Best Shots Comic Reviews: SWAMP THING, FEAR ITSELF, More!

Best Shots Comic Reviews: SWAMP THING

Greetings, 'Rama readers! You ready to check out some reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with a TON of new releases for your enjoyment. So let's start off this feast with some greenery, as we kick off today's column with the third issue of Swamp Thing...

 

Swamp Thing #3

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Yanick Paquette, Victor Ibanez and Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Pay attention, class, because Scott Snyder has a lesson to teach: This is how you introduce a supervillain.

Take a boy -- we'll just call him Will, for academia's sake -- and put him in the surprisingly rough corridors of a terminally ill children's ward. You give him the power to manipulate dead matter. And you have a bully give him one. Last. Push.

Wowza.

I've been a little skeptical over the past few months of the mixing of the superhero comic and the horror comic, only because the all-too-reliable powers and physiques of the superhero set always seemed to cancel out the unpredictability of the monsters and killers. But Snyder I think has created the best example of the two co-existing, giving a human side to an adversary that I think will become more inhuman than most. Like Hannibal Lecter before him, the scariest menaces are the ones that you underestimate, the ones you keep locked away -- the ones you know will get out. It's like a time bomb -- tick, tick, tick -- and as Snyder lays down the terrifying world of the Rot, you almost forget that every bomb has to go off sometime.

The artwork in this book is also a slam dunk, and this issue shows that DC's reportedly relentless deadline process isn't an insurmountable ideal. Victor Ibanez draws the majority of this book, but to be honest, he matches Yanick Paquette extremely well -- even though Ibanez doesn't quite have the lush, deep shadows of Paquette, they both share those angular designs, those expressive eyes and mouths, and, perhaps most importantly, a strong sense of page design. When things all go to hell, Ibanez slices his pages up with blood-splattered panel borders that really amp up the tension, and the always-masterful Paquette twists and turns his contributions when Alec Holland finally taps into his former alter ego's powers. (And it goes without saying that Paquette draws gorgeous women -- his Abigail Arcane is badass, beautiful, vulnerable, charming, and all on the same pages. It's incredible.) Colorist Nathan Fairbairn also delivers some of the best work I've ever seen him pull off in this issue, with a beautiful teal motif that sets off blood red perfectly.

While the mystery of Alec Holland actually takes more of a backseat in this third issue, I don't mind that at all, considering Snyder, Ibanez, Paquette and Fairbairn have delivered an even more compelling antagonist to replace it. No longer are we hearing about a threat, no longer are we being told what apocalypses are made of -- now we've seen what the Rot of capable of. And while it's an image that doesn't go away easily, it makes Swamp Thing #3 the best book DC has released this week.

 

Fear Itself #7.1: Captain America

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There's a sequence in Fear Itself #7.1 where Steve Rogers, upon learning that his one-time sidekick Bucky Barnes was not killed in action during the epic crossover, begins beating the tar out of superspy Nick Fury.

"You son of a #$@#!" Steve shouts. "You cold-hearted manipulating--" But then Nick gives the supersoldier a kick to the jaw. "It wasn't my idea!"

Perhaps there's more than a little bit of metatext here. Maybe there's a little bit of Steve Rogers in all of us right now, and maybe Ed Brubaker is a little bit of Nick Fury. After all, he's the guy who brought back Bucky Barnes. He's the guy who convinced skeptical readers that Bucky was a viable character -- hell, he's the guy who convinced us that Bucky would be a great Captain America.

You who Brubaker wasn't? He wasn't the guy who killed Bucky. (Although by some accounts he might have given the suggestion.) He probably wasn't even the guy who suggested a Winter Soldier series. (Although who knows, he seems to dig telling stories with the character.) And despite all the great stories Bru has told with Bucky -- and the promise that he will be telling plenty more, all with the same level of quality and consistency we've come to expect -- that's not going to stop readers from being totally ticked off. Sometimes you just can't win.

Now, that all said, it's tough writing this review for that very reason. I wasn't a big Fear Itself fan, and the idea of Marvel undoing one of that series' major plot points within four months is more than a little bit of a letdown -- the metatext strikes again when it becomes clear that Bucky's "death" was the only way to "get Steve back into that uniform." But when you remove the actual distasteful concept behind this issue -- which one could also argue is basically lobotomizing the entire comic -- there's some great pacing, some understandable motivations, and a clean launchpad for a new status quo for Bucky Barnes.

The one bit of this comic that isn't debatable, however? The artwork. Mitch Breitweiser continues the visual standard that has made Captain America such a standout read, with moody shadows and sturdy panel construction keeping the story moving like clockwork. Seeing Bucky Barnes return from the shadows -- even though just about everyone and their mother knows he was coming back -- still tugs at the heartstrings, with that forlorn look in his eyes. The linework does get a bit scratchy towards the end of the book, but it works out decently enough with the rainy environments and the dark colorwork of Bettie Breitweiser.

With books like Fear Itself #7.1, it's hard to separate execution and intent. The intent feels like a bait-and-switch, pulling the rug out even further from a series whose taste -- bad or otherwise, take your pick -- was still on the palate of many readers. But the execution still comes from a consistent writer and art team that know how to pace a story, know how to draw it, and know how to make you care for the characters within. It's the right place at the absolute wrong time, and ultimately, I think Ed Brubaker has to have a skin made out of iron to agree to do a book like this. There's a ton of potential left with Bucky Barnes, and him being back fills a void in the Marvel Universe. The ends might be distasteful, but they justify the means. This will lead to some great stories.

But as the fanboys will respond: It doesn't mean we have to like it.

 

Detective Comics #3

Written by Tony S. Daniel

Art by Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Tomeu Mory

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Three issues in of Tony Daniel's 'Tec, and given the experience he has in the Bat-realm, it seems odd that it's taken this long to get a better grasp of his Batman's voice. He's built a solid story with a villain straight out of a 1970's slasher flick, and it's finally getting some steam with lots of action and keeping the "detective" keyword strong.

While I do prefer Scott Snyder's take on Bats, Daniel's script still has Batman having plenty of testicular fortitude and brains. His inner monologues don't hinder the overall look to the book, and actually give proper context to the story and not just for show and explain things that are already there in the art. We dive more into the Dollmaker and his family and is probably the more visually distinctive of the more modern bat baddies. He seems right at home in a group known for their extreme psychosis.

I wasn't really quite sure what I was going to get into with the art. This is the same pencil/inker team that gave us Batman R.I.P., and I was not a big fan of Florea's inks. I'm not sure what has changed in the three years since then, but the art isn't as jagged as I remember. In fact, everything has a smoother look to it, almost Howard Chaykin-esque, especially in facial features. Tomeu Mory's colors adds that great gothic overtone that I'm used to with things associated with Batman.

The ending has me compelled to give the book another issue. As I said, I'm more in tune with Snyder's handle on Batman and that part of the DC Universe, but Daniel has crafted something interesting that I hope pays off in the end.

 

Avengers Academy #21

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, Jeremy Cox and Veronica Gandini

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It may not be the flashiest compliment one can give, but it's no stretch to say that Avengers Academy is one of Marvel's most consistent titles.  Month to month, there's little else on the stands from either of the Big Two that delivers exciting, emotional, and weighty stories with as good a hit to miss ratio as Avengers Academy, and on top of that, it's timely.  Honestly, in today's market, there's not a whole lot else you can ask for from a monthly title.  This issue, the first after an extended run under the "Fear Itself" banner, is as hefty and fun as it gets, and provides a decent jumping on point for new readers.

With the events of "Fear Itself" now past and dealt with, the team has moved into the former headquarters of the West Coast Avengers, a welcome locale for longsuffering fans of that absent franchise.  Along with the new HQ come some new members to the now thinned roster of teachers and students, and a new mission statement for Hank Pym's training program.  These shake-ups provide a back drop for an issue that highlights all the things that make Avengers Academy what it is: a tightly wound group dynamic, an unrelenting sense of pacing and action, and a convincing view of teen drama.  It's hard not to compare this title to the height of Geoff Johns's and Mike McKone's run on "Teen Titans," and that's nothing but a compliment.  At the same time, though, the book feels uniquely "Marvel," with the kind of human drama that's always been the publisher's hallmark.

Christos Gage has truly grown along with this title, finding his voice and his message in equal measure.  Every time the book seems like it's getting preachy or heavy handed, Gage pulls up and reminds us that we're here to have fun.  Scenes like the confrontation between the students and the adult Avengers run the risk of coming off as expected, or even trite, but when they're wound in with an exploration of the PTSD that the students are facing after surviving one of the most harrowing and fulfilling chapters of "Fear Itself," there's an air of authenticity that keeps everything in place.  Add in some great work from Sean Chen, whose greatest strength is the personality he gives the characters, and this is a book that's not to be missed.

It's a hard sell, I'll admit; the characters aren't familiar to anyone who hasn't been reading, and the creative team aren't exactly household names either, but Avengers Academy constantly tops my monthly pile of comics.  It's a book that's got enough meat on its bones to satisfy older readers looking for the Mighty Marvel drama, but still has enough of a center to be called "all ages."  Above all of that, it's one of the last books on the stands that consistently holds its own fortunes.  Even in the midst of an event like "Fear Itself," where most of the tie-in books were on auto-pilot to allow the main crossover to encompass all the drama, Avengers Academy managed to feel more intense and important than even the main "Fear Itself" mini-series.  It's a book that stands on its own feet month after month, and this issue is a great point to get on board.

 

Infinite Vacation #3

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Christian Ward, Tim Daniel and Kendall Bruns

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Image Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

'Rama Rating 8 out of 10

First off, let me say that Nick Spencer has a way of writing stories that get into my brain and don’t want to leave. In the case of this issue of Infinite Vacation I’m going to need a lot of bleach to get rid of the bits of story that have adhered themselves in there. Oh sure, the cover looks innocent enough, with Christian Ward’s soft colors. Are those flowers on the main character’s shirt? Oh wait. . . no. They’re falling bodies, just a hint at the macabre tone this already macabre story takes in this newest issue.

The premise of the book is a futuristic world in which citizens can “buy” time in a new life for themselves. Imagine being able to have a day where you are still you – but in a better job, or with a better partner – wouldn’t you want that? However, there is a faction called the Singularist Movement that opposes this life choice and insists there is but one universe. As issue three opens, Mark is educated about this group and is partnered with Claire, a girl who he’s tried to pick up in another universe, but who insists by the group’s ideals that this is the only universe to be in.

Mark’s education involves a cheesily produced pamphlet explaining these ideals and showcases the unique visual style of Infinite Vacation, with showing us the pamphlet as it is with photos and captions. Later in the issue we are also treated to a few pages of what looks like a document to be read on a Kindle or a Nook – a document that shows the corporation’s point of view on what must be done regarding the Singularist Movement, and Mark plays a big part in their ideas and experimentations.

The bulk of the book follows the misadventures of two alternate universe Marks – meeting up with the previously introduced Mr. Vernon, who is an incarnation of Mark as well. This is where those buckets of bleach come into play. I won’t give away all the gory details – but imagine a physical attack of your nightmares, multiply that times ten, and add in an unhealthy dose of sexual acts that would make a prostitute blush. . . and then vomit.

That said, this book is some amazing storytelling. Yes, it’s over the top with violence and sexuality, but Spencer does so in a way that propels the story forward to a point where you are so invested in the story you’re left wanting more as you reach the last page. I’m not sure I’ve really wrapped my mind around the logistics of how this alternate universe business works – but I’m also not so frustrated that I’m discounting the book in favor of others. The multimedia approach is a fresh change and as a bit of a graphic design nerd, I enjoy seeing Tim Daniel and Kendall Bruns integrate these formats that are so familiar to us digitally onto the pages of a comic. If I was reading this digitally, my brain would be even more confused than it already is, thinking I was suddenly on my Kindle, or browsing the web – rather than reading a comic. However, these digital design aspects are not heavy handed and serve to further invest the reader into the story.Christian Ward’s art has a color palette and vibrancy that makes me feel like I’m looking at an alternate universe version of Brian Stelfreeze’s work, though the panels featuring a discussion in an elevator between Claire and Mark felt rather static, and some of the art is lacking a level of detail seen on other pages.

Infinite Vacation has quite a delay between issues, but the lasting impression of this latest “vacation” will stay with me for the months I wait to peek between my fingers and see what happens next.

 

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Richard Corben and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robbins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“House of the Living Dead” is a Hellboy OGN, that sees Mike Mignola reunite with Richard Corben to create a follow-up to 2010’s Hellboy in Mexico one-shot. The story directly follows on from the tale that Hellboy recounted in the one-shot, and expands upon events which were eluded to in the comic’s final pages. Having read the one-shot is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the graphic novel, and Mignola spends the first three pages of the book recapping what came before, and bringing readers up to speed. However, I have to say that it would have been nice if Dark Horse had included the out-of-print comic as a back-up story.

The story explores the drunken blur of years that Hellboy spent as a luchador in Mexico during the 1950s. Taking up the mantle of his dead friend, Hellboy becomes a local wrestling legend that fans refer to as “el rey del los monstruos” (the king of the monsters). Word of Hellboy’s achievements spread, and a man turns up one day with a ultimatum - beat his master’s champion in the ring, or an innocent girl will be slaughtered. With no other choice, Hellboy soon finds himself embroiled in a hellish nightmare involving a mad scientist, an Igor-esque assistant, a monster very much like Frankenstein’s, demons, vampires, werewolves, and all manner of other monstrosities.

The story that Mignola puts together here is intended as a nod to Universal’s House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein films from the 1940s, which were designed as cross-overs between popular Universal characters such as Frankensteain, Dracula, and the Wolf-Man. At the same time, the story is intended as a nod to the movies of Mexican wrestling legend El Santo, which often found the luchador battling against evil scientists and supernatural creatures.

Many readers think of Mike Mignola as primarily a comic book artist, but he’s also a very gifted storyteller, and due to his artistic background one of his greatest talents lies in the fact that he understands that comics are primarily a visual medium, and therefore is not afraid to let the artwork tell much of the story for him. What I mean by this is that Mignola doesn’t feel the need to cover every page in caption boxes explaining what the character is thinking, or providing endless exposition. Instead, he trusts his readers powers of comprehension to understand what the artwork is depicting, and their imaginations to fill in the blanks. There is a bit of narration involved in the flashback sequences, but other than that Mignola keeps his script to mainly dialogue. The dialogue that he delivers in the is very strong, but as is his style, he keeps it to a minimum, and every conversation is short and to the point. This feels very natural though, because Hellboy isn’t much of a conversationalist, and typically ends most conversations with one word answers. Plot-wise, Mignola manages to flawlessly blend his many influences together into a interesting and well paced story, which is packed full of action, and holds many surprises.

Richard Corben is something of a living legend, and getting to see him illustrate a full Hellboy graphic novel was a real treat for me, because I really enjoy his artwork, and on some pages I spent extra time just appreciating the art, and admiring the nuances of everything he had drawn. As is often the case on a Hellboy story, Corben’s artwork is slightly stylized, and he adopts a few of Mignola’s techniques - mostly in his inking, i.e. the use of heavy blacks and negative space, and the use of the little finishes that Mignola uses to give Hellboy’s body the look of rockiness. That being said, enough of Corben’s own style is present, for it to have the unmistakable look that makes his artwork so recognizable. Corben’s linework has a really visceral look to it, which lends itself nicely to a story filled full of monsters. His penchant for exaggeration of musculature and facial features introduces a feeling of unease into many key scenes, which enhances the suspenseful nature of the plot, and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. When the monsters begin to appear, Corben’s artwork gives them a very eerie quality that makes them look particularly creepy and grotesque.

It would have been nice to see Corben coloring his own artwork, because he’s a remarkably good colorist. However, Dave Stewart does a great as great job in his place, and provides another beautiful color job that is hard to fault.

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead is a great fun story that pays tribute to classic monster movies. It’s sure to satisfy fans who enjoyed the ‘In Mexico’ one-shot, and were desperate to find out more about Hellboy’s Luchador years.

 

Our Love Is Real

Written by Sam Humphries

Art by Steven Sanders

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The only thing I can really compare this to is a South Park episode that hits you over and over again with insanity and effed-up imagery, but once it's over, there's a message you should have seen coming. When you have a main character, who is in a committed relationship with a poodle (and is in intimate with it) who loves bashing other citizens that have sex with minerals and plants, you're really not sure what you're getting into.

The book is set in a futuristic world where the AIDS vaccine is around five years old, and people have been experimenting with various sorts of sexual activity. This is almost anti-Demolition Man and it's pretty crazy. Sam Humphries has given us quite a scenario that is unlike anything I've ever read. Working on square pages here, Sanders does a good job of presenting the story with simple layouts and construction. The "future" itself isn't that much of a deviation from the present, just maybe added a few angles to things here and there, but overall, nothing too outlandish and gaudy.

Jok, our main character, as mentioned has a lover that is a dog. There's nothing over-the-top or explicit shown, but the hint of what goes on is more or less striking and depending on your sense of humor, disturbing or hilarious. I found it neither as the world here explores what could be construed as taboos in sexuality. You've probably heard the argument that homosexuality could lead to bestiality. Not my words, but the expression of more than a handful of conservative leaders.

The world presented in the book is a sort of what if scenario and gives the idea that what is normal to some, freaks the hell out of others. This is shown in a scene where Jok is bullied by his coworkers about his relationship with Chnya, his lover/dog. It's a scene that is seen more and more, but the ridiculous of the scenario still comes across as real.

Our Love Is Real doesn't aim to be preachy, but gives the reader and idea of love and its meaning through an intense notion of the evolution of sexuality that could be explored more.

 

Batman: Noël

Written by Lee Bermejo

Art by Le Bermejo and  Barbara Ciardo

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I don't know how other fans feel, but judging by the sales numbers from when I worked in a comic book shop, readers aren't the biggest fans of holiday comics. You know, the ones where Superman saves Christmas or Spider-Man surprises kids at a Halloween party. Me? I can't get enough of them. I'm a total sucker for them. Which is one of the reasons I was pumped to read Batman: Noël, but my nostalgia took a backseat to the always stunning Lee Bermejo. Mr. Bermejo has become one of those artists I obsessively follow since first seeing his work in Global Frequency. Put his name on a project as the artist and you've guaranteed at least one more sale. In Batman: Noël however, Lee pulls double duty, that of writer and artist. I'll be honest, when I first reserved the title at my shop I assumed Bermejo was working with Brian Azzarello. Learning otherwise, my excitement lessened just a bit. Could Bermejo make the transition into writer? So very few have (or, should have).

Yes. He can and he did.

Batman: Noël is a Gotham City take on the well-known and well-traveled Charles Dickens work A Christmas Carol. I know some might be rolling their eyes, but there is a reason not a year goes by without someone trying to put their own take on the story. For all our joking about Dickens being someone you were forced to read in high school, there are few writers that could match his characterization. Really, this is a long way in saying that while Bermejo is the writer on Batman: Noël, it's Dickens that does the heavy lifting. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's still possible to screw up the story, and turning Bruce Wayne into this story's Scrooge isn't a cake walk.

What I enjoyed the most was where Bermejo placed this story within the DC Universe. This is simply a Batman story, with no annoying questions about new or old DC. This is a Batman at a very real crossroad of his life, at least from the view of us the reader. As the story opens, we see the Batman that's been so popular over the past 15 years. The angry avenger that will stop at nothing to take down his hated foes. Sure, he still won't cross the line personally, but he has no issue with putting a single father's life at the mercy of a Gotham super criminal. In this Batman's mind, this father is scum just like all the others. It doesn't matter that he's only trying to keep his son safe in what little squalor they have. Criminals are criminals, and if the son see his dad go down, maybe Batman can put enough fear in him to keep him on the straight and narrow. To put it bluntly, this Dark Knight is a raging jerk. But, as the story unfolds, we see this is the Batman we've been rooting for.

I don't think Bermejo likes this Batman, and I don't think I do anymore either.

As the story progresses, we watch a painful, though wholly natural evolution into a more human Batman. Some might claim Bermejo's versions of Batman and his supporting cast are but distilled versions of multilayer characters. There is some truth there. But, I think that is the strength in this story. When stripped to his core, we see how the events in the story can truly change Bruce Wayne back into the hero we all missed. Even if we didn't even notice he was gone.

Batman: Noël is also one of the most visually striking books Bermejo has ever done. There is a real passion in his pencils, brought to vivid life with colors by Barbara Ciardo. What I truly love about the art is it's believability. I honestly believe there is a many under that cowl. A man filled with all the flaws and potential of humanity. As you read the graphic novel, you start to wonder if you're reading a fine art book that just so happens to have a written narrative. Bermejo rarely uses panels to break up scenes. Instead it's a shifting cape, a winding back-alley, or flash of memory that drives your eyes. There were a few moments where I found myself getting lost in the pacing and had to go back and re-read a scene. Thankfully, the art is so stunning, you easily forgive the mistake. Indeed, the art in Batman: Noël is so great, I wish I were better trained in art theory to fully express how much it moved me. As it stands, I just end up sounding like a rambling fanboy.

Maybe it's because the nights are growing longer and colder for me. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and I like happy endings in my stories. Or, maybe because I'm still that little kid that believes in a protecting and not avenging Batman that Lee Bermejo's book worked so well on me. It doesn't really matter. At this moment in time, Batman: Noël is a perfect holiday story.

That just so happens to feature my favorite superhero.

 

Six Guns #1

Written by Andy Diggle

Art by David Gianfelice and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I'll be honest, the idea of a Marvel western, on its face, wasn't something that I would have expected out of the company. With no marquee names to drum up the crowds, this really was the Wild West for Andy Diggle and David Gianfelice. But maybe a little bit of room to rustle ain't such a bad thing after all, because Six Guns brings some serious swagger to a new frontier for the Marvel Universe.

Andy Diggle's writing, for lack of a better word, comes off as really cinematic -- he's seemed to embrace the idea of this first issue being a pilot episode, and so he works hard to get readers invested early. Moving fast and without mercy, we meet Texas Ranger Tex Dawson, as he squares off against the Black Rider motorcycle gang in a sequence that is both visceral and visual. There's a nice clip to Diggle's dialogue, as well, particularly as he sends Dawson on his path to take down the worst of the West. Enjoy your compassionate leave, indeed, Tex.

But the big guns for Six Guns? Artists David Gianfelice and the incomparable Dave McCaig. I missed McCaig's bleached, acrid yellows and demonic reds since his Ghost Rider days, but McCaig adds so much mood to every page, particularly with a shot of the Black Rider introducing someone to the business end of his shotgun. And David Gianfelice? This Italian artist cooks up a mean Spaghetti Western, with expressive characters and wonderful detailing for all the clothes on display. (Although I'll be the first to admit that Gianfelice's designs sometimes skew on the garish side -- the Black Riders in particular make over-the-top look like clean and underrated.) And his action sequences are fantastically set up -- Gianfelice knows that every page has to have one memorable image, and that really helps endear this book to readers. Whether its Tex watching the motorcycle gang take off or the Black Rider hanging a crooked hand off a mysterious black SUV, the artwork in this book brings plenty of confidence to unsuspecting readers.

That said, Six Guns does have one big obstacle going against it: page count. This pilot ends just when the going was getting good -- it seems a little counterintuitive to only have introduced three out of the six guns by the end of the first issue, and from a structural standpoint, we've only really just gotten the story moving. It's understandable that asking for a double-sized issue for a dark horse like Six Guns was probably out of the realm of possibility for former Marvel editor Alejandro Arbona, but at the same time, getting some more breathing room to really set up the full concept would have been nice. There are some other slight glitches which hurt the book, particularly because they could have been corrected so easily -- redundancies like "Black Riders, let's ride!" or goofy names like "San Diablo" ("Saint Devil"? Really?) take you out of the book.

With a British writer and an Italian artist, it's really surprising to see how at home this creative team is in Marvel's Wild West. This is a book that reads well and looks positively spectacular -- honestly, this is not a throwaway stunt concept, but this is a book with a creative team that really plays to each others' strengths. Even if you have no background with Marvel's western properties, Six Guns is a taut, action-packed read that demands your attention.

 

Red Lanterns #3

Written by Peter Milligan

Art by Ed Benes, Rob Hunter and Nathan Eyring

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Oh, Atrocitus. . .  Why of course it’s a good idea to dump Bleez into a pool of Ysmault, in order to wipe her brain, only to allow her to regain her painful memories as she emerges again. Because what’s better than a rage-filled Red Lantern? A traumatized, vulnerable, and even angrier Red Lantern chock full of resentments and open emotional wounds! Problem is that Atrocitus’ decision to do so has also left Bleez more intelligent, and we see them conflict on how she decides to deal with the residents of her former home planet. That saying of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Imagine a scorned Red Lantern. It’s not pretty, and we see her take out her aggressions in a violent, as well as manipulative and cunning manner.

Sounds like a pretty good story, right? But somehow. . . . I find it rather dull. Bleez’s inner dialogue as she experiences the pools is just so predictable, and the conversations with Atrocitus and her former planet-mates doesn’t really suck me in. While the concept of the story reflects Milligan’s talents, the actual execution falls flat, especially in the dialog. Now on the other side of the coin, Benes’ art, which I usually find cheesecake at best, is a step up from what I’ve come to expect from him. Oh sure, we see plenty of Bleez booty, but the fact that she's the only major female character cuts down on that gratuitousness, and we get to see his talent for what it is in the variety of creatures and environments.

Red Lanterns doesn't fill me with rage, per se -- but it certainly doesn't fill me with much enjoyment or anticipation either, as opposed to the other Lantern books on the shelves today. It's already gotten to a point where a new reader is going to feel in the dark jumping on, and if there are going to be casualties of the New 52, this could be one. We've got New Guardians for those of us interested in the full spectrum, and under Tony Bedard's pen may be a better home for these characters. I do however have a glimmer of hope with this story that if they continue to focus on members other than just Atrocitus, we'll start to see a richer, more well rounded cast of characters that we can potentially identify with. This new incarnation of Bleez resonates with me a bit, but I worry that the other Red Lanterns are being developed as more of a supporting cast, or mindless army to enact Atrocitus' will. I guess time will tell, but as more time goes on, I find my will, hope, and love for this series ebbing more toward the other side of the spectrum.

 

Misdirection #1

Written by Filip Sablik

Art by Chris DiBari and Ivan Plascencia

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I'm not much of a sports fan and despite my Southern heritage, also not a big NASCAR guy. Though in Misdirection, another helping from Top Cow's Pilot Season, the actual NASCAR environment and jargon and limited and feels more like a old-fashioned heist film. Top Cow is known for its sci-fi and fantasy realm, but it also offers great takes on more grounded scenarios and this is a good example of just that.

Here we have a fallen NASCAR driver that had it all until one horrific night where everything went to hell. After serving jail time, he's looking for another break and wanting to get things right. He takes a buddy up on an offer that turns him into an unwilling accomplice to a robbery and now he's out to drive to save his family and to stay alive.

Probably one of the best things about this story is the main character's portrayal. Sablik has created an interesting protagonist in Vince Martinez. It's ambiguous and gives more of that everyman appeal. He has black features, but his name implies a Hispanic heritage, but his vernacular echoes a traditional Southern upbringing. He's somebody you want to root for and empathize as you see what his life was and that he genuinely wants to get his life back on the right track, so to speak.

I think the main problem I had was the artistic direction here. Chris DiBari had a solid style, but I'm not sure if it's something that fits this story. He handles the quieter moments such as Vince at his construction job and him trying to see his daughter, but the actual robbery and the getaway moments felt like they needed an extra dose of energy. Ivan Plascencia's colors come across a bit flat, too, but does mirror more of the real-world look to things.

Pilot Season is in full swing over at the Top Cow barn, and I can't help but think while this story has the potential to go places, it's lacking that piece to make the perfect picture.

Pellet review!

New Mutants #33 (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 6/10): New Mutants is the first of the "ReGenesis" titles that I've read, and not been excited about.  On paper, it should be great; the cast is fun, the writing team is one of the most consistent in the biz, and artists David and Alvaro Lopez are the main reason I decided to give this book a shot.  And yet, somehow, the book is less than the sum of its parts Maybe it's because I haven't been reading the title up until this point, but I mainly felt confused and underwhelmed.  Not a lot happens in these 22 pages, and what does isn't enough to make me want to try another 22.  It's clear that Abnett and Lanning are attempting to channel some of that famous New Mutants weirdness, but it's not coming through quite right.  On top of that, Val Staples's colors really undersell the line art.  It's not that they're bad, it's just not a good fit.  Reading this issue was like reading an issue of Morrison and Quitely's New X-Men if they had lacked ambition.  It's not bad, it's just not very good, either.

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