Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings from the future, Rama Readers! The Best Shots team has a handful of tomorrow's releases, today! From X-Men: Regenesis to the new comic by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. So let's kick off the column with the third issue of the all-new wallcrawler in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man...


Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #3

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: 8 out of 10

I like Miles Morales.

I've said that since the first issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and thankfully, that is indisputably still the case. Morales's background — from his criminal uncle to his hitting the jackpot for a charter school — has fit in so nicely with the iconic "great power, great responsibility" message of Spider-Man, and that kind of likeability has given Brian Michael Bendis a lot of leeway. That said, while I'm enjoying the heck out of Miles's company, Bendis's decompressed storytelling does become more evident by this third issue, leaving me wishing a little bit more would have happened in these 21 pages.

As far as characterization goes, Bendis has really sold me on Miles, particularly when we finally see him use his powers to save someone's life. Unlike Peter Parker, who had a traumatic event really galvanize him towards the path of the hero, the younger Morales is deeply conflicted and truly scared of what these abilities could mean to him. But that doesn't matter — there's a moment in the script where Miles's friend Genke urges him to climb onto a burning building. "People will see me," Miles says. "Who cares?" Genke replies. And Miles's answer says it all: "You're right."

Great power, great responsibility, and great characterization.

Artist Sara Pichelli is part of the reason why that sort of characterization rings so true, as her expressiveness and design really adds a lot of layers to Miles and his world. While plenty of people are going to talk about Pichelli's sense of fashion — which I agree is some of the best street clothing I've seen since Guiseppe Camuncoli — but for me, I really enjoyed her sense of composition, particularly when you see Miles launch himself over a crowd of New York firefighters. And Pichelli's secret weapon has to be the facial expressions she gives her characters — when you see the look on Miles's face when he saves a little girl's life, you're on Team Morales faster than you can say "webshooters."

But that all said, out of all three issues, this is the one that feels like it has the least in terms of story content. While I can understand the appeal of wrestling with newfound power, Bendis has already covered much of this ground before in the last issue, and aside from that stellar action sequence and some additional minor setup for Miles's world and supporting cast, not too much happens in this book. At this point, it almost feels as though Miles should put on the costume already, since there wasn't too much more to say here.

Despite losing a little bit of steam due to decompression, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is still a great read, and definitely the best book that Brian Michael Bendis is producing today. With some stellar artwork and a character that is extremely relatable, this is a different Spider-Man for a new generation. Unsure, unfocused, and more than a little scared over his new power, I'm definitely with Miles Morales for the long haul.


X-Men: Regenesis #1

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Billy Tan and Andres Mossa

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The lines have been drawn, the teams defined — even if this book sometimes doesn't make any sense.

X-Men: Regenesis #1 is a quintessential good news, bad news kind of comic. On the one hand, Kieron Gillen manages to put together a nice character piece after all the action and brooding of X-Men: Schism — but on the other hand, as much as there are some good quiet moments in this book, it's also tripped up by some shaky artwork and a downright bizarre framing sequence.

But let's start with the good: Kieron Gillen knows what makes the X-Men tick, and hearing his rationales for why each X-Man picks their specific team is, for the most part, what I wanted to see in Schism in the first place. Characters like the Beast, Hope and Dazzler in particular get some of the best scenes in the book, as Gillen is able to really stretch tonally, moving from comedy to menacing all within a few pages of one another. These are some fairly interesting teams that the X-Office is putting together, and this book definitely helps stoke the fires of anticipation.

That said, this book is far from perfect. Gillen has a framing sequence to this book that is downright weird, and going back to it again and again really kills the pacing of this issue. The other thing that this comic doesn't quite correct is the whininess factor — whereas in Schism Wolverine seemed a little oversensitive, in Regenesis Cyclops is the one who comes off as desperate, which feels like a step back given all the badass characterization Scott has received the past few years. And while I dug most of the rationales between the teams, there were some people — like Emma Frost — whose conflict didn't seem plausible, causing a little bit of false suspense that didn't end up going anywhere.

Yet those issues with the script are largely ignorable — what you can't avoid is the artwork. Billy Tan is part of the reason why the framing sequence stands out like a sore thumb — his designwork is so self-conscious that the tribal undertones are never really sold to the reader. Considering nearly half the pages come back to this, that's not good news. Tan occasionally has that sort of solidness of a Clay Mann, but his group sequences end up losing a lot in translation, as he doesn't quite make the best use of his space. Colorist Andres Mossa is a more interesting case — I like the painterly style he gives the framing sequence, but the present-day scenes don't really set up a tone.

While this is definitely an imperfect book, I'd argue that Kieron Gillen provides a needed story, something to really give some heart and logic to the Schism saga. What he does right definitely outweighs what he does wrong, but at the same time, this book could and should have had some more oversight to really knock it out of the park. While the character work is a nice reward for those who read Schism, the artwork and some of the editorial decisions mean that Regenesis isn't the showstopper it should have been.


Legion of Monsters #1

Written by Dennis Hopeless

Art by Juan Doe and Wil Quintana

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

If you were looking to learn about Marvel's menagerie of monsters… you may want to keep looking. While there's plenty of action and even a little bit of humor in Legion of Monsters #1, it's preaching to an assumed choir that's composed entirely of diehard fans. If you don't already know who Morbius the Living Vampire or Elsa Bloodstone are, this is not the place to start.

Writer Dennis Hopeless is tackling a fairly heavy cast of characters in Legion of Monsters, with most of them lacking any of the sort of cachet or metaphorical values of a Spider-Man or an Iron Man. But that's not my issue with this book — my issue with this book is that characters are introduced with little exposition or explanation, with the implication that readers will just have to figure out the legwork on their own. In an already crowded marketplace, if you're going to sacrifice user-friendliness for the sake of a few more one-liners or another couple of action beats, you're going to have a lot of people jump ship to a book they can understand. And some of these action beats, such as Elsa Bloodstone walking off-panel only to return on a motorcycle, are shaky at best, which makes the book even more suspect.

Yet there is a bright spot here — artist Juan Doe, who makes up with voice and style what he lacks in composition. A lot of my complaints about not properly introducing a character are partially Doe's fault — if you're going to have Elsa Bloodstone introduce herself, you want to at least see her face, and you don't want characters like Morbius and Manphibian suddenly introduce themselves in what is essentially an establishing panel — but at the same time, the designwork is really striking. Elsa has a little bit of that Immonen vibe, especially on a splash page where she wrecks her bike, while the monsters themselves evoke a bit of Kev Walker. That said, Doe's biggest weakness is picking the right shot — some of his pages don't feel like they effectively used the space provided, and some of the action sequences don't quite feel up to snuff.

Unfortunately, iconoclastic art is not exactly a huge selling point when you're talking about a cast of characters you've never heard of before, and who you likely won't know anything more about once you finish this issue. Books like Legion of Monsters are a huge opportunity to retool and shed some light on previously forgotten properties that have been languishing in the House of Ideas. Unfortunately, Dennis Hopeless is so focused on the quips and tricks that the actual story underneath is lost in the mix. If you were looking to get in on the ground floor for Marvel's monster mash, you may want to find another book besides Legion of Monsters.


Orchid #1

Written by Tom Morello

Art by Scott Hepburn and Dan Jackson

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Rock stars writing comics, love it or hate it, it’s becoming pretty commonplace these days, with tons of musicians getting in on the game, including Claudio Sanchez, Scott Ian, Gerard Way, Adam Jones, and many more. The latest to join this ever-growing list is Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and The Nightwatchman. I’m not a huge fan of the rock star comic writer sensation, but as I was a huge fan of RATM growing up, I thought I would give this one a shot.

Tom Morello is well known for his political activism, and his solo material as The Nightwatchman has rather politically charged lyrics. So, as you would expect, Morello wears his political views on his sleeve with Orchid, so if your political viewpoint veers more to the right, this might not be the story for you.

The premise of the series is pretty simple: it’s a post-apocalyptic story, set in a world where the rich hold command over the last remnants of society, and the poor are used as slaves. Well, it’s a bit more nuance to it than that, but that’s all you really need to know to get going. Unfortunately, Morello thought readers needed more than that, and so the first five pages of the comic are taken up by an omniscient narrator bringing us up to date with the recent history of the world. To me this intro felt like a bit of an info dump, which is a really off-putting way to open a story, and I would have preferred to learn all these facts gradually, and in a subtler manner, like through conversations between characters. Also, he doesn’t really make things clear, and the fact that the oceans have risen doesn’t really explain why the laws of physics apparently no longer exist, or why “genetic codes were smashed.”

Once we’re past this initial hurdle though, Morello switches key and lets the artwork and dialogue take over the storytelling. For the most part, the dialogue is pretty well written, but there are a few exchanges between characters that feel a bit clumsy, and contain a few iffy lines.

We don’t actually get to meet the titular protagonist until the latter part of the story, so it’s hard to get a decent feel for the character. As I was reading though, I had in mind something that a female friend of mine mentioned to me, she told me she felt trepidation towards the title because she feared that the character had be cast as a prostitute for the sake of sensationalism, and not because it was integral to the character’s development. Well, it was hard to tell from this opening issue, but it did feel like the character could have just as easily been a regular slave and not necessarily a prostitute.

Scott Hepburn is both penciller and inker on the series. On his recent Star Wars work Hepburn has favored a more cartoonish style, but his artwork here features highly detailed linework that has a much more grounded feel to it. Hepburn’s characters have realistic looking proportions and features, with just a hint of cartoon style to them, and all have a great array of emotional facial expressions. His backgrounds are quite elaborate in places, and he never skimps on the detail. His sense of composition is very strong, and he lays out the action in each panel in a very clear way that makes it easy to follow events. He also uses a number of creative panel layouts, helping to give the action scenes a sense of motion and urgency.

I really like the way that Hepburn inks the artwork in this issue. His inks have a nice organic feel to them, where you can see his brushwork on full display. He adds lots of nice finishes to his characters’ features, and brings many scenes to life with use of force lines, creative spotting and filling of blacks, and a touch of negative space.

Dan Jackson is the colorist on the book, and in fitting with the post-apocalyptic landscape of the story, he works from a pretty dark palette of colors. His coloring is very intricate and nuanced, and he makes some really nice choices, particularly in regards to lighting and shadows.

The best artwork in the book would have to be the final panel, where Orchid is glowering out at her jailer from between prison bars. Hepburn draws a look on her face so mean that her anger is palpable. At the same time, the background is shaded and colored in such a way that it feels like the image is coming out of the panel at you, and she is glaring accusingly at the reader.

Despite a slightly rocky start, Orchid #1 is a pretty intriguing series debut, and is well worth checking out, especially as it’s priced at only $1.

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