Best Shots Comic Reviews: FLASH, CAP AND BUCKY, More

The DCNu FLASH Creative Team Talk

Happy Monday, 'Rama Readers! Itching for some reviews? Best Shots is ready to help, with a heaping handful from this week's biggest releases! So what are you waiting for? Let's put pedal to metal, as we take a look at the relaunched adventures of Barry Allen in The Flash...

 

The Flash #1

Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Ladies and gentlemen — welcome to the best new book of The New 52.

I don't say that lightly, and I'll be honest, I couldn't have imagined that the ones to pull off this feat would be Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, two artists with no mainstream writing experience that I could ever recall. But these two have set the bar in striving for the ethos of the New 52 — namely, reintroducing the public at large to DC's famous stable of characters, reminding diehard readers why they loved these guys in the first place, all while giving notice to their Marvelous competition that there was going to be electrifying visuals coming their way.

Francis, Brian — I don't know you guys, but seriously: Mission. Freaking. Accomplished.

The big upset that Manapul and Buccellato have pulled off is that they've already given Barry Allen more character in this first issue than Geoff Johns did in 14 issues and an entire summer epic. Maybe it has something to do with them being visual artists, so they have opportunities to introduce sly smiles and eye-popping layouts — but details like Barry being in a love triangle with down-to-earth coworker Patti Spivot and peppy reporter Iris West make you feel for the guy, surprisingly enough. Whereas recent depictions of the character have made Barry seem like a sad sack, always talking about his dead mother, Manapul and Buccellato make Barry's mom a bit more of an inspiration, a bit more of a foundation for metaphor than an emotional anchor around all of our necks.

But that's me talking about the writing. And while the writing is nice, that's nothing compared to the artwork. In a number of the New 52 books, I've learned that the promo material was far and away the best shots of the book — not so in The Flash. These pages all look great, and they really show how much Manapul in particular has leveled up as an artist. The opening pages, where Barry transforms into his red-clad alter ego, has a cinematic vibe to it, and the look of concern on Barry's face as he says "every case is personal" feels both intense and extremely sympathetic. Buccellato also has the color balance down pat, with a lot of lighter saturation and blues to really give the Flash's bright red costume some enormous pop. Even pages that should be boring, like Barry doing research in his apartment, are broken up in such a way that it feels really moody and deliberate. And if you haven't seen that introductory splash page with Barry strutting his stuff, man, you're missing out on one of the best spreads DC has put out this year.

I've had people ask me a lot about the New 52, and if I could give them suggestions on what books to read. I weighed Batman, Action Comics, Wonder Woman — they're all great books, all worthy of praise and recommendation. But maybe it's just karma, maybe it's the force of history — after all, it was Barry Allen's introduction in the 1960s that sparked a renaissance in the industry — but I can say for the first time in a long time that I'm reading the kind of Barry Allen book that I've been waiting my whole life for. Buy it and see for yourself: The Flash is running circles around its peers.

 

Captain America and Bucky #622

Written by Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko

Art by Chris Samnee and Bettie Breitweiser

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Review by Erika D. Peterman

’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This book has everything going for it: It’s a captivating, character-driven story that is as sharply written as it is strikingly illustrated. You could have fit my previous knowledge of Bucky Barnes on the head of a pin, but writers Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko, and illustrator Chris Samnee hooked me from the first page of this winning miniseries.

I fear that others who are unfamiliar with the First Avenger's young partner will pass on the excellent Captain America and Bucky, either because of a lack of interest in the character or concern that the story will be inaccessible. That would be a shame, because it’s a welcoming tale that is complex but not convoluted. It’s also one of the best-looking books on my radar at present.

In just three issues, Bucky has grown from an unfocused, confrontation-prone kid to an impressive action hero now immersed in World War II. He has learned some hard lessons about real combat, which is a long way from street fighting and his intense combat training. If he’s ever been intimidated or afraid he hasn’t shown it. Until now.

It's certainly no small thing to work alongside Captain America, but Steve Rogers is a caring mentor who always has Bucky’s back. When the truly godlike beings arrive – “water-breathing sea kings” and “men made of fire” – to help battle the Nazis, Bucky begins to question his purpose. The Sub-Mariner isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, so when Bucky slips up or acts like the teenager he is, Namor’s feedback is cutting: “If sarcasm were a super-power, perhaps you’d carry your weight among us.” Daunted yet determined, Bucky has something to prove to his teammates and himself.

Captain America and Bucky #622 is yet another exciting and well-crafted piece of the miniseries puzzle. However, Samnee’s art is so vibrant that much of this issue would work without a lick of text. Whether a character is exasperated, shocked, fearful or full of rage, Samnee executes the emotion perfectly. You’ll never have to wonder what Bucky (or anyone else for that matter) is thinking at any given moment. Bettie Breitweiser’s colors remind me of old, slightly faded photographs, and they fit the story’s time and place. When she turns up the volume in carefully selected places, it makes an impact.

Captain America and Bucky succeeds as an origin story because it makes the reader care about the character at its center. If you weren’t a fan before, you will be.

 

Superman #1

Written by George Pérez

Art by George Pérez, Jesús Merino, Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

On the surface, the story that George Pérez tells in Superman #1 is a simple one that involves Superman first foiling terrorist plot, and then battling and defeating a mysterious alien being made of fire. Both events take place in Metropolis, and Pérez uses the events to show that Superman is equally effective at dealing with threats on both a street level and a cosmic level. The story though is about much more than just how Superman fight villains, and is really about how Superman is perceived by the public, the police, and most prominently the staff of the Daily Planet. See, the other thing going on in this issue is that the old Daily Planet building has been torn down, and the ailing paper has been bought out by a big communications company, who have relaunched it as a multimedia news company. So we get to see how the “Planet Global News” network covers Superman stories, in pretty great detail, from the level of the CEO pushing for the best coverage, down to the cameraman risking life and limb to get the shot.

Personally, I quite enjoyed this debut issue, particularly the human angle of the story, but I have heard pretty mixed opinions on it from friends. What I think people are having an issue with is Pérez’s writing style. DC’s “New 52” is supposed to be about fresh starts, and the modernization of the DC Universe. However, Pérez’s writing style feels rather 70s/80s in tone. Despite the fact that the story itself is very modern, with timely references to the death of print, news stories being spread by Twitter, etc. the story still feels a little old-fashioned. I put this down to the fact that Pérez puts together a very dense script packed full with dialogue, and quite a bit of exposition via inner monologue, TV coverage, newspaper clippings, etc - all of which makes the comic feel a bit compressed. Alongside this, the story has a bit of a feel of nostalgia, due to Superman’s sadness over the destruction of the old Planet building. As a result it really doesn’t feel like a fresh new comic designed to pull in new readers. Not to mention the fact that the comic ends on a serious downer for Clark Kent! That being said, I still enjoyed the issue - I guess it all depends on what the reader is looking for in the comic.

One *massive* flaw that I should address though is the one-page tie-in to Stormwatch #1. It comes out of nowhere, and is disconnected from the rest of the story. I was so confused that I turned back a couple of pages to see if I’d missed something major. I don’t think we can blame Pérez for this though — this has editorial decision written all over it!

Jesús Merino both pencils and inks this comic, working from layouts by Pérez. The end result is final artwork that looks a bit like a combination of the two artists’ styles. Pérez’s hand is obvious in the composition of the panels, but Merino’s pencils also seem to be influenced by Pérez style - as seen in the dynamic linework, highlighted by intricate attention to detail, natural looking anatomy, and emotive facial expressions. Merino’s inking is also incredibly detailed, and he uses a number of interesting techniques to give texture to the images, including using contour lines to add definition to facial and bodily features, using force lines to give the feeling of motion in action scenes, and instead of just filling blacks to show shadow, he also uses hatching and cross-hatching creatively to make backgrounds look more interesting.

When you think of a Superman comic, you tend to think of big bold colors. That’s not really the case with this issue though, and Brian Buccellato goes for much more subdued colors here, which I think may add to the slightly somber tone of the story. It’s still a good job though, utilizing some nice light and effects, and some good color choices to differentiate between current scenes, flashbacks, and scenes shown on TV screens.

Superman #1 is an interesting debut issue, which is sure to divide fans with its nostalgic feel and slightly morose tone. It’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but overall this is still a good story, featuring some nice artwork.

 

All-Star Western #1

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray

Art by Moritat and Gabriel Bautista

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

We all know what Gotham City looks like. During the DC relaunch, Greg Capullo, Tony Daniel, Patrick Gleason and David Finch have reminded us of the dark alleys, the gothic architecture and the dangerous streets that are home to some of the foulest souls but was the city always as hopeless as it is consistently shown? Was there ever a moment of hope in the city where good men and women could lead good lives? In All-Star Western #1, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Moritat take us back to the early days of the city, before there was a Crime Alley or a Wayne Manor and show us that no, there was never any hope here but that Gotham has always had its protectors. Jonah Hex, who Palmiotti and Gray have spent the last five years writing about his adventures in the west, goes east and teams up with the strangest of allies, Amadeus Arkham, a doctor whose name and home would outlive anything else that man would do in his lifetime.

Moritat's Gotham City bears little resemblance to anything we know now, just as most cities look nothing like they did over 100 years ago but Moritat includes familiar elements in the characters that live in Gotham. There are still the scoundrels and the thieves who prey on the weak and innocent. Early in this book, they're just not too good at spotting who is so weak and who is so innocent as they eye up a new man in the city who has a very familiar scar on his face. Moritat's loose and gestural line doesn't go where you expect it to. He's not a tight artist but he does have a detailed line that creates a shaky city. The buildings and homes look solid but don't look stable. The city, put together with wood and nails, shouldn't look as solid or well built as any modern architecture and Moritat knows that. His Gotham is a young, hand built protocity that is just waiting for the future to happen.

While it waits, it already starts to define itself and the people in it. Hex is the farthest thing from being a superhero but Gotham, with a little help from Moritat, makes him one. As the thieves and scoundrels approach Hex, he pulls out his guns and his coat billows behind him like a cape.   In that moment, Hex becomes the hero that Gotham needs as Moritat, Palmiotti and Gray introduce him to the city and introduce the city to him. Hex's Confederate uniform becomes more than just a memory of the Civil War that Hex holds onto. It becomes his costume and his symbol as he settles down for the time being in a northern city. Of course, Hex isn't a hero, let alone any kind of superhero. Moritat makes him just as ugly and cantankerous as ever. Colorist Gabriel Bautista helps highlight this as Hex's gray uniform almost gets lost in the grim and grit of the city.

Palmiotti and Gray also make Hex into something else the city needs; a detective. With a series of murders by the "Gotham Butcher," Amadeus Arkham reaches out to a man who may understand a killer better than the cops or the elite of Gotham can. Palmiotti and Gray create a mystery in the young Gotham City and without the familiar Dark Knight around, a different hero has to step up and become a detective. In the last Jonah Hex series, Palmiotti and Gray showed just how versatile a character Hex could be. He didn't necessarily change from story to story but Hex could be put into in wide variety of stories.

The latest story is a who-done-it, more akin to a Sherlock Holmes story but putting Hex in the middle of a mystery works as well. He's not going to be the type to sit down with a pipe and explain how everything happened but Palmiotti and Gray's Hex is a driven character who will see anything to the end once he puts his mind to it. In that sense, there's not much difference between revenge and avenging for Hex; it's all the same thing.

Gotham City is practically a character itself. We know how Gotham City lives and breathes. Setting Jonah Hex in the middle of a young Gotham City, Palmiotti, Gray and Moritat almost create a "stranger in a strange world" story that feels so different from any other Hex story. He's a man of wilderness and here he is smack dab in the middle of an industrial city. And not just any city, but Gotham City. For the relaunch, Palmiotti and Gray change nothing about the character; this is the Hex we've known for years. A simple change in environment makes this one of the strongest books of DC's relaunch as the creators put a familiar character in very unfamiliar circumstances.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #670

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

What comes first: accessibility or story?

It's a tough question, with no one right answer (and certainly not an easy one). And make no mistake, Dan Slott is one of the best writers in the Marvel lineup, and a perfect fit for Amazing Spider-Man. But as far as this issue goes, I think he errs on the side of caution — in other words, it's great for casual readers, even if people who have been following his Spider-Island saga might feel a little recapped out.

That said, that's not totally a bad thing. I can't tell you the number of times I remember people saying at conventions that you don't have to read every tie-in and every back issue (but if you don't, you might not understand half of the story). That's not the case here. Even with all the Spider-Island tie-ins, close to half of Amazing Spider-Man #670 is about checking in, whether we see Hawkeye, the X-Men, Alicia Masters, Spider-Woman, Venom, Anti-Venom… you really don't have to be reading these extras in order to understand the greater story.

That's a mitzvah, and Slott has his heart in the right place for it. But at the same time, it makes the story as a whole feel a bit disjointed, and for those who have been following all these assorted tie-ins, you wonder why you bought them in the first place. There is a lot of potential for both comedy and pathos in J. Jonah Jameson, the Spectacular Spider-Mayor — not to mention showing what makes Peter stand out as wielder of his powers in the Marvel U — but in keeping this book so new reader-friendly, Slott also hurts his momentum greatly.

Artwise, Humberto Ramos does his best with the material he's received, but ultimately, a panel of Venom fighting Anti-Venom or a few panels of the X-Men commiserating doesn't quite knock you out. Ramos is at his best when he's drawing Spidey, with his wonderfully kinetic composition and the wry expressiveness behind those mask lenses. When Spidey and JJJ finally team up, it's a moment that's both action-packed and tremendously comedic, and Ramos's cartoony style keeps the mood bright and accessible, no small feat considering we now have a Manhattan crawling with mutated spider-people.

While the book looks great, this issue of Amazing Spider-Man feels like a misstep borne not out of flaws in technique, but being perhaps too cautious for its own good. Dan Slott is such a good fit for this book that he's actually doing casual readers a favor — and to be honest, if the entire Spider-Island saga was confined to just Amazing Spider-Man, I think Slott could have written some amazing side-plots with people like Venom or Mary Jane. But because it just feels like a fly-by over some otherwise meatier stories, the main course feels a little bit lacking here. With the plot points wrapped up, I'm hoping that Slott can get back to the good stuff: namely, focusing on the man behind the mask.

 

Justice League Dark #1

Written by Peter Milligan

Art by Mikel Janin, and Ulises Arreola

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: Justice League Dark is... not a great title for a book. It sounds like something that marketing came up with to make the comic sound cool and alternative to kids, but just ends up sounding corny and a bit embarrassing. I hope this doesn’t end up affecting the sales on the book, because if you can get past the title, this a great team book featuring some of the DC Universe’s best magical/mystical characters.

DC has tried similar titles in the recent past, but they never really last very long, as magic books set in the DCU don’t seem to pull in a huge following these days. Hopefully things will be different with this series though, as Peter Milligan assembles an interesting team that includes three popular characters that until recently were Vertigo exclusive. The roster includes Shade the Changing Man, who Milligan famously reinvented in the 1990s, as well as John Constantine, who Milligan has written an epic run of over on Vertigo’s Hellblazer. Other team members include Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, and Dead Man.

While this is a team book, we don’t actually get to see the team together yet, as this first issue is spent mainly introducing readers to the individual characters, and establishing why the DC Universe needs a team like this. The plot that Milligan weaves involves Enchantress going mad and wreaking all kids of cosmic chaos. The regular Justice League makes a brief guest appearance and tries to take her down, but are powerless against her magic, and so a more supernatural team is needed to neutralize the threat. It’s a solid premise, and sets the scene for this odd assortment of characters to unite.

This first issue is mostly narrated by Madame Xanadu, who has divined the future, and seen what will happen if Enchantress is not stopped. Narration in comics can sometimes be clunky, but it works really well here, as Milligan uses it effectively to reveal pertinent information about the characters and the plot, rather than just to explain what is occurring in panel. You get a feeling as you read this comic that Milligan loves writing these characters, and that comes though in the engaging dialogue and gripping plot.

The artwork on the book is by Mikel Janin, who both pencils and inks the issue. I would describe his art as looking like a nice halfway point between the superhero style seen in many DC books, and the grittier style seen on many Vertigo books. That is to say that his linework has a nice clean and open look to it, but at the same time he favors heavy blacks, particularly in backgrounds, which give the book a bit of a gloomy feeling. So while characters like Shade and Constantine appear very much the way they do in the Vertigo books that most readers will be familiar with them from, characters like Superman and Co. don’t at all look out of place when they make an appearance. Most of the book sees Janin drawing character scenes, which he excels at due to his ability to draw highly expressive faces. He also gets to illustrate a couple of good action scenes, one of which involves magic, and he brings these scenes to life with some great detail, clear action, and spectacular looking magic effects.

Ulises Arreola colors the issue, and makes some interesting color choices that enhance the Vertigo feel of the book. In some places, his work has a watercolor look to it, where you can almost see the brushstrokes, as he has added depth and shading to the artwork. He’s likely working digitally, but it has a nice organic look to it. There are a few obvious computer effects used though, particularly on the magic scenes, but they don’t look out of place, and work well in the context.

One of the best scenes is when the Justice League face off against Enchantress. As they approach her shack, a storm of rotten teeth arises and forms her shape looming out of the darkness, as the storm engulfs the heroes and tears their bodies to shreds. It’s a weird scene and the art team brings it to life in gory detail!

Justice League Dark #1 is solid start to a series with some great potential. Hopefully the book will find an audience and become a new home for the supernatural side of the DC Universe.

 

Artifacts #10

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Jeremy Haun, Sunny Gho, Ryan Sook, and Tom Feister

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Wow. Just wow.

Just when you think you can breathe again when Ron Marz lets up, Jeremy Haun puts the peddle to the metal and goes full blast here. Taking a look back at the nine previous issues, Marz just doesn't let up. Here, we have a more relaxed pace as we're Ji Xi's origin and a brief family reunion. It plays as more as the aftermath of the big Aphrodite IX/Cyberforce throw down, and Haun gets to really shine here, right as Marz revs the engine for the next installment.

Since Artifacts was originally planned for thirteen issues, Marz has allowed the story to take its time. Yes, it was a matter of time before Sara and Jackie saved Hope, and every new character had their chance to get a little of the lime light. Though now almost a year into it, we get some pay off, which is just a thrill for longtime readers I'm sure. What Marz has done here is nothing short of good ole classic storytelling. The pacing has been solid and comprehensive, and all the while actually leading up to something that doesn't feel it was thrown together at the 11th hour.

I've found Jeremy Haun to be hit or miss in the series, but here, he's the star of the show. I can't put my finger on it, but everything just comes across as more polished and a cleaner look than before. The layouts are more dynamic than what he's done previously and it just looks great. I do think that Sara and Jackie's reunion with Hope felt a little flat and almost cavalier, but the action and Ji's origin just nailed it. Props to Sunny Gho as he proves again that he is Top Cow's go-to king of colors and can adapt to anyone's style.

Without a doubt, Artifacts has shaped up to be everything I had hoped for and then some. It's the event in comics now and still remains strong without relying on tie-ins and I'll be there to see how this all plays out. You should pick this up and join me.

 

The Fury of Firestorm #1

Written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone

Art by Yildiray Cinar and Steve Buccellato

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Anyone remember when Blue Beetle came out? I remember reading that series as it came out, and I immediately knew it was something special. How about Checkmate? That one was special, too. Geoff Johns' post-One Year Later JSA. Just wonderful. These weren't the heavy-hitting concepts — it was the deftness of character, the subverting of expectations, the unpredictability and pleasure of finding an awesome comic that was just a little bit off the beaten path.

Out of all the comics of DC's New 52, I thought for sure that The Fury of Firestorm would be that new special comic, the one you'd be dying to see month-in and month-out. After reading the first issue, however, I don't think I'm coming back for more. With villains that overpower the piece and two leads that feel shallow in characterization and downright irritating in execution, I don't think this was the kind of fury this book was intended to evoke.

In the decades that Firestorm has been a part of the DC Universe, you'd think that there were some strong bits of characterization about Ronnie Raymond, a meathead jock who needed a purpose and a mentor to come into his own. Jason Rousch I remember quite well from his introduction after Infinite Crisis, as a nebbish, downright nervous kid struggling with an abusive dad and more power than he could ever hope to control. You don't need continuity to keep these internal compasses going — yet Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver take the "square one" rule a little bit too literally, and in so doing throw out the baby with the bathwater. The new Ronnie and Jason are caricatures more than characters, an afterschool special on race that turns into a master-class on just being a jerk. By the time that assassins attack their high school looking for a high-tech Macguffin, you almost want them to put these kids out of their misery. Or at least shoot us first.

That's just a character issue. There's some plot issues here, too, unfortunately. The aforementioned assassins take up way too much of this book, ostensibly acting as exposition but really just stealing valuable pages away from the two leads. If these nameless baddies were particularly memorable, that would be one thing, but aside from being various levels of sadistic with their torture, there's a blank slate here. Worse, it's an anchor around the neck of the rest of the book, muddying the tone and altogether taking away form what should be the main focus: Why do we even like these kids? Having Ronnie and Jason turn into a ham-fisted referendum on race — "Why don't we have any black friends?" Ronnie asks his mom. Meanwhile, Jason writes that the star quarterback is "as confused about race as he is about his hairstyle." Uh… what? — feels like it's taking a reasonable theme and belittling it. This could have been an opportunity for something smart. Instead, it's a little bit embarrassing for all involved.

But there is some potential here, namely in the artwork from Yildiray Cinar. Don't get me wrong, he still has plenty of room to grow, particularly in the design department. But that said, he's got a little bit of that old-school Byrne solidness, where the characters have a consistency to them that goes great with his unassuming sense of layout. Once the Nuclear Men power up for the first time, though, that's when you see what this book could really look like. Cinar's inks suddenly blur and fade, giving way to some truly breathtaking colorwork from Steve Buccellato — these are some superheroes that crackle with both fire and power, and they do look great as they blast and fight in the sky. If you're reading this, Yildiray — more like this, please! More like this.

That is, however, the only time I'm going to write this in this review. If you had told me that the much-anticipated Gail Simone/Ethan Van Sciver collaboration was going to look like this a year ago, I would have laughed in your face (and then given a silent prayer to Gerry Conway to keep this from happening). This is definitely the roughest work I've seen with their names on it, and takes what seemed to be a bankable deal and totally upended it. There is a lot of science, a lot of heart and a lot of likability inherent in the Firestorm concept. Make no mistake — I thought this book was going to be a slam-dunk, an instant hit. Imagine my disappointment. Now Simone, Van Sciver and Cinar have a tougher job than turning straw into gold — they now have to transmute the bitter taste of a bad first impression.

 

FF #9

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even though the express purpose of FF is to be the premiere forward-thinking superteam in the Marvel Universe, Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting don't reinvent the wheel with the ninth issue of this series. They don't have to — the secret weapon behind the Future Foundation isn't cleverness, it's consistency, and the mix of characters and solid artwork is all this book needs to remain the best team book the House of Ideas publishes today.

Of course, I wouldn't say this is a comic for new readers — on the contrary, Jonathan Hickman is rewarding longtime readers with concepts ranging from the Inhumans to the Mole Man to the High Evolutionary, blending that pure Kirby imagination fuel together to make some nice-sized fireworks. But where I think Hickman has the most fun is checking in with this revised family, particularly where Victor Von Doom is concerned. Unpredictable and arrogant, Doom has a magnetism to him, the wild card in a group that could have otherwise been too goody-goody, too stale. And in certain ways, while it's a shame to not have any appearance of mainstays like Ben Grimm and Sue Richards, it's nice to have moments where Doom exacts his revenge on his betrayers, or where Spider-Man questions the wisdom of Inhuman king Black Bolt. After all, Spidey asks, "who in their right mind has five wives?"

But the linchpin to all this is Steve Epting, who I think really has embodied the widescreen ethos of comics artwork for a long time now. Not so much the "traditional" splash pages and huge panels, but he's got a realism to his work, a sort of weight to his anatomy that just feels epic, making you really jolt with every energy blast and every burst of flame. The first page alone is enough to sell you, as Epting — along with some superb colorwork from Paul Mounts — positively smolders off the page, as Victor Von Doom proves why he is a force to be reckoned with. Epting really tears the roof off in this book, with some nice war-style action sequences, particularly when Maximus the Mad shouts with glee and rage as he tears through a pack of Mole creatures with an otherworldly robotic suit.

That said, this book is good, and while I'm still enjoying the hell out of myself, I also see some potential places for improvement. Namely, Reed Richards is really starting to come off as a bit of a dead fish in his own book — sure, he's the man with the plan, but with such awesome stakes as interdimensional devastation and diplomacy with not one, but five otherworldly nations, you'd think he'd get a little bit more personality in him, a little bit of that Kennedy swagger, just something to make him stand out a bit more. While I recognize that Hickman had a lot of plot to get through in this issue, it would have been nice to see more of the rest of the family, as well — Spider-Man in particular I appreciate as an intrinsic sales boost for this book, but Hickman hasn't quite justified his presence, as if he's hesitant to even introduce a cornerstone of his book.

Yet even with the character giving a little bit of way to plot, the fact that these characters are still teaming up hasn't quite lost its luster yet, and that's a testament to how well the engine of FF works. Four was too limiting, but having a core group that is aligned by philosophy and differing temperaments is a winning formula… at least for now. Steve Epting is the unsung hero for having the right look for the right book, and that goes a long way to keeping this book hitting as hard as it does. But if Hickman can add a bit more characterization and a little bit more theme to this epic action, he can make this series a run to remember.

 

I, Vampire #1

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov

Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9/10

Vampires have always been a staple of horror and fiction. No surprise then, that when DC relaunched their universe, there was this book in the mix. Originally published as backup feature in House of Mystery in the early 80's, Andrew Bennett is back once again fighting his former lover, Mary Seward, who is assembling an army to kill all of humanity. While the concept in I, Vampire is the same as it was almost thirty years ago, the look here is completely different and easily the most distinguished book of the new 52.

Let's start off by looking at the creative here. Josh Fialkov became an indie sensation this year with the release of Echoes, published by Top Cow. His no-nonsense approach to the macabre is still in place here. His writing prowess is more or less the most engaging out of the newly relaunched books. He gives you a sense of the characters and their relationship in such few pages, the rest of the story sinks its teeth you and doesn't let up. Andrew is afraid of becoming a monster, while Mary has embraced the feral nature of the vampire, yet he still loves her. The narration between the two goes in and out of the timeline of the book, presenting it in a way that makes the readers think and caught me off guard. You get a hint of the big reveal in the beginning, but might not really understand it at first. Above all, it is accessible to new readers.

Andrea Sorrentino's art is unlike anything out there right now, especially at DC where it's practically against the grain with their house style. It's moody, stunning, and reminds me of early Mignola with the heavy use of shadows. Or the likes of Jae Lee, but with a more minimalist edge. There's not a real concentration on facial expressions or anything like that, but you still get the idea of what is going on and nothing is lost.

The superb colors by Marcelo Maiolo truly soar here. They're presented in a bold way that captures the feel of the book. The shades of red and blue indicating present time and flashbacks are a little helpful, but it's the way the colors reflect the eeriness of this world. Though a minor setback, the coloring on the caption boxes that has the dialogue between Andrew and Mary is so similar, it's difficult at times to understand who is saying what. I think red on black would have been suited better for one of the characters just for the sake of distinguishing the captions. Again, a minor setback as the art team on here is an extreme breath of fresh air.

I'm sure a lot of readers are sick of vampires, but the presentation here is just jaw-dropping that it's hard to ignore. Nearly flawless in its execution and in company of supermen and masked vigilantes, I, Vampire has a look of its own and should not be overlooked.

Pellet Review!

 

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):
Well-loved and memorable as it was, Brian Michael Bendis’ previous Ultimate Spider-Man run was never about the costume but the young man wearing it. It was Peter Parker’s story. This is Miles Morales’ story, and it's well on its way to becoming something great. After discovering his superpowers – which, by the way, are freaking him out – Miles confides in his best friend with hilarious results. But the highlight of this issue is a touching, extended conversation between Miles and his protective father. As his dad reveals things about his checkered past, you can see the emotional struggle from both sides of the exchange. It draws the reader in completely, and it's all the more poignant considering the difficult but probably inevitable discussion Miles needs to have with his parents. Sara Pichelli’s graceful, realistic illustrations are extraordinary. The details — Miles’ slightly loose shoelace, his friend Ganke’s lovingly assembled Lego ship, etc. — are the kind that distinguish a killer mage from a merely good one. It's not all about DC’s new 52. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is one of the best relaunches out there.

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