Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the crackshot critics of the Best Shots team! Ready for some rapid reviewage? So are we! So let's kick off today's column with a comic that's got both bark and bite — Swamp Thing #5...Swamp Thing #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for a preview): Who would have thought that Swamp Thing would be the best-looking book in DC's lineup? Yanick Paquette is a magician here, conjuring up a lush, cinematic visual tone for Alec Holland's adventures, all while finding those perfectly composed shots that are so unique to comics. There's a hint of a smile on Alec's face when he finally cuts loose against the undead agents of the Rot, and the way Paquette cuts his pages makes the whole scene crackle with ferocity. Writer Scott Snyder also cuts to the chase in terms of action and resonance, as we immediately root for Alec and Abby from the moment they trade canned peaches. The only thing that I think would have helped the story a bit more would have been to focus more on Alec's reluctance to play hero — particularly with a power that stole so much of his life — since that was such a big part of the first few issues. Not only that, the last few pages of this book get a little flat-tired by the sudden injection of mythology, particularly for those who don't know anything about the Parliament of the Trees. That said, underneath all the gloom and misery, there's a powerful love story underneath the green of Swamp Thing, and with the visuals being this hot, this is a book you shouldn't miss.
Wolverine and The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for a preview): It seems a little early to be spinning a miniseries out of the Wolverine and The X-Men (which is only three issues in), but Alpha & Omega seems to be less about influencing the ongoing series as it is about establishing Brian Wood's presence in the Marvel Universe. The storyline is simple: to prove he is the most powerful telepath at the Jean Grey School, young Quentin Quire has trapped both Wolverine and fellow student Armor in a psychically-constructed, post-apocalyptic world, where they are less people and more avatars in what Quire refers to as his "video game." It's a little thin, but Brian Wood's take on Quire is dead-on, and much more appealing than Jason Aaron's almost sniveling attention hog. Maybe it's the verisimilitude in Quire's punk rock aesthetic and the youthful bravado of many of Wood's previous characters. Whatever it is, it works. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the title (for me, anyway) was the strength of Mark Brooks' art. Roland Boshci and Dan Brown provide the art for the Westchester scenes, and while it's strong, and angular with an almost anime-style approach towards characters and framing, the art of the "video game" sequences is a force to be reckoned with. Brooks works with a veritable army of inkers and colorists to build a world that is a gorgeous mish-mash of the downtrodden Neo-Tokyo of "Akira," and the neon skyline of "Blade Runner's" Los Angeles. Even with so many cooks in the kitchen, Brooks' linework comes through; clean and daring when it needs to be, and dirty and bitten when the time is right. The colors are a little flatter than I'm used to seeing on Brooks' work, and that is perhaps what makes it sing so much. It's less of the shiny, too-clean color that Brooks often uses himself, and the drab but expressive palette allows more of the art to speak for itself. It's a welcome chapter in the ongoing saga of Wolverine and The X-Men.
Witchblade #151 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10; Click here for a preview): Imagine you're going to see a sequel to a movie, and you're hyped. You loved the first one and even though there is a different director, you remain hopeful that the vision and characters stay intact. However, you notice that the characters you've cared about have a different voice and direction and it deviates from what you had expected, leaving you slightly deflated. That's how I felt after I put down Witchblade #151. Having molded Sara Pezzini and the Witchblade galaxy into something mature and intelligent for the past six or so years, Ron Marz has left the book, and in his place step up writer Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) and artist Diego Bernard (know from his work on Dynamite's The Man With No Name). I'll give it to Seeley, as he does play to his strengths with a throwback to the Michael Turner-era of Witchblade, but it felt very by the numbers. I think the first-person narrative is a bad idea; it's overwritten, and at times almost comes off as parody of hard-boiled narrative. The story's direction isn't bad, but it feels overcomplicated, like a completed puzzle that still has a few extra pieces. Bernard's art, though, is top notch. It's still weird to see Sara in this light again, but his attention to detail is strong and Sara's new world looks pretty good. I know it will probably take a while for Seeley to find Sara's groove, but this wasn't the first impression I had wanted.
Avengers Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for a preview): Although the storyline has been hinted at and hyped since the launch of the latest volume of Avengers almost two years ago, the curious case of Wonder Man and his "Revengers" was more like a blip on the radar than any kind of major event. It may be that the length of time between the release of the two parts of the story made any sense of urgency crumble, but more likely it's that the final scene of this issue, clearly meant to be an important plot point, is a montage of news reports, commentaries and questions about whether the Avengers should be held accountable for the collateral damage of their actions, and whether they hold too much autonomous authority. That might be impactful, if this hadn't been the second issue of Brian Bendis's Avengers in as many weeks to contain that exact scene, and to raise those exact questions. It's a fine quandary for a superhero title, but it's not a strong enough issue as to be the driving theme of this title. It's especially tired when viewed through the lens of "Civil War," wherein the question dominated several years of Marvel's continuity. Between this and Norman Osborn's re-constituted "Dark Avengers," it almost seems like Bendis is attempting to retell his entire decade long run with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in his last year as the captain of the ship. It's just tired, and it's weak. Gabriele Dell'Otto is no help, as his muddy and uninteresting linework is often as confusing as it is boring. His figure work is fine; the angular shapes he finds in human muscle structure are less jarring than stylized, and the two-page spread of Iron Man capturing Wonder Man's ionic essence is a high point, but overall, the book suffers from a lack of artistic clarity. The only thing that saves this book is a golden moment towards the end, where a captive Wonder Man muses to his former teammates whether he even exists at all, or is simply a construct of the Scarlet Witch's imagination built out of grief all those years past.
Huntress #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): As the saga of hunting down mobster Moretti and shutting down his human trafficking ring heats up, Huntress continues to be one of the more solid books on the shelves lately and it's a shame that it's just a mini. As the pages bounce between Paul Levitz's heavy dialogue and Marcus To's graceful action splash pages, this feels like reading an action movie — a really, really good action movie with great scripting and cinematography. We've got the exotic locale featured in the background, the clever back and forth of the protagonist and her target, her biting inner monologue, and the over the top physical stunts meshing together to make this an enjoyable, as well as thought provoking, read. The book departs from the typical comic book villain scenario, and presents a very real situation being dealt with by a very extraordinary character, but keeps it as down to earth as possible as she coordinates her plan with two journalists, who in turn tip off the police for this scumbag to be dealt with properly. The pacing of this book is spot-on — with the action likely peaking within this issue, we have the last two issues left to wrap up any loose ends and show the fall out… but I can't help but wish that last issue will also tease at where this character is headed next, in hopes that we see more of her soon.
X-23 #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): The second to last issue of X-23 sets us up for a nice finale to the well-written, character-defining series. Laura’s soul searching has led her back to Utopia to choose her side in the whole Regenesis thing. While that may be the reason for the setting, Marjorie Liu makes the event-sanctioned plot feel organic. Jubilee’s colorful, teenage vernacular mixed with Laura’s extreme stoicism is outright amusing. Gambit’s careful encouragement of Laura makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. And Laura and Logan may finally have found some semblance of healing, post X-Force. The friendships Laura has forged over the course of the series define this issue in subtle but touching moments, and add depth to the choice that she is now facing. Phil Noto does an excellent job with the art, and is by far one of my favorite artists on X-23. His simple realism works extremely well for Laura’s story. I love the way he colors throughout the issue, matching the quiet tone of his pencils, as well as the more natural mood of the issue. Liu has brought Laura full circle; acknowledging her controversial past with authenticity, ultimately evolving and solidifying the character. That evolution is evident in X-23 #20, and makes for a really good read.
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for a preview): The Bird is back — with a vengeance. After a slightly stuttering third issue, Gregg Hurwitz cuts to the quick by getting us to empathize with one of the worst of Batman's enemies, by using a feeling we all can relate to — the fear and rage and resentment of people laughing at us. That's what drives Oswald Cobblepot, and that's a humanity that far too many comics overlook in favor of cosmic storylines and event-driven reimaginings. Even the Penguin's blind girlfriend, who I thought was a little clichéd in the last issue, becomes a much better foil in this story, showing that from the right perspective, the bad guy can be the hero, and the Batman a guy who would manhandle an innocent blind woman. Artist Szymon Kudranski continues to kill on this book, reminding me a lot of Jock or Lee Bermejo, but with a much greater comfort with the shadows that make Gotham such a foreboding place. His take on Batman is particularly interesting, with the Dark Knight seeming thinner and scrappier than his typically bulked-up appearance might suggest. That said, there are a few hiccups with the visuals, with a few panels trying to do too much in one image (such as the climactic final sequence, which comes off as a little too frenetic to follow sometimes). But this book isn't an action story, it's an atmospheric character piece. It's a comic I wish more people paid attention to, because these are the sorts of comics that create what DC is really looking for: timeless stories. I couldn't recommend another book from the publisher more.
X-Club #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for a preview): Simon Spurrier takes us deeper into the world of the science of the X-Men with this second issue of his limited X-Club series. Things start to heat up this issue as Dr. Nemesis descends to the ocean floor to investigate the cause of the strange mutations, and Danger goes on the rampage. I’ve really been looking forward to this series, because whenever Spurrier writes these characters it feels like he really “gets” them, and subsequently their dialogue and actions seem to fit them perfectly. The series has an interesting premise and plot, and Spurrier is able to pull off the fringe science aspect of the comic with apparent ease - throwing in enough real scientific terms to convince you that he knows exactly what he’s talking about. The issue’s comic relief comes in the form of Dr. Nemesis who gets an empathic mutant starfish stuck on his head, which reveals all of his innermost thoughts out loud, often with hilarious consequences. Paul Davidson is the series artist and he provides some nice linework and an inking job that’s not too heavy on the blacks, to make for some clean and fresh looking final artwork that conveys a sense of adventure without looking too much like a superhero book. X-Club #2 is a great second issue of one of the most fun series in the X-Men "Regenesis" line.
The Boys #62 (Published by Dynamite Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Things really start to come to a head as we enter this third issue of The Boys’ penultimate story arc. Vought-American have installed their pet president in the White House, and their first executive order is to halt all CIA operations, including The Boys. Meanwhile, The Boys face the first wave of attacks upon them, Hughie reveals his deep dark secret, and The Homelander begins to put his own plans into action. It’s an issue that’s so packed full of action that it’ll have your pulse racing by the end of the first page. Some of the violence and language used in The Boys might not be to everyone’s taste, but Ennis can get away with it so well because his dialog and character work is just so fantastic. When people think of Garth Ennis they typically think of Preacher, but I think The Boys is by far his strongest work to date, and his last word on the world of superheroes. I have to say, I really do miss Darick Robertson’s artwork, but Russ Braun does a great job of filling in for him. In fact his artwork almost seems like he’s emulating Robertson’s style, I don’t know if it’s the case, but it’s certainly good to have a unifying look throughout the series. The Boys #62 is an explosive and thrilling issue that really sets the scene for the story’s highly anticipated climax. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!