Greetings, Rama Readers! Ready from some bite-sized, lightning-fast Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with the latest releases from Marvel, DC, Image, and IDW! Want some more back-issue reviews? We have you covered, all at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's let Aaron kick off today's column, with a look at a Dark Knight both twisted and familiar in Knight of Vengeance…
Flashpoint – Batman: Knight of Vengeance #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran): After the multiple bombshells dropped in issue #2, Batman: Knight of Vengeance #3 has a daunting task: wrapping the whole thing up and maintaining the emotional tension of the previous issues. Not only do writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso succeed in the task, they excel. Delving deeper into the tragic history of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Azzarello deftly weaves a story of loss, regret, love, and hate that has more in common with a classic Greek tragedy than modern superhero comics. This isn't some simple DC event tie-in, this is Azzarello telling one of the best Batman stories ever. Without giving any spoilers, when Thomas Wayne says he can help bring about a world in which Bruce doesn't die, it hurts. Eduardo Russo continues his heavy use of shadows to pencil a world where regret and pain are the dominant force. The multiple flashbacks within the issue follow the same black, white, and red color style as The Killing Joke. Whether this was by design or not, the color choice helps the reader make a quick connection to the world of Flashpoint. This is a world we know, but it's a world that shouldn't be. Batman Knight of Vengeance does what so very few event tie-in books are able to do. It rises to and wholly outshines the very event it's meant to support. In 3 short issues, Azzarello and Risso create one of the best Batman stories ever. Not a bad way to say goodbye to the old DC Universe.
Ultimate Fallout #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): Maybe you’ve heard that there’s a new Spider-Man in town. While there are three self-contained stories in Ultimate Fallout #4, one overshadows all. Of course, it’s the introduction to Miles Morales, the new person in the Spidey suit. We don’t learn much about him beyond the big reveal, but Miles makes a perfectly charming, if brief first impression as a kid who is in somewhat over his head and has a familiar sense of humor. Without showing many cards, writer Brian Michael Bendis gives this segment a feel that’s similar to the Ultimate Spider-Man stories fans know and love. Sarah Pichelli’s wonderful illustrations are vibrant and clean, and they’re the standout of this book overall. Now for the rest: Jonathan Hickman focuses on Reed Richards, who is making unsettling travel plans from the Negative Zone. Salvador Larroca’s art reflects the story’s chilly aura, and colorist Frank D’Armata makes the last two panels particularly memorable. The final chapter by Nick Spencer shifts to Valerie Cooper and sets up nicely for his pending Ultimate Comics: X-Men stories. However, Clayton Crain’s art struck me as overly gloomy and static. The Ultimate Fallout books have been middling overall, and I doubt this one is essential to understanding what comes next. The three installments in this comic are essentially abbreviated #0 issues. Still, there are some interesting and obviously history-making moments that make Ultimate Fallout #4 a cut above filler.
50 Girls 50 #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): After a very fine second issue, 50 Girls 50 continues its ascension, delivering character-driven, high-concept science fiction, with a diverse, distinct all-female cast. This issue is particularly marvelous, for it manages to take a trope from juvenile science fiction, in this case a “Dinosaur Planet!” (You can’t say it without an exclamation mark, so I’m not going to write it without one), and crafts a sly, mature story that never veers into “darkness for darkness’ sake.” The main conflict for most of the issue doesn’t even deal with the dinosaurs, but a conflict between ideals onboard the Savannah – as arguments are had about these creature’s true natures. This brings our regular cast into a sharp focus, and allows us more time to get to know their psychological predilections – as compassion and practicality are thrown against each other. There are some startling images that are strangely affecting – the dinosaur leader crying upon his first sight of the stars – and the nobility of the Savannah’s mission (preventing an asteroid from annihilating their civilization) also works in contrast to the conclusion of the previous issue. Naturally, all is not quite as it seems, and, in a fashion, the plot is a riff on the old story of the Fox and the Scorpion – but writers Doug Murray and Frank Cho offer interesting shifts in character (the way Captain Devorah reacts to the events of the episodes conclusion shows a marked change in her), and still they take a moment to emphasize that evil is not an all-encompassing, across the board concept. Compassion and practicality can co-exist just as easily as any other pair of absolutes, and the idea is brought across in a story filled with subtle humor, action, diplomacy and a genuine sense of wonder (particularly a montage where the dinosaurs see Captain Devorah on their televisions, which is both wry and grand). And, of course, there’s the absolutely terrific art by Axel Medellin – colored with great skill by Nikos Koutsis.
Mystic #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Wendy Holler; Click here for preview): This version of Mystic is a clear departure from the original Crossgen incarnation. The main characters, Giselle and Genevieve, are young adults raised in an orphanage in the steampunk town of Hyperion. Giselle is mechanically and mathematically inclined, with dark hair and a penchant for wearing boys' clothing. Her best friend Genevieve is a dreamer whose hope for a better possible future carries the girls through their dreary existence at the orphanage. The pair regularly break into the facility's library, though their reading about the magical Noble Arts seems useless since they spend most of their days working in a laundry to pay off the "debt" they owe the orphanage. The plot feels familiar not because of the reboot, but because the comic is littered with the tropes of young adult storytelling: mysterious pasts, unfair social mores, a prominent piece of iconic jewelry, rebellious tendencies, eyes the color of magic. The art is nicely realistic, but a light touch on inking and a cartoonish emphasis in coloring push the overall look toward youth and simplicity. At the same time, a few references, like the direct accusation that Giselle's mother is a prostitute, keep this from being an all-ages story. The comic seems caught somewhere between "It's the Hard-Knock Life" and "Bitch" — which, come to think of it, isn't all that off from what it's like to be a teenage girl. Mystic #1 plays things a bit too safe here, but it's still young. It deserves a little more time to figure out how to let its hair down.
Superman #714 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): If Chris Roberson's final issue was any indication of the sort of storytelling he was capable of, it's a shame that his run on the Man of Steel is ending here. In so many ways, though, it was Superman who helped define this post-Crisis universe, and in that way, Roberson really writes a bittersweet farewell, planting the seeds of Superman's legacy for some time to come. All of this is a showcase of the writer's skill, considering Roberson had to tie up story threads that were not his own, as well as try to reverse some seriously negative public perception after J. Michael Straczynski departed. As far as the art goes, Jamal Igle's pencils are dynamic, particularly showing the way that Superman bends through the sky in flight, but I'm less than keen on Jon Sibal and Robin Riggs' inking, which seems a little too brittle, especially underneath Marcelo Maiolo's dry, almost desert-like colors. In certain ways, the post-Crisis universe ends here, and in that regard, Roberson had a lot to overcome here. Rest easy, because he did it.
Moon Knight #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Wendy Holler; Click here for preview): To buy into this version of Moon Knight, you have to like the crazy. The crazy in this case involves Marc Spector's multiple personalities, the sardonic view that Bendis adopts toward L.A., and the idea that Echo might end up asking Ms. Marvel for dating advice. This is the kind of crazy that either sells a story or sells it short, and the part that drives me nuts about Moon Knight is that even four issues in, I'm not sure which way this one's going to fall. The issue's plot is pretty simple. Last time, the Night Shift (a group of villainous thugs) was hired to track down and deliver Moon Knight, Echo, and part of an Ultron body that Moon Knight stole. This issue, a fight ensues. Moon Knight's interactions with his personalities (Id, Ego, and Super Ego as depicted by Wolverine, Spiderman, and Captain America) are funny and sad by turns. Echo is unapologetically awkward and awesome. The art has a nice mix of glamour and grit, the lettering's perfect, and the dialogue is effective and fun. The only problem with the issue is the same one that plagues the series: this is a deeply uncomfortable comic. Moon Knight is a superhero who makes a televised mockery of his own origin story. His mind is fractured, and he's a character who's both dramatically sympathetic and dramatically unsafe. Sometimes I wonder if this series is all just a really elaborate setup for a joke about which one's scarier, the kingpin or the loose screw? This issue is a lot of fun on both technical and story levels, but it didn't resolve my ambivalence about the series as a whole.
The Mission #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): At the beginning of the book, Paul – the protagonist of The Mission notes: “I’m way past good ideas.” Indeed, there is an air of desperation to the entire issue, from its opening panels to the final moment – which is shocking not so much for the revelation it holds but for the action that envelopes it. There is also startlingly visceral interrogation scene that forms the issue’s centerpiece. Its content is certainly up there with some of the more diabolical things Ian Fleming or Kingsley Amis devised in their James Bond novels, but – wisely – there is no sense of joy in it, but a tiredness, a simple desire to return to a status quo – it grounds the moment, and thus the creative team is able to engender sympathy for both characters in the scene – their wants and desires so clearly laid out through the dialogue. Werther Dell’Edera’s artwork is clean and stylized, depicting only necessary details. There is a simple, terse quality to Dell’Edera’s storytelling. There’s a wonderful intimacy to the issue as well – as many of the scenes are limited to two people, which gives writers Jon and Erich Hoeber a vast, open canvas to provide shading and nuance to their cast – whether it’s in a laid-back scene in a bar (which has far more going on in it beyond its superficial trappings), or a rooftop discussion about the particulars of a relic – the characters feel grounded and of their world. The pacing is deliberate, even in a brief chase-sequence, which derives some humor from our being privy to Paul’s thoughts. All told, it’s an enjoyable entry to this story, allowing breathing room for the characters to expand and grow, and be tested beyond their own personal points-of-no-return. The direction the story will take in future issues is a little tricky to peg at the moment, but I’m very curious to see what the next issue will bring.
Batman: Gates of Gotham #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): There are a lot of cooks in this particular kitchen, and while the inconsistencies can be a little jarring, that's not to say there isn't some good stuff in the latest issue of Gates of Gotham. Having Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan team up on this book gives Gotham a dirty edge, as if everything was put together from spit, grit, and graffiti. The number of writers on here is pretty amazing as well — Ryan Parrott joins Kyle Higgins this month, based on a story that Higgins put together with Scott Snyder. Whew, what a mouthful! But they actually get some nice beats in here, particularly from Robin, an angry little brat who is more than capable of opening up a can of whupass on even a guy with a 100-year-old suit of armor, or Batman, who shares a nice heart-to-heart with Cassandra Cain. It's these little flourishes that remind me so much of Batman: The Animated Series, and show me what the potential for this book can be. Now that Higgins and Parrott have dug into the mystery behind the Gates of Gotham — which is surprisingly interesting, in fact — I'm not excited to see this mystery villain get his comeuppance.
Avengers Academy #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I love these kids. Avengers Academy is one of those books that New Avengers desperately wants to be — the plotting may be loose, but as the characters fight, they struggle, they love, they learn, they grow. Christos Gage has slowly but surely been making us root for these troubled kids for more than a year now, and to be honest, seeing them become soldiers in the overall Fear Itself crossover is pretty heartbreaking. Every one of the students gets a nice character beat in this issue, from Mettle and Veil talking about killing on the battlefield to Reptil becoming a Big Damn Hero against not one, but two of the Worthy. Sean Chen, while occasionally delivering some weird perspectives, is still a strong fit for this book — in particular, watching the way his characters move is an enlightening exercise, such as watching Finesse do a back flip even as her peers are ambushed. The colorwork from Jeromy Cox is a little bit of a weak point this issue, as there are a lot of reds and aquas that overwhelm the page. That all said, I liked this issue a lot, and it's all because Christos Gage brings the most valuable superpower of all: character.
That Hellbound Train #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Deniz Cordell): I really have very little to say about this – particularly as this is the final issue of this adaptation. However, I do want to encourage any of our readers who enjoy horror to seek out this work – which was so finely adapted from the Robert Bloch by Joe and John Lansdale. Their script is faithful to the story, capturing the dark irony and deep existential horror that lurks behind Bloch’s world. Dave Wachter’s art is a perfect complement to the script, and he turns a metamorphosis sequence into a visually stunning, show-stopping bit of artwork that combines the mystic and terrible effortlessly. It is a melancholy and ultimately touching book, as we are witness to Martin’s inevitable downward spiral. The ending aptly captures the sense of bizarre victory that can come with utter defeat, and writing and art come together to create an adaptation that captures a sense of time and place with great strength and style. That Hellbound Train will doubtless be collected in a trade edition of some kind, and the story will likely be more potent when digested in one sitting (though waiting for each installment was great fun) – so for those of you who like “waiting for the trade,” just be sure to pick it up – it’s quite marvelous. Here’s hoping it leads to another “Bloch”-buster from IDW, handled by the same team. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!