Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN, FEAR ITSELF, More
Best Shots Comic Reviews 11/21
Happy Monday, 'Rama Readers! You excited for this week's opening salvo of reviews? Best Shots sure is, with some of the biggest releases from Marvel, DC, IDW and Dynamite! So let's start today's column off with a doozy, as we take a look at the third issue of Batman...
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
When DC Comics relaunched its flagship Batman book, the surprise standout for the whole thing had to have been Greg Capullo, who muscled his way back into the spotlight in a way that he hadn't done in at least a decade. With a kinetic, rough style that was more punk than polished, it was easy to see why Capullo was getting all of the attention.
But that's about to change. Because Batman #3 is where writer Scott Snyder hits the next level.
Having watched Snyder hit the scene and experience a truly meteoric rise in the comics industry, there's always that fear that maybe they're moving faster than they can actually sustain. But this issue is so thought-out and economic that I think it's a true turning point in what's already been Snyder's most impressive title yet. It's been obvious since Issue #1 that Snyder has tried to up the ante and outdo himself on a month-to-month level, and it's great to be able to say that Snyder has succeeded here.
For me, the thing that I've been most impressed with about Snyder's work on this series is the fact that he makes every chapter something exciting, something tangible, something with a beginning, middle and end that doesn't feel like an awkward chapter that'll all read out better in the trade. Out of everyone in the New 52 — even The Flash, my other must-read of the line — it's Snyder who it seems takes that responsibility to maintaining readers the most seriously, and that makes this issue all the more impressive. It's a very Paul Dini-esque set-up, considering that it feels self-contained, even when it isn't: Snyder brings together action, exposition, history and a really sharp detective story (one that is worlds ahead of his entire Detective Comics arc, and this is just in one issue) that made even me feel a little concerned. Who are the Court of Owls? Snyder has finally leveraged his literary background to his advantage, using metaphor and real-life research to make what could be a cookie-cutter secret society seem immediately alien and menacing.
Of course, part of that also has to do with Capullo not quite scoring the same effortless knockout that he has the previous months. Don't get me wrong, I'll still read a Capullo Batman when he's not on his A-game, but there are a few moments here where the stylish fight choreography don't quite gel together — it's pretty sharp seeing Batman grab onto a pole and kick two thugs in the face, but there's another moment shortly thereafter where he's suddenly bleeding from the mouth. Upon further reads, you see a distance shot of Bats pushed away from the crowd, but there's a beat missing that actually shows the hit. There's another big image of Batman soaring over the city that also doesn't quite hit the mark, with the composition feeling a little awkward, with the shading actually looking a bit like Bats was wearing a monocle, and, yes, Capullo's civilian characters all still look a little too similar in their cartoony designs. Still, from a panel-to-panel standpoint, Capullo remains a big winner here, always playing up the badass factor to 11, whether it's Batman staring face-to-face with a suit of Owl armor, or the creepy paintings that Batman finds as he tears through the city. To be honest, if you aren't really poring over all three issues, you'll probably still be happy with Capullo here — just because he's half a step behind where he was last month doesn't mean he still isn't running circles around everyone else.
But to me, having Capullo's overwhelmingly strong artwork take just a tiny step back is what we needed to really let Scott Snyder shine. The last two issues were great, and among the best superhero work that Snyder has done yet, with even tighter pacing and more satisfying beats than Iron Man: Noir, but he's really stepped up his game further. Suddenly, everything's clicking into place, and Snyder's style as a writer is beginning to really become apparent: it's a detective story that uses that expanded sort of narration to paint a picture, one that complements the already-formidable action and suspense Capullo has drawn upon the page. And best of all? It's totally self-contained, even as it's part of a greater storyline — you can jump in without reading the previous two issues, even as you'll find that it's very difficult to leave. Batman #4 can't come quickly enough.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Fear Itself #7.3 is the third and final epilogue to the Fear Itself story. Though, not to worry, there will still be plenty of "aftermath" issues coming your way. As you can no doubt tell from my tone, if I pick up an "event" comic I very rarely tend to pick up all of the tie-ins and spin-offs, believing that they typically just dilute the main story, in an attempt to drain more money out of fans’ wallets. However, I am incredibly glad to report that these epilogue issues have been highly enjoyable, and while not essential to the main story, they provide a very nice bookend, which resolve several of the secondary story-threads.
As this issue is subtitled "Iron Man," it goes without saying that the story features the armored avenger. More specifically, the story concerns the aftermath of the Grey Gargoyle's destruction of Paris, and Tony Stark’s reaction to it. There is a little action in the issue, but mainly this is a character story, in which Stark does a lot of soul searching. He questions whether the Gargoyle should be held accountable, when so many possessed or mind-controlled heroes have wreaked havoc in the past, and gottten off scot-free.
It’s also an issue that examines faith and religion in a world where gods walk among men, and where they allow such atrocities to be committed. It’s an issue about a lot of things, but all concerning Tony Stark, which might lead one to wonder why this isn’t just an issue of Invincible Iron Man — especially when you consider the fact that it’s by exactly the same creative team that book is. Well, the answer to that is held in the issue’s last pages, with an event which is important enough to justify the comic’s inclusion in the main event.
As this is mainly a character issue, there’s quite a bit of monologue and talking heads going on. Sometimes this can equate to a lot of talking without anyone actually saying anything. This is not the case here though, because Matt Fraction’s script is amazingly well-written, and because he has an incredible understanding of the character. When you read Stark’s philosophical and existential pondering, it feels very much like what you would expect the character to be thinking in this situation. This should come as no surprise, as Fraction has been writing Iron Man for a few years now. His characterization of Thor and Iron Man has been impeccable throughout the entire run of Fear Itself, and it’s very rare to have an event series be so character driven - an nice benefit of having the series’ writer also writing the series of two of the main characters.
Character work aside, many readers’ enjoyment of this issue will be determined by their reaction to the closing events. I’ve heard the term “big red reset button” being thrown around, but I think that’s a bit much, because all that really happens is that most the damage to Paris is undone, but there’s still a lot of damage to New York, Washington, and several other cities and towns that was unaffected, as far as we know.
Salvador Larroca’s artwork in this issue is of his usual high standard, and looks exactly like his artwork on Invincible Iron Man, which is to say that it has a very open and inviting look that should be welcoming to readers familiar with the characters from the movies and cartoons. His linework is very clean, with a nice amount of detail, but not a huge amount. This extends to his inking, which mostly consists of using a medium line-weight over his pencils, and filling filling blacks for shade and definition. His characters have well proportioned anatomy, and he draws technology impeccably well. One thing that I’m not too keen on though is his characters’ faces — some of the expressions that they show just don’t look appropriate for the scene, and I don’t like the way he draws lips, they always look like the character is pouting.
Larroca’s art is colored by Frank D’Armata, who is his regular colorist. I typically enjoy D’Armata’s color work, and think he tends to make some nice decision in terms of shade and hue. He’s one of the few colorists out there who can use digital lighting effects and make them look good. Something I don’t like is the way he colors Caucasian skin, as he has a tendency to make everyone look very rosy cheeked, and flesh tones in general just seem to have too much red in them.
Fear Itself #7.3 is a very enjoyable epilogue to the main event. It is a strong character driven issue, which explores some of global impact, and philosophical questions raised by a war between gods.
Justice League #3
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Hi-Fi and Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Patrick Brosseau
Review by Erika D. Peterman
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Now we’re talking.
After two frustrating issues with little momentum, DC’s flagship book finally takes off thanks to an Amazon who sure knows how to make an entrance. When we get our first look at the Justice League incarnation of Wonder Woman, there’s no doubt about who owns this story.
Statuesque and stunning, Diana strides down a Washington, D.C., street with a sword in her hand, apparently unaware that she’s leaving a trail of frightened/fascinated bystanders in her wake. And it’s not just the locals who are in awe. As the Flash so aptly puts it, “Uh … wow.”
Well played, Jim Lee.
Geoff Johns and Lee deliver a rip-roaring read with an energy that was lacking previously. Powerful beings duking it out with a flying demon army. Crisp dialogue establishing the players’ personalities. Widespread panic and mayhem. A whole lot of property damage. Justice League #3 isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s a lot of fun.
A good deal of the credit goes to Lee, whose action panels are full to bursting with movement. You can practically hear Wonder Woman’s glinting sword slice through the air as she lays waste to a gang of monsters. I’ll be honest: Jim Lee is a comics rock star, but his illustrations have always struck me as too overdone. However, there’s no denying that his muscular, heavily detailed style works very well for those moments when Superman throws a truck through the air or Green Lantern whips up some spinning hammers.
Marked as menaces to society and under attack, the assembling team now has Darkseid to deal with. Meanwhile, Vic Stone lies burned to a grisly crisp as his father turns to untested technology to save his life. Johns breaks up the heavy stuff with humor, getting in yet another dig at Batman for his lack of superpowers.
But back to Wonder Woman. Her warrior presence is a needed shot in the arm for this comic, and it’s entertaining to see everyone react to the newcomer. Even Superman, who has been kind of a jerk so far, has to give it up. Diana’s got just as much confidence as he does, if not more — and unlike him, she kicks ass with a smile on her face.
I’ll bet that this was a make-or-break issue for a lot of readers (me included) who were on the fence, so it’s nice to see that Justice League has sprung to life. However, the book still doesn’t quite have the awesome factor of others like Action Comics, Batwoman and Wonder Woman. Again, this is a fine read. Its only real shortcoming is that there’s nothing setting it apart from other well-executed super-team stories. Since this comic is at the top of the relaunch bill, I’m a little disappointed that that it hasn’t contained more surprises. But maybe it isn’t Johns’ and Lee’s goal to reinvent the genre. If the plan is simply to entertain, then Justice League #3 hits the mark.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Daniel Acuña
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The "recruitment issue" is a hallowed Avengers tradition going all the way back to issue #16 of the first volume, 46 years ago, where the team ended up as Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch - controversial at the time, given that the latter three were all best known as villains. Given the fallout of Fear Itself, it makes sense that Bendis would want to give some time over to showing the process of reassembling the team. Unfortunately, the ostensible A-plot gets short shrift, overwhelmed by the various other business that sets up the next arc of the series.
Given that Steve Rogers has at last resumed his responsibilities as both Captain America and leader of the main Avengers squad, it might make sense to use this issue as a way of showing his thought process in recruiting the team, reflecting the possible changes in his outlook due to recent events. We do get a little of that, but I think more of it gets lost in Bendis' penchant for banter and the reveal at the end of the book. As a result, we see little of the logic behind some of Cap's less obvious choices - the ones that readers will need more justification for in order to accept. I don't know what the Protector or Daisy Johnson are doing on this team, and from the book as written, neither does Cap or anyone else.
Another consequence of the uneven direction of the plotting is that the return of a fan-favorite character, missing in action for many years, comes off as underwhelming. I know that characters returning from the dead is commonplace enough to receive ironic meta-commentary within the books themselves, but given the lengthy history of this character and their connection with so many other members of the cast, his reappearance should have had some emotional weight behind it, but instead got dropped in as a matter of course.
That said, there were some things to recommend. The framing material with the media frenzy surrounding the recruitment of a new Avengers team was well-done, and a realistic depiction of what a major event this would be not only for the heroes themselves, but for the public. Cap's acknowledgement of tradition as he looks at the portrait of an earlier incarnation of the team had a heft to it that the rest of the issue lacked. And yes, I did like the reveal at the end - you never know what that guy's going to do next.
Daniel Acuña's art was also a high point. There are too few mainstream artists who don't know how to make anything besides an action scene interesting to look at, a handicap that Acuña does not possess. His facial expressions are a little stiff in places, but his figure work and sense of movement are both great, even in a staid issue like this. My favorite panel in the book has Cap and Tony gazing up at the portrait as it towers over them, a great use of perspective to show the pressure these men feel to succeed. Acuña is also able to bring a sense of grandeur when necessary, as seen in Storm's entrance - an important trait for any Avengers artist.
With a new roster assembled and a clear and present danger on their doorstep, this latest iteration of the Avengers are going to be jumping right into the thick of things. I look forward to getting to know them a little better as a unit and seeing if they're able to live up to the teams of yesteryear.
Wonder Woman #3
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Review by Amanda McDonald
Wonder Woman is an iconic character that most comic readers are familiar with. Even if you haven't read her books, you likely know her origin — formed of clay by the Queen of the Amazons, yada yada yada. . . That's all changed with issue three of her relaunch.
With the way Brian Azzarello has been staging this book, the change doesn't come as much of a surprise. The issue starts with a continuance of issue two — the demigoddess Strife has struck Paradise Island and incited a massive battle, resulting in many dead Amazons that are all very upset with Diana (or as they disparagingly call her, Clay) for bringing this chaos to their home. As Wondy conferences with Strife, Hermes, and Zola — the Queen arrives with some rather shocking news. That whole being made of clay origin story? That was created to cover up the fact that Hippolyta and Zeus had an affair, and to protect Diana from Hera's wrath.
So yes, you've heard the buzz correctly — Diana's origin story has changed, but only to a certain extent. This doesn't undo everything leading up to this point, but instead adds another layer to her character. Now if Azzarello had retconned her completely, I'd be pretty annoyed — but this is explained very clearly as just a long held secret about her origin. The fact that Wondy was an Amazon didn't really set her that apart much from other heroes, but now she's not only a princes, but also part goddess — and that's sure to cause plenty of conflict. While there are other characters with parental issues, this is certainly a new twist on an old conflict.
The creative team of Azzarello and Chiang have a huge risk here, taking a character so ingrained in the DCU and changing her origin story. However, the way it is approached in this issue is some of the finest sequential story telling I've seen in a long while. The book opens with a dialog free page, one of several primarily visual pages. Mind you, this isn't lazy writing by any means — it's a comic writer and comic artist working together to show the story where possible, rather than simply "telling" the story. Chiang is the right man for the job and his art tells a story with a slow burn, making those moments of action really pop and carry more impact. Also worth noting is the fact that Chiang's women look like. . . well, real women. Tall and powerful, short and stocky, or fragile in the case of Zola, this isn't a case of cookie-cutter women that you see from so many artists. It's the small things like this, or the symbolism snuck into the background that make Chiang such an ideal artist for this title. Wilson's coloring is a great fit as well. I like that this book doesn't have a typical visual look, and it makes me want to get more into concentrating on the story being told over being distracted by flashy visuals. Speaking of flashy visuals, remember all the hub bub about oversexed stories in other DC New 52 books? This issue has by far a couple of the sexiest pages I've seen yet in the relaunch. Are we hearing anything about those? No. Because visually, they are rather subtle. But Azzarello's scripting of Hippolyta talking about the affair with Zeus had me smirking and honestly. . . rather envying her.
I am left wondering how these changes to the character's background will factor in future issues. Where does Wondy fit in the grand scheme of the DC Universe? Will we start seeing Zeus show up on the streets of Metropolis or Gotham? While this is an interesting take on classic Greek myth, will it pack enough punch to create future conflicts? At some point, it seems logical that Diana will have to deal with conflict larger than just her self-identity. However here and now, we have a new Wonder Woman who suddenly has a new challenge — saving others, and saving herself.
Written by Benjamin and Timothy Truman
Art by Timothy Truman
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
I think we have all seen enough westerns or, even better, spaghetti westerns to know that one lone man riding into an old, southwestern town is never a good thing. Benjamin and Timothy Truman's Hawken #1 presents us with an old, grizzled man called Hawken who is not out to protect the innocent or to bring the guilty to justice. The Truman's Hawken is not a hero — that much is clear in this first issue. The only thing Hawken wants is revenge and God help anyone who gets in his way. In comics, television and movies, we've been exposed to so may stories about tough guys and their quests for revenge that they mean almost nothing. It is more about how those stories are told, and no one draws them better than Timothy Truman.
With Hawken, Timothy Truman shows that it's not the years but the mileage, and that this character has plenty of both. Every wrinkle and scar on Hawken's face have their own story to tell, as Truman uses every opportunity to put in small details into the artwork that builds a vivid story. From Hawkin's blind mule to the one-eyed ghosts that follow him to the dog who urinates on the arid Arizona ground, Truman builds in many small little details to alert us that we need to pay attention to this story. And all of those details are just in the first few pages.
It's those details that have always made Truman's artwork rich but Truman is more than just a finicky artist. Those details create the reality of his artwork. Truman's Hawken features real people wearing real clothes in real settings. With fantastical elements in the background of the story, Truman's attention to those small details reinforce the story he's telling. In one two-panel sequence, Hawken points his six shooter at a desperado and fires it. Both panels are the same shot with the only action being the pulling of the trigger. We've grown used to sequences like this being the same drawing, just photostatted, but Truman knows that that's not the way it works. There are muscles in the hand that shift subtly with the action of pulling the trigger. Shadows change as the hand shifts and Truman draws those slight changes.
All of those details don't mean anything without a story and a character. The Trumans use this first issue to tease us a bit with who Hawken is. They don't come out and tell us everything in this issue but instead just drop a couple of small clues into his past. He looks lke a tough, wrinkled old man but ghosts like one-eyed damsel Lil reveals glimpses of his past that show Hawken as more than your typical tough guy. The Trumans show that they have a story to tell by a line of dialogue here or a glint in Hawken's eye there. Benjamin Truman's script walks the line of being a cliche western twang and being driven by character and actions. Hawken remains a bit of a mysterious character throughout the book, but the Trumans show us that that mystery is the story that they are going to tell us.
Weird western comics have almost become their own genre. Blending in a bit of fantasy or horror with tales of the frontier revenge is the type of genre-bending that works better in comics than it does almost anywhere else. Benjamin and Timothy Truman's Hawken #1 recreates the American west and the small towns that popped up here and there. You can almost feel the grit in the air or the slightly arid smell in the air as the Trumans use the small details to sculpt their story. And then there are the ghosts that follow Hawken, whispering in his ear that there is a lot of killing that needs to happen if he is going to get the full extent of his revenge. Hawken #1 is a dirty and foul book. Isn't that what we want our westerns to be?
Generation Hope #13
Written by James Asmus
Art by Ibrahim Roberson and Jim Charalampidis
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Out of all the various "next generations" of X-kids over the years, the Lights ("Oh God, have we come up with a better name...") may be my favorite. Adding the tension of trying to rebuild mutantkind on top of the already-fraught lives of adolescent superhumans creates a rich vein of possibilities for both character work and action. The new creative team of Asmus and Roberson deliver plenty of each in their first issue, ably taking the handoff from series creator Kieron Gillen.
The mock combat sequence that opens the issue does a good job of reintroducing the characters for any new readers who might be coming on board with the new creators, as well as showing that they can hold their own against some of the most experienced X-Men. Asmus has a great way with dialogue, making each character sound distinct and using each line both to demonstrate who these people are as well as move the story forward. Hope, for example, keeps the same clipped, military diction whether she's issuing orders or dismissing concerns about her love life, while Laurie gives us the flip side of a teenage girl who's coming into her own as an X-Man but can't help feeling defensive about a crush. Asmus finds the right balance of humor and pathos to strike with these characters, and that he's got such a good handle on them already makes me feel that the series is in good hands.
While Asmus makes it clear that this is an ensemble piece, both of the best moments in this issue revolved around one member of the team - Kenji. He evolved into my favorite character during Gillen's run on the book, and that looks to continue here. His confrontation with Magneto shows just how divorced from humanity he is becoming, while his infatuation with No-Girl reminds us that there's still a person in there. Kenji's abilities and complex psychology make him one of the more intriguing additions to the X-verse in a long time, and I hope, even if some of the other Lights drift into the background over the years, that this is only the beginning for the evolution of his character.
Ibrahim Roberson holds up his end of things just as well as Asmus, keeping things moving with a rectilinear panel layout and medium shots that make the action easy to track while also giving him opportunity to establish his depictions of the cast. From the very first panel, a group shot of the Lights, Roberson makes every individual in the book distinct and memorable, with his subtle facial work supplementing Asmus' dialogue to great effect. Charalampidis' colors tend to smooth out Roberson's lines, making occasional panels almost too painterly, but all is forgiven for the stellar splash of Magneto bringing a painful end to the "training exercise."
I've talked very little about the second half of the issue, which has the Lights out in the field and ends on a cliffhanger, but that's because it doesn't hold my interest as much. It almost seems tossed in, and not enough is revealed to grab my attention just yet. I also wish Asmus hadn't gone for an ending that is so obviously not what it appears; anyone who reads this knows perfectly well that there's no chance that what we "saw" happen actually took place. That said, I'm on board to continue with this next incarnation of the series and find out where these new mutants will go next.
Captain Victory #1
Written by Sterling Gates and Alex Ross
Art by Wagner Reis, Inlight Studio and Alex Ross
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Sometimes you read a comic, and you say to yourself, "man, that team could have done better." You see the potential, and you know that for whatever reason — deadlines, personal problems, last-minute changes — the book didn't reach it.
But then there are books like Captain Victory, which do the exact opposite. I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect from Sterling Gates, the Geoff Johns apostle who was conspicuously absent from DC's New 52 initiative, and wondered how he'd handle a character without the heft of an established backstory. I didn't have a lot of hope for Wagner Reis, who I thought produced a muddy version of Vampirella. But Captain Victory is absolutely one of those comics where the creative team is firing on every cylinder and hugging every curve along the way. This is a comic that pulls itself up from its bootstraps, and should inspire more comics to play to its creators strengths this well.
And considering I wasn't a devotee to this Jack Kirby-inspired project, that's saying something. Most of the time, when people compare comics to video games, it's a negative comparison, but Gates actually takes a trick out of the old Bioshock playbook, dropping us right in the middle of a traumatic resurrection that makes us feel as disoriented as our protagonist — disoriented, and invested. It's a really smart introduction, putting readers in the perspective of our hero for just one page — for that moment, we are Captain Victory. And we need to get back into the fight. Beyond that, the idea of Victory being a cookie-cutter space-strongman is slowly but surely whittled away as the story continues: Who is Captain Victory? How did his training change him, shape him into who he is today? What is the nature of heroism in a war where there are no rules? Most of the time, the answers aren't very good, but Gates keeps you questioning in a way that doesn't disappoint.
Artist Wagner Reis, however, is the real standout here, only because he had even more of an uphill battle to deal with. I was still very wary of Reis's work after Vampirella, but given the tone and nature of this story, he absolutely is the right fit for Captain Victory. Instead of going crazy with the layouts like in Vampirella, Reis plays it cool in this book, with simple panel compositions and a much brighter lighting arrangement that, at times, actually reminds me a little bit of Mark Farmer's inks. While Reis's action sequences still aren't quite the most kinetic or loose that they could be, he does do a wonderful job at balancing the crazy Kirby designs, having just enough of that wow-I-can't-believe-somebody-is-wearing-that without actually losing the reader's suspension of disbelief. It's a very cinematic-looking read, and it definitely represents a huge improvement over his previous work. If he can sustain that climb — or better still, keep building on it — this book will surprise a lot of people.
When you review comics on a daily basis, you always end up gauging the creative team at least a little bit, because how else are you going to measure any sort of progress one way or the other? I've seen both of these creators before, and that hasn't always been the easiest thing in the world. But Captain Victory definitely lives up to its name — this is a comic that plays up the best that both creators have to offer, in a shrewd fashion that rarely shines a light on either one's weaknesses. Combine that with a surprisingly complex story, and you have a book that uses every possible advantage at its disposal. I didn't think I'd say this, but I'm very excited to see what Gates and Reis do next.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!