Best Shots Advance: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, ULTIMATES, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

 

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

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Complexity. Ambiguity. Responsibility.

These were the words that ran through my head as I read Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2, a comic with enough heart and soul to shrug off any signs of a sophomore slump. As I said last issue, Bendis is able to have his cake and eat it, too, by introducing us to a boy whose circumstances are in many ways tougher than Peter Parker's — but at the same time, who also possesses his predecessor's innate sense of kindness and heroism.

Of course, the major difference between Miles Morales and Peter Parker is that Peter started off a bit more fun-loving, a bit more loose despite himself. But Peter also grew up with the expectation that if he worked hard and kept his nose clean, the world would be open to him. Not so with Miles. Bucking the odds for the charter school lotto aside, you can feel a weight on his shoulders — but whereas Peter's weight was solely about the death of his Uncle Ben, Miles feels the walls closing in, sees the tensions within his family, shudders when he learns that his uncle might even be a crook.

And we haven't even gotten to the superpowers yet.

Without getting too much into detail, Miles' supporting cast really helps ground this book, really giving these scenes some emotional weight. The dangers aside of having superpowers after Magneto tore apart New York City, when Miles and his father have a heart-to-heart, I'll say I haven't seen a family this real or dynamic since the Reyes family over in Blue Beetle… they're probably even more compelling than Uncle Ben ever was, Ultimate or otherwise. And the thing about the Morales family, about this environment, about Miles himself, is that Bendis is able to use his standard verbosity and really use it to his full advantage. He's walking a fine line in terms of the politics here, but it feels nuanced and yet all the more inspiring.

Artwise, Sara Pichelli is proving herself to be quite the chameleon. While last go-round I saw her evoke some Immonen-style panels, this issue has some pages that even remind me a little bit of Steve McNiven, perhaps due to some really detailed colorwork by Justin Ponsor, which gives every page some nice depth. While there aren't much in the way of big flashy shots in this issue, Pichelli makes up for it with some great acting by the various characters — when Miles's dad struggles to tell his son a secret, there's a great wind-up where he looks down, rubs his forehead underneath his glasses, and finally gives a sidelong glance. It's extremely expressive, and it really helps get readers invested in these characters.

Those who dislike Bendis's style of decompression are likely going to be fleeing after this issue, as we're still at the beginning of Miles's journey into superherodom. But there's enough human drama in this book to make up for it, as Bendis is really digging deep into another young man who is destined to become something greater. With a last page that rewards longtime readers of the series, Bendis and Pichelli are two for two in what's swiftly becoming one of my favorite Marvel reads.

 

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Esad Ribic and Dean White

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

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You want some stakes? Jonathan Hickman knows how to bring the stakes.

One of the problems with an "alternate universe" like Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates is that it reminds you of the fictitious nature of these characters, reminds you that no matter how dark and edgy it can get, there's always another, "truer" universe where these characters will live on, be sacrosanct. But with his second issue, Hickman really does up the ante, cranking the scale of this invasion from the Future until the dial breaks.

In a lot of ways, this sort of immediacy — this sort of "holy @#$@" moment — is what really could have helped pick up the first issue, which took its own good time to introduce the characters of Iron Man, Thor and Nick Fury. Not that Hickman introduces any new characters here, but in this issue, he really puts them to their full use, not taking any prisoners or tamping down on any of the wonder these characters have, "just" because they're in a "more realistic" setting. Thor in particular comes off as incredibly powerful, a true force to be reckoned with, and readers of Hickman's previous Ultimate Thor comic will get a nice nod from one of Thor's oldest foes.

Of course, that doesn't mean this story is perfect — namely, the issue starts off quite slow, with the exposition of the Dome, a co-opted version of the World from Grant Morrison's New X-Men. The ideas of compressed time and forced evolution were only marginally interesting the first time around, and while it makes sense that only the tyrants of tomorrow could hope to stand a chance against the titans of today, devoting even three pages feels like starting the car with the parking brake on.

Esad Ribic, meanwhile, is really growing on me in terms of his artwork. He absolutely excels at Iron Man — while I wish I could have seen some variance in design between his different suits, the composition is really stellar, giving the Armored Avenger a nice bit of visual iconography that shows exactly what kind of fighter he is. And one page of Thor really cutting loose is simply superb, as you see the intensity in the Thunder God's eyes, as everyone on the battlefield suddenly stands in shock. Colorist Dean White is a bit more reserved in this issue, and I think that's to this story's benefit — he still makes some great color choices with purples and greens and yellows, but it's no longer overpowering. The only downside to Ribic's art is his expressiveness, which occasionally gets a little over-the-top with his eyes.

The other thing I miss about this story is… well, the rest of the Ultimates team. Right now, this feels like an Iron Man/Thor team-up, which is fine, but then don't bill this story as The Ultimates. It's clear that Hickman can choreograph some fantastic fighting with these two characters, and throwing more characters in the mix will hopefully mean that there will be some emotional friction as well as some clenched fists. Regardless, this book will stick in your mind because of the truly epic scales upon which our heroes are fighting — everything you think about this story is likely too small, and for that, Hickman scores a surprising victory with Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #2.

HOLY TERROR Coming in September
HOLY TERROR Coming in September
 

Holy Terror

Written by Frank Miller

Art by Frank Miller and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Frank Miller

Published by Legendary Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

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'Rama Rating 1 out of 10

This wasn't an easy book to crack. Not because the issues Frank Miller delves into aren't complicated; they certainly are. There is a place and a way to write about America's conflict with Al-Qaeda. There really isn't anything wrong with a fictional take on the terrorist organization. Indeed, it's likely necessary if one wants to write about a costumed vigilante taking the war on terror directly to those responsible. But, it's that last line where the difficultly immediately comes to light. What is the source of this hate, this violence? How far does your Superhero vs. Terrorists story need to go in telling this uncomfortable, though intriguing, bit of speculative fiction? Do you simply tackle the events at face value, or do you look deeper? I know Frank Miller has his answer, I'm just not sure it's one I needed to read.

The story is basic and all too familiar, on a few angles. If you follow the comic industry, you know Miller has been trying for many years to get this book made. It was first pitched and almost picked up at DC, with the Fixer being Gotham's own Dark Knight. When you read Holy Terror, you will see that Miller did little to change the imagery and syntax of the Fixer from Batman. Though one can argue that Batman is rather primal in his iconography, even more so with Miller's voice, the similarities are still incredibly distracting. This is made even more obvious with the inclusion of a sexy Cat Burger and a sympathetically minded cop that slips the Fixer intel. After Empire City faces a series of horrific and all too familiar bombings by Al-Qaeda, the Fixer decides it is time for some killing and he's the man to do it. From there, Holy Terror devolves into a series of haphazard pages of wanton violence, interjected with talking head monologues about pain, lust, hate, and love. Anyone that read All-Star Batman and Robin will be acquainted with Miller's current style of storytelling.

However, it isn't Frank Miller's stylistic choice or his continual desire to use less and less of the English language in driving a narrative that bothers me. It is his personal morals injected within Holy Terror that I find wholly distasteful. On a level, I completely understand (and even support) the symbolic demonization of an enemy, at least from a stance of ideologies. Although it was ugly, how comics wrote about the Third Reich and Hitler in World War II made some sense. You needed this very real villain to focus upon and in the face of all the horrible atrocities committed, if didn't bother you one bit when we (and our heroes) struck back with all the power and violence we could muster. But, that isn't the case this time. There is a definite distinction between the terrorists our hero in Holy Terror kills and the religion these terrorists claim follow. It is also a distinction Holy Terror apparently does not care to make. To the Fixer, these Muslims must pay. Not Al-Qaeda. Not bin Laden. Muslims. With this decisive choice, Holy Terror appears to reveal more about Frank Miller than I am quite frankly willing to stomach.

Holy Terror doesn't read like a gritty comic, or even a symbolic book that highlights the insanity of hate and war. No, Holy Terror reads like an explosion of rage and fear, but lacks the emotional honestly that would come from such an analysis of 9/11 and the War on Terror. You can see it in his art. Each page is littered with fragmented paint and broken humans. Even in the few moments of relative calm, the pages decry an artist that simply can't look to the future. Even Dave Stewart's always-reliable colors are lost in moments of violence. Other artists have tackled the subject of the United States against Al-Qaeda with a more rational (though no less passionate) voice. Even making direct correlations to 9/11 are possible within superhero comics. I am reminded of the single page in The Pro from Garth Ennis, where the title character tears into the costumed heroes for not being there the day the towers fell. Or, that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty when dealing with an enemy that hides in schools and hospitals. It's not pretty, and it isn't something one should celebrate.

Holy Terror doesn't do that. No doubt, there is a cathartic joy in what the Fixer does in Miller's book. As humans, we must acknowledge the fact that part of us wants to see the bad guy get it. The desire to hurt whomever hurt originally even more. To hurt them so hard that they can never do it again. But in Frank Miller's world, that cathartic expression gets amplified to very uncomfortable levels. In Holy Terror, Miller appears to be striking out at everyone and anyone. Everyone needs to pay for what happened that horrible day. In the end, it is that message that makes Holy Terror fail as a piece of work.

Frank Miller holds an incredible place in comics history. His work on Daredevil, Batman, and Martha Washington are a benchmark to which many modern comics are measured. There was even a time when I could see his more recent works in All-Star Batman and Robin and 300 as an artist trying something different within a medium he helped redefine. But, Holy Terror is not such a book and Frank Miller is not an artist I wish to read anymore.

 

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time #13

Written by Robert Jordan and Chuck Dixon

Art by Marcio Fiorito and Nicolas Chapuis

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Without going into a tirade or a gushing love letter to the Wheel of Time novel series, I have to say I am quite disappointed here. Dynamite's adaptation to the beloved fantasy series has been hit or miss, and mainly misses during the run. The rotating art team is inconsistent and here we have art that comes across as a really well put together high school project rather than work for a published comic.

Chuck Dixon does his best to adapt Jordan's style and pacing, and it shows. The book's dialogue comes out strong and in your face. You get the characters and their voices and the situation they are up against. I guess my big complaint here is that since he's straight adapting from the source material, there is a lot of telling and not showing. But that's a minor complaint in comparison to the art here. I can't exactly pinpoint the exact problem, so it might be a mixture here that rubbed me the wrong way.

Artist Marcio Fiorito has a moment or two of solid layouts and properly conveys the suspense of a high-action fight scene. The rest of the time, the linework is inconsistent, going from broad to thin every other panel. On top of that, it just seems like pages of talking heads. Now, coming from a WoT fan I understand Jordan can get a bit wordy to say the least, but the artist's job is to break up the monotony of it and present some dynamic visuals. As I mentioned, there are some moments where he does let Moiraine the Aes Sedai ("wizard" for you non-WoT readers) shine and display her power accordingly. However, the next page begins a series of shoulder and headshots. It's just unfortunate. Even more so when you add the flat colors and awkward shading. It ages the characters tremendously as Mat goes from seventeen to forty-five in a single panel, and overall doesn't do the book any favors.

I had been hoping that once the action picked up, the comic would improve as well and this has not been the case. Dixon's script sums up the action pretty well, but the art side of things are still lacking. And with a series with such rich imagery, you'd think they'd turn it up a notch.

 

Chopper #1

Written by Martin Shapiro

Art by Juan Ferreyra and Chandran Ponnusamy

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Cover by Chris Ortega

Published by Asylum Press

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The best way I can describe this is as "urban horror."

It's part bad-girl comics, mixed with Sleepy Hollow lore, set in modern day Daytona Beach. Asylum Press is hardly a stranger to these type of horror books and have made a name for themselves in the genre. We're not quite sure what is going on here, as this issues sets up the character, Christina and her bad girl ways. There's also a hint that she could be tied to Satan himself.

The panel construction is pretty basic here, but the actual panels themselves are quite elaborate. You get a sense of environment and it's never a case of talking heads. There's always something going on and it isn't stale. Juan Ferreyra has a good eye for action and lays it out well. Chandran Ponnusamy's coloring compliments Ferreyra style using a very textured pallet. You can see the added detail that Ponnusamy brought to the table. A lesser colorist could have really mishandled the linework.

The script itself isn't bad, per se, but comes across as somewhat dated. Yes, it leans toward the more mature reader as there are a couple of decapitations by a headless biker and a grizzly scene involving a disembowelment, but it's the dialogue itself that carried that impression. You can obviously see Shapiro's influences in the script, ranging from 70's horror to contemporary classics. Christina, the main character, is the typical "bad girl cheerleader" and almost cliché in her actions, but nothing too out there that I haven't seen on The Shield or Weeds.

Halloween is right around the corner and I can definitely say there is an audience for this type of work. I'm sort of interested in why she's connected to the Satantic figure and what this has to do with a headless biker. Chopped has set the groundwork for a serious horror series.

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