Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots is locked, loaded and ready for action, as we take a look at a number of new releases from Marvel, DC, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios and more. So let's kick off today's column with the Man of Steel having to prove his mettle, as Scott Cederlund takes a look at Action Comics #4...


Action Comics #4

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, Sean Parsons and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Click here for preview

I'm waiting for an Occupy Metropolis movement to begin in the pages of Action Comics. Even though this series is supposed to take place during the nebulous "five years ago," Grant Morrison is seeding it with a fear, distrust and a cynicism that feels more relevant to 2011 than 2006. Even with Superman running and leaping around, Morrison hasn't given us anyone to trust or anyone to feel safe with yet. Lex Luthor is clearly evil, but how is a rookie Superman any better? We've seen him in past issues be reckless more than heroic, impulsive more than super, and angsty more than benevolent. In other words, Morrison's Clark Kent is more a Superboy who thinks he is a Superman.

And why not? Morrison's Superman can't fly and isn't invulnerable. He can get beat up and he can bleed. So far Morrison has shown him go up against business men and evil scientists, but in Action Comics #4, he goes up against something that's completely out of his league: an alien invasion. In previous issues, Superman has been proud of his power, even arrogant about it, as he dangled criminals over balconies and played games with Luthor and General Lane. In those issues, Morrison showed us a different Superman than the one we've grown used to over the decades. This isn't Christopher Reeves.

In this issue though, Morrison barely displays what Superman he is writing. There's very little of Superman or Clark in this issue that ends up feeling like it could be any anonymous issue of Superman from the last 20 years. What's been good so far about Morrison's run on Action Comics is how much his Superman has felt like something we haven't seen in a long time, if ever. It's been a throwback to those earliest issues of Action Comics, when Siegel and Schuster were creating more of a social hero than a super hero. Their original Superman fought against social injustices more than colorful super villains and that looked to be the path that Morrison was following. He's already done his Silver Age homage with All Star Superman so know it's time to do a more Golden Age Superman.

That's the general direction Morrison was heading in, but it gets derailed to tell an alien invasion story. Suddenly a story that was about Clark growing up and learning how to fight becomes a story about a fight and forgets to do anything with Clark Kent. There's only really one moment in this issue, when a giant robot picks up a tank and uses it as his head, where we remember that this is a Superman who has never seen anything like this before. "Get out of here," he mumbles at this incredible sight. It's a wonderful moment where we may even have the same reaction as Clark, but the rest of the book is so distant and unrelatable. It becomes a story about Superman fighting robots, which is a plot built around action, not character.

For some reason, Morrison uses this moment to reintroduce us to John Henry Irons, better known as Steel. It's an odd introduction, as Morrison brings him into the action but quickly abandons him, leaving Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker to fill in the space between his panels in their back-up story. The back-up takes place between the seconds of Morrison's story but provides little satisfaction other than filling in some missing story beats. The back-up only highlights the moments of the story that Morrison has little interest in, so why we're they ever introduced in the first place?

Rags Morales and Rick Bryant's artwork never rises to any grander level than Morrison's story. Their artwork has excelled before at showing Clark more as a working-class hero, as a man among men and women. It's captured the humanity of Metropolis, but it doesn't capture any kind of grandiose imagery of a robotic revolution. The most fascinating part of the artwork is their designs for the robots as what we would have thought invading robots would have looked like in the 1940s or 1950s. It works to recapture a bit of that Golden Age feel that Morrison is trying to create, but at the cost of the more interesting parts of the story of previous issues. With little story focus on Clark or any of the other denizens of Metropolis, the art loses its own character, and becomes just another issue of Superman fighting robots.

It's funny to say, but Morrison's Superman in Action Comics may be a more street-level character that his Batman has been lately. At least we could have said that up until the moment when he decided to focus less on Superman fighting big business or the military establishment and made Action Comics #4 a story about an alien invasion. Morrison's run began as a story about a boy who thought he had the power to change and inspire a city. Hopefully that is a story that we can get back to.


Avenging Spider-Man #2

Written by Zeb Wells

Art by Joe Madureira and Ferran Daniel

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

You'd think that with Joe Madureira in your corner, Zeb Wells could rest on his laurels, content with a big dumb action read that would still look absolutely sick. And don't get me wrong, Avenging Spider-Man does look sick, but it's also got some surprising smarts, too.

Of course, I don't mean "smarts" as in philosophical depth, or any deeper thematic meanings at play. What I do mean is smart choices. I'll be honest, pairing up Spider-Man and the Red Hulk wouldn't have been my first pick for a team-up book, but Wells takes Rulk's military background and uses it to create some really great character moments. "This isn't the military. We don't have orders," Spidey says. "We're Avengers... it doesn't get to be that simple." Short, to the point, instant conflict — and it shows why Spidey is the best and the brightest the Marvel Universe has to offer. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, with some hilarious "New York diplomacy" from J. Jonah Jameson and a truly heroic challenge from the Red Hulk, who's finally picked on somebody his own size.

And this is a good time to mention the artwork. Bet you didn't think I'd go this long without discussing Joe Madureira, huh? That's because Joe Mad is a beast, and even when there isn't a ton of action — surprise, this book waits till the end before a single punch is thrown — it still is a pleasure to read. Madureira's character designs are so fluid, really nailing that balance between musculature and flexibility. The Red Hulk is built in all squares, while Spider-Man is all angles, and it's a nice visual dichotomy to take in. And when the action does kick in, hoo boy, Mad makes his pages sing, with some nice tilting of panels to make sword slashing and haymaker punches move as fast as freight trains. Colorist Ferran Daniel is a nice fit for Joe, as well, giving a nice weight and even a hint of realism to the colors, but without killing that cartoony fluidness. Think Frank D'Armata, only a bit brighter-looking.

Reading this book, it hit me that Avenging Spider-Man was the kind of book that got me reading comics in the first place — nice action, gorgeous design, and most importantly, smart character decisions. This book may feel a little loose, but that doesn't stop its structure from being stronger than a radioactive spider. You may think there's nothing special about fighting a bunch of Mole Men deep within the Earth's crust, but Wells and Madureira are finding the gold here. It's a good time to be a Spider-Man fan.


O.M.A.C. #4

Written by Dan DiDio

Art by Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish and “4G” Hi-Fi

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

After the last couple of issues, O.M.A.C. #4 finally deposits Kevin Kho back into his normal life, sending him back to work at Cadmus, where he has to try and explain where he’s been since the attacks on the scientific research lab. Of course, he can’t explain to everyone that he’s the one who attacked it when he became O.M.A.C., a hulking, mohawked creature/slave of Brother Eye; a self-aware space satellite. There are just some things that you can’t tell your friends and coworkers, and this qualifies as one of those things. Finding a bit of peace and refuge from Brother Eye beneath ground in the subway system, Kevin finds out that he’s still going to be attacked by Cadmus, and that he needs Brother Eye more than he realizes.

Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen are creating one of the most fun superhero comics on the stands right now. Where other books try to be dark and moody or to be realistic or evocative, O.M.A.C. wants to be fun and bright. Where other books want to be Miller and Moore, O.M.A.C. wants to be Kirby, and perfectly captures the wild adventure and abandon that the King had when he created his own stories. Under the influence of Kirby, there are things you can write and draw that just don’t make sense in any other comic book.

For instance, in what other comic book could DiDio write: “Because from these seeds, the mighty Bio-Gators grow. All you need to do is add water.” I’m pretty sure that never showed up in an issue of The Outsiders. In the sewers beneath whatever city Kevin Kho lives in, O.M.A.C. has to fight bio-gators, these massive gator-like creatures with light constructs for heads. Ah, Cadmus Labs, where anything is possible. With every type of creature that already exists in the DC Universe, DiDio goes with Bio-Gators, so we get basically an issue of Keith Giffen drawing O.M.A.C. wrestling alligators. What could be better than that?

Captain Marvel and Gomer Pyle are equally responsible for making “Shazam!” a battle cry known far and wide. Hopefully O.M.A.C. will find his Gomer Pyle and be able to make “Omactivate!” the “Shazam” of the 21st century. Brother Eye chiding Kevin to say it before he would intercede in the battle with the Bio-Gators calls out just how ridiculous the phrase is. It’s a battle cry that no one would want to utter, but it’s the only thing that can save Kevin’s life. The fact that DiDio and Giffen haven’t defined what “O.M.A.C.” stands for yet and play around with the acronym with every issue title shows just how much fun they’re having. “Offline Messaging, Annoying Circumstances,” the title of this issue, is just as good a description for O.M.A.C. today as “One Man Army Corps” was back in the 1970s.

The other thing that makes O.M.A.C. and this issue so much fun is the way DiDio and Giffen are playing with DC history and throwing Easter eggs into their story. Linking Cadmus and Checkmate together just ties together decades of DC stories and hinting that Kevin has “the smell of Genesis” just make you wonder, how far down the Kirby rabbit hole DiDio and Giffen are willing to go?

Of course, they’ve already plunged down that chasm, thanks to Giffen’s Kirbyesque artwork. Like Tom Scioli on Image’s Godland, Giffen plays in the Kirby style to show just why it was so influential. In this style, Giffen can draw Kevin fighting with his girlfriend or O.M.A.C. whomping on Bio Gators with the same verve in both scenes. Kirby could draw romance comics, war comics, monster comics and superhero comics with the same style because his style was about the characters as much as it was about the action. A fist held as much power and emotion as a face could on a Kirby page, and that’s what Giffen brings to O.M.A.C. #4. The Kirby style isn’t all about blocky fingers and Kirby crackle. It’s about solid storytelling, where every panel is integral to the issue, and that’s exactly what Giffen hones in on with O.M.A.C. #4.

Even as all of that is going on, DiDio and Giffen are creating a thrilling conspiracy story. What’s Maxwell Lord’s endgame? What’s Genesis? Why Kevin Kho? On almost every page, they are giving us big, loud action but they are also sowing the back-story seeds, building their story by creating new questions with almost every issue. And that’s also recapturing the fun of monthly comics, where every 30 days you get an issue that makes you want more.


Jennifer Blood #7

Written by Al Ewing

Art by Kewber Baal

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With last month’s Jennifer Blood #6 Garth Ennis concluded his tale of bloody vengeance, by having the protagonist execute the fifth and final of her gang lord uncles. So, I was curious about what direction the series would take now that the main story thread has been resolved. I had a terrible feeling that with Garth Ennis departing from the title, Dynamite might have the character decide to expand her war on crime, and we’d end up with a female version of the Punisher. Thankfully, this is not at all what happened, and the new story arc that starts in this issue is actually a very logical and natural follow-up on some of the unresolved threads from previous issues. Specifically, the fact that Jen let a witness to her final slaughter live, and now he’s gone missing. Also, the powerful father of one of the Ninjettes that Jen Killed a few issues ago is out for revenge on whoever killed his daughter.

As I mentioned earlier, Ennis is no longer writing the book, but he has handpicked the writer that he wanted to continue the tale, in the form of British writer Al Ewing. This is Ewing’s first time writing for a US-based publisher, but he’s been writing in the UK for close to a decade, mostly for 2000 AD, and he also has a number of great novels to his name. As you can no doubt tell, I’m a fan, so I was rather eager to see how he would handle this title, which has a decidedly Ennis flavor to it.

In terms of style, Ewing has chosen to continue the “war journal” format that Ennis adopted for previous issues - where nearly every scene is accompanied by a running commentary from the protagonist, in the form of her diary entries for the day. This approach works brilliantly, and provides a great counterpoint to the action in panel, as her entries on violent and atrocious events are by contrast always very mundane and matter-of-fact. This has never been a book to take itself too seriously, and Ewing continues this tradition, with a splattering of funny lines and humorous moments throughout the script that will delight fans of dark humor. Ewing paces the story perfectly, and spends just the right proportion of time following up on events from the last issue’s climax, and also seeding the storylines for future issues. At the same time, he spares enough time for some nice character work, where he examines the struggle that Jen has returning a normal life, after so many years training for this one week of bloody revenge. It’s some great writing, and actually reveals more about the character than Ennis did in the previous six issues of the series.

The artist on this issue is Kewber Baal, who stepped in to take over from Adriano Batista starting with the fourth issue of the series, and now looks to be the series’ regular artist. Baal is a relative newcomer to the industry, and this is pretty much his first big project. In terms of style, I find that his work is quite similar to that of Darick Robertson on The Boys, which is to say that his linework is a little loose, and while not quite cartoony, it definitely has a slightly lighthearted feel to it, which matches well with the almost tongue-in-cheek nature of the series. His characters have a nice range of interesting facial expressions, and he has a good sense of perspective - drawing several panels from unique viewpoints, which really keeps things interesting.

He has a tight inking style, and utilizes a number of interesting techniques to put the final touches on his art. For instance, he utilizes force lines really effectively to highlight motion in scenes, and enhance the feeling of speed. He also uses nice finishes to add definition to facial features, clothing, and furniture. Also, he doesn’t just fill blacks, but uses shading and hatching, where appropriate, to add texture to shadows cast by objects. They’re all small touches, but add up to make some very nice final artwork, especially from someone so new to the scene.

The coloring on the issue is attributed to Inlight Studios, which is a new name to me. I’m normally a bit of a snob about third party art studios, but the coloring job here is actually pretty decent. It’s nothing spectacular, but they make some nice color choices throughout, and nothing struck me as being odd.

If you’ve been hesitant about continuing to pick up Jennifer Blood after Garth Ennis left the title, then set your worries aside, because Al Ewing is a brilliant replacement, and continues to provide more of the same bloody violence and dark humor that readers have come to love.


Batwing #4

Written by Judd Winick

Art by ChrisCross, Ryan Winn and Brian Reber

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Click here for preview

Four issues in, Judd Winick has finally given us the missing ingredient that's been eluding Batwing since his debut — a reason to care. With some much-needed context and exposition, Winick is finally starting to justify and differentiate DC's "Batman of Africa" from his Gotham City counterpart. But even with artist ChrisCross stepping in, the question remains: Is it too little, too late?

Looking at Judd Winick's track record as a writer, he's always had good intentions, injecting topical issues ranging from bigotry to AIDS to homosexuality in his work. Yet I'd also argue that he's always taken a broader, more heavy-handed route with these themes, rather than individualizing them for the characters at hand. And in that regard, Batwing follows suit — weaving in child soldiers from Africa, we finally understand what drives David Zamvimbi… but only to a very finite point. What kind of horrors did David see? What was his training, his tactics? How does Batwing operate differently than Bruce Wayne? These questions don't get covered — at least, not yet — and so while the book moves pretty quickly, it does feel a little bit jarring. Since when does being trained as a child soldier means you can leap into the air with enough agility to dodge bullets?

But that all said, I will say that incoming artist ChrisCross gives this book some new legs. There's a wildness, a rubbery energy to his characters' faces, whether its the blank look on a cruel general's face as he gives a kill order or the flood of tears on a boy's face when he sees the closest thing he has to a family tear itself apart. The few pages we actually see Batwing in costume, ChrisCross is surprisingly low-key, with David rarely exhibiting more than a steely glare, his jaw clenched as he flies through a burning building. But once we actually delve into David's past, it's way over the top — although in this case, that's not necessarily a bad thing. By amping up the expressions to way past 11, we resonate with David and his brother in a way that the somewhat entry-level topics in play might not. There are a surprising number of memorable shots to this book, but to me, my favorite has to be David's brother Isaac, his face distended and swollen after being beaten mercilessly, giving a smile — or a grimace — that's both terrifying and earned.

Considering that this origin story seems to be a done-in-one event, I can't help but think that we still haven't been given quite enough to really root for Batwing. On the one hand, there's only so many pages that Winick has to devote to this topic, but shouldn't that have been the point of this book? There is so much potential to not just entertain, but inform, about a topic that many people only know the bare surface level of. I applaud Winick for taking a step in the right direction, but in this case — and I'm just as surprised as you are that I'm saying it — I don't think he's gone nearly far enough. There's so much more room for both characterization and concept to Batwing, but four months in, I'm not sure how many people will want stick around to wait for it.


Venom #10

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Lan Medina, Nelson Decastro and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

"New direction. New artist. Old soldiers." Rereading Marvel's marketing copy for Venom #10, I get why this had to happen — while Rick Remender certainly had fans excited when the House of Ideas announced he'd be on this book, I have the feeling Venom hasn't quite caught on fire the way everyone had hoped. Starting off with some sharp action, the book suddenly had the brakes thrown when Flash Thompson's family was brought into the mix, and then really went spinning when the book tied into Dan Slott's "Spider Island" crossover. The "symbiote spy" high concept had been on the table for too long, and it probably wouldn't have been viable to bring it back to life.

But Rick Remender is a guy who knows how to roll with the punches. New direction? No problem — tying together all the loose threads from the previous nine issues, Remender has taken Venom in a very different trajectory, but one that makes plenty of sense.

What happens when your tightly wound super-soldier loses control of a mind-bending alien suit in the middle of a combat zone? In the case of disabled soldier Flash Thompson, you get a crime lord blackmailing you and threatening to kill your entire family. When "Spider Island" was in full swing, Remender couldn't quite touch upon that loose end, but payback's a symbiotic kick in the pants, and this is no exception. I love the menace that Remender has laced into his pages, particularly as Flash's nemesis, the horribly scarred mercenary Jack-o-Lantern, shows up at Flash's father's funeral, as the two spar using language from Alcoholics Anonymous. Remender gives Jack in particular some wonderfully sick lines, and the terse dialogue has a rhythm to it that I don't think I've seen in months. "Oh, man, the look on your face," Jack says later, wheeling Flash into the lion's den. "You wanted to kill me." Blindfolded and in his wheelchair, Flash's response is chilling: "I'm going to."

Where I think this book does stumble, however, is the art. Some books are very straightforward, and others have a really evocative artistic presence, and judging by his work with instantly-recognizable artists Tony Moore or Jerome Open, I've always been of the opinion that Remender works better with the latter category. Lan Medina, on the other hand, has a very understated look to his characters, which I think often hurts him more than it helps. Scenes with some real tension, like Flash trying to extricate himself from a supervillain at his father's funeral, that sort of visual "normalcy" actually makes your stomach clench, you don't know what's going to happen. But at the same time, I think that comes at the sense of drama — when Flash is wheeled into a bad guy's hideout, there's no sense of claustrophobia or impending violence, and when Venom ends up fighting one of Marvel's most skilled combatants, the composition and actual fight choreography doesn't really play to either characters' strengths.

Even though the visuals seem to have taken a step backwards, the actual direction of Venom lets Rick Remender have his cake and eat it, too. He's not throwing away anything that's come before — even as it seems the original status quo is going the way of the dodo — but he's letting it evolve organically, all while preserving the sharp tenor that's been one of this book's best qualities. The book may not be out of the woods yet, but there are plenty of smart moves for this new approach, enough to ensure I'm back in Flash Thompson's corner next month.


Voltron #1

Written by Brandon Thomas

Art by Ariel Padilla and Marcelo Pinto

Lettering by Marshall Dillion

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

I can still hear the theme song to Voltron as I'm writing this. I still have my Voltron comics from Devil's Due Press. I have all the box sets of Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Get the picture yet? I'm a Voltron nerd. That being said, I wished this adaptation had been better.

Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting take on the decades-old character, it still has that sci-fi element to it. This time around it just seems more serious and militant. I mean the action is great and all. Brandon Thomas opens up with all hell breaking loose and a breakdown on the Voltron pilots. We're shoved right into a battle between the mighty robot and a Zarkon Robeast and all the chaos that ensues. The panel layouts are strong, but something still feels missing to give it that heavy impact I'm looking for. The character's voices are pretty in tune to the show, except for Princess Allura. She comes across as more badass and less serene. It's not a bad thing, but just interesting as the first shot of her is holding a sniping rifle-type gun.

Here is where I get frustrated. The art. Now I can see the where Ariel Padilla was going with things I'm sure the pencils looked fine. However, that can't be proven since the inks, that appear to be digital, muck up what would have been pretty good stuff. The figure composition is great, as is the panel layout, and I understand it can be hard to display emotion with a robot with limited points of articulation. However, this isn't a dig or complaint at digital inking, the inking that was applied is chunky. And let's move from the chunky to the funky — Marcelo Pinto's colors don't do any favors here. Some of the gradients are just uninspiring and it's inconsistent. Everything comes off as either too reflective or too flat. There's even a moment where Hunk, the Yellow Lion pilot, blasts his gun and the blast blocks a good portion on the panel. While I get the effect he was going for, it just comes across as muddled.

All the pieces are there for this book to be a solid hit, but I found the art to be not on par with the rest of the issue. The script sets something up that we've never seen concerning the Voltron universe. I'm going to hang around more issues because there is that other level to the Voltron mythos and I want to see where the story takes me and the super force of space explorers, specially trained, and sent by the Galaxy Alliance to defeat any threat to the universe.


Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #2

Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman

Art by Gabriel Hardman and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Review by Deniz Cordell

When one looks back at the (original) Planet of the Apes franchise, what’s most impressive about the sequels is how writer/poet Paul Dehn could blend temporal circumlocutions, polemic, and smart social commentary into a series of films which built upon an ever-growing, ever-evolving future history – one that was simultaneously being constructed and re-written as the films went on. BOOM!’s new mini-series, the charmingly titled Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes owes far more to the dense framework and daring gambles that Dehn and producers Arthur P. Jacobs and Mort Abrahams constructed in the sequels, than it does to the Pierre Boulle original, or the Rod Serling/Michael Wilson screenplay for the first film. Its wholehearted embracing of the wider Apes film universe is one of the books strengths, appealing to longtime fans of the franchise, while presenting the material in such a way so as to not baffle someone who wouldn’t know General Ursus from General Urko. It treads that careful line between accessible and inside, and provides a rewarding experience for people on both sides.

Writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman (who also provides the book’s dynamic art) craft a cunning mystery built around the character of Aleron, a Gorilla general who may – or may not – have murdered one of his own soldiers fifteen years before the main action of the story. They cleverly deal with this situation in little glimpses to the past, and in terse tribunal scenes, which evoke some of the political back-and-forth of the films. By revealing these events bit by bit, from objective and subjective points of view, Bechko and Hardman constantly play with the notions of “doubt,” and though we, as readers are somewhat predisposed to like Aleron, in the moments when evidence against him is particularly damning, we cannot help but believe his guilt. The characters are, in general, well developed and this manner of depiction provides a unique way of learning about them.

According to the prescript, the “present day” portion of the story takes place fifteen years before the events of Planet of the Apes (just where Stop the Planet of the Apes – I Want to Get Off! fits into this tightly wound chronology, I have no idea), and as a result, we are privy to the presence of a variety of characters from the first two Apes films. It’s particularly fascinating to see Zaius, here at the beginning of his career – where he is depicted with a more youthful zeal, as a seeker of truth, knowledge and justice (even coming to Aleron’s aid at the beginning of the issue), rather than the staid, stodgy reactionary he is seen as in the films. This juxtaposition between the character we “know” and the character as seen here makes for more interesting interpersonal dynamics within the cast; particularly when it comes to a confrontation between Zaius and another member of the citizen’s council.

There are a variety of other interesting concepts bandied about and fused into the narrative mechanism – including a human subject taught sign language (a marvelous mirror of our present relationship with Koko), and a glimpse of the deeply-seeded prejudices within the ape hierarchy as well (here between Orangutans and Chimpanzees), show that Bechko and Hardman have a lot of ideas to develop and show, and they bring them out quickly, throwing them against the narrative wall and seeing what sticks and affects the plot. It’s very nice to see a comic book unafraid of its own ideas, embracing its own high-concept science-fiction roots to explore deeper notions of humanity and its foibles. One minor caveat is that, despite a compelling story, and moments of wry, acerbic wit, the topics of social commentary seem to reflect the issues and mores of the times of the films, rather than our present day. Granted, said issues are fairly eternal in their ramifications, but since part of the appeal and allure of the original films was their sense of timeliness, it would be nice to see the team address some more “up-to-the moment” topics, as well.

While the first issue relied heavily on mood, and a sense of increasing claustrophobia – the second issue focuses on widening the scope of action – both in terms of setting and staging. Hardman’s artwork is dynamic and brimming with energy, though at times it becomes difficult to discern one character from another – not an unexpected problem, as even the original John Chambers make-up work carried myriad simian similarities between faces. His work in terms of the “production design” of the book, however, is immaculately designed and detailed – he presents the feel and look of the films with fidelity and elegance. A new locale, a prison ominously called “The Reef,” is a particularly well-constructed setting, at once intimidating and smart. His interiors continue to echo the primitive but somewhat Greco-Roman influences, and his staging is always perfectly clear – never leaving any doubt as to what is happening at any given moment. Hardman also gives a chase scene energy and panache through clever panel and page layout, as well as fantastic angle choices that work to heighten the tension and provide a constant sense of motion. Jordie Bellaire’s coloring drenches the daytime exteriors in burning, arid lighting – giving a slight Leone-western feeling to some of those scenes – and like a fine director of photography, Bellaire gives each locale and scene its own unique lighting and color palette, and the color work provides variety, draws attention to detail, and deepens the sense of place that exists in every panel. Ed Dukeshire’s letters are clean and crisp – his sound effects and dialogue are nicely laid-out, and provide another appealing element to the total package.

This is definitely a book, however, that requires you to read the first issue before leaping in – there is no brief "recap" page, and since so much of the basic scenario is set up in that first issue, it’s not really something to be read alone. The plot is tautly constructed, the scripting is to the point and gives unique shadings to characters, and the art lends heft and excitement. It’s a grand adventure, and the cast is appealing enough to ensure interest in the story. One final word of advice while reading, pop in one of the Apes scores – whether it’s by Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Tom Scott or Lalo Schifrin – the combination of the music and story really provides an immersive little experience.


Comics Class

Written and Illustrated by Mathew Forsythe

Published by Koyama Press

Review by Zack Kotzer

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I’m sure any one of us who had taken grade-school art classes have been at the receiving end of a facetious “bird course, eh?” comment from any number of parents. But it’s a bit of an apathetic, apocalyptic, self-feeding ecosystem, those grade level art detours. Good intentions cut at the heels by either its own hubris or just the fact that children are terrible creatures. God forbid they be labeled “comics class.”

Montreal illustrator Matthew Forsythe (who has a larger release, Jinchalo, coming out in February) new micro-book, Comics Class, “kind of” retells anecdotes inspired by, what one can only gather was, a teaching gig as enlightening as it was miserable. Forsythe enters the room boasting a Clément Mathieu-meets-Scott McCloud attitude, only to discover that the 11-year-old mob may not care about comics as a medium or Forsythe as respectable. Bouncing around from making Sisyphus’ job look easy to outrightly self-deprecating anecdotes, the snippets all jest the follies of a comic academic leaving his internal microcosm.

Forsythe is cute with his art, and some of the gradient work is appropriately stitched up, but the art has its ups and downs. It starts out the gates, in one of the most delightful scenes, with a haggard librarian drawn like an underground comix take on a Dick Tracey foe. Immediately after it shifts gears into a more generalized, masses of smudged Peanuts faces. And that works, in a sense, to melt the masses of the classes into a smarmy swarm of nameless jerks, but it’s still odd that we get a certain style but once and the other almost entirely. I don’t know if these were intentional, but some panels have odd pixelated overlaps, which if they aren’t hiccups, could be sudden ways to express vigorous, vibrating anguish.

Some of Forsythe’s mementos seem more “that obviously did happen” than others, like his loss over kids not getting a Nedroid punchline, and the more fantastical supply the laughs, but the overall package feels strangely webcomic-ish. Like this could have gone on more, like it could keep going, like there’s still a trove of horrors smothered in a pile of laundry in the corner of Forsythe’s room. Follow-up be damned, Comics Class is a charming series of segues that will connect with anyone experienced with “bird courses,” be they the teacher or the tiny tormentors.

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Twitter activity