Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the crackshot reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of new reviews for your reading pleasure, including the latest releases from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW and BOOM! Studios. Want some more back-issue reviews? Check it, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's follow up with the students of Avengers Academy, as they are thrown into the deep end of the pool during Fear Itself…
Avengers Academy #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Avengers Academy has been the title where Christos Gage truly moved up in weight class, and the secret to that success has always been his take on character. While thematically the latest issue of this book is a little bit fractured due to the hustle and bustle of Fear Itself, Gage still manages to bring a few unexpectedly powerful moments from our all-too-human cast of characters. Hank Pym's protectiveness of his students elevates him far more than any Scientist Supreme title ever would, and there's a moment between Mettle and Tigra that's absolutely a heartbreaker. A lot of this has to do with Tom Raney, who really knows how to be expressive with his faces — even Mettle, who crosses a line he never thought he'd cross, looks like a broken man, even with his face stuck as a red steel mask. If there's one flaw with this book, it's that the pacing does feel a little jerky, having to touch upon the greater Fear Itself robots and destruction. While it might not be a perfect entry point, this book is still a real winner in showing that these kids aren't just the next generation of heroes — they're also just really human characters.
Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): It’s not unusual for event tie-in books to be better than the main story, probably because they don’t bear the entire weight of an Everything Changes epic. Nuance and character focus are easily lost in the bigger picture, but they’ve been used to good effect in the second-tier, supporting comics. Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies is an example of an offspring that, in my opinion, trumps its parent. This is the story in which Arthur and Diana become an item, uniting their heretofore hidden kingdoms to give the world “benevolent leadership.” It is assumed that their planned marriage is entirely political, but I’d say there’s a genuine spark between the feisty Themysciran and her Atlantean partner. While watching her battle a Kraken before their first meeting, Arthur is impressed and definitely attracted. Diana pulls a sword on him, and he doesn't blink. It's kismet! However, there's an unsettling edge to their plans. Both are certain that the outside world wants/needs their guidance, which suggests some serious royal arrogance. And as you might expect, this wedding isn't as simple a bouquet toss. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s story unfolds like a TV drama with some good twists and turns, and Scott Clark’s pencils are mighty easy on the eyes. The betrothed heroes are as long, lean, and ripped as yoga instructors, and they’ve got matching aristocratic cheekbones that would make Kate and William envious. I approached this union and this book with low expectations, so I'm doubly pleased to have received such a good return on investment.
Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): I had high hopes for this tie-in to the Fear Itself event. It’s no secret that I have a special place in my heart reserved for teenage superhero teams. I loved the first issue, and was looking forward to seeing where the story would take these young heroes. However, issue 2 leaves me disappointed. It was such an intriguing choice to have Prodigy make a production out of Thor Girl “turning herself in” after an accident that resulted in the death of a police officer, particularly after his own history in a cell during Civil War. For writer, Sean McKeever, to resolve her imprisonment so easily robs the story of depth. Also, the constant vacillating between whether these kids want to be heroes or not is starting to become grating. McKeever did a great job on Young Allies precisely because he seems to respect his teenage subjects. Here, they’re starting to seem like flakes who are dabbling in being superheroes as if it were a class elective that is easily dropped. Mike Norton’s pencils soar in close ups, particularly with the female characters (he draws great hair!), but in this issue his work is less specific in the action shots and the wider angles. Here’s hoping that Cloud 9 returning to the fold at the end of the issue will push this story into more interesting directions.
Northlanders #41 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Aaron Duran): It is interesting that over the past couple weeks, while all us comic book pundit and fans were talking about women in comics, not a single one of us mentioned Northlanders. In a time where, historically, women were given little thought beyond their “duties,” Brian Wood had them repelling invaders and leading rebellions. Issue 41, Thor's Daughter, is another one of the “one and done” tales Wood tells so well. Birna Thorsdottir is the newly orphaned daughter of an island ruler in A.D. 990. Raiders sit off the coast of an island that is hers by birthright. Men that once obeyed her because of their respect and fear for her father now look at her with contempt. Turning 14, she also knows some look at her with far worse intentions. As is often the case with a Northlanders, it is less about the outcome, but the journey. In a few short pages, we watch Birna age a lifetime. The harshness of life many have forced her hand sooner than she hoped, but she will face it with her head high and eyes forward. Marian Churchland's art has a beautiful fluidity to it. You can imagine Birna's hair shifting in the frigid breeze of the Outer Hebrides. In a book where so much of the story is driven by body movement and facial expressions, Marian's art is more than up to the task. In fact, in a week saturated with flashy event books, Northlanders #41 might be the most visually pleasing in it's simplicity. At issue 50, Northlanders comes to an end. Not many books these days make it that long, let alone a political and social commentary comic by way of historical Vikings. Read Thor's Daughter and find out why this is still some of the best storytelling on the shelves today.
Deadlands: The Devil’s Six Gun (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund): Could the Devil create a gun so deadly and sinful that it could kill even him? That’s the task that Copernicus Blackburne, a scientist and inventory in 1867, is hired to complete; to create a gun out of a Ghost Rock that can kill the devil. David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ tale of obsession as Blackburne gets sucked into the grip of the supernatural Ghost Rock. It’s a strange, short tale that takes one or two odd turns, particularly a brief passage where Blackburne becomes some kind of carnival act, sharing mystical visions with an audience. It shows just how far Blackburne has fallen from the path of science and inventing. Gallaher’s story is heavy, cramming a lot of plot into the book and Steve Ellis does a good job keeping it moving along. If you’ve read Box 13 or High Moon, you’ll know that these two can pack a lot of story into a small package and they do it here again. A backup story by C. Edward Sellner and Oscar Capristo is a clever bit of bait and switch as they tell a story about a dark and mysterious stranger who walks into a bar. Up until the very end, you think the story is one thing until they show you that you’ve been tricked. You’ll want to go back and read the story again just to see how they did it.
Conan – Island of No Return #41 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran): I'm going to do my best to keep this review PG. It won't be easy, since we've finally got a Conan story that has some stones to it. Dark Horse Comics has turned out some fantastic tales of the Last Cimmerian, but the last few years Conan's been a little too emotional for my tastes. I don't know what writer Ron Marz has in store for an ending, but at this point I don't really care. We've got Conan running for his life (and other essential body parts) because he just did the “best in life” with the wife of the town magistrate. Our favorite Barbarian is saved by two gorgeous half-sisters (as if there any other kind in the Hyborian Age) and they promise him worldly riches and the stuff of Penthouse letters if he aids them in a quest. With a wink and a flex by Crom, it is on! Like I said, this feels like old school Conan. Over the top violence mixed with sexual innuendo, but all done with a sly wink and grin. Marz is having fun with Conan and he wants to reader too as well. Artist Bart Sears brings some chaotic energy to the title. When Conan isn't leaping for his life or eviscerating a town guard, he's flexing and posing like it's the cover of Muscle Magazine. Good. This is Conan dang it. I don't read Conan for hyper-realistic depiction of the human form (though Sears' art never strays into parody territory). Like Marz, Sears is also having some fun with the book. Beyond the over the top posing and fantastic landscapes, there is a real gleam in Conan's eye. There were times in the book where I thought Conan was actually winking at me, as if to say “we're gonna' have a good bloody time here friend.” Darn right we are. Onward to glory!
Invincible Iron Man #505 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): In this issue of Invincible Iron Man, Matt Fraction chooses to connect Tony’s experience with the dead in Paris to Tony’s past, and he does so to marvelous (no pun intended...OK, pun intended) effect. The issue opens with a flashback to a young Tony speaking with his father about the neutron bomb and the way to win a war. According to Howard Stark, the way to win a war is: “The fewer of them and the more of us, the better our chances of winning.” It’s interesting that this is the thought we’re left with as we return to the present and Tony is struggling with the reality of Paris being completely destroyed. Meanwhile, back at Stark Resilient, Pepper has returned with Beth Cabe, who will be handling security as Tony requested. Beth’s up to something, but we don’t yet know what. And after a harrowing and failed attempt to keep Detroit Steel from getting himself killed in the face of Gargoyle, Tony is injured to such an extent that his repulsor is cracked. He returns home for a patch, which turns out to be a bottle of alcohol. Like Dan Slott and Spider-Man, Matt Fraction and Iron Man are a perfect fit, and there’s no other writer I’d rather have writing this title. Salvador Larroca’s art continues to astound as he incorporates photography into his panels, as well as create disturbing images that affect the reader viscerally. Once again, Invincible Iron Man is the Fear Itself tie-in worth reading.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #24 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): At long last, when taken as a totality, this performance of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? stands as an engrossing, spiritually rewarding experience. Yes, performance — it is, in its own way, a valid piece of dramatic art, embellishing the text with its visual expressiveness as counterpoint. It is easily one of the most ambitious adaptations of this sort since The Stars My Destination all those years ago. Tony Parker wisely chooses his panels, lending a compact concision that continues to set its own internal rhythm. He stages the moving final scenes between Rick and Iran Deckard very well and somehow finds just the right spaces on the page to put in Dick’s text, an incredibly difficult task from a design standpoint. Each page proves itself to be its own self-contained entity, each with its own point, its own method of reaching an emotional climax. There’s something about Parker’s use of space that has a curious musical quality — his use of confinement and openness creates its own particular atmosphere, and Blond’s muted, drained colors support and enhance each part of this final issue. Perhaps the most unique portion of the adaptation is the contrast between what bits of Dick’s text are rendered, and which sections are carried solely by the text. The example that stuck out most to me was the caption: “His [Deckard’s] face fell by degrees.” Parker provides us with an overhead view of Deckard leaning over, his face covered in shadow — perhaps Parker knew that the imagined expression would be that much sadder, that much more devastating, if he left us with the implied image. It’s clever visual storytelling all around. The issue closes with a pleasant interview with Dick’s son, Isa, in which he talks frankly and movingly about his father’s work, as well as the various adaptations of it over the years. It’s a nice bookend to this work, a seemingly Sisyphusian task rendered with ease and care by Parker and his team.
Legion of Super-Heroes #14 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview): For me, part of the fun of Legion of Super-Heroes has always been the size of it. It’s huge and that could possibly be intimidating but to me it was always a challenge; a challenge to figure out who all of the characters were and what they were doing. Well, if it was actually a challenge by DC Comics or Paul Levitz, they’ve won because I have absolutely no idea what is going on in this issue nor do I really care. Between the Legion of Super-Heroes and Legion of Super-Villians, Levitz has action going on in all of the corners of the galaxy and so many characters running around that the story has been watered down and diluted. He’s been so focused on trying to create action that his character moments are sparse and forced into the issue. And someone really needs to explain exactly how Mon-El seems to be in 2 or 3 different places at ones. On one page, he's on one planet; on the next page, he's magically on another with no explanation of how or what kind of time lapsed between pages. Duo artists Fernando Dagnino and Raul Fernandez stick too faithfully to Levitz's script and inject very little of themselves into the book. They illustrate Levitz's story without ever using the art to really bring it to life or inject any energy in this issue. Levitz practically pioneered the six or seven part storyline in super-hero comics but he seems to have forgotten that you need to focus on the characters to give the story its purpose. Maybe he needs to go back and read “The Great Darkness Saga” and see how it’s supposed to be done.
Invincible #80 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Colin Bell): It's business as usual for Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and company in Invincible, and lucky for you 'business as usual' for this creative team reads 'never standing still'. In this issue, Kirkman shows his intent to add to Invincible's rogues gallery and reintroduce past foes, while at the same time propelling a myriad of subplots forward for picking up on in later issues to come. And that's the joy of the book- there's always something happening in each issue to keep the most jaded fan interested. (Don't like this plot thread? There'll be another one along in a minute!) Frequently a status-quo changing twist is thrown into the mix, and this issue's climax is no exception. Mark Grayson's face-off against Dinosaurus (not to be confused with Kirkman's newest creation Super Dinosaur) takes a decidedly serious turn, in the kind of event that you just wouldn't see in a comic from DC or Marvel, constrained with a shared continuity . Likewise, you probably wouldn't see Kirkman's well-timed and humorous jibe that seems squarely aimed at the two publishers in one of their books either. For an issue where a fight takes up half the book, it's still surprisingly wordy, with a sixteen-panel grid utilized to provide a dialogue-heavy opening, reminiscent of some of the conversation-laden issues of Invincible's earlier days. This helps get a good bit of information across swiftly, and keeps things ticking over nicely to the aforementioned fight, which serves as the meat of the issue. Across the sequence Ottley, Rathburn and Koutsis bring the goods artwise as ever, with a final splash page that brings home the consequences of Invincible's actions, or lack thereof. The events will undoubtedly weigh on Mark Grayson's conscience for some time to come, and I trust in Kirkman's ability not to make it a rehash of the morally ambiguous mood Invincible found himself in over the past couple of years. Still fresh, fast-paced and beautiful to look at, Invincible remains well recommended by this reviewer.
Cinderella: Fables are Forever #5 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): At first, I wasn’t impressed. Having read Cinderella from the beginning, this issue felt like more of the same, and in relation to the current story in which Cinderella is trying to take down the mercenary assassin, Dorothy Gale, the issue felt like filler. Chris Roberson has had Cinderella In A Trap On Purpose for a couple of issues now, and I was starting to wonder if it would ever be resolved. Also, Cinderella decides to sleep with yet another male character with whom she’s allied, much like she did when she slept with Aladdin in From Fabletown With Love, and while no one ever complains about James Bond sleeping with all those women, somehow I expected different from Cinderella, mostly because the whole point of her being a spy is to buck the impression that she’s a party girl, which is how the rest of Fabletown sees her. And then, there was the big reveal of who Ivan Durak really is, and suddenly the entire issue was worth it. Roberson continues to do wonderful things, both with this character and with this story, and Shawn McManus continues to inject life and fun into the proceedings with his buoyant artwork. I cannot wait for the final showdown between Cinderella and Dorothy in next month’s conclusion!
That Hellbound Train #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Deniz Cordell): Robert Bloch was (and, though he’s no longer with us, still is) a giant among writers. His sense of timing was brilliant, his sense of humor acute and pitch black, and his ability to conjure up delightfully macabre imagery that wows even while it scares the hell out of you is second-to-none. IDW continues their series of Bloch adaptations with That Hellbound Train, adapted by Joe and John Lansdale (who also handled the same chores on Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper). The art by Dave Wachter seems like it was rent from Dorthea Lange’s nightmares, so imbued is it with that “Dust Bowl Americana” aesthetic. Whoever assigned him to this book deserves a raise. Alfredo Rodriguez’s color work has an elegant simplicity, and a muted, washed out quality that supports Wachter’s visual conceits. This is a compulsively readable work, capturing the spirit of Bloch’s words while taking full advantage of the tremendous leaps and shifts in time, space, and tone that the comic medium allows, such as one page that begins with an imaginary flashback, and ends with a stunning panel of the titular train in all its Grand Guignol glory. There are artfully rendered bits of gruesomeness, and a piquant sense of humor that gives the pages an added pulse — it’s amazing just how much ground the Lansdale’s cover in the first issue, without making anything seem rushed. This is a confident, crisp adaptation, and the final scenes — such as when Martin, our lead character, confronts the conductor of the Hellbound Train — have such magnificent presence, such clarity of intent, that it leaves you with a smile and a shiver.
Superman/Batman #85 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): If I had one word to describe Joshua Hale Fialkov's debut into the DC Universe, it would be this: Solid. He doesn't go for a flashy high concept or any high-flying displays of powers, but instead takes a very organic approach to Batman and Superman's relationship, tackling Clark Kent's day job as a reporter in a way that many writers end up avoiding for the smash-and-bang. Seeing Clark's bit of shorthand in his internal monologue is a great touch, and I very much dug the interaction between him and Commissioner Gordon. Batman I think Fialkov is still finding his feet with, as some of the voice he uses feels a little bit slangy for the Dark Knight. Adriana Melo, meanwhile, is an interesting study — her characters definitely have that exaggerated look to their eyes and faces, but I do really enjoy how bulky her Batman is, a real muscular athlete rather than a svelte ninja figure. That said, what Fialkov does that I think is so important is that he's not coming up with a crazy high concept, but instead actually really fleshes out how Superman and Batman operate in their world, really exploring the environments that they have to navigate. It's an example more comic book writers should be following.
Soldier Zero # 9 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): For those who have been curious about the line of Stan Lee books coming out from BOOM!, this issue of Soldier Zero is a fine entry-point to this book. The first several pages serve as a quick primer and catch-up to the story-so-far (done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion), and once that’s done, you expect Abnett and Lanning to sweep the reader off their feet and hurl them into a variation on the Fugitive-esque notion that’s running through the book. Instead, they take the surprising, and ultimately disappointing tack of keeping the pace at that same easy-going tempo established at the beginning of the issue. It really pains me to write a review like this, but as someone who has enjoyed the other Stan Lee/BOOM! properties, as well as prior issues of Soldier Zero, I found the comic fairly uninteresting and uninspired. The dialogue and characterization is fairly standard, even though they do provide some low-key humor along the way. There are also some interesting glimpses into Soldier Zero’s unique abilities, which are exploited cleverly. Abnett and Lanning also come up with little fun ways to show how the character is still adjusting to his new life, including a poignant bit of humor as he starts to head into a handicapped restroom. Javier Pina and Ramon Bachs’ artwork is fine, but does little to add any tension or elevate the somewhat pedestrian storytelling. There’s an interesting character introduced at the end of the book — Barney, a man who fervently believes in UFOs and Extra-Terrestrials — and his dialogue is laced with a dry humor and a darkly prophetic tone, and he’s given a distinctive, quirky look. Here’s hoping he survives the imbroglio promised at issue’s end, and becomes a semi-regular in the cast. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!