly in the fight scene between Clint and Barney where, under a lesser colorist, the purples and reds of the costumes might look garish or bleed together.

All in all, this is a highly satisfying conclusion to a story that managed to bring back and integrate elements from all parts of Clint’s past, from his early training with Trickshot to his time on the Thunderbolts with Baron Zemo to his friendships with his fellow Avengers. From Barney to carnivals, trick arrows to Pym particles, this issue and this entire series was littered with the ephemera and accoutrements of Clint’s past, coming together to create a bible of sorts for any writer looking to tackle Clint in the future. McCann’s departure from the character is a loss indeed, but under his pen readers have experienced a truly great Hawkeye story that doubles as a manifesto for Hawkeye’s importance as a character. McCann has laid the groundwork for Hawkeye’s future while reminding readers of the excitement of his past, stretching and growing as a writer all the while. I don’t know what will come next, for Hawkeye or for McCann, but Hawkeye: Blindspot is persuasive evidence that it will be great.

 

I’ll Give It My All... Tomorrow Volume 3

Written by Shunju Aono

Art by Shunju Aono

Lettering by Steven Rhyse

Published by Viz Media

Review by Scott Cederlund

Two years ago, when he was 40, Shizuo quit his office job and pursued a dream— creating manga. Since then, he's won a couple of manga competitions and come close to getting published but always fallen short. His daughter humors him to follow his dream; his editor envies Shizuo and his freedom to be who he wants to be; his father and best friend fear that Shizuo is going through a mid-life crisis, throwing away a good job and recklessly tossing his future away. For two years, Shizuo has served hamburgers at a fast food joint while trying to write and draw almost every kind of story, trying to find something worthy of being published. Figuring his past failures are just because of his bad luck, he adapts the pen name "Person Nakamura" and finds a new freedom in writing and drawing that gets him closer to his dream.

It would be easy to write Shunju Aono's story off as a Peter Pan story about a man who doesn't want to grow up and that's how plenty of people in the book see him, particularly his father who can't imagine why Shizuo gave up a good life and a good future to end up working at a burger joint for next to nothing. Everyone projects their own fears and wishes on Shizuo as they witness his honest attempts to become a manga creator. While they all think that Shizuo has lost touch with reality, Shizuo himself has the same fears and hopes that they all

project on him. In a fascinating and funny dream sequence, the 42-year-old Shizuo ends up arguing with the 32-year-old, 22-year-old, 17-year-old and 15 -year-old versions of himself, moderated by "God," who looks a lot like a hip Buddha-like Shizuo. None of his younger selves can understand why Shizuo made the decisions and gave up everything until the 11-year-old Shizuo shows up and gives the older Shizuo a thumb's up. That's all the justification and approval that Shizuo needs to continue with his dream.

Shizuo does well in manga competitions but it's hard to tell if his manga is supposed to be actually good. This volume features what's supposed to be Shizuo's breakout piece, "Live to Be 300," a manga homage to John Lennon's "Imagine," and Shizuo's editor loves it (enough to leave his job and follow his own true calling.) Aono shows the honesty and ambition in Shizuo's artwork but after Aono's own simple style is made simpler for Shizuo's book, "Live To Be 300" comes off as crude and un-refined. Shizuo may be following his dream but is he really any good or is his energy and ambition making up for a lack of talent. It's hard to tell.

Aono does a great job of creating no one right answer to Shizuo's journey as he gives the reader the opportunity to agree with everyone, those who support Shizuo and those to can't fathom the decisions he's made. It's easy to see Shizuo's quest as an honorable one, a man following his dreams no matter what. But it's also easy to see Shizuo

as a man-child, denying the responsibilities that a man his age should have. He acts like a 22 year old much more than a 42-year-old. The true essence of character probably lies somewhere in-between as Shizuo is on a journey to find himself during his mid-life as much as any kid out of college thinks they could be.

Pellet review!

 

Teen Titans #95 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman):
Collected like so many tchotchkes by the demon king Rankor, the Titans are, perhaps literally, in hell. What started as a missing persons search in Pakistan has turned into a paranormal disaster, and the team is in an underworld of trouble. But in spite of all the chaos, not much seems to happen in Teen Titans #95. It’s not a bad read, but J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott have had such a good run on this title so far that my expectations were high. After several engaging, nuanced, and character-driven issues, this entry reads like a more typical, heroes-in-peril tale. Krul's first couple of issues needed to re-establish the characters as well as their relationships with each other, and that’s been a big part of this book’s appeal. Issue #95 is nearly all action, and the Titans’ conflict with Rankor has a generic, we’re-getting-our-butts-kicked vibe. Also, the character Solstice still doesn’t appear to have much of a purpose beyond tour guide and temporary team member. Fortunately, Scott delivers some dynamic and wonderfully disturbing scenes, most notably between a demon posing as Ravager, and Superboy. Rankor’s also got some nasty tricks up his sleeve that Scott illustrates to skin-crawling effect. Those surprise elements keep Teen Titans #95 from falling completely flat, and I’m hopeful that the story regains its footing — and its sizzle — with the next issue.

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