Face front, ’Rama readers! Jamie Trecker here, seizing the Best Shots reins from David Pepose in a bloodless coup. Mwuah-ha-ha! This week we’ve got rapid-fire reviews of the latest issues from the world of Flashpoint, the skinny on a big, under-the-radar Marvel book, and looks at Batman, Inc., FF, and Wonder Woman, plus titles from Image, Oni and Dark Horse. Want some more back-issue reviews? Check it, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. A happy Fourth of July weekend to all our readers and please join us back here next week for more Best Shots goodness.Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #6 (Published by Marvel, Review by Jamie Trecker; Click here for preview): This is a big book, with some major ramifications for the Marvel Universe. The Young Avengers have been looking for the Scarlet Witch, who as you will recall from the “House of M” storyline, depowered most of the Marvel Universe’s mutants and then vanished. Well, the Young Avengers have just found her — and she remembers everything. Considering she decimated the mutants and killed three team members, that’s not a good thing. The end of the book contains three major developments which I will not spoil here, but the book affects the very fabric of the Marvel Universe. Suffice it to say that this book is also off most folks’ radar. Why? Because Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung are taking a year and a half to deliver this nine-issue mini-series. It feels like an eternity. I adore Cheung’s art — and this book is indeed gorgeous, with slick, sinuous lines and charming faces — but the shipping schedule has made it pretty tough to keep up with what’s going on. That said, if you were tempted to wait for the trade, don’t. This is snappily-written — Heinberg is arguably the best dialogue man for teen characters in the business — and affects the Marvel Universe right now. Batman, Incorporated #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Despite Batman being in the title of this book, he's really more of a guest star in his own book, as Grant Morrison examines the Batman of the Southwest, Man-of-Bats and his sidekick Raven. In certain ways, Morrison riffs on the sorts of social and economic inequities that Jason Aaron did in Scalped, but in 20 pages, it's tough to give that sort of theme the kind of heft you need. Chris Burnham, however, is just a beast with this book, really cranking up the speed and power of these back-alley brawls with lines that remind me more of Nathan Fox than his typical comparison point, Frank Quitely. The real question of this book, of course is whether or not you end up caring enough about Man-of-Bats and his son. On that note, I don't think I'm necessarily sold on Batman Incorporated #7 — but as far as execution is concerned, Burnham absolutely elevates what could be seen as an interlude and gives it a bit of needed energy. FF #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If you had told me three years ago that the Fantastic Four would be Marvel's best team book by a wide margin, I would have laughed in your face. But five months in, Jonathan Hickman is absolutely owning this often-overlooked corner of the Marvel U. He's such a sure-footed author, and even though this chapter does feel a little more staccato than previous issues, it still feels plenty more substantial than most superhero books these days. There's a great line in here where Sue realizes that not all things are what they seem with her husband, and the artwork by Barry Kitson showing Reed revealing his secret exudes sadness within the shadows. Kitson in general is a fantastic choice for the FF, giving a cinematic, mainstream edge to this book that is completely justified. If there's one issue I've got with this book, it's actually with some of the other overlooked characters — Spider-Man and Alex Power get a bit more spotlight in this issue, but the dialogue and power usage isn't quite as snappy as before. Still, it's just a small misstep for the juggernaut known as Jonathan Hickman, as the sheer force of his long-game plotting is more than enough to sweep you off your feet. Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Shanna VanVolt; Click here for preview): If you remove the phrase Flashpoint (and all of the mental turmoil that entails) from the front of this title, you have something that could have legs. Project Superman #1 is still a little less refined than it deserves — DC is pumping out undercooked books like doughy hotcakes these days — and yet is one of the stronger books coming out of what is proving to be a confusing event. Scott Snyder and Gene Ha are a solid team. Ha's ability to capture clever emotional cues in faces complements Snyder's writing of tense character interactions. Sometimes the push for an emotional connection in this first issue can be a bit demanding and drag the story. The half-expected surprise at the end feels a little late to the party considering there are only two more books to communicate the implications of it all. There are some other Flashpoint-patented distractions dotting the book, like a lot of parallel-universe name dropping that doesn't really lead anywhere (yet?), which may alienate a reader who feels that they are not in on the joke. Pacing and nit-pickery aside, Snyder and Ha are off to an intriguing, if not terribly fast-paced start; there are more emotional battles than physical in this one. That said, Ha can make sitting around and talking look cool. Calling Project Superman a “diamond in the rough” may go a little too far, but it is at least a silver dollar in a sand trap.
Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #4 (published by Image Comics, Review by Shanna VanVolt): Four issues in, I still feel like this comic could be the voice of a generation... and I still have no idea what it is saying. Butcher Baker is a righteous amalgam in a mixed-up world. While there is an underlying plot, creators Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston throw in a dizzying number of ideas. A Real Hero from an era when things were simpler, the Righteous Maker is dealing with old age and a problem of bad guys who didn't die like they were supposed to the first time. Stir in a Boss Hogg-esque lawman, a mystical hermaphrodite, and an untrustworthy government and you get this still-strong but slightly washed-up and confused antagonist who drowns his own mortality in booze and girls. The resentment is so well portrayed, I had to crack open a beer of my own after page three. Gone is the blatant cheese we saw in earlier issues, replaced by subtler references to whatever pops to mind: war, love, revenge, scumbaggery, a glorious past, etc. Huddleston's art remains in a realm of its own: a hurriedly-, but purposefully-, placed well-defined scribble of bursting thought and action. A mixed media affair, the halftones and colors are like Seventies' sketches infused with the steroid needle of the Eighties. Everything is bigger, everything is brighter; but everything is a little bit scuzzier too. The colors move well through different places, giving a varied palate to set locations apart. The writing reaches a little too far in too many directions at points—waxing a little too poetic and off plot--, but the art stays engrossing the whole way through. “Like” is not a word I would use to describe how to feel about Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #4, it is a feeling closer to “bizarrely addicted.” Pick up a copy yourself and see if you can explain it to me. Flashpoint: Canterbury Cricket #1 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Jamie Trecker): I’ve seen a lot of weird comics in my time — I may well be the only person with a full set of Jughead as Captain Hero comics in his house — but this one takes the cake. No, it is not about the English cricket team in Kent (that would have been superb) nor is it the long-rumored appearance by Martian Manhunter in the Flashpoint Universe. So, what is it? Baffling. This is a mini-series stuffed into 19 pages, with at least three new characters introduced including our Cricket, the young loser Jeramey Chriqui, and an all-England super-team. Did I mention this book also channels Chaucher’s “Canterbury Tales?” It’s frenetic right enough, but not in a good way. Props to Rags Morales for bringing heat to the art chores, and Mike Carlin’s writing is pretty professional, but there’s no making sense of any of it. At best, this one-shot is a goofball concept — a kid magically turned into a cricket. It either deserved more room to breathe or should have been left in the drawer. The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #3 (of 4) (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): Jack the Ripper sure does make his way around the literary firmament. In The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, the Ripper returns, but his function here is more as a vehicle for bringing back one of literature’s great villains, and having him act as a clandestine investigative assistant. It combines tropes, scenes and ideas from all of the sources one would think of when presented with such a scenario – such as The Silence of the Lambs in the form of an erudite, mercilessly taunting Dr. Jekyll (who is also given to moments of ribaldry and lasciviousness in this portrayal), and From Hell - though there is more in common with the Hughes Brothers’ film than the Moore/Campbell opus. Cole Haddon’s script is quite funny in several moments, and artist M.S. Corley draws some marvelous reaction shots, which accent the punchlines quite well. There’s a moment where Inspector Adye gives a spit-take worthy of Danny Thomas, and it plays very well. Indeed, it’s the issue’s self-reflexive humor that stands out more than its mystery – a moment where Jekyll confronts a wax dummy of Hyde is brief, but it’s quite funny, and also rather revealing regarding Jekyll’s vanity. The action centerpiece of the issue avoids being hysterically paced, or over-the-top to the point of ridiculousness, but instead relies on a constant build of mood and setting for its effect. Corley’s art is streamlined and slightly exaggerated, but it suits the book’s slightly off-kilter approach, as it takes us into the seamy underbelly of all classes of English life. As societal satire, the book works quite well – as a mystery, it has its moments – including the idea of finding other uses for the Hyde formula – but what lifts the book up is its humor, and the interplay between Adye and Jekyll makes for an interesting point-counterpoint style that partially parodies its genre while wholly belonging to it. Wonder Woman #612 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): Character revamp aside, Phil Hester has transformed the Wonder Woman “Odyssey” arc into something I anticipate every month. I don’t think that “Odyssey” has the character-defining magic that readers will look back on and praise, but Hester is working quite well with what he's got. Wonder Woman #612 is a necessary read, but probably the most underwhelming issue thus far. Sure, we get some answers. We also get staple Wonder Woman mythology, but my response on the final page was, “REALLY?” Perhaps my lackluster reaction is because DC has hyped it as the issue we’ve been waiting for all year. I also think the mystery surrounding the villain was excessive. Whether this is a holdover from J. Michael Straczynski's initial outlines or something else entirely, the plot development in this issue seems lazy with only a hint of satisfaction. The momentum comes to a screeching halt in order to give the grand reveals, and the events that unfold don’t quite add up in my mind. Where the story lets me down, Lee Garbett’s brilliant cover and Paul Mounts colors add some much needed kick. Don Kramer does a respectable rendering of Diana. His dynamic action sequences and salient emotional expression allow me to forgive him for inflating Wonder Woman’s bust rather disproportionally. The next issue is the finale (for real this time) to Wonder Woman’s Odyssey. It better be bloody brilliant.
Skullkickers #8 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Wendy Holler; Click here for preview) : This issue gets off to a rocky start, but by the end it settles back into self-conscious and silly action. Skullkickers #8 finds Baldy and Shorty trying to track down the assassin who framed them for the murder of a local chancellor. The comic splits its attention three ways by focusing on the Skullkickers, the assassin responsible for this whole mess, and the guards searching the Skullkickers' rooms. This split doesn't serve the comic quite as well as it might because the irony and sarcasm that Baldy and Shorty bring to a scene ground the comic. The farther the comic moves away from that irony, the closer it gets to farce. Fortunately, the bulk of this issue remains with the title characters, and the tone of those scenes maintains an unapologetically boisterous sense of humor. With playful sound effect text ("body slam 2" and "kickeroo"), a cheerfully cartoony level of violence and gore, and plenty of wry self-mockery, the comic's aesthetics revel in all of the silliest elements of the fantasy genre. Small continuity touches like maintaining the colors associated with particular magical effects help demonstrate the degree of care that goes into making the comic's effects seem effortless. Bonus points also go to the creators this time for providing paper doll cutouts of the main characters for all your cube decoration needs. This issue, like the series itself, ends up being scatological, irreverent, silly, and more fun than a bag of piranhas.
The Sixth Gun #12 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Deniz Cordell) The Sixth Gun continues its jaunt into the supernatural western milieu and, unlike other explorations into the tropes of that genre, it does so with a wink and a bright, crisp color palette courtesy of colorist Bill Crabtree. There’s none of the dirt and grime, none of the sort of “tea-stained” visual schemes that have come to characterize the new west aesthetic, oh no - The Sixth Gun feels like a great Hollywood western that might have starred Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea thanks to the art team – Crabtree, and the marvelous Brian Hurtt. Hurtt’s art is crisp, enjoyable, and his storytelling skills are formidable. That leaves addressing Colleen Bunn, and, while I think Hurtt would find a way to make a drab, dull story visually interesting and involving – Bunn’s scripting is sharp, exciting, and her character dialogue sparkles. Her action is inventive, and the plotting has the pace of a runaway train. The stakes are made clear at the issue’s outset, and only continue to rise like a stack of precariously piled poker chips. The villains are evil (and mostly undead), the heroes have a clearly defined goal, and risk life and limb to see the goal through, creating an emotional investment in both character and story. It’s all done with a concentrated storytelling energy that zips the book along until the conclusion, where Drake and Becky find themselves confronted with the latest ghoul in their gruesome gallery of foes. It’s a bit that’s done with great understated humor – sold both by the dialogue and Hurtt’s knack for facial expressions, but the moment still feels tension-laden because what the situations mean to the characters is so sharply brought into focus. All of that, and the book is incredibly fun, too. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!