Best Shots Comic Reviews: AQUAMAN, X-MEN: LEGACY, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Let's get set for the big column with your Best Shots Team. So let's follow the King of the Sea to some uncomfortable environs, as we take a look at the latest issue of Aquaman...

 

Aquaman #5

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira and Rod Reis

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Click here for preview

There's a science to storytelling just as much as an art. You have your setup, your reaction, your result, and if you follow the logical narrative structure, chances are you'll wind up with a satisfying read. Unfortunately, when it comes to the latest issue of Aquaman, the numbers just don't add up. While Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis bring a wealth of potential to this comic, the final result comes out as disastrous.

And that's a shame. The core concept of this issue is great — Aquaman, King of the Seas, both empowered and dependent on the ocean itself, stranded in the most arid desert on Earth. Simple, easy, cinematic, and it's a premise that doesn't take the easy way out of putting in some nutjob in spandex to show why Arthur Curry is our hero. (There is some action, don't get me wrong.) And the structure that Geoff Johns uses is simple, but satisfying — it builds on reader disorientation, but also keeps us from getting bored, instead bouncing from point to salient point with some deftness I haven't seen from the writer in quite some time.

And not only that, but Johns's script also gives Ivan Reis some room to maneuver. I downright adore the cinematic way that Reis opened the book, with Arthur literally falling out of the sky and exploding into the desert like a golden-scaled meteor. The fluidity of his characters reminded me a lot of Alan Davis, particularly for the action sequences, and his pencils work well with his tag-team of inkers, Joe Prado and Eber Ferreira. Colorist Rod Reis deserves some special praise for this issue, particularly as Arthur begins to succumb to the elements, as the colors seem bright and engaging, never garish.

So with all that praise, why do I ultimately still feel turned off by this book? Because despite all that great setup, Johns ultimately robs the reader of what this book ultimately needs: a reason to respect Aquaman. I get that the whole status quo of the book has been that Aquaman's kind of a schlub, but he does the stoic hero thing anyway, but that is basic story logic — if you put your hero in a dire situation, he needs to find his own way out. I can't say too much about the ending without spoilers, but you feel cheated by Aquaman's arbitrary escape, as though Johns suddenly realized he was out of pages and needed to get to the (kind of awkward) end already. Considering how good the book was beforehand, the ending is so disappointing that it tarnishes everything that came before.

For the first 20 pages, I thought I was reading a winner. Great art, accessible concept, tons of room for Aquaman to learn and grow and stretch himself, and to bring readers along for the ride. Instead, all of this immaculate setup came to nothing, being blown off for a cheap gag that belittled the very character we're supposed to invest in. There are plenty of reasons to deviate from structure in a story, but only if it's for a greater good. The end result for Aquaman came out as more fishy than fantastic.

 

X-Men: Legacy #261

Written by Christos Gage

Art by David Baldeon, Jordi Tarragona and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

Christos Gage is only two issues into his run on X-Men: Legacy, and he's already showing signs of improvement. While his introductory Point One issue was decent, but flawed with less than stellar dialogue, and some muddy characterization, Issue #261 seems to be in much more capable hands. There are still some issues with the voice Gage uses when writing the X-Men, but his version of Rogue as a protective figure is starting to gel.

This issue sees the return of Exodus, a former Acolyte of Magneto, and an old foe of the X-Men. In his quest to unite the remaining mutants under a single banner, Exodus threatens to force the now-splintered team back together using violence, if necessary. The approach to the conflict is a little hackneyed, but Gage's use of Rogue's powers is one of the best sequences in the issue, particularly when she runs into Kid Gladiator and his bodyguard, Warbird. When Gage's sense of humor is in play, the tone of the issue vastly improves, allowing the almost overly responsible tone of recap and explanation to relax a little bit. Gage has proven himself time and time again with books like Avengers Academy, so seeing him struggle to find his rhythm with X-Men: Legacy is a bit frustrating, but he's rapidly arriving at an appropriate destination.

David Baldeon is another story. When he's handling characters like Rockslide, or the N'Garai, as he was last issue, or characters like Beast, Iceman, and Anole this time around, his linework shines, and there's a sense of energy and weight to the characters. When he gets around to the “acting,” or his portrayal of more human-looking characters, things start to fall apart. His faces are a little too contorted and cartoony, and the way the characters interact is a little less than fluid. There are some exceptions to this; his Wolverine looks strong and savage, and his Exodus regal and imposing, but there are a few too many cringe-worthy panels, like last issue's kiss between Gambit and Frenzy, to make the work exemplary, and I think that inker Jordi Tarragona and colorist Sonia Oback are doing more than their share to carry the look of the book.

Overall, the shift in tone between Mike Carey's work on the title and that of Christos Gage is certainly dramatic, if only for the difference in the nature of each writer's work. Gage works best when he's got a fun, energetic concept at hand, and he lets himself get comfortable with his characters. He's got a ways to go before he has the same familiarity with the students and faculty of the Jean Grey School that he does with those of the Avengers Academy, but even in two issues he's come a long way.

 

Robocop: Road Trip #2

Written by Rob Williams

Art by Unai De Zarate and Oscar Manuel Martin

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Shanna VanVolt

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Moneyed mobsters rule a crumbling Detroit. The streets are awash with poverty and crime. Crooked, vapid media outlets are leading citizens into the wrong battles. Sound familiar? Not only does it sound like the set up to some of my favorite ’80s movies (often starring Charles Bronson or Kurt Russell), it also sounds like the foundation for a good satirical romp. Yet, every time Robocop: Road Trip starts to aim its sights at society as we know it, the swift writing swerves and gets downright silly. Therein lies the brilliance of this book: it is fun.

A book that combines a ’80s post-apocalyptic cityscape with a road trip usually signals regurgitation. But Williams’ writing avoids this because it is not just one note: there are enough sub-plots to make each issue move quickly. With a power struggle among bad guys, flashbacks to Alex Murphy’s past, the linear push of movement across the country, puppet talking-head media, and the eroding mind of Robo himself, there is enough here in issue two to paint a bigger picture of the situation -- even if the gang have barely left Detroit after 60 pages into the series. Williams may be just resurrecting action plots from the vault, but he is combining them in a way that brings the needed satire to current issues. And, with a “Mature” rating, Robocop Road Trip #2 makes ample use of swears and sudden gore to signal that this is an “action” comic.

It is campy, but he doesn’t shove the schlock down anyone’s throat. He keeps it light with sparse dialogue that gracefully defines his characters. For an example, (that is perhaps only funny to people who have spent time in Ohio) at one point Robocop says “Lake Erie” without expressing an opinion on it one way or another. Comedy genius.

Timing is hard to coordinate in a comic when the words and pictures are the only devices by which to move the reader. This coordination between art and dialogue is where de Zarate should get his credit. Much like the somewhat-contrived plot, de Zarate isn’t giving us masterworks of art throughout Robocop. He is, however, delivering bold characters that move. Do not expect expert proportions and time-consuming space filling drawings from this book. There are landscapes that sometimes just fill space, but their slowness is integral to make the action pop when it comes.

Even though these breaks set a good pace, the art does at times feel rushed, and the dialogue can get too easy. We haven’t moved very far in these first two issues, and the layers of plot can get a little too cluttered as to lose focus. There is a set-up here that has a potential to capture the heart of the original movie, but a lot more has to happen in the series before it can be known if Williams will be able to bring it to that level.

 

Angel & Faith #6

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Rebekah Isaacs and Dan Jackson

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's confession time. I never really liked Buffy. Not the show mind you, the show was a blast. No, I mean the character Buffy. She was always the least interesting character for me. I was always more interested in episodes that focused on Willow, or Xander, and while it might call into question my geek cred; I sincerely believe Angel was a far superior show. (Um, not counting Season 4, which we will not speak). So, when Dark Horse Comics got back the rights to Angel as a series and then included Faith, well this was one happy fanboy. We're six issues in this new series and it shouldn't come as a surprise that, yes indeed, I am digging this book more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What can I say? I'm a supporting cast kind of guy. In this issue, Angel and Faith continue their awesome Batman and Robin act in London (I'll let you decide who is who in this duo) while coming to terms with their own checkered histories. As Angel continues his own quest for salvation in safely resurrecting Giles, we're treated with a look into the fallen Watcher's past when he was but a schoolboy and faced his first real test.

As he does in Avengers Academy for Marvel Comics, Christos Gage breathes a real sense of life into the characters he writes. Far too often, Angel is portrayed as a one-dimensional person, only driven by whatever haunts him in that moment. During the television series, the potential for such shallowness was very high. Thankfully Gage deftly weaves a character that, while dour about a situation he created for himself, no longer acts the part of the lone tortured soul. This talent for honest character evolution plays even stronger with Faith. For the longest time, the reason everyone liked Faith was because she was the take no “you-know-what” kind of person. However, that kind of character can only maintain an audiences interest for so long, and then the writer has a choice. Let them grow or let them pass. Faith standing as an almost matronly figure to misdirected Slayers has been an interesting path to read. Mind you, Gage isn't throwing out the book and starting over with Angel and Faith. No, what we have here is a natural evolution that once again makes me care about these characters. All while maintaining the core elements that make these two endure for all these years. As the issue unfolds, these two are most definitely driven by events from their darker past, but they will no longer be defined by this past.

Rebekah Isaacs continues to impress me with her fantastic pencils and inking on the series. Penciling compelling sequential art within comics is hard enough without having to appeal to well-established images. I mean, it's one thing to put your own interpretation on Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, but when you're dealing with licensed images based on real people, that's quite the hat trick. It's far too easy to fall into the photo-referencing trap, and while I don't know how much Isaacs uses, her composition suggests very little. Isaacs's art lends itself to a series that first found life in a visual medium. Her action scenes have a very strong sense of movement and life. Her panels do not look like a series of still images set to words. Each sword swing or punch has an implied follow through, which really helps to sell the danger and excitement in the series. Paired with balanced coloring by Dan Jackson and you've got what might be the prettiest monthly series put out by Dark Horse Comics at this time.

Family and responsibility are some of the stronger themes running through these character, and both the flashback scenes with Giles and the perfectly “squee”-worthy issue ender only reinforce these themes. Really, the only thing that prevents this from being a perfect comic is the rather dense knowledge of Buffyverse that's required. However, if you haven't been reading the adventures of Buffy's darker half on the other side of the pond, then you really are missing the best stuff since the halcyon days of the WB Network. So get the reading!

 

King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1

Written by Timothy Truman

Art by Tomás Giorello and José Villarubia

Lettering by Richard Starkings & Comicraft

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

It’s hard to be king—especially if you are a barbarian who would prefer fighting to sitting on a throne. From the pulps of Robert E. Howard comes the first issue of the second installment of the Dark Horse King Conan series about the aging Cimmerian reluctant to rule. King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel struck a good chord among readers last year, and I was hoping I could swing the club and catch the crown a little late by picking up The Phoenix on the Sword #1. This first issue, however, makes me feel a bit like King Conan does—removed from the action.

There is certainly action to be had in the well-laid pencils of Tomás Giorello, but they are weakened by a lack of poignant inking. Colorist José Villarubia transmits needed earthy warmth to the striking scenes while displaying a thoughtful reverence for historical light sources. But great comic art needs all three aspects—pencils, colors, and inks—to align. If these inks are not digitally rendered (they look it) then their scratchy afterthoughts do a disservice to Giorello’s masterful layouts. Those layouts work a reader through a page knowing exactly who to love and who to revile. There is a wordless two-page fantasy art poster in this book that is so breathtakingly drawn that it takes longer to turn the page than it does to read the rest of the issue. So maybe it's greedy to ask the inks to give more depth, but this is King Conan, a title which begs a stark contrasting line.

The setup of this issue could also use more underlining. By making King Conan, as he was in The Scarlet Citadel, the storyteller instead of the story, Truman effectively removes the reader a step from the plot. In fact, all the storytelling set up seems to do in this first issue is time-suck the first five pages. The first character you see here is soon forgotten, because he is only the listener. Conan himself has some brilliant present-moment laughs in the beginning, but then sits down like a grandpa to tell a tall tale—a job he seems as ill suited to as being king.

And he gets rambly. There are clearly hazards and pitfalls that come from adapting a two-bit pulp story that was initially refused by two separate magazines when Howard wrote it in 1929. The most obvious pitfall being that the hastily written for-profit prose can drag and feel uncomfortable outside of its era. But I also think Truman misses the boat on Howard’s writing. There are openings in the story ripe for barbaric, romantic kingly fun, which are passed over in trying to advance the plot. Personally as a reader, I put up with pedantic faux-medieval drivel because it sets up jokes better by contrast. It makes ridiculous fight scenes that much more ridiculous. In King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1, there is just not enough fighting for it to be fun.

But King Conan could also be a story where patience pays off. It is a bit of a slow start here with issue one. But with a little imagination from the reader to see the inks darker and Conan as participant instead of narrator, Truman and Giorello have another good mini-series brewing. The bad guy reveal at the end has a good crazy mysticism about him, and he may just be able to pull a sword out of a stone and bring this book the strength it deserves.

 

The Flash #5

Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Wes Abbot

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

I'm really holding out hope for Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato'sFlash. The ratio of promising issues to indecipherable ones has yet to swing in a positive direction, but this latest issue is certainly a good step towards what I'd like to see from the duo. The biggest problem so far, for me, has been a lack of focus when it comes to dealing with the "comic-book-science" elements of Flash, which, when you're dealing with the Speed Force, freeze rays, telepathic gorillas, and cosmic treadmills, are positively ubiquitous. As much as I'm loath to say it, I wish the pair would stick with the basics a little closer. It's when they start dealing with stuff like Flash's Speed Force-enhanced cognizance that the narrative falls apart, wasting words and sometimes pages on breathless exposition and exploration that does little to enhance the story. Sometimes though, they get it right, and the suitably super-scientific explanation for a lot of the weirdness in the last five issues that's given at the end of this issue has the kind of inspiration that should've been with the title from the beginning.

There's a lot in Flash #5 that works, and lot that really struggles, so let's start with what works. As usual, Manapul and Buccellato's art is astoundingly good. Just jaw-droppingly, engagingly gorgeous. There's so much joy, personality and energy in the art that I'd probably be reading this title no matter what the story was like. Manapul's handling of the Flash's costume has gotten increasingly more and more elegant, using the detail lines that clutter the redesign as channels of speed force energy crackling over the speedster's body as he's using his powers. Likewise, the storytelling in this issue is much clearer than it has been in the past. There's still plenty of room for breakaway panels and montage shots, such as the Flash summoning a vortex to contain an electrical explosion, but there are less jumps between scenes, and the transitions are much less jarring than what we saw even in the first issue. Further, nobody crafts a two-page title spread like these two; Manapul's mastery of layout and incorporating the logo and text into the art never fail to get me excited about what's to come, and this issue's shot of Flash charging over chunks of ice in a half-frozen harbor was positively electric. Finally, in one masterstroke, by explaining the idea that Flash's super-speed is opening time warps as he runs, Manapul and Buccellato have ensured that I'll be back for the next arc by introducing a conceit that has more potential than anything else they've done so far. Which, unfortunately, also leads directly into what didn't work, or, more over, what hasn't worked so far.

Now that the idea that Flash's super speed causes objects, and sometimes even events to jump around in time is in play, many inexplicable events from previous issues, like the EMP that blacked out Keystone and Central Cities, or the airplane that Flash vibrated through a bridge now make a lot more sense. The problem is that too much of the four issues that preceded that explanation now feel like filler, and the conflict with Mob Rule seems like a device designed solely to take up four issues while all of these events took place around the story. Maybe that wouldn't feel like the case if it had only taken one or two issues to get to this point, or if the Mob Rule story had been engaging on it's own, but right now it just smacks of poor storytelling. The random events went on far too long without any hint as to the explanation, or even a suitable backdrop. It's a symptom of trying to do too much too fast, and taking too long to do it. Ironically (or not) the Fastest Man Alive could really be served by a little brevity. It's like Manapul and Buccellato are following the long term formula of a television show, which is not a bad way to approach comics, but so far, they've missed the point that every episode needs to stand on its own, and people will only stick with that type of long form storytelling if they really care about what's happening to the characters.

It makes me more than a little frustrated that a book can look this good yet read this poorly, but there are strong glimmers of hope for the future of this title. To be fair, Manapul and Buccellato are still finding their feet when it comes to writing at this level, and while it's clear that five issues haven't gotten them where they need to be, they're very much on the right track conceptually. The key will be balancing the concepts with the storytelling, and finding a way to make their writing collaboration as concise and engaging as their artistic efforts. Flash #5 has a lot of truly powerful elements, but the ideas have yet to gel with the output.

 

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #1

Written by David Hine

Art by Shaky Kane

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Published by Image Comics

Review by Jamie Trecker

’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Bulletproof Coffin was hands down the weirdest book Image has ever put out. First off, it was a riff on a genre almost no one remembers: the short-lived super-hero horror hybrid book of the early 1950s, e.g. the woe-begotten Captain America’s Weird Tales. Second, it looked like it was drawn by Jack Kirby on a heavy mescaline jag. And third, it was gonzo crazy—with a meta-story involving a fictitious comic book company, wig-wearing dogs, and future zombie cannibals. In other words, it was completely awesome.

Penned by David Hine (Detective Comics, X-Men) and drawn by British underground legend Michael Coulthard under the nom de plume “Shaky Kane,” the book was also a shock success. Tapping into the same vein that Grant Morrison mined on his famous Doom Patrol run, this was a hipster look at the Silver Age, mixing Hunter S. Thompson with the Justice League and some fish guts, and then letting it rot in the sun for a few weeks.

This second volume of the series starts with full-frontal male nudity and goes sideways from there. The book is essentially an origin story for the Shield of Justice, a cop-themed vigilante who seems like he’s read a bit too much Raymond Chandler. Johnny P Sartre is a California policeman in full Marlowe mode. His graveyards are rain soaked and filling up with headless corpses; his LA streets are sun-blasted and filled with the bleached dread that formed the backdrop to all of Chandler’s work.

That would be enough right there for a fun pulp romp. But this book also features kinky sex in a commie go-go club; threats of an alien invasion; costumed corpses coming to life; and a series of Nazi-themed objects that may emit mind-bending radiation. Every bit of 50s pulp-paranoia, from Stalin to ET, is put into the blender and given a good whirl.

It is Coulthard’s artwork that tips everything over the edge. He is an unapologetic Kirby aper — but instead of conveying the King’s furious motion, Coulthard’s characters are toad-like and immobile. His “handsome” leads are chinless and damaged. His “beautiful” women are inflated. He purposely chokes his figures with nervous lines. They are totally, unapologetically two-dimensional and somehow, as a result, deeply sinister.

It’s hard not to come away from these drawings with the feeling that something is also deeply wrong with the artist. This is exactly what Coulthard and Hine are going for, and both men play that up in a third meta-story. The “outside” story imagines “Hine” and “Kane” as irrational shut-ins once employed by a fictitious publisher in the 1950s. Their comic books, which appear in the pages of the Bulletproof Coffin give the characters the keys to decode their own future.

As bizarre as this all sounds, Hine and Coulthard play the story straight. This book is a bit closer to improv theatre than an actual narrative, as Hine calmly piles one crazy detail on top of another until his lead character collapses into a black hole of psychosis. In the end, we’re left with a question: is the Shield really the only man who can see an interstellar conspiracy to invade America? Or is he a misogynistic headcase who murders his own partner?

Is this title going to soothe your X-Men jones? No. It is also not a nostalgia trip aimed at 40-something losers with a stack of Silver Age books in their attic. It’s a taut, deeply weird book that is something else entirely. Is it worth reading? Hell yes.

 

Teen Titans #5

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Click here for preview

The title of Teen Titans #5, with story by Scott Lobdell and pencils by Brett Booth, is “Over Before It’s Begun” — and I couldn’t agree more. The entire issue is a little better than the previous issues because this one has the simple task of having an all-out brawl between Superboy and the rest of the Titans. However, this does not redeem the story. It’s a fine setup, yet, the narrative is constantly derailed by attention-grabbing details. Ignoring the new costumes and the fact that none of these legacy characters are connected to their legacies, the issue doesn’t set up a bright future for these young heroes.

The storytelling is acceptable for a smack-down issue. The pacing does a fine job of showcasing each of the Titans against the seemingly unstoppable Superboy. It is nice technique that lets the reader get acquainted with each character while still keeping the pace. The dialogue, however, is really awkward. Trying to capture the tone of teenagers can be difficult since it changes as fast as iTunes updates. however, all the dialogue is stagnant and strange, sounding like the worst action film edited down to thirty minutes. It’s hard to really have a complete image of this team as a whole.

The most offensive quality of this book is new Teen Titan Bunker. The Mexican immigrant and out homosexual character plays like a stereotype of both these to qualities and, frankly, makes my skin crawl because of how he is handled. I understand that there was a play to bring more diverse characters to the front of the DCNU but a character like Bunker (written the way he is) is two steps backwards. Adorn in purple and red, the young hero punctuates sentences with a Spanish flare and his chatty nature is less like Spider-Man and more like Jack from Will and Grace. Although his English is good enough for him to carry on a mid-battle conversation with Superboy, he still talks like Puss in Boots from the Shrek movies, at one point adding that he is “fabuloso” and “…the only member of the team who can rock purple”. He even screams “Caramba!” when being hurled through the air.

The art in this issue is perfect for first time readers getting used to this new version of the Teen Titans. Traditional and dynamic, Booth really knows what he is doing. The only thing that threw me was a few choices made in the details. A perfect example of this is Kid Flash’s hand on the first page, which finds the pinky finger unnaturally bent. There is also the distractingly askew look of an open screaming mouth in this book. Its details like this, unfortunately, that actually distracted from the rest of the page. Beyond this, the pencil work was fine, finding a nice balance between a traditional approach to superhero-story-art and keeping the pages dynamic and fun. The linework stays on the more traditional side, with lots of hash marks and busy lines around the details.

Movement is a big aspect for a story like this and in that regard, Booth delivers. The movement is big and splashy, taking up most of the page and raising the stakes for the characters. The coloring, by Andrew Dalhouse, is really the stand out aspect. It’s this colorful and dynamic style with tons of digital additions that make this issue able to stand next to Justice League or Detective Comics on the stands as an access point for new readers. Every character seems to glow (literally) in one aspect or another. However, the art is not enough to redeem the story. The problem is that, although the art is fine, what’s underneath is still missing and any reader will be able to sense this. I think this can be a great creative team on these characters, but it hasn’t come out yet. My hope is that, as time goes on and N.O.W.H.E.R.E is fleshed out, the story will also become clearer and stronger, much like the characters themselves.

It’s Issue #5 and the Teen Titans are still not complete. Unfortunately, this book might be the best access point for younger readers who grew up on the Teen Titans cartoon and love Young Justice. I do worry if this book is suffering because of the pace it is trying to keep with Superboy (also written by Lobdell and recommended). The end of the issue leaves the team in the same way it started the issue—they aren’t really a team at all yet. I’m curious how much longer till this title really comes into its own. Over before it’s begun? I would suggest not starting Teen Titans #5 at all.

 

The Sixth Gun #18

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree

Lettering by Douglas Sherwood

Published by Oni Press

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

You won't believe me when I get to the quick recap, but issue 18 of The Sixth Gun really is a great jumping on point for new readers. Drake Sinclair, the man charged with protecting Becky Montcrief and the guns she now wields, is a prisoner of the Knights of Solomon. Becky's gun lets her peer into the future and see what mere mortals cannot. Alas, she can't find Drake. But, she did find some friends that might be able to aid her quest, if she can survive the town of Penance. While Billjohn O'Henry — Drake's dead, now golem-like, friend — escaped and has the guns Drake tossed aside while fighting a mummy. The Sword of Abraham and the Pinkertons are both searching for the six guns that can bring upon the apocalypse, though their reasons are their own. Confused? You shouldn't be. This is The Sixth Gun and crazy is just par for the course on this ride. And, like the previous 17 issues before it, this comic comes as near as escapist perfection as a fan could want.

Escapist really is the term for this series. Writer Cullen Bunn writes characters and setting that, while outlandish and fantastic, fit within this world's establishing rules. So much so, that by the time you are a few issues in, it only seems natural to assume the Pinkertons were really an occult force. Indeed, I found myself looking through history texts to see if this real group ever did partake more esoteric cases. It is this mix of historical fact and fiction that help establish the characters in the series, each one having a real voice and purpose in life. The innocent and naïve Becky from issue #1 is all but gone. Yet, as she seeks out Drake, you can't help but wonder her real reasons. Is it from a sense of loyalty and doing what is right? Knowing her past, there is a strong argument one could make for that. However, as she strolls into the town of Penance, doing her best “Man With No Name” entrance, we notice her style of dress. This Becky Montcrief sure looks a lot like her tarnished knight, Drake Sinclair. So again, is she seeking him out for the greater good, or is this but a mask hiding the frightened young woman seeking protection? Like the best complex characters, Becky is a work in progress. No longer the cowering flower, but not yet ready to become the cold killer of men.

With Bunn taking care of the character building, the responsibility of world building falls to the more than capable hands of artist Brian Hurtt. His pencils do far more than move the story along in a compelling manner. Taking a cue from the best westerns and horror films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hurtt takes his sweet time. When establishing a scene, Hurtt has no problem in using an extra panel or two to create a mood that will influence the moments to come. This helps pull the reader even deeper into the book and by default, the characters that live within. As such, when Drake is led to a massive underground city, filled with occult artifacts, we the reader are stunned by the visuals but not jarred from the shift. His characters are no less expressive. I can feel the thrill when Hurtt draws a sly grin on Drake's face, even when he's taking another fist to the chin. And on the flip side, my skin crawls when a vile sheriff offers to help Becky in killing the men out to get her and the guns. While there is little in the form action in this issue, the few moments have a good energy to them and highlight the rather brutal nature of this setting. With a book that relies so much upon mood and atmosphere, coloring could make or break the read. Colorist Bill Crabtree delivers on all fronts when it comes to setting the tone. His coloring is the Ennio Morricone of this title. The little something that's on every page, it may not jump out at you upon first reading, but you better believe you'd miss it if his colors ever went away.

We're a year-and-a-half into this series from Oni Press and I don't think I've read a bad issue yet. Shoot, I don't think I've even read a mediocre issue. Each one builds upon the previous while setting it's own tone and feel. So, whether you've been there since Issue #1, or if this review convinced you to give the title a try, you're going to have a blast.

There is no doubt: The Sixth Gun is everything that is good about comics.

 

Bart Simpson #67

Written by Arie Kaplan, Chris Yambar and Sergio Aragones

Art by Phil Ortiz, Mike DeCarlo, Scott Shaw! and Aragones

Lettering by Karen Bates

Published by Bongo

Review by Jamie Trecker

’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Did you know the Simpsons are available in a static, two-dimensional format devoid of funny voices and musical parody? Well, friend, it’s your lucky day! Bongo Comics have been producing these inanimate “cartoon” books for nearly twenty years. You might not know this because Bongo is currently the smallest “big” indie company, way down the sales ladder. Bongo currently has a miniscule market share and its top selling title only moves about 7,000 copies--meaning that these books may well be mainstream comics best-kept secret.

Just because something is small doesn’t mean it isn’t good (see: Hervé Villechaize), and in a market that is shockingly bereft of witty all-ages titles, the Bongo group of books stands out. The titles, to a one, are deftly written, with a roster of talent that goes all the way from Big-Two vets like Paul Kupperberg and Chuck Dixon (!) to indie gems like Peter Kuper, Carol Lay and Evan Dorkin. Even better, in contrast to the old-school line of TV spin off books that always stay on-model, Bongo is brave enough to let the likes of Mad Magazine’s Sergio Aragones warp their characters.

The result is the kind of anarchy that used to be the hallmark of the TV series back in the early 90s when the first George Bush was denouncing them as a moral plague. As in the TV show, the best jokes are visual. In the book under review, Aragones has young Maggie eying replacement pacifiers with the gaze of a pawnbroker. Phil Ortiz freezes Bart’s face into a Frankenstein rictus and has Mrs. Krabappel channel a famous Munch painting in response. And Scott Shaw! inserts a nifty visual gag that will delight fans of the Barsoom novels.

The written gags aren’t as successful; Arie Kaplan (another Mad vet) fixes Bart’s facial issues with the kisses of his many female classmates. It’s kind of lame, and misses several chances for true mayhem. Chris Yambar’s script, a sideways nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work, is also a bit shaggy. Rainier Wolfcastle gets some clever lines, followed by some groaners even Krusty would reject. It’s no surprise that the best piece in the book is Aragones’ one pager that sees Marge shop for shoes with wee Maggie in tow. In just six word-free panels, Aragones gets two big laughs. (Aragones is particularly fond of Maggie’s pacifier — he’s used it as a running gag since he started working for Bongo.)

This isn’t the best example of Bongo’s product — the gleefully over-the-top Simpsons #185, still on shelves, is better — but it is head and shoulders above almost all other all-ages material out there. Whether this is merely damning with faint praise is your decision, but you could do far, far worse for your $3.

 

Polly and the Pirates, Volume Two: Mystery of the Dragonfish

Written by Ted Naifeh

Art by Robbi Rodriguez

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Oni Press

Review by Amanda McDonald

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Mix together a little humor, a lot of action, and a cute as a button girl who happens to also be a pirate queen — and you've got Polly and the Pirates. Add in the unique settings of a Victorian era boarding school, an air balloon, a pirate ship, and a (for its time) state of the art submersible vessel — and it would be hard to not enjoy this ride as Polly embarks on an adventure to free the captured Emperor, and thwart a diabolical mastermind from overtaking her lands (and her seas).

It's been nearly five years since the last volume featuring young Polly Pringle, also known as Captain Peg, was released. While the previous volume had Naifeh as both writer and illustrator, this volume introduces artist Robbi Rodriguez into the mix. Characters still look like themselves — but Rodriguez's touches are evident, especially in the high-energy scenes with his kinetic lines and distinctive inking style. Fully responsible for both the pencils and inking — the panels have a unique look to them, with many characters and backgrounds very lightly inked. Many panels look as if they could just as easily be animation cels. However when Rodriguez does bust out the heavy inks — he does so in a way that really makes an impact in his panels with sound effects or in his battle scenes, with large washes of blacks and frenetic shading of characters in the background made even more striking thanks to the book's black and white format.

Ted Naifeh created this series, and while the art is that of Rodriguez — stories such as these come to Naifeh naturally, as he explained to Newsarama in November, 2011. Much like his Courtney Crumrin series, this is partially a tale of a girl entering young womanhood, as evidenced in Polly's anxieties about being asked (or rather, not asked) to dance at the school formal, or about that boy across the way that doesn't seem to know she exists. The similarities end there though, as Polly's story is one of high adventures, pirates, and bureaucrats, rather than goblins or magic. The pirates really do speak like pirates, which at first builds for strong characterization — but over the course of 188 pages, starts to grate on the brain. It feels like reading a foreign language that you're a little rusty on, so you've got that extra bit of processing time that can break the fourth wall a bit and take you out of the experience. A minor annoyance, but the tale was well crafted enough that by the time I got a little annoyed, I couldn't put the book down because I needed to see how Polly was going to get out of this debacle.

Is Polly a kids' book? The answer depends on how you define "kids." With a little harsh language, a classmate raiding liquor cabinets, and the challenging reading level of the pirates' dialect — this is definitely more of a young adult book, but one that adults will enjoy as well — picking up on Naifeh's subtle wit. I'll admit — I've never actually read all of the first Polly volume and I eased into this one just fine as a stand-alone story, though as the book progressed I realized that my enjoyment of it would likely be heightened with a better knowledge of the previous volume. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it — I thoroughly did, enough so that I'm looking to read the first volume now. If you're in the market for a read different than any other on the shelves right now, this is one to seek out.

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

Twitter activity