Best Shots: ULTIMATE FALLOUT, GATES OF GOTHAM, More
Best Shots Comic Reviews
Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for more after San Diego? Best Shots is locked and loaded with an avalanche of full-length and rapid reviews, all for your reading pleasure! We're taking on all comers, with books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, BOOM! and Oni Press. Want more? We've got you covered at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off today's column with a solemn note, as Aaron Duran takes a look at the funeral of Peter Parker in Ultimate Comics Fallout #2…
Ultimate Comics Fallout #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, and Nick Spencer
Art by Gabriel Hardman, Frank Martin, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Lee Garbett, and Roger Bonet
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
I've been reading comics for a long time. I read the founding of Image, a couple of Secret Wars, spent 50 cents to kill a Robin, and so many Crisis' on so many Earths I can't even count. Basically, I've seen my share of character death within those four-color pages. Each time the characters take a moment to say their goodbyes or swear vengeance over their fallen comrades. But, with very few exceptions, those moments rarely had a real emotional impact. Yeah, it sucked to watch Barry Allen disintegrate into nothing or Batman carry the lifeless body of Jason Todd, but something was always missing. Even the Death of Superman felt lacking on an emotional level. I couldn't really put my finger on it until today. All these “deaths” happened in the middle of a story (yes, even Superman's). There was still a villain or mystery to solve. The funerals and oaths swore simply felt like a placeholder until the story proper could get up and running again. Such is not the case with Ultimate Comics Fallout. Bendis and company took us all on one hell of an emotional ride these past few months. Not only would it have been wrong to jump right into the new Ultimate line, but it would have been damn lazy storytelling as well. Breaking up into three smaller tales, Ultimate Comics Fallout #2 is a good, if slightly unfulfilled, entry in the mourning of Peter Parker.
Captain America – Bendis continues his issue 1 bombshell with Steve Rogers telling Aunt May that he was the reason her beloved nephew was gone. To be sure, it is a very emotional moment. The infallible Captain America admits to this small woman that he was wrong. Even after he berated young Parker, Peter still wanted to be a hero. Still wanted to live up to these people he saw as knights of old. While Bendis' words are powerful and ring very true, it is Gabriel Hardman's art that really carries the emotional punch of the story. When Aunt May, wracked with grief, strikes a man that faced down the Nazis and saved the world dozens of times over, you know he felt it. The people in the church feel it. I felt it. You will feel it. It's powerful. It's honest. It's the closest we can get to real humanity in a genre that prides itself on escapism. This is the strongest short in the comic and will stick with you long after you set the book down.
Thor – Jonathan Hickman has written a couple of funeral tales this year, and unlike the rather dour and understandably quiet Johnny Storm memorial, his take in Ultimate Comics Fallout is far more celebratory. This is a tale of a warrior's reward, something Thor clearly believes the fallen Spider-Man has earned. Walking the halls of Asgard, we see all the trails and tribulations he and his comrades have endured since the beginning of time. Unlike Bendis' more emotional reconciliation with death, this is a celebration of life. No muted tones from penciler Bryan Hitch and inker Paul Neary. These fallen warriors sing, feast, and dance within the walls of glorious Valhalla and Thor shall mourn no more. A fun piece to be sure, but coming after that gut punch of the previous tale, Hickman's story doesn't have the same impact it could and should have provided.
Rogue – Nick Spencer gives us a small sample of what we can expect from his Ultimate Comics X-Men. However, unlike the previous two tales, Rogue from Nick Spencer reads as the most out of place. He has a good voice for Rogue and does a good job of showing us her grief. As so many mutants (regardless of which Marvel line it would seem) Rogue has watched far too many friends fall to violence and hate. But I didn't honestly see the need for this story, short of bringing new readers up to speed on the pending new Ultimate universe line. Lee Garbett's pencils are nice and he has a good eye for anatomy. His clean art, when combined with Spencer's writing reads like a by-the-numbers comic. I'm trying hard to not bag on this story. There really isn't anything to complain about, beyond that fact that is does little to move the story forward. It simply is.
Like I said, I've been reading comics for a long time and I've seen death come and go. This time it feels different. It feels too honest. Too real. Maybe that what's we need in comics once in a while. The passing of a hero that really does impact us. A passing that will help us enjoy the larger than life tales we all love so much about superhero comics. I just hope they get there soon. No matter how well it's done, I just don't know how much more death I can take.
Written by Scott Synder, Kyle Higgins, and Ryan Parrott
Art by Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan, and Guy Major
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
With DC so firmly locked into its future and the pending reboot of all their titles, it is interesting that one of their best stories is all about the past. Reaching the midpoint issue, Gates of Gotham continues the tale of Gotham's three most powerful founding families; being the Waynes, the Elliots, and the Cobblepots. And, how their original vision for Gotham in the past is still having a powerful and dangerous impact on the present. I'll be honest, I've been genuinely enjoying Gates of Gotham, but as a longtime comic book reader I was more than prepared for the dreaded mid-arc drop. You all know what I mean, you see the phrase “issue 3 of 5”, and you're already wondering if you should just flip through the book and move on. It'll kick back into high gear with issue 4. Such is not the case with Gates of Gotham. Synder, Higgins, and Parrott are crafting a multi layer story here and even in an issue packed with so much exposition, you've got one entertaining read.
Although this miniseries doesn't reference Snyder's other work in Detective, it's obvious he's taking Grayson's self-doubt from that title and transferring into Gates. When he's leading the Titans or even a member of the Justice League, Dick Grayson exudes confidence as the new Batman. But in Gates of Gotham, the danger is happening in is his backyard. Even worse, these events are happening in his adopted father's backyard. The legacies Bruce Wayne spent so long protecting, Grayson is watching fall, all while under his watch. Not saying Bruce saved the day with every case, but you can read it in the dialogue that Dick doesn't think that way. He's letting his legacy down and the guilt it weighing heavy on him. I don't believe the writing team is being lazy in letting Dick make mistakes you've never see him make in other titles. Like the city he loves so much, Grayson's foundations are being tested by this bomber so intent on destroying Gotham's past.
The writing team also does a good job of finding the balance for all the various members of the Bat family. Like the buildings that make up the city, Tim, Cassandra, and Damien all fill an important role with Gates. Indeed, these characters feel like a return to their original strengths, while honoring the growth of the past. Tim's tireless detective work, Cass's ability to read and adapt on the fly, and even Damien does his part; if only to remind Dick where over confidence can lead. Synder and Higgins do a great job of balancing the modern narration with the exposition of the past. Transitions are seamless and even add to the growth of the story.
Trevor McCarthy and Graham Nolan on the art are an interesting choice. The story behind Gates of Gotham would suggest sharp angles and a heavy Gothic influence. And yet, McCarthy and Nolan have an almost cartoon quality to their work. But even that isn't entirely honest. The art in Gates of Gotham, like the city itself, is organic. Lines and colors are given a foundation and then allowed to flow of their own accord. Guy Major's coloring merges the darkness with the light. From the bright horizon in Gotham's past to its soot-stained skies of today, the backgrounds and designs are wonderful. There were a few times when I felt characters looked a little too childlike when they were out of their costumes, but these moments are fleeting. All in all, this one of DC Comics' prettiest books on the shelf today.
I know I'm going to sound like yet another old time DC fan complaining about the reboot, but I don't care. Gates of Gotham proves you call tell a great story in the modern DC universe, while keeping an eye to the past. Whether you're a new reader or you know the genealogy of Gotham's founding families, Gates of Gotham is a solid story you don't want to miss.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez and Munsta Vicente
Lettering by Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
From The Flash, where he took Wally West and made him "The Flash" for many fans to The Legion of Super-Heroes, where he took the teen heroes and made them anti-establishment, Mark Waid is the writer you want when you need to refresh a character while keeping him true to his roots. Maybe no other character has moved away farther from those roots than Marvel's Daredevil, once a swashbuckling lothario who has spent the last 25 years living under Frank Miller's dark and stormy shadow. With each new writer and artist, even in Miller's own returns to the character with David Mazzuchelli and John Romita Jr., the goal always seemed to be how much further into the abyss could they push Matt Murdock. Waid has never been that interested in exploring that same abyss as he's solidly told stories about true heroes and dark villains where the moral compass has always been clear and rigid. Daredevil has always been a good man but a strong moral compass is something that he's needed for a long time now.
Daredevil #1 opens with a little wedding, marrying together two mafia families. In a fantastic scene, Waid establishes his take on Daredevil as a costumed adventurer and also as that swashbuckler. The only reward he takes is a stolen kiss from the bride because her perfume, one of his favorites, drive his heightened senses crazy. It's a fun, character-establishing scene that's made more powerful by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin's visual take on Daredevil's powers, focusing on his radar senses. Waid, Rivera and Martin create a new Daredevil, one who doesn't live in the darkness but fights for a brighter today.
Rivera and Martin split the art duties this issue as they will be on the series, trading off on stories. Their styles almost match perfectly as they both have the same, clear type of line that's so simple but so descriptive. They don't create the dark, hazy NYC of Alex Maleev or Michael Lark but show a Daredevil who lives and breathes in the same daytime that you or I do. Their vision of Daredevil is something that we haven't seen since even before Gene Colan on this title. Combined with Waid's story, they embrace the superhero history of the character, bringing him and his world back to the ore cheerful feel it had back in it's early days.
Matt Murdock has lived through and suffered through dark trials thought of by villains named Bendis, Brubaker and Diggle and has come through it all into a brighter world. Those things happened to this character but he obviously wants to think he came through it a better man. Waid shows us either a truly content man or one whose smile hides his own despair and guilt. Time will tell what direction Waid is going to go in but it is nice to see the character smile and seem to enjoy life for the first time in a couple of decades.Supergirl #66
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by ChrisCross, Marc Deering, and Blond
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
When it was announced that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be writing a Supergirl three-parter just before the DC New 52, a lot of people got really excited, and fast. But two issues into it, I'm feeling a little disappointed, as Kara Zor-El feels more and more like a side character in her own book.
Part of that is just DeConnick's central conceit, with Supergirl going undercover at a college campus to investigate a rash of missing students. Unfortunately, for those who might not be familiar with the character, that takes away many of the touchstones we might need to get ourselves oriented — no costume, little in the way of her duel identity, and only a handful of actual uses of her power set. Instead, the familiar settings and teen cast ends up teetering dangerously close to Scooby-Doo territory, with the humor feeling both self-conscious and tonally "off."
ChrisCross's artwork is another unorthodox choice. It's not that I don't appreciate the effort for expressiveness, but at the same time, ChrisCross's characters are a little bit over the top, with exaggerated gapes that nearly rival that of Kelley Jones. A lot of this, however, seems to be a matter of pairing an artist to content — there's one double-page spread which is absolutely gorgeous, and perhaps not coincidentally is the first time that Kara is actually able to cut loose. The colorist in this book, Blond, deserves plenty of praise, however — he's really been coming into his own the past few months, and there's a real energy to his work even as he uses predominantly cool colors.
In a lot of ways, I guess what makes me scratch my head about Supergirl is that I'm not sure what DeConnick is shooting for with this book. Is it something to celebrate the Girl of Steel? That can't be it. Is it some sort of satire against overprotected and ignorant college students? Could be, but almost like a horror movie, I sort of am okay with these hapless teens getting the axe. It's a perplexing book for a lot of reasons, and definitely not what I was expecting from these two established talents.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
…How did this book work?
I've reread Invincible Iron Man #506 three or four times now, and the math just didn't add up. An event tie-in, with writing and art totally clashing in tone, the setting being just set-up and the action being worlds away from Tony Stark's typical sci-fi milieu?
And yet… it's good. It's actually the best issue I've read so far of the greater Fear Itself arc, an event comic that I've been feeling more leery about than most. The reason why? It's because finally — for the first time in a while for this book, at least since "World's Most Wanted" — Fraction is writing to his strengths, breathing some real life into our heroes, no matter how outlandish their adventures can be.
Considering this book is about Tony Stark giving up the one thing that's ever meant anything to him — his sobriety — it's actually a bit surprising (and I'm sure for some, a little disheartening) to see Fraction's fairly humorous take on the situation. To be fair, Iron Man has seen a lot in the past few months, particularly the gruesome petrification of Paris by one-time joke villain Grey Gargoyle, but underneath all the laughs, you do get a sense of someone's heart breaking under there. In certain ways, it might be the anticipation of action rather than outright steps that makes this book go — it gets back to the heart of the character, which is if you give Tony Stark a chance, his genius will be unleashed to new and devastating effect.
But something else that Fraction does here, that I haven't seen in the better part of a year, is the layering of storylines. This isn't just Tony's show anymore — we've got Pepper Potts struggling with whether or not to don the Rescue armor and return to Paris, we've got the Detroit Steel Corps trying to save lives and jockey for respect, you've got the intrepid scientists at Stark Resilient watching in horror. This is the goods, kids, and Fraction really knows how to make you root for a hero by using his supporting cast.
Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata, meanwhile, somehow go through the eye of the needle to make a serious, wildly dissonant art style look bold and charismatic as hell. Whereas Fraction is feeling lighter, looser, more agile, Larroca is drawing Lord of the Rings kind of architecture in the forges of Asgard — and it somehow works. I think that "somehow" might be named Frank D'Armata, one of Marvel's holy trinity of super-colorists with Laura Martin and Christina Strain. Flames pop off the page, as the stone city of Paris feels cold, almost draining the reader's very spirit. It's powerful stuff.
To be honest, this is a book that, on paper, should have crashed and burned. Yet reading it — and then reading it again — I'm totally sold. Why? Character — it's something that's easy to overlook, particularly when you're weaving a huge continuity tapestry like Fear Itself, but if Matt Fraction can keep this up, he's going to stick the landing on this saga in a big way.One Soul
Written and Illustrated by Ray Fawkes
Published by Oni Press
Review by Zack Kotzer
Ray Fawkes has undertaken post-apocalyptic comedy to contemporary, Lovecraftian horror. So while that kind of genre hopping certainly seems flexible in conventional comics, something more akin to, say, Terrence Malick's latest film certainly manages to pop out of even those typical circles. One Soul is a slightly abstract venture across time, moments slipping through an assembly of individuals across the entire span of recorded, and perhaps moments just before that, history.
How you read One Soul depends a lot on how you let your eyes skip across the page. Each of the characters has their own slipstream stories, but they are arranged as a quilt across the pages. They are weaved, typically through momentary themes that persist to be apt no matter what moment in time, happiness, anger, sex and war. There is a pulse, steady, as each and every page is divvied into nine panels. The splatter of memories across time, at times not unlike vague and sparse memories of your own history, are blips, and they work best as blips. Certainly which individuals you feel a connect with, like the pace of narrative, will probably be decided by your own personality and reading habits. Even though there is an effort to blur them all together, the method to this book creates a level of engagement that dips up and down like a Richter scale. Though that isn't to say even when there is one face you are lesser passionate about, there isn't some sensation of anxiety when a particular character's panel is a black void prematurely.
Fawkes' art is also inconsistent. The best of times it is a sweet blend of simplicity and steadiness, not without detail but the movement and the mood are at one. Other times though the drawings don't flatter, a face or a figure will look off, or the image simply doesn't grab you. As evenly paced as the story suggests, the drops throughout it can create blurs in the reading experience that probably were not intended.
One Soul works best when it feels most collective, brevity and speckles of this single voice dictating what seems like a recollection of memories so faded and diluted that, yes, they could have been in some ancient civilization. The entire premise may make some audiences roll their eyes, but it's a clean read, and for those who would like to sink into a tunnel of love, hate and everything in between, then this may be a book of ages to fit on your shelf.
Batman: Gates of Gotham #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston): Gates of Gotham continues to be exactly the kind of Batman story I've been wanting for the last couple years. Rife with detective work, mystery, and action, this is a book you oughtt to be reading. This issue moves a little slower, reeling in the aftermath of the last issue's events, but the flashback scenes escalate with riveting degree. Gates of Gotham has me very excited for Kyle Higgins's Nightwing run, as he definitely nails Dick's voice. I'm definitely sad that Scott Snyder won't also be writing Dick as Batman, because I feel like both the writer and the character are really coming into their own. Trevor McCarthy is definitely the star of this book, however, as his art is more dynamic and interesting than almost anything else DC has on the stands right now. While I am a little bit disappointed when it comes to some elements of the DCnU Batman's status quo, this book is really doing a great job of getting me excited for the direction these two writers are taking their titles.
Daredevil #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Ever thought you'd be happy to see a brighter, sunnier Daredevil? Me neither, but Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera score an absolute knockout with their relaunch of the Man Without Fear. There's just some real pop on every page here, with Waid setting up the tone of Matt Murdock through a really inventive fight sequence that plays up Rivera's expressive, intuitive strengths in all the right places — things like watching DD literally dive into the warp-creating Spot is one of those so-obvious-why-didn't-anyone-think-of-that moves that'll really knock your socks off. But the real oomph for this first issue, and likely the first arc, is that Waid tackles the secret identity problem head-on — what do you do when your secret identity is basically in tatters, and where do you go from there? That's where his mandate of brightness actually helps — yeah, Murdock's career as a lawyer is effectively sunk because everyone says he's Daredevil, but that doesn't mean he won't get back up and try it again. It's a surprisingly uplifting, inspiring tone that actually makes sense, coming from the blind-man-turned-superhero. You know who else deserves some praise? Letterer Joe Caramagna — having a standard-case font for DD's interior monologue rather than all-caps is a subtle but smart move, showing that Matt is a thinking man's superhero, a guy who takes his time and savors all the details. And with artwork this good, believe me when I say that Daredevil #1 is a book that's all about savoring the details.
DC Retroactive: Batman - The ’70s #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): The first of a series of 18 one-shots geared towards the nostalgic, Len Wein and Tom Mandrake return us to the days when Batman was Batman and crime was gothic. True to the era, there’s a lot of overwrought teen angst in this issue — though no sighting of Robin — and a shadowy villain pulling all the strings from afar. (That villain will be obvious to anyone familiar with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ legendary run on the title.) Mandrake’s art is certainly worth the price of admission alone; his swampy, elongated lines made him a fan favorite on The Spectre many moons ago and he’s perfect for aping an era that was filled with more old dark houses than were actually possible or plausible. Wein, who revived the X-Men with Dave Cockrum in the 1970s, also had a long run on Batman in the 1970s and could certainly have pulled this script right out of the drawer. It’s campy, has several logical flaws —would Batman really put a group of partygoers in mortal danger just to catch a trio of super-criminals? — and has a lot of stilted dialogue. In other words, it’s dead-on. But is it any good? Well, that depends on or whether or not you were dying for a book that seems ripped from the headlines of 1972. You could do a lot worse for $5, considering you also get a classic reprint with this issue. Then again, you could buy one of the many 1970s reprint volumes DC produces for a couple bucks more, and get ten times as much product. Given my druthers, I’d opt for the latter.
Dollhouse #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): I must admit that I never watched Dollhouse during its television run – I’ll pause so you can feel free to chide and chastise me if you must. Now that that’s out of the way, I was incredibly pleased to discover that this new comic requires no prior knowledge of the intricacies of the Joss Whedon-created series. The story for the book has been devised by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, with Chambliss handling the scripting chores. He does an excellent job of immediately creating a compelling mystery – which taps into the same sort of vein of fear that films like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers did, as people’s minds are wiped out totally. We are also given a charming gateway-character in the form of Trevor – a young boy who is given a modification of the personality modification technology that formed the core of the Dollhouse concept. There’s humor and pathos galore, as we are made privy to Trevor’s disbelief at his newly acquired abilities, and his doubts about the manner in which he has to apply them. In addition to Trevor, we are given other interesting characters (from the series) such as Alpha, who becomes the impromptu leader of an incredibly small rebellion, and Ivy – whose essence has been duplicated and implanted into (at least) two other people – which leads to a few bits of comically repetitive bickering. Beyond all of that though, the clock ticks on the plot as the amount of people being “erased” increases, and the influence of the frequency that triggers it grows larger. Cliff Richards and Andy Owens art is sharp and clear – the pages in which Trevor learns martial arts and gymnastics are rendered with a clean energy, and they draw characters that look enough like their television counterparts, while making them fully fit this new medium. It’s an exciting debut issue, with interesting protagonists – and a world on the brink of catastrophe. The undercurrent of ever-growing paranoia works to great effect, and I am curious to see what the pay-off will look like.
War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): It feels a little off to read this issue after last week's installment of Green Lantern Corps, but Tony Bedard puts together a nice bookend to the sprawling "War of the Green Lanterns" storyline here that clearly establishes the tone of where the Green Lantern series is headed next. Bouncing between John Stewart's guilt over killing Mogo to Kyle Rayner seething against friend and lover alike, this book may lack in subtlety (particularly about topics such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which just gets thrown in there without much grace) but it makes up for it in sheer scope and directness. In other words, the anticipation of future stories might actually be what helps this book out more than the here-and-now narrative. In terms of art, Miguel Sepulveda's characters come off as misshapen and dark, and while tonally it fits the somber mood of the Corps, from a pragmatic standpoint that means the first half off the book doesn't come off as particularly inviting or stylish. Tyler Kirkham, on the other hand, actually is looking better than ever, with some very restrained inks from Batt that really loosen up his pages and keep it away from some of his more over-rendered work in the past. All in all, it's far from a perfect book, but if you're looking for a good place to jump onto the Green Lantern bandwagon, this is it.
X-Men #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston): Christopher Yost's "First to Last" has been pretty decent, with the X-Men dealing with a here-to-fore unknown threat from their distant past, juxtaposed against scenes of the original team's first confrontation with the Evolutionaries. Things fell apart a little bit in this last issue, however, as the motivation for the Evolutionaries' actions become less and less clear. The more rapid fire jumps between past and present start to get a little disorienting at times, though Medina and Talajic have different enough styles that it's generally easy to figure out what's what. The biggest moment of the book is Iceman's surprise at Cyclops's willingness to kill the Evolutionaries once it becomes necessary, foreshadowing the upcoming rift in the team. Honestly, I feel like this story could've used a little bit more depth, and maybe a little more time spent exploring the nature of the Evolutionaries and their plan, but overall it comes to a fairly satisfying, if expected conclusion.
DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The ’70s #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): In a return no one demanded, Wonder Woman dons her white pantsuit and starts karate chopping in this muddled one-shot from Denny O’Neil and J. Bone. One of a series of “homages” (or, to be more accurate, fakes) that mimic the 1970s while paying tribute to them, this mess of a comic book will appeal only to the die-hard or the masochist. The 1970s were not exactly a vintage period for Wonder Woman, and who or what she was depended on who was writing her. This led to a schizophrenic book in which she was whipsawed back and forth between sophomoric attempts to cash in on the kung-fu craze, and the need to appeal to young women who, on the published evidence, lived and died for appearances from Wonder Tot. O’Neil’s story is appropriately childish: Diana is threatened by an alien, who forces her to endure some pseudo-Greco-Roman trials, necessitating a couple of costume changes, and everything works out in the end. It’s dull and harmless, and might have been low-key fun if the art was up to snuff. It’s not — Jason Bone (Brave and the Bold, Alison Dare ) turns in an uncharacteristically lazy performance here with work that looks rushed and raw. It’s frustrating: Bone’s layouts are dynamic and entertaining; his inks and finishes, however, are graceless. Even the mildly charming backup story (by O’Neil and the incomparable Dick Giordano) can’t redeem this one.
All Nighter #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): In only two issues, writer David Hahn has given readers plenty for their money: Layers of mystery, good character sketches, and more than a few plot curveballs. That’s not counting his vivid black and white illustrations, which bring the story to life. So far, All Nighter revolves largely around Kit Bradley, a discontented art student who, in the very first issue, revealed that she’d killed her mom. Hahn deftly juxtaposes such big revelations with smaller, coming-of-age issues. Kit is right on the line between irresponsibility and maturity, and she’s not quite ready to let go of some self-defeating behavior. Because her general dilemma is not unusual for a young adult, we’re lulled into forgetting, at least temporarily, that bombshell she dropped in issue #1. This time around, Kit’s thrown by the reappearance of the One Who Got Away, a man who’s dating her cranky roommate. More is revealed about Martha, the disturbingly quiet young woman who recently moved in. This doesn't seem like a comic that's headed for a tidy resolution or that will provide answers to every question, and that's a big part of its appeal. Quietly suspenseful, meaty, and well written, All Nighter deserves a place in your pull list.
Thor: Heaven and Earth #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Shanna VanVolt): I picked up this book for one reason: Color. Just because Asgard is a Nordic mythological realm doesn't mean that everything has to be depicted in grays, browns, and blacks. The cover of this book features a light blue and vibrant red and open space, and as a result I was hoping for less draconian-epic version of Thor than what seems to be on most comic shelves these days. Much to my happiness, that is what Paul Jenkins and Ariel Olivetti deliver here. Don't worry, it is still epic. Olivetti's figures are like Prince Valiant pencils painted like stained glass and wearing accessories from Jack Kirby's closet. He is bold with the gods, letting giants be truly massive in the walls of Asgard and the trickster Loki is puny and sickly. If you do not share my enjoyment of the cover with its stark forms against only hints of airy background, do not buy the book, because Olivetti's figural style is the star. Jenkins pulls out imaginative scenes for him to draw while delving into tense psychological battles between the two sons of Odin. All of Asgard fears the coming of Ragnarok as the Army of Discord settles in on the kingdom, but the heft of the issue lies in Loki's conniving focus on truth and lies, and Olivetti proves he can illustrate the germane as well as the immortal. The philosophical games Loki is trying to play on Thor are intriguing in and of themselves – and perhaps relevant to a world that increasingly fears the End Times, our own Ragnarok – but most of the thoughts I took away from the book related more to Olivetti's mastery. If he stays on the series and Jenkins continues to lay down thoughtful tangents connecting the Norse mythology to our own lives for him to draw, I'll stick around with this Thor series.
Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): In a word, this book is efficient. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning nimbly detail just how the Atlanteans and the Amazons came to be at each other's throats, and offer up hints on what’s next. It’s solid stuff, showing once again how these two guys handle big event comics with grace and style. There’s only one problem here, and it’s a big one: DnA’s take on Aquaman doesn’t jibe up with Tony Bedard has been doing with the character in Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman. In DnA’s hands, Arthur Curry is reluctant to go to war, fearing the worst; in Bedard’s, he’s been shown as a callow, thoughtless monarch eager for blood. One would have thought that in such a heavily edit-driven event, someone at the top might have reconciled the two portrayals. Agustin Padilla and Jose Aviles’ artwork is merely serviceable — it is blotchy and lacks nuance — but it doesn’t deter from what is a strong book overall.
Warlord of Mars #8 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Shanna VanVolt): No one can accuse Edgar Rice Burroughs of writing a story that goes nowhere: This issue takes us to at least four Martian — “Barsoomian” in ERB-speak — locations in dizzying fashion. The standard summary adorns the first page in ERB's voice, but I don't know how helpful it is: I have read every issue and I am still a bit lost on the Red Planet. If you can get past this confusion, or perhaps even embrace it, Warlord of Mars #8 is a good book. Unlike the more modern spin-off Dejah Thoris (also from Dynamite), Arvid Nelson continues to honor Burroughs' tone and point of view, both relatively antiquated but not without excitement. In this installment both the drama and the action are stepped up. The art—which comes from a more modern sensibility— carries on an interesting dialogue with the pre-1920s script. Lui Antonio's digitally inked and beefy protagonists take a dynamic chapter from ERB's pulp and intensify it with some hoary battles and racy romantic interludes. The quality of the fantasy art covers is perhaps the most visual representation of this interplay: depicting an epic with Victorian values in 1980s-stereotyped figures usually reserved for fitness equipment infomercials and romance novel covers. Deja Thoris is so disproportionate and oddly-almost-naked that it lets her retain her alien nature. Arguably, this makes the Martian princess less offensive, though she is occasionally posed in ways that would make anyone from ERB's generation blush. It is cheesy, but the Dynamite team does well to keep ERB's intentions in the mix. With supplemental materials about the weapons of Barsoom (which do some serious damage here) Arvid Nelson and team keep what is an expanding world interesting, and I won't miss the next issue.
Avengers Academy #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): It's a two-for-one deal over at Avengers Academy this week, as Christos Gage structures this issue with a decent story about Hank Pym that completely overshadows a stellar short with the density-changing Veil. Where Gage succeeds is in the quiet moments of the fight, as Pym takes on the Asgardian-powered Absorbing Man and Titania — while the actual punch-for-punch choreography doesn't quite feel revolutionary, seeing Pym react to buildings falling or just plain collapsing with exhaustion gives a bit of character texture that the general Fear Itself storyline has been lacking. But I'll be the first to admit that the tension doesn't quite materialize, that it's never really in doubt whether Hank will win or not — very different from Gage's story with Veil, which is so artful in what it implies as much as it makes explicit. Seeing how the kids react to the destruction is always a smart move, and it's in the last few pages that Gage really trusts artist Tom Raney to tell the story without words — and yeah, Raney really nails it. All the hustle and bustle of Fear Itself somewhat takes the wind out of this book's sails, but that's not to say there isn't still plenty to like about Avengers Academy.
Flashpoint: The Outsider #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): One of the better (and weirder) Flashpoint spin-offs, the Outsider meets his nemesis this issue — and it turns out to be the one character we’ve all been waiting to pop up in this new universe. Michael Desai is a mutant with strange powers — who destroyed an entire city in India at birth. Today, as the Outsider, he is a mega-rich, technologically savvy antihero who nonetheless is being courted by Cyborg to help take down the Amazons and Atlanteans destroying the world. Physically, he somewhat resembles the Outsider of late-1960s Batman comics (a character that turned out to be a delusional Alfred Pennyworth) a connection that was reinforced in the first issue when it turned out that the Waynes’ butler was working for him as a secret agent. Last issue, Desai’s HQ was destroyed; this issue, we find out by who, but not why. Like many of the other Flashpoint spinoffs, this series suffers from having too much plot crammed into too few pages, and this is an exceptionally talky issue. (Writer James Robinson at least displays a sense of humor, having his lead say that he’s rambling at one point.) Javi Fernandez’ art doesn’t help matters — it is blotchy, indistinct and crude. All that said, Flashpoint: The Outsider #2 isn’t a bad comic. In fact, it’s a fun read that overcomes what should be fatal shortcomings by dint of being well plotted and unpredictable. The Outsider himself is also an intriguing character; one hopes he makes the jump to the DCnU.
Evelyn Evelyn: A Tragic Tale in Two Tomes (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): When I first heard of Evelyn Evelyn, a pair of cojoined twin sister musicians named Eva and Lynn Neville produced by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley – who may or may not be Palmer and Webley themselves – I loved the idea of them. Amanda Palmer has always been more than just a singer/songwriter. She lives her life like performance art, and the Evelyn Evelyn project seemed like an obvious extension of that. Palmer and Webley got to explore a ragtime-y sound in their music, as well as have fun creating the Neville sisters mysterious personas. Which is why my feelings about a graphic novel telling of their life story are as conflicted and divided as the twins themselves. On the one hand, the attempt at creating an old-fashioned story about cojoined twins who are orphaned and become circus freaks before finding themselves through music is an intriguing one. The story is unique and at times heartbreaking, and Cynthia von Buhler’s art is gorgeous and dreamlike. However, having the full story laid out in a graphic novel takes away from the mystery that makes Evelyn Evelyn’s songs so much fun. Whenever the story reminds us of the time in which the story is set (the twins are supposedly born in 1985, and the story stops in places to provide historical landmarks in time, complete with references to pop music), or makes loose connections to the events of September 11th (violence befalling twins in September? Get it?!), it’s jarring. It feels as though Palmer and Webley didn’t trust their crazy story enough, so they felt the need to tie it to things they thought the reader would find important. However, all that did was pull me out of the twins’ world and make me care a little less. Evelyn Evelyn is a unique and beautiful-looking work in two volumes. While slightly disappointing story-wise, it is also a testament to what can be created when truly creative people show us how they see the world.
Zatanna #15 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Zatanna might just be the best DC book you're not reading. There's action. There's no continuity. It's self-contained. It makes you care. Thank you. Derek Fridolfs keeps the story moving briskly, as Zee is ambushed by a pack of witch hunters — it's a smart move, keeping the focus on empathizing with the lead character rather than pondering too much on the motivations and skills of her opponents (which, if you think about it too long, you may realize the bad guys are still playing way out of their league). But that's okay — this story is about Zatanna fighting for her life without the use of her ubiquitous magic, and that raises up the stakes in a big way, giving Fridolfs and artist Jamal Igle an opportunity to flesh out her world as a stage magician by using it as a weapon. Igle has a little bit of that old-school feel with his designs, almost Perez-ian in its open lines but way more widescreen in terms of his composition — he doesn't go for the flashy designs, but there are these little expressive beats, like Zatanna scowling as she realizes she's been played, that really reward the reader. That said, there are some things that feel a little too convenient in terms of the script, almost as though Fridolfs gave Zee a free pass out of the fight, rather than really having her earn the win. But despite the ending feeling a little too easy, this is one of the strongest, most overlooked books you'll read this week.
Soldier Zero #10 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero picks up where it left off in the last issue, while carrying forth with its somewhat tangential crossover with Starborn. If the previous issue felt excessively talky - writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning turn down the chat and ratchet up the action sequences with a series of impressively staged fisticuffs. This isn’t to say they don’t come up with some clever dialogue – there are some humorous moments that come from contrasting the over-the-top, gleefully violent villains, and the droll understatement of our hero. In addition to that, a character that debuted in the previous issue, that I liked very much – the burnt-out Barney – gets some more to do here. Though it seems that we’ve seen the last of him for the time being, I fervently hope that this doesn’t prove to be the case – the character could easily continue to bring an interesting dynamic to the stories. There’s a good deal of humor interspersed into the relentless fight between Soldier Zero and the horned “pride warriors” he faces up against. A particular stand out involves the Soldier’s companion, Kaylee, attempting to save the day with a curious looking weapon. It’s a funny gag that has a fine payoff as the aliens call her bluff. Javier Pina and Ramon Bachs' artwork is sharp and energetic here – they’re clearly enjoying the material, and they may be better suited to grandiose action than they are more intimate discussions. Colorist Archie van Buren and letterer Ed Dukeshire also deserve much praise in bringing the fight to life with bold swaths and slashes of color, and weighty, attuned sound effects. The issue ends with a nicely rendered “superhero” panel progression of the hero and his female companion flying towards us (the rain is a particularly nice touch), and there’s a gruesome final image, with hints of a biomechanical aesthetic. This is a fast, lean comic that provides little bits of character amidst its action – and it moves its plot forward economically and with a modicum of style.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!