Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN, DAREDEVIL, More

Best Shots Extra: BATMAN #5 - Reviewed!

You ready for some reviews, 'Rama readers? So is Best Shots, bringing you the big column for this week! So let's kick off with the latest from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, as we take a peek at the newest issue of Batman...

Best Shots Extra: BATMAN #5 - Reviewed!
Best Shots Extra: BATMAN #5 - Reviewed!

Batman #5

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO

Lettering by Richard Starkings

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Click here for preview

Ladies and gentlemen — we have the trifecta. Three Best Shots reviews, three perfect scores. (Previous Batman #5 reviews here and here.) It's not something I'd bestow lightly, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have made Batman #5 a stylishly drawn, eerily written affair that sticks with you long after you've put the book down.

And that alone is saying something. It's typically implied just by virtue of the superheroic concept that the superheroes generally come out on top — and Batman, with his bottomless utility belt and endless "prep time," has typically always been the worst offender. But Scott Snyder has done something special here — we actually feel like Bruce might be over his head, just this once, as he stumbles through a creepy maze built by the assassins known as the Court of Owls. Snyder's been known to tackle scary stories in the past, but here he really calls for some disturbing imagery, whether it's a distended zombie corpse or Bruce literally losing his very identity as a man... and as a bat.

But it's Greg Capullo that takes these images and makes them sing. His scratchy, jagged design has always made Batman look like a badass, but here — seeing the Dark Knight disoriented, disheveled, but still defiant — you realize how much depth Capullo can add with just a handful of lines. Capullo's layouts also really add so much to this story, as your world begins to distort and twist with Batman's. This is a battle of attrition, as evidenced by a shattered lens atop Bruce's bloodshot eye, and seeing how human even the Batman can be is a really refreshing change. Not to mention scary as hell.

Out of everyone in the New 52, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are officially the team to beat, showing how to make a satisfying chapter that makes readers eager for the next installment, rather than just follow along out of habit. Batman #5 is a comic that stretches itself — and it's protagonist — beyond the breaking point, and it's that level of ambition that's earned yet another perfect score. Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is a pattern. Pick this book up yesterday.


Daredevil #8

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Kano and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Click here for preview

I feel sorry for everyone who isn't reading Daredevil.

I really do. It's a silly thing to say, but this is one of those comics that gives me hope about this business. For a comic about a blind guy, there's something about this iteration of Daredevil that just brings the best out of any artist that jumps on board, and this issue is no exception. Mark Waid and Kano have taken a fairly arbitrary concept — Daredevil teams up with Spider-Man to find out who framed the Black Cat — and turns it into a breezy, fun read that crackles with sexual tension.

For me, the big surprise of this book has to be artist Kano, who really bridges the artistic styles of his predecessors, ranging from Emma Rios to Paolo Rivera to even a hint of Marcos Martin. His layouts really sneak up on you, particularly a sequence of Daredevil tackling the Black Cat, only for their figures to bleed into the next panel, as DD gets up close and personal with the buxom burglar. By the time I hit the main title page, I was completely smitten — seeing the Black Cat doing a backflip, Spidey diving ahead of her, and Daredevil doing a one-armed cartwheel (all while giving the reader a hint of a nod), it's the most effective, striking splash page I have seen in a long, long time. I also love the expressiveness that Kano gives these characters, both with their faces and their body language — you see how uncomfortable Spidey is with his ex flirting with Daredevil, and I really dug the way that Daredevil's eyes would widen and tighten even underneath that red mask. Colorist Javier Rodriguez is also part of the reason this book works so well — he's been establishing a visual vocabulary for Daredevil since the beginning, and so he knows how to balance out those reds, magentas, yellows and blues to keep this book looking the way that it "should," so to speak.

Meanwhile, Mark Waid knows how to deliver the goods to his art team. Man oh man, there are some sequences in this book that are so visually powerful, and its to Waid's credit that he can bring out the best in his artists month after the month. But inventive fight sequences are just the tip of the iceberg here — it's the character that really drives this book, this weird pairing of Daredevil and the Black Cat that shows sparks can still fly in unexpected ways when you play in a shared universe. I love the tension and flirtation between the two as they work together — after all, this book has been about Matt Murdock as a sensualist, as someone who really wants to enjoy the details of life, so why not pair him up with the sultry, devil-may-care Black Cat? This is probably the reason why Spidey never invites Matt Murdock over to meet his friends, and it's a great concept that elevates the superhero business at hand.

When I heard there was going to be a crossover between Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil involving a love triangle with the Black Cat, I'll admit, I was skeptical to say the least. Mark Waid has officially made me do a 180, because this is one of the most fun crossovers I can remember in recent history. Great character dynamics, even greater art, and a continued example of superhero comics pushing themselves into new and interesting places. I feel sorry for you if you haven't picked this up, because only a blind man could fail to see how beautiful this book really is.


Catwoman #5

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Thank goodness that Catwoman made it to Issue #5. The series, with story by Judd Winick and art by Guillem March, was much maligned at the beginning due to the sexual bluntness that the creators went with during the character’s reboot. Much like the rest of the series, issue #5 does an excellent job of displaying every exciting angle of DC’s most famous cat burglar — whether you want to see it or not.

Speaking of the sexual nature of this book, past issues of Catwoman do seem to sprinkle in a little time for Selina Kyle to get out of the cat-suit and find some (naked) downtime. In this issue, the scene is actually pretty funny. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but it does an excellent job of bringing me to my main point: If you can look past the sexiness and overall sassiness of Catwoman, what you’re going to find is an incredible book in the vein of Kill Bill or Foxy Brown. Judd Winnick does an excellent job finding a new angle for Selina that brings her up to speed in the New 52 and modernizes her past instead of just being another part of the Bat-family.

The characterization of Miss Kyle is spot-on. She jumps around in a skin tight black leather outfit, a whip and cat ears — of course she is going to have a sense of humor and confidence in her image. However, we also get to see the tragedy of being a thief and the cost of ripping off so many people in Gotham city. Selina, hard as nails, pushes through this and uses it as motivation to keep screwing up drug deals and taking out mobsters. I also really enjoy how each issue builds off one another. Other books since the reboot have new versions of the hero fighting vaguely defined assailants but Catwoman does a great job of building the tension in each issue and stacking the stakes higher against Selina. The pacing is spot on with Selina’s emotional investments with the people around causing her tragedy while balancing a bit of tongue in check. Where the writing suffers is in the dialogue. Every once in a while a line feels clunky, and it can cause a speed bump in the story telling. It’s hard to imagine anyone, including fictional characters, saying some of these lines.

Guillem March is the perfect choice for this book. Of course Selina always looks amazing in that skintight black outfit, and he really holds that balance between too much sexiness and the acrobatic nature of Catwoman. However, my favorite part is the expressive element that he brings to the book. It’s the ability to convey emotion, without words, on a characters face that really takes a lot of talent and March has this. There are these moments in the book when the you-know-what hits the fan and Selina goes wide-eyed. One can tell that the gears in her brain are still working and her vision is trying to bring in every possible detail. It isn’t just a look of shock but of what makes her amazing at being Catwoman — the craziness and adrenaline rush that she craves. March captures all this and more with Selina. The artist is able to utilize a page to its full effect; isolating Selina, small in the frame, to show her vulnerability.

March is also handling the inking duties. He paints the pages with a heavy black ink that, in itself, is perfect for Catwoman. The dark black ink is both sexy and dangerous on the page and reflexes the title character excellently. The colors, by Tomeu Morey, complement this heavy ink style. Swimming shades of color, that can seem almost washed out, add a cimematic element that is great for a book with hyper-element of everything that makes this character exciting. The inks and color bring the book to a level of prestige that will look nice collected together and as a benchmark for the character.

All though at the center of controversy at the beginning of The New 52, issue #5 is a great example of why this book is more than a few sensual pages from five months ago. The real controversy should be the fact that this book isn’t getting the same attention for the spectacular art and fun storytelling that has been consistent month to month where other books in its class are failing fast.



Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Chris Samnee and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

Not really sure how to wrap my brain around Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6. Every story needs that moment where the creators lay the foundation for what is to come. What is tricky is finding the balance between saying what you need to say to the reader, and keeping them entertained for 20 or so pages. That is where I am sitting right now, still trying to process my thoughts on this sixth issue of Miles Morales as the new web slinger. There is a lot going on in this book. Aaron, Uncle to Miles and the Prowler to the rest of the word, heads down to Mexico City to conduct a deal with the new Scorpion, with expected results. While Miles has a less than stunning debut with New York's finest after saving a lady from some ne'er-do-wells. Coupled with a pleasant heart to heart talk between Miles and mom, with hints at how he's going to improve his hero skills, and you've got a packed book. But even after all that, I still can't figure out why this book didn't grab as well as the previous five issues.

In this issue, Bendis is essentially writing a series of escalating confrontations. His voice with Uncle Aaron is interesting, in that this character is meant to be one of the best thieves in the world. However, all this skill and confidence quickly goes by the side when confronted. Although he puts on a good face, Bendis writes a character that is far happier to take the money and run. This character trait works as a good juxtaposition with Miles, a character that is slowly becoming his own man and superhero. A character learning he can't simply run away anymore. There is a small panel, just before Spider-Man leaps in to save the day, where one could imagine Miles pulling off the mask and going home. That maybe this life isn't for him. Of course, into the fray he goes, and much like Peter's earliest acts of heroism, it ain't perfect.

I think Bendis still hasn't quite found the balance of voice when Miles is in the costume. One moment, he's all internal quips, the next he lacks the confidence to even get out a single line of dialogue. Then again, perhaps Bendis perfectly captures what it would mean to be a young kid, suddenly handed the hefty responsibility of the superhero life. Not just any superhero mind. This is Spider-Man. However, for my money the real strength of this issue is between Miles and his mother. Forget street thugs or trigger happy cops. Ain't no exchange going to be more difficult than a mother that hasn't seen her kid in a week and wants to know everything that's been going on. Most of this title has focused on Miles and his father, so it's nice to read how mom treats her son. Their conversation might be the most honest of the series proper. Mom knows she's raised him as a right and honorable man, but she will always be the protective mother. When that protection means keeping secret shady elements from your family, things get complicated. Miles asks about some heavy concepts in comparing his father, his uncle, and himself. The conflicting emotions within his mom are very evident and have me wondering which of his parents will learn his secret first. And, more importantly, how are they going to react.

Chris Samnee, a personal favorite of mine, takes the reigns on art duties for this issue and might be the very reason I'm so conflicted. When drawing people outside of a mask, few are better than Samnee in capturing expression and emotion. Even when he draws what are essentially throwaway thugs, such as Aaron's scenes with Scorpion, each character has a life and vibrancy. I wish I could say the same when we first see Spider-Man. The work feels a little rushed, or perhaps Samnee still isn't completely comfortable in drawing this character in costume yet. His composure and layout are strong, with fight scenes having a good sense of energy and movement. But again, Spider-Man feels a little flat when he's not flipping over some hoods or dodging multiple swings.

The coloring by Justin Ponsor also suffers from issues of consistency. The colors in Mexico City cause the art to lose any sense of detail or depth. So much so, that I found myself wishing these scenes were in black and white (a format in which Samnee excels). Moments of Miles in the suit also highlight a potential issue with this book. While still a solid design, I am beginning to wonder if this new suit doesn't play well with an artist that uses traditional brushwork in lieu of digital drawing. However, as in the writing, the scenes between Miles and his mother work very well. Character interaction and subtle facial tics are definitely where Samnee and Ponsor shine. The color balance and lighting, the intertwine and slipping away of hands, all of it is truly beautiful to view. I wish this had been the case with all of the book.

Which brings me back to how I feel about this issue. It's a growing pain. All 20 pages of it. It isn't perfect, but nor it is worthy of scorn. Like life, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6 is simply a little step in a much larger story.


Green Lantern Corps #5

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

There's a really interesting, morally ambiguous story at the heart of Green Lantern Corps — it's just underneath a ton of the exposition. Peter Tomasi has some great concepts that he's playing around with, as the Green Lanterns prepare to take the fight back to a race of creatures immune to their power rings, and thanks to his stellar art team, this book is still worth reading, but it's still far from an effortless read.

Tomasi's greatest strength is characterization, and so this book is at its best when we're seeing the Lanterns just being themselves. Guy Gardner is still a jerk, but in the hands of Tomasi, he's our jerk, as he brusquely finds the meanest GLs on the planet Oa. It's the setup that really matters here, as we're already behind Guy from pretty much the moment he learns that someone has built a lounge underneath his interstellar bar — other characters, like Isamot, you can immediately sense how scrappy they are, and the head Keeper, who has held several Lanterns hostage, reeks of menace.

That said, Tomasi's not quite firing on all cylinders here. Some of the other characters — namely, the "Mean Machine," some of the baddest Lanterns you'll ever meet — are still a bit thinly sketched-out, with the chief characteristics just being "gruff" and "badass." The real problem with this story, however, is the massive info-dump in the middle of the story, a two-page, almost Perezian spread that explains every single necessary question to understanding this storyline… in the most belabored, slow, user-unfriendly method in the entire book. (Not to mention that it randomly brings in another character from elsewhere in the DCU, which feels a little bit like cheating in the grand scheme of things.) And there's one other panel elsewhere that seems like a joke, and is pretty easy to miss, so if you skim past it, you are going to be super-confused by the last action sequence of the book, not to mention the not-quite-astonishing final page.

Yet this book is redeemed by some amazing — there's no other word to say it, it's amazing — artwork. Fernando Pasarin is approaching Bryan Hitch territory when it comes to drawing bold, larger-than-life characters, with everyone having a real weight and musculature underneath all those Lantern power constructs. (Speaking of those power constructs, man does Pasarin make them look good, with some incredible diversity, ranging from spider webs to geometric force fields to steel beams.) Pasarin's layouts, user-unfriendly infodump notwithstanding, are really slick, combining a sort of widescreen mentality with a nice use of vertical panels, somewhat similar to Chris Samnee. That said, Pasarin does have some room to grow, as far as the design standpoint is concerned — the "Mean Machine" Lanterns look just a shade too similar to one another, as they're basically all bald, muscular tough guy archetypes. A little bit more deviation in anatomy and build could have gone a long way towards making these characters really stand out.

Considering art is the most important part of a comic, I felt won over in spite of myself for the fifth issue of Green Lantern Corps — while the storyline sometimes choked on its own long tail, I felt like I was witnessing something special on the visuals. Peter Tomasi has a strong foundation of character, but it's Fernando Pasarin that's the real shining star of this book. When the Green Lanterns can look this epic, I'm willing to forgive some clunky storytelling — with a giant firefight promised in the next issue, here's hoping this book is about to play to its strengths.


Uncanny X-Men #5

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Justin Ponsor, Laura Martin and Guru eFX

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Click here for preview

The X-Men have an identity crisis. Well, perhaps not just as a team, but as a franchise. You've got the quirky focus on the students over at Wolverine and the X-Men. You've got the concept-heavy action craziness over in Uncanny X-Force. So maybe that's why I asked myself this when reading Uncanny X-Men #5:

Why this team?

I get Kieron Gillen's mandate, at least as far as concept goes — Cyclops has created his own "Extinction Team" of ultra-powered mutants, assembled to show that Homo Superior should be both respected and feared as a world power. Yet we're five issues in, and not only are the threats fairly small in stature, but in this issue, the X-Men are cleaning up the messes of another team. That's right, Uncanny X-Force proves to be the book that keeps on giving, but picking up this sort of hanging plot thread doesn't really make me feel strongly about this supposedly A-list team, you know? The main source of tension isn't even on these guys, but on Cyclops finding out that X-Force still exists — but to be honest, would he even be surprised at this point?

In terms of characterization, Gillen is also a bit hit-or-miss. Beats like Colossus still brooding over being possessed by the Juggernaut are haunting, and allow Gillen to really exercise his imagination by creating out-of-this-world flora and fauna, but moments like the teenage Hope gawking at Namor's physique just feels distasteful. The problem with having such an action-first (at least in concept) comic is that you have to establish character dynamic and exciting qualities immediately, and having Cyclops have a time-out with Captain America or Storm try out the word "doable" isn't enough.

The artwork for this book is a bit of a mixed bag. The colorwork, split by Justin Ponsor, Laura Martin and Guru eFX has a nice blood-red motif going on, which really plays up the alien nature of a town hit with millennia of evolution. Yet Greg Land's facial expressions just throw me out of the story every single time — Kieron Gillen is a writer who needs nuance to convey his wittier lines, but Land plays it all to the hilt in terms of sexiness. Psylocke giving Cyclops a model's smile doesn't exactly say "exhausted" to me, nor does Storm's beaming expression really help when she's essentially brow-beating Cyclops over the schism that split the X-Men in the first place.

With the threats being less than epic, the characters being less than enthralling and the art being less than expressive, this book keeps talking about being like an epic Avengers book, but can't even take on territory that Uncanny X-Force didn't trailblaze first. There is a ton of potential to Gillen's plans, but he's fighting uphill will an artist who definitely does not suit his style. It may be a new and different threat for the X-Men, but I may sit the rest of this arc out.

Pellet Review!


Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10; Click here for preview):
The controversial Red Hood and the Outlaws, with story by Scott Lobdell and art by Kenneth Rocafort, isn’t so much offensive as it is sloppy. There isn’t much to be offended by here. Sure, Starfire is still wearing that outfit, but she never struck me as a character with a lot of cover up to begin with. Having followed the story from Issue #1, I still struggled to not so much follow the story, but to even care what I was reading. Like a lot of other DC characters in the new 52, the group finishes a fight with two monsters that matter even less when you try to follow the story back to why they even care in the first place. I love the idea that these young anti-heroes are chatty and speak in a modern vernacular, but the pages become cluttered with too much dialogue and exposition that, frankly, seems really tired. Personally, I don’t care for the art because, even though there is nothing wrong with the panels, figures or execution, too many hashmarks make the page seem even messier than it already does with too many word balloons as well. Granted, this is to say that I was really looking forward to this book when it was first announced. I do think that Red Hood and the Outlaws will be getting the axe from my pull list.

In Case You Missed It...


Reed Gunther #7

Written by Shane Houghton

Art by Chris Houghton, Josh Ulrich and Jose Mari Flores

Lettering by Shane Houghton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

So color me late to the party here.

I've seen Reed Gunther make several top lists of 2011 and decided now to get on board with the antics. I guess I picked a right time since this is a one-shot, but it sums up the book rather well and I didn't feel so lost or not understand the whole of the story. Reed Gunther and his partner Starla and her pet bear, Sterling, are monster hunters in the Old West. Basically, take Shaggy and Fred rolled into one, and Velma and Daphne mixed together, with Scooby as a grizzly bear and that basically nails down the characters. Needless to say as a Mystery, Inc. fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

The first thing I noticed was the art and how it goes against the usual Image house style. It's sophisticatingly simplistic and very animated. The character design is fairly neat as well and it comes across as a new contender as a top all-ages book. Reed is the typical macho cowboy that still has his doltish moments. Starla is not the damsel in distress and keeps Reed in line when he needs to be reeled in. This issue pertains to the hunting of werewolves, since the trio is down to their last dollar. Of course nothing is what it seems and I found myself chuckling along the way. Shane Houghton really has the comedic bits down and Chris Houghton (I'm unsure of their relation, but I'm assuming brother) really gets the facial expressions. The art definitely has that Tex Avery vibe.

I went into this book pretty much blindly aside from seeing it mentioned here and there, but never on the shelves of my comic stores. I'm assuring you right now, this will soon be remedied as I want to get caught up on any of the adventures I've missed. It's that good. This issue is a perfect jumping on point for anybody else that's been curious, too.

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