Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with fresh reviews from the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of reviews for your reading enjoyment, including the latest releases from DC, Marvel, Image and BOOM! Studios. For more back-issue reviews, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's kick off with Scott Cederlund, as he takes a look at the new team from Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta in Vengeance…
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nick Dragotta and Brad Simpson
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
Click here for preview
Back in the early days of Joe Quesada's Marvel, there was an unexpected energy at Marvel as they tried anything to recapture their reader's imaginations. That energy led to DC's wunderkind Grant Morrison taking over The X-Men franchise and gave a relative unknown Brian Michael Bendis a shot at chronicling the downfall of the Avengers. It gave us Peter Milligan and Michael Allred's X-Force at the same time that it gave us the Ultimate line. It was wild, chaotic, fun and took us readers to unknown places as everything seemed to be up for grabs. Those great times also gave us Joe Casey and his hooker mutant Stacy X. So, OK, maybe everything that came out of that period wasn't gold so that's why it was completely unexpected to see Stacy X's triumphant return in the pages of Vengeance #1.
Marvel provides their own counter programming to Fear Itself in Casey and Nick Dragotta's Vengeance, a six part miniseries about Magneto, the Red Skull and the new Teen Brigade, who are carrying on with Rick Jones' legacy. Casey steeps this first issue in Marvel history as each page calls back to some long forgotten element of old X-Men or Defender's history. Forge's Nullifier, the new Miss America and Kyle Richmond making "business arrangements" for the latest Nighthawk are all things that Casey throws into this issue. Who even knows who Kyle Richmond is anymore? It's dizzying to watch Casey try to juggle all of these disparate plots as he never quite brings any of them together in this issue.
There is so much going on in this issue, so many small fragments of stories that Casey is building that it is impossible to even catch a glimpse to what any of these stories have in common. Hopefully that's just a case of first issue-itis while Casey tries establishes who the players are but it makes this single issue into a jumble of plots and characters in search of a story. They are fascinating plots and characters but there should hopefully be a small inkling that there is some connective tissue tying these elements together.
Nick Dragotta and Brad Simpson turn out what may be the best art for any so-called event comic happening right now. A blend of Michael Allred and Marcos Martin, Dragotta delivers a nice, clean fluid iconic style and applies it to a bunch of characters that aren't iconic. The Ultimate Notifier? Morrison's Beak and Angel? Miss America Chavez? Dragotta and Simpson make this a multicolored party, with bright flashing lights and the warm L.A. glow that's all out superhero action.
Vengeance #1 feels like the first issue of the event Marvel should have done back in 2001, where it could have been on the stands right besides Casey and Morrison's X-Men stories and Milligan and Allred's X-Force. That's not to say that it feels like this issue has been sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting to see the light of day. Instead, this issue feels like the early days of Quesada's Marvel where they were telling the stories that they wanted and weren't servicing the next mega event. Vengeance #1 is the anti-event, running counter to Fear Itself or Flashpoint. It's not huge or status quo altering but it's full of Casey's large ideas and outrageous concepts. Hopefully a story will start to develop a bit out of those before this series is over.
Flashpoint: Batman, Knight of Vengeance #2
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso and Trish Mulvihill
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Out of all the Flashpoint tie-ins, there's been one book that's stood head and shoulders above its sister titles, and that book is indisputably Batman, Knight of Vengeance. With artwork that'll hit you harder than a freight train, Eduardo Risso makes what could have been a casualty to the daily grind into a book that, pound for pound, might even be stronger than Flashpoint itself.
There are plenty of people out there that might forget that this isn't Azzarello and Risso's first trip to this particular rodeo, as they already took a trip to Gotham with their "Broken City" arc. But Knight of Vengeance is playing at a whole new level — Risso isn't tied down to the familiar Batman iconography, and the slow buildup of the script allows him to get really cinematic with his lines. From the debauchery of Wayne Casinos to the eerie screens of Oracle's lair, Risso drenches this characters in black, threatening to swallow them whole in this city of pain.
Colorist Trish Mulvihill also deserves a ton of praise for this book, because it's her otherworldly colors that really establish a sense of place (and being drop-dead gorgeous, to boot). There's one page early on, where Jim Gordon is chatting with Oswald Cobblepot — talk about war making for strange bedfellows — and seeing the harsh reds of Wayne Casinos against the weird greens of Oracle's chambers is a beautiful sight. But ultimately, the main strength of this book is Risso's expressiveness — his characters experience fear, anger, anguish, and madness. There is some true horror to this book, but that doesn't mean it isn't the prettiest read you'll see all week.
But with all this talk about artwork, Brian Azzarello might feel lonely. This is a story that works just on concept alone — in this topsy-turvy world of Flashpoint, who is the Joker? The answer is a stunner, and Azzarello is smart enough to drape the rest of his story around this simple concept. If anything, this book is more of a character piece about Batman's associates — and, yes, that will definitely push fan buttons in all the right ways — and seeing just how similar Thomas Wayne is to his tortured son. Drawing up this kind of mood isn't easy, and it definitely goes against the grain of high-octane action — but this really is the best book I read all week. Get it now.
Amazing Spider-Man #664
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Have we outgrown Eddie Brock?
That's the question that really went through my mind as I was reading this week's issue of Amazing Spider-Man, a book that is a victim, if anything, of Dan Slott's relentless consistency since taking over this book. With a series like Rick Remender's Venom scratching that particular symbiotic itch already, I didn't feel like this particular arc was as much of a home run as some of the others that came before it, with a lot of introductions and resolutions being made that ended up leaving our hero out in the cold.
Let me try to explain, a bit. In terms of pacing, Slott knows exactly what he's doing, and it's pretty incredible that he's able to have Spider-Man, Anti-Venom, Carlie Cooper, the Wraith, Mr. Negative, as well as have cameos from Aunt May, Horizon Labs, and members of the NYPD. There is a ton going on — but ultimately, I think this is a story about Anti-Venom, with Spidey riding shotgun. The problem? Eddie Brock is feeling a little bit two-dimensional at this point. His motivation is more or less trying to prove to Spider-Man that he isn't crazy (which, a-ha, good luck with that, Eddie), and trying to take out Mr. Negative.
This is where all the threads start to get a little threatening, and the focus starts to wobble a bit. Slott is being pretty ambitious here, trying to introduce a new iteration of the Wraith. Last month's cliffhangers, well, those get ditched pretty quick, and while this gives something for love interest Carlie Cooper to do… the introduction takes precious page space away from Peter and Eddie, and what their relationship must be like now that Eddie's trying to get back on the straight-and-narrow. Ultimately, the conclusion is what upends this runaway train, because that's when all these characters and continuity catch up with us — Peter may get the knockout punch, but it feels unearned, and the Wraith ends up pulling out a deus ex machine to really pin Mr. Negative to the wall.
The other thing that left me hanging on this book was the artwork. This is not — repeat not — Guiseppe Camuncoli's fault, but it is illustrative of how much impact an inker and a colorist have on a book. Inkers like Onofrio Catacchio added a real lushness to Camuncoli's linework, but Klaus Janson here makes the pencils seem really thin and brittle, which really saps the energy and speed of the artwork. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth, to his credit, tries out a really moody nighttime palette, which looks realistic but also a bit washed out. It's a shame, because Camuncoli knows his composition like the back of his hand, and this book could have looked a lot sharper had he been working with other collaborators.
Granted, writing reviews like these is all an exercise of relativity — this is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, merely one that I know has and can do better. There are a lot of moving parts to this arc, and in a lot of ways, it works as a decent palate-cleanser before the high-concept craziness of "Spider-Island" sets in. There's definitely an impact to one of Spidey's newest foes in this issue, so continuity fans will be set, and even with an inker that doesn't suit him, Camuncoli is still a better artist than many people in the field. It's not the strongest arc of this series, but I'm looking forward to seeing what Slott and company have up their sleeves in the weeks to come.
50 Girls 50 #2
Written by Doug Murray and Frank Cho
Art by Axel Medellin & Nikos Koutsis
Lettering and Design by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics
Review by Deniz Cordell
The second issue of Image’s new science-fiction/adventure series 50 Girls 50 is a much more confidently constructed story than the series’ maiden voyage. To its advantage is the fact that it – like the first issue – is a standalone adventure, so readers can easily pick this up knowing nothing about the book, and come away with a total understanding of the characters and story so far.
Everything is in a sharper focus here – the characters are livelier, their dialogue peppered with a little more humor and pathos, the story is interesting and told well, and the ending of the issue makes a tremendous, and unexpected impact – presenting an impromptu change to the mission of the ESS Savannah. It also raises an incredibly potent philosophical and ethical question – it also brings a new gravitas and a sense that absolutely anything could happen in the future stories. These are characters that are bent on survival — who are exploring the far-flung reaching of the cosmos out of necessity, and not desire — and that lends the issue an edge that separates it from the usual “seeking out strange new worlds” idea. Their attempt to find home leads them to a planet that, on the surface, anyway, seems fairly Earthlike and peaceable. A landing party goes down to retrieve resources they need to synthesize food. Naturally, when they land, they discover their initial probe missed something.
The antagonists in this issue are – in essence – space druids, complete with their own version of Stonehenge. They are suitably evil and formidable, but as the issue progresses, writers Doug Murray and Frank Cho do something remarkable – the villains become pathetic in a way that evokes a strange twinge of sympathy. Particularly when compounded with the issue’s crackerjack ending, it lends further meaning and depth to the planetary goings-on. While the away team is captured, and struggling to stay alive, there are plenty of shipboard interpersonal histrionics to break up, support, and ultimately dovetail into the overall narrative. This issue is definitely more of an exercise in characterization and fleshing out who these women are. It’s done very well, and hanging the character study on a strong suspense plot brings an immediacy and natural way to show the characters at their most vulnerable. Keeping the two planet-bound crewmembers trapped together also allows for some quieter, more intimate moments – allowing special focus on developing them. Nothing feels shoehorned in or unnecessary here – it’s a careful balancing act that’s done quite well.
The crew’s method of extracting their teammates is clever, even though it’s an idea that was done in the first years of the Buck Rogers comic strip – whether the nod was intentional or not, it works both as a demonstration as to the ingenuity of the characters and as homage to one of the major influences on all space/science-adventure stories of the twentieth century. It’s also the moment that leads to the final decision made by a member of the crew – which proves to be the bit that tips this issue over the edge of being a good, entertaining story into something much more exciting, on an intellectual and emotional level. I was certainly agog.
Axel Medellin’s art remains just as crisp, pure and strong as it was in the first issue. It’s of a decidedly high quality, and Nikos Koutsis’s coloring is equally brilliant. The planet has an appropriately Earthlike quality, but there is enough of a sense of “alienness” to it – and it has a totally different look from the planet in the last issue. Should future issues continue to offer Medellin the chance to render such distinct and varied lands, the series will at least continue to be a visual feast. My personal favorite bit of design is the reconnaissance shuttle – a smoothly surfaced bit of aerodynamicism, which is combined with an almost reptilian surface of scales and tiles. It’s really a beautiful ship, and it really epitomizes the sleek but practical design to much of the technology.
There is also an incredibly subtle hint that ties back into the final panel of the first issue – though there is nothing that develops that particular thread in this issue. That probably is for the best though – as to address that burgeoning subplot with anything more than a passing reference would be to distract from the constant momentum of the main storyline of the issue.
I seem to recall being fairly mixed in my appraisal of the first issue – this issue works splendidly on all levels – from the engrossing writing to the splendid art. The characters prove far more human and relatable, and they are depicted with great intelligence and strength. Doug Murray provides another text piece that reveals some interesting tidbits about the technologies used by the Savannah – and it provides some great supplemental information, which, were it shown or discussed in the comic, would only slow things down and seem like clunky exposition. As a text piece, however, this works quite well. All told, I see a lot of promise in 50 Girls 50, and if the series continues to travel along the road it has itself set up for – combining intellectual conceits with energetic action, then I’ll happily take many a trip with the crew of ESS Savannah.
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Jim Daly and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Bill Tortolini
Published by Image Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
Consistency. That's the word that immediately comes to mind whenever I see the names Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. I know many artists may find that word rather drab when thinking about their work, but just think about it for a moment. Consistent. Something you can always count on. That's a goal many people would aspire, even more so if you're job requires entertaining people on a monthly basis. Which is exactly what Palmiotti and Gray have been doing for darn near a decade. Consistency is also what their newest venture, Trailblazer, along with artists Jim Daly and Paul Mounts finds itself lacking. But, we'll get to that in just a minute.
Our hero, Jacob, is an assassin that takes a job which costs him everything he holds dear. Instead of spending the rest of his life in prison, or in witness protection, he becomes the newest candidate for Operation Trailblazer. A secret government program that sends criminals and informants into the past. The old west to be precise. One can never claim that Palmiotti and Gray shy away from high concept. This is an action-crime-western-mafia tale, by way of some good old fashion time travel. All of which needs to wrap up in about 45 pages; a page count that may have hindered more than it helped what should have been a home run of a story.
There is a familiarity with the dialogue, with each character having a distinct, if slightly clichéd voice. Jacob is a man of few words when it comes to his intended target and other random hoods, letting the guns do most of the talking. Then a page later, turns into the charming rouge when talking with his perfectly sexy-nerdy assistant, or with the nun that raised him in the orphanage. Bad guys talk with the expected grit, with the longer threats and monologues saved for the main villains. All in all, consistent within the crime genre. And yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was lacking. That there was more the writers wanted to do with the characters, story, and setting.
More so than the Palmiotti and Gray, artists Jim Daly and Paul Mounts have the difficult task of making the reader familiar with the characters almost instantly. With so few pages, the reader needs to know right away who is trustworthy, and who you hope takes a couple of bullets right between the eyes. Indeed, from a visual standpoint, Trailblazer follows the classic “good guys wear black” standard of the classic Western. The book is all kinds of violent and Daly's pencils do a good job of showing that violence. Coupled with Mounts vibrant colors, you can almost feel the squibs going off on set as the blood pops from various hoods and bystanders. However, by the time we get to the final showdown between Jacob and the Mafioso that ruined his life, we're almost numb to all the killing. The pacing just feels rushed. In a word, it lacks consistency.
Trailblazer reads like someone took a treatment to a film or television series and decided to turn it into a comic. All the exciting elements are there and for the most part the story is an entertaining read. But the entire time, I found myself asking if I was getting the best from two of the most consistently entertaining storytellers in comics. Not really. I really do applaud what Jimmy and Justin are trying to accomplish here. I think the world of comics needs more of these one and done comics. Comics where anyone can come off the street, look at the cover, read the back, drop their cash, and have an enjoyable read. I just wish Trailblazer was given a little more time to simmer before hitting the spinner rack.
Life With Archie #11
Written by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Norm Breyfogle, Al Milgrom, Bob Smith and Glenn Whitmore
Lettering by Janice Chiang
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
Click here for preview
In interviews, Captain America and Criminal writer Ed Brubaker likes to say that someday, when he’s done telling superhero and crime stories that he wants to go off and write the adventures of Archie and Jughead. That thought seems both a bit wrong (would he turn Veronica into Sleeper’s Miss Misery?) and funny (just imagine what kind of comedic debauchery he could throw Jughead into.) It’s really amusing because you just kind of assume that Brubaker is going to bring Archie and company kicking and screaming into the 21st century but that’s already happened. Paul Kupperberg and Norm Breyfogle have continued the grown-up adventures of Archie Andrews in Life With Archie #11 a double-dose of storytelling following the twin paths of Archie if he had married Betty and Veronica.
In the first half of this magazine-sized comic, Kupperberg and Breyfogle catch us up with the adult version of Archie who married Veronica and ended up losing everything. It’s an oddly bleak look at a man who married into an ambitious business family that he couldn’t keep up with and how all of his friends have suffered a similar fate. Jughead has created a successful business but can’t deal with the stress of taking it national. Reggie is on trial for crimes he didn’t commit. Moose Mason is the new mayor of Riverdale and is discovering just how shady the shenanigans in his town really are.
The second tale follows the Archie who married Betty. After being unsuccessful following their dreams in NYC, Archie and Bettie returned to Riverdale and began teaching at their old school, trying to be to a generation of teenagers what Mr. Weatherbee, their principal, was to them. While they haven’t been able to find their dream jobs, they appear generally content to be together even if their lives haven’t turned out how they hoped.
For a cast that has existed as perpetual teenagers for decades, Life With Archie #11 is a stunning book as nothing has worked out for any of the characters. The cover makes this look like a typical Archie book, where he has to choose between Betty and Veronica in that teenage innocence way he always has had to and the characters look happy on the cover but Kupperberg and Breyfogle are telling two surprisingly downbeat stories here as those perpetual teenagers who had to worry about who they were dating on Friday night now have to deal with business success, marriage, legal troubles and divorce. There’s no hanging out at the malt shop this issue. The malt shop is now it’s own $100 million chain and has its own problems.
Kupperberg writes some depressing tales here but keeps it all in character with what we know about these characters. Sure, they had happy and idyllic childhoods but who ever gets that as adults? His stories are startlingly honest as Archie has to deal with life as we’ve never really seen before. This isn’t presented as a short “what if...” type story where everyone has a good laugh at the end as they imagine themselves old. Kupperberg gives both stories a refreshing forthrightness so that it doesn’t matter which one is the “right” version of Archie's future. Each story is the Archie Andrew’s story. It’s two possibilities but it feels like so much more than just mere possibility. Kupperberg gives each story a life so that neither over shadows the other.
The art is pure classic Archie as Breyfogle perfectly recreated the classic Dan DeCarlo look and feel to the character while keeping his own classic style of storytelling on display. He plays with the characters, pushing them into emotional displays that seem harsh for these innocent looking men and women. His artwork contributes the great dichotomy of this book, as you expect bubblegum storytelling but get a story that could stand side by side with any prime-time soap opera.
Life With Archie #11 is deliriously good as Kupperberg and Breyfogle take these characters who have seemed to be forever trapped in Dan DeCarlo’s 1950s but places them in a world that has more in common with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Criminal. The timing seems even more fortuitous as you see how Brubaker and Phillips are doing their own Archie homage right now in Criminal: Last of the Innocent>, which feels slightly less needed or rebellious when you see what Kupperberg and Breyfogle are doing in an honest-to-goodness Archie comic. Life With Archie #11 is a book exist that asks what if Archie grew up and answers back to us that maybe we shouldn't really want to know. Maybe we should be happy with the teenage fantasy of Archie, Betty and Veronica but then we wouldn't get Kupperberg and Breyfogle's refreshing take on life in Riverdale.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause, Diego Barreto and Zac Atkinson
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Deniz Cordell
Mark Waid opens this issue of Irredeemable with a bit so good, so marvelously paced, and so funny, that the rest of the issue could have been (for example) a reprint of the collected works of William McGonagall, and it still would be well worth your time. Blessedly, though, Waid decides to continue telling his story – which has nothing to do with the Tay Bridge disaster – and does so with his typical élan.
In addition to his flights of wit, Waid also provides some soliloquies that touch upon deeper, more inherently human problems. The contrast between the delightful super-antics and these gentler sequences creates a great deal of narrative tension, and a constant shift in tempi that leads to some terrific moments.
At the end of one such speech – delivered by a shape-shifter who is capable of reading minds – Waid uses a moment of startling violence (it seems to be a distant cousin of a moment in last week’s issue of Incorruptible) to conclude the sequence, and – because he took the time to create such a compelling and multi-faceted monologue, the sequence’s conclusion is an emotional shock. Something echoed by Peter Krause’s reaction panels – which are so well done, they have the appearance of a candid photograph being taken at just the right moment.
Krause splits the art chores this issue with Diego Barreto, and both artists display their ample talents. Most of the more dialogue-heavy passages fall in Krause’s half of the book, and he provides expressive faces – a particularly difficult task for one character, whose face is an impassive, unchanging mechanism. Krause also illustrates the opening bit with a detail and clarity that is essential – without it, the bit could have easily become difficult to interpret. Barreto handles some of the more action-laden sequences, and his artwork is slightly looser, a bit more “classic superhero” aesthetic. Barreto also provides a smashing splash as teleportation technology runs amok. It’s a visually rich page, and the way it’s laid-out creates a real sense of awe and intentional disorientation. Tying the two artists together is colorist Zac Atkinson, who does very fine work, and creates unique color-schemes for each locale and technological marvel.
The story is marvelous, as The Plutonian finds himself on an off-world gulag, and teams up with several other sinister-types to try and get themselves off. Waid provides a lot of character development, and there’s a bizarre and touching moment between The Plutonian and Modeus – it allows for The Plutonian’s hardened veneer to fall away for a moment, and we are giving a fleeting glimpse of the type of man he once was – and then it’s back to business as usual for our irredeemable protagonist. The other prisoners are given unique power sets, and have opportunities to demonstrate them in ways that serve the plot terrifically – including a callback to the device from the beginning of the issue, as Waid repeats it, and integrates it wholly into the story. It works just as well the second time.
In addition, the last few pages switch rapidly between emotionally charged moments of triumph and defeat, and tense posturing between The Plutonian and Qubit. The juxtaposition between the pained nobility of Qubit, and The Plutonian’s constant conniving and scheming makes for great drama, and a clear delineation of the characters. Waid is an expert at raising the personal stakes until one thinks they could not possibly get much higher, and his resolution to the issue’s conflict is all at once satisfying and terrifying, as it presents a new situation that will almost certainly become the focus of the next story arc. The final page offers a real nail-biter, and yet, as it is – in its own way – a triumphal moment for The Plutonian, Waid treads the line between catharsis and horror – and plays on the reader’s sympathy, or lack thereof, for the protagonist.
This is a finely written, well-drawn story that locks into the larger mythology that Waid is building, while being more than able to stand alone. The speeches about the nature of love, and what inspires humanity, are moving pieces that resonate on levels much further reaching than the confines of the story. While the action is crisp, and the plot moves at a nice clip, it’s the quieter moments – creating minute flickers of light that are quickly snuffed by darkness – that create a contemplative tone that is quite rewarding. That, combined with the initial surprise and delight of those first few pages, make this issue of Irredeemable absolutely terrific.
Red Spike #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Wendy Holler): Red Spike #3 feels more like setup than payoff even though plenty happens. This issue continues the trend of flashbacks and character history that started with the previous one. The focus this time is on Matt, the golden boy of the series. Matt's an old-fashioned hero - physically gifted, honest, trusting - and it's nice to see this kind of good-hearted character in action even if it seems like his nature is only a setup for disillusionment. The story revelations appear in the context of the characters' relationships, and while the issue never quite gets back to the feel of the first one, where action-adventure met buddy Bourne story, the comic is rounding out the supporting characters and antagonists nicely. The art maintains its cinematic level of realism even when the story slows or goes over the top. The art and the coloring are particularly strong when building setting. Since the comic jumps settings several times, that grounding element is vital. The biggest problem in the series is the quantity of backstory needed to get to the current action. The information conveyed in all these flashbacks and elsewheres has been both useful and interesting, but the last few issues have created an odd sense of delay in the comic's present. The narrative elements for a great action story are all present and accounted for. Now it's just a question of whether Cahn can harness the diffuse story elements into a cohesive, focused whole. Red Spike #3 doesn't quite get there, but it doesn't dash any hopes either. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!