Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Ready for reviews from both the past and future? Leave your DeLoreans at home, because Best Shots has you covered! We've got a ton of books for you, ranging from the conclusion of Flashpoint to Wednesday's chapter of New Avengers. Want some more? We've got you covered, all at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off with a look to one of tomorrow's big releases, as we look at the latest salvo from Matt Fraction in Casanova: Avarita


Casanova: Avarita #1

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Gabriel Ba and Cris Peter

Lettering by Dustin Harbin

Published by Marvel/ICON

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Forget Iron Man, forget Thor, forget Fear ItselfCasanova is Matt Fraction's baby. And boy, does he celebrate Cass's return in style. Casanova: Avarita is a comic that snarls with a hard-edged attitude and panache that's come with Fraction's artistic evolution. It's a nastier, bleaker, existentially colder story than the ones that have come before it — but that's okay.

Avarita is Matt Fraction's baby, all grown up.

"What the hell could be worse than cancer," the bandaged man says, sweeping snow off the stairs. "I dunno," replies Casanova Quinn, a Kirby-esque ray gun appearing out of nowhere from his fancy funeral suit. "Me?" Fraction brings a real mythological level of terror and guilt to Cass's new status quo, following the dimension-hopping adventures of the last arc. Cass isn't the happy-go-lucky super-spy he always was, but instead is drilling through to rock bottom in a way that crosses space and time. He hunts down mutant universes and destroys them for the sake of everything. Or does he? The mystery is half the fun.

And the art? Holy hell, the artwork. Gabriel Ba… to be honest, his evolution as an artist seems very similar to Frank Miller, in the fact that his smoother lines have become harder, more geometric, more focused on the big picture than necessarily the smaller details here and there. But when you see Sasa Lisi behind the wheel of a classic car speeding down a futuristic highway, you see a master at work. In particular, there's a sixteen-panel grid that looks nothing less than fantastic, and shows just how versatile Ba can be. Colorist Cris Peter also brings out some great mood out of every scene, with this cold, dingy green infecting the rebellious reds and violets of Cass's world.

Now, for those who are looking for something a little more straightforward, a little more conservative with your story structure — Casanova: Avarita is not for you. It's not so much a traditional story, and it doesn't even adhere to the peppier previous arcs. The structure really is what makes this book, it's more performance art than anything else you'd see with Fraction's name on it. And that's not just a good thing, that's freaking fantastic. There's some real heart and soul to this book, even if it's not as instantly digestible or commercial as his superhero fare. Casanova: Avarita is the real deal, and I'm already excited to see where the next issue takes us.


New Avengers Annual #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Gabrielle Dell'Otto and Ive Svorcina

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Wait a minute — is this what a Brian Michael Bendis fight comic looks like?

A lot of people don't associate the Ultimate Spider-Man writer with a lot of action-oriented reads, but then again, when you team up with Gabrielle Dell'Otto, chances are you're going to have a pretty slick book on your hands. Dell'Otto's dynamic style takes what would have probably been a less-than-stellar book and turns it into something that, while still imperfect, still stands out.

For me, there's one sequence in particular that really let me know that that this book ain't foolin' around, and has a different sort of flavor than the usual Bendis yarn. The premise here is pretty simple: one-time Wonder Man Simon Wiliams has assembled a motley crew of former heroes to take on the New Avengers. But seeing a page of the size-changing Atlas ripping off his trenchcoat and charging at the Avengers' mansion, the speed and power of that page really caught me off-guard. This is a rare example of an artist working with Bendis and adding some needed structure to his often loose storytelling — so often a Bendis Avengers comic turns into multiple characters quipping without a set visual focus, and while there are a few of those aforementioned splashes do end up making the final cut, Dell'Otto oftentimes adds in some great beats of his own, including Jessica Jones taking down an enemy more than ten times her size.

You also have to give colorist Ive Svorcina some real credit here, because his contributions really add so much in terms of both visual voice and clarity to Dell'Otto's work. Svorcina brings a real painterly vibe to this book, which is a surprising contrast to Dell'Otto's more rough-hewn work in comics like X-Force: Sex and Violence — to be honest, it reminds me a lot of Mike Deodato Jr.'s work, but with a bit of a sketchier vibe to the pencils. In general, Svorcina manages to blend the "traditional" comics palette while adding in something altogether more cinematic, and it definitely adds a new dimension that I've never seen in Dell'Otto's typically photorealistic work.

And you do get a sense that Bendis is taking all this into consideration. Don't get me wrong — this book starts out slow, with the first ten pages being double-page recaps. No, thank you. But once you get past that, the action comes pretty fast and furious, with the focus on the villains actually being this book's strength. Don't get me wrong, there are some big issues with the script — namely, Simon's motivations still feel exceedingly thin, and the Avengers themselves seem to be operating in a void, particularly as far as rules and limitations of their power sets are concerned. These are less problems that hamper the story, but they are problems that keep the story from really resonating, and really elevating beyond simply being a fight.

When I first started reading this book, I'll admit, I was groaning at the upteenth recap of recent Marvel lore, particularly since Brian Michael Bendis has harped on the oral history of the Avengers so much in recent months. But once the slow start ends, you'll find some really sharp artwork that bumps up a fight scene into something pretty sweet.


Flashpoint #5

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope, Jesse Delperdang, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

I can't say I didn't try. I read all five issues of Flashpoint. I read the vast majority of the tie-in books. I know that from a logistical standpoint, Barry Allen's big crossover event was necessary, just to relaunch the DCU into a newer, hopefully more lucrative place. And, perhaps most importantly, I love Geoff Johns' writing, and I'm excited for the New DCU.

But that doesn't make me like Flashpoint #5 any more, either as a 22-page chapter or a conclusion to an event comic, let alone a conclusion to an entire era of DC storytelling as a whole. Leaden with exposition and obligatory beats, this final issue doesn't add up to any of the previous setup, and, perhaps more troublingly, never really decides what Flashpoint really was about.

Unfortunately, this all comes down to Geoff Johns. Don't get me wrong, the man has a lot on his plate at DC's Chief Creative Officer — but this event never really gelled together, and the conclusion shows that this story structure never really had any clothes to begin with. Amid an extra-long fight sequence, the secret behind this parallel universe comes out of nowhere, and because Johns introduces it so early on, we're robbed of the real human story behind this: What would you do to change the past? And if there were unintended consequences, would you stand behind your decision?

Without these central questions driving the story, Johns instead has to spell out exactly what happened, exactly what this means for Barry and his nemesis the Reverse-Flash, all while giving us obligatory reminders of all the tie-in characters we've seen in this series. The problem is, we barely even got screen time for someone like Cyborg, let alone characters like Grifter or Enchantress or Project: Superman. These characters come out of a vacuum, and they eat up valuable real estate since they were introduced with such little fanfare. And the biggest question of this series — why would heroes like Aquaman and Wonder Woman suddenly become the villains — isn't even addressed here. What would these two warring lovers think, if they knew what they might have been? It's a huge missed opportunity.

Artwise, Andy Kubert is just doing whatever he can to make the story work, and get all those characters in there hopefully looking interesting. I do like the more emotional beats Kubert whips up, particularly the look on Thomas Wayne's face as he asks a final favor from the Fastest Man alive. That said, looking back at the past five issues, I've realized that Kubert wasn't a great fit for a character like the Flash — even the way the character runs feels a little bit awkward, as if it wasn't quite playing to Kubert's strengths as an artist. Even when he tries to sell the New 52 in a double-page splash, seeing how awkward the composition is for Barry himself makes you feel really bad.

Considering how well the post-Crisis DCU opened up, it's a little sad to see that era come to a close with a book like Flashpoint #5, which just falls all over itself trying to make up for some extremely slow setup over the past four issues. After reading this, I didn't really empathize with Barry, or Thomas, or the Resistance, or really anyone in the Flashpoint universe — they went from Point A to Point B and did what needed to be done to progress the story. It's one foot in front of the other, but to be honest, Flashpoint tripped itself up over the mythology and the pseudoscience. I'll be excited when Allen and company finally just move forward past this one.


Journey into Mystery #626.1

Written by Rob Rodi

Art by Pasqual Ferry, and Frank D’Armata

Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While Fear Itself still has a couple of issues left to go, Journey into Mystery has wrapped up its tie-in story arc, and regular writer Kieron Gillen gets a slight respite while writer Rob Rodi takes over the series for a ‘Point One’ issue, designed to entice new readers.

The story told in this issue supposedly takes place between the panels of Journey into Mystery #622, and recounts Loki’s summoning of an Asgardian Demon known as a Teller, with the purpose of gaining insight into what the other denizens of Asgard really think of him. This summoning is used by Rodi as a neat way to bring new readers up to date on Loki’s recent life, his death, and his resurrection; while at the same time bringing to light the general mistrust of Loki by his fellow Asgardians.  

As this issue is designed to be a jumping-on point, there is very little here for those that have been reading the series since its beginning, and as one of those readers, I found the story to be a bit repetitive. To be honest, even if you haven’t  been reading the series thus far, or Gillen’s prior run on Thor, there really isn’t much to be learned in this issue beyond what could be gleaned from the one-page introduction that Marvel sticks at the front of each issue.  

This criticism aside, Rodi still manages to make the issue quite readable, with some well-written dialogue that is likely a lot more accessible to new readers than the faux Shakespearean dialect that is commonly found in Thor comics. He also salvages the issue from being just a “clip show”, with a brief fight scene near the end of the issue, which showcases some great character work between Thor and Loki.  

The artwork on the issue is by Pasqual Ferry, who readers may be recognize as the artist from Matt Fraction’s final arc of Thor. I absolutely adored his artwork on that story, and his work on this issue has a very similar look to it, aside from the fact that the art is arranged in standard panels rather than the breathtaking series of double-page spreads he told that story with. His artwork has a warm and welcoming look to it that gives scenes an almost mystical look to them. His linework is very clean and open, and he inks his own pencils here with nice smooth brush strokes that don’t overpower the original lines. His backgrounds are highly detailed, and his characters display realistic anatomy and a variety of emotionally suggestive facial expressions.

The issue is colored by Frank D’Armata, who uses an incredibly vivid color palette here to heighten the magical look of the artwork — something important when you are dealing with a story concerning Gods. One thing that is a bit sparse on Ferry’s artwork is shading, as his inking is a bit minimalistic. That job is left to D’Armata who uses different shades of colors to add further detail to faces and backgrounds. This ends up giving the book a bit of a painted look to it, which seems to fit the story really well. Something I particularly like about D’Armata’s work on this issue is that his colors seem to glow in some places, particularly on the magical spells cast by the Teller, and the ‘Kirby Crackle’ effect that surrounds her.

It’s really a beautiful-looking book throughout, but if I were to pick a favorite scene, I would pick the one where the Teller attempts to consume Loki - pink tendrils stretch out of her mouth and wrap around Loki’s body, to pull him into her gaping maw, which is lined with layer upon layer of sharp teeth. The panel takes up about 80% of the page, but I think it would have looked much more impressive as a full-page splash!

Journey into Mystery #626.1 is by no means a bad issue, but it just feels a bit unnecessary to have a recap issue when we are only a few issues into the series. Luckily the issue is salvaged by Rodi’s great dialogue and Ferry and D’Armata’s gorgeous artwork. However, if you are familiar with Loki’s recent history, you might find yourself skimming through a lot of this issue.


Incredible Hulks #635

Written by Greg Park

Art by Paul Pelletier, Danny Miki, Morry Hollowell, Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Scott Hanna, and Jesus Aburtov

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There's a fantastic moment in this book where Greg Pak really gets to the heart of the monster, where he really reveals his big secret to writing the Hulk. It's his final issue, and that moment hits you harder than a gamma-powered fist. If that book were full of those moments, I'd say this book would be a perfect 10. Unfortunately, Pak still has to tie up his story threads, which is a shame, because for his swan song, I would have loved to learn more about what the writer learned about the character of Bruce Banner and his alter ego.

At its heart, Pak's final issue of Incredible Hulks is a fight comic, where Bruce and Betty give as good as they get, growing larger than life and taking on dragons and mushroom clouds with equal gusto. Yet — just looking at Pak's run at a macro level — I think he hits a wall, a wall he's hit on occasion ever since his fantastic sophomore storyline, World War Hulk: The action just isn't big enough. Or perhaps, to be more specific, not defined enough. It's not quite clear to me, on a story structure level, why a gamma-powered Fin Fang Foom is the best way to close what has been an epic run on Pak's part. Don't get me wrong, Pak does eventually get his thesis in, but it ends up feeling like window dressing against a plot that feels less than focused.

That said, part of that has to do with the artistic structuring of the book. Paul Pelletier, to his credit, does great work as far as the design is concerned — the Hulks all look powerful yet expressive, and seeing the subtle similarities between Bruce and Hulk is really wonderful. Yet at the same time — and I'm not sure how much of that is Pelletier and how much of it is due to Pak's story structure — the layouts and compositions are definitely off. This is a widescreen kind of story, but Pelletier ends up selling it a bit short, feeling more cartoony and less cinematic, if that makes any sense. Part of that also has to do with the colorwork from Morry Hollowell, whose work feels a little bit flat to me. For an artist and story like this, a colorist like Frank D'Armata, who would have given the piece some shadows and depth, would have gone a long way.

Pak also ends up working uphill towards the end of his story — and that's not something that's his fault whatsoever. While I did just critique Pelletier for his handling of the action sequences, he had a great sense of expressiveness and emotion, and the concluding segment of this story is where all the meat of this book was. Unfortunately… Pelletier isn't drawing it. That's where Tom Grummett comes in, and with all respect to him, he's not the right fit for that part of the story. Pak is writing something emotional, something heartfelt, and, to be honest, it's a beautiful ending for a character he's known more intuitively than any writer since Peter David. Grummett's artwork comes off as old school, as cartoony, yet doesn't quite deliver much in the way of nuance in expression. It's a bunt, when the last few pages of Pak's run deserved to be a grand slam.

Greg Pak has had an incredible run on an incredible character, and for that alone, he deserves applause. If you've enjoyed any story with Bruce Banner in the last five years, it's likely because of Pak. I do think, however, that he's been a victim of his own success, particularly since he came so strongly out of the gate with Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Yet this last issue he makes a last valiant swing, and while the art occasionally holds him back, it still shows how hard he can connect.


Hellraiser #4

Written by Clive Barker & Christopher Monfette

Art by Stephen Thompson and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With this new Hellraiser series, creator Clive Barker and co-writer Christopher Monfette have been weaving an incredibly interesting tale that plays heavily on the continuity of the original film series, as well as that of the Epic comics. The series has featured all new Harrowers, a number of previously unseen devices designed by Lemarchand to open gates to other Hells, amazing new Cenobite designs, and even a sly reference to one of Barker’s other famous creations, Harry D’Amore. As a massive fan of Clive Barker and at least the first couple of Hellraiser movies, I have to confess that this series is a dream come true for me!

In this fourth issue, we enter the middle of the story, and Barker and Monfette really begin turn up the heat for Kirsty and the Harrowers, as the trap that Pinhead has been setting begins to close around them. This all culminates in the first face-to-face meeting between Kirsty Cotton and Pinhead since the original Hellraiser movie. It’s an iconic scene, which features some really wonderful dialogue that highlights how Kirsty has spent her life obsessively searching for this reunion, and also contains some great foreshadowing for what is yet to transpire between these nemeses. What impresses me most about this series is that Barker and Monfette manage to pack each issue full of so much intriguing material. In this issue alone we get references to ancient Harrower groups, a look at fantastical Harrower devices, and also a fascinating society which lives in tunnels underneath the city - each of these things could take up its own issue in the series, but they’re all here in this one issue. However, while each issue contains so many interesting side-stories, they never let this detract from the main narrative, and strike the balance between the two perfectly.

The artwork on this issue is by Stephen Thompson, who appears to have taken over the art duties from Leonardo Manco. Thompson’s linework here is incredibly intricate and everything he draws is amazingly detailed - from faces and clothing to backgrounds and scenes of bloody gore! Thompson is inking his own pencils on this book, and as fits the dark nature of the comic, his inks are rather abundant, with lots of gloomy backgrounds, and shadows cast by folds in clothing and lines on faces. The artwork seems to exude a feeling of claustrophobia, not only on the underground scenes, but throughout the book — a feeling that the walls are closing in on Kirsty and there is no escape.

The coloring on the issue is by Jordie Bellaire, who colors the issue with some pretty dark hues, which seems to fit nicely with Thompson’s artwork. She uses lots of light effects in the issue, which adds some dimension to the shadowy look that the inks generates. I particularly like the coloring she uses for flames and explosions, where she uses a lot of graduations of shades to make the flames and the light cast by them look both warm and menacing. Overall, her colors add greatly to the foreboding nature of the inked artwork.

One scene really stands out in my mind in this issue, it’s a two-page scene where Kirsty runs away from the chains thrown out by the puzzle box. The scene takes place in the underground caverns, and in her rush to evade them, Kirsty leaps across some subway tracks, just ahead of an oncoming train. She escapes unscathed, but the passengers on the train are not so lucky, as the chains cut through the carriage and tear its occupants limb from limb. It’s an incredibly gory scene that doesn’t scrimp on any of the detail, as Thompson draws heads being torn asunder, guts flying out of people’s abdomens, and the carriage being engulfed in flames as it is derailed. It ends with a chilling scene showing the train cut into horizontal sections, with the bottom section left as a bloody pool filled with barely discernible body parts.

Hellraiser #4 is a high point of the series so far. Fans of the series will find a lot to love here, as Barker and Monfette continue to construct what could be the most engaging Hellraiser story since the original movie. It’s unmissable!

Pellet Review!


Executive Assistant Violet #2 (Published by Aspen; Review By Jeff Marsick; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This issue is a disappointment coming off the strong first chapter.  Violet's supposed to be this bad-ass bodyguard, but just when the heat's getting turned up on her actor-cum-CEO client, she steps away because "something personal" has come up.  Some professional.  The unnecessary mother-daughter throwdown that follows, WWE-style, between Violet and momsie really takes the air out of the book and shoves it in a direction more silly than serious.  Add to the heavily sudsy soap opera a jilted lover turned terrorist and a Manchurian Candidate moment and Violet goes from zero to 60 a character I dig to one I want to see defenestrated.  Sure, it's still a good-looking book with Pop Mhan on pencils and bold color stylings from John Starr, but visuals can only take a comic so far.  Marc Andreyko is a capable writer so I hold some hope that this issue is just a hiccup and the third act will save it all. 

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