Best Shots Comic Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA, BATWOMAN, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Hello 'Rama Readers! This is your substitute host, George Marston welcoming you to another Monday edition of our weekly Best Shots column. Your regular host, the inimitable David Pepose, has a much-deserved day off, so you'll have to deal with me for the time being! We'll open up today's reviews with a look at Ed Brubaker's latest Captain America

 

Captain America #8

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Laura Martin

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

It's very tempting, when reading a relaunched version of a long running title, to complain when the new title moves toward new ideas, new storytelling techniques, and new characters. At the same time, the same people who clamor for those “classic” stories are too often the people who criticize regression in superhero comics, craving something bold and fresh. It's been clear since the start of Ed Brubaker's latest volume of Captain America that he's been endeavoring to add a new chapter to the mythology of the star-spangled Avenger; one that relies more on new threats for a new age than one that simply rehashes the same villains he's faced off and on for the last 70 years. The problem with the opening arc, however, was the lack of a compass to usher readers into these new ideas, and story that felt a little less grounded than the usual adventures in which Cap finds himself embroiled. With this second arc, “Powerless,” Brubaker and artist Alan Davis are beginning to hit that stride that straddles the line between old and stale, and classic and contemporary.

Now that the newly crowned “Queen Hydra” and Agent Bravo are in league with the Serpent Squad and Baron Zemo, the almost conspiratorial feel of Ed Brubaker's early Captain America comics has returned, albeit with a vastly different premise at hand. It's clear, especially with Madbombs, the Serpent Squad, and Cap's issues with his powers running rampant, just how much Brubaker is still influenced by the Jack Kirby and Steve Englehart stories from the '70's, but there's a bit more of an edge to the proceedings. There's a lot to be said for the work Brubaker has put in to make Sharon Carter an interesting and viable partner for Captain America, and seeing her in action with Cobra towards the end of the issue was something of a high point, as was Cap's almost too honest inner monologue. It's kind of cool to see a Captain America that so deftly comes off as both immortal and all too human, nicely underscoring the premise of the arc.

Alan Davis's work on the title is a breath of fresh air, bringing an old school sensibility to the story at hand. While it may come off as a bit of an anachronism when compared to Steve McNiven's cutting edge style, there's an energy in Davis's pencils that's hard to match in many modern comics. While you could never call any of Davis's work gritty, he and inker Mark Farmer go a little rougher around the edges on this title, perhaps trying to echo the work of previous series artists such as Butch Guice or Steve Epting, and it works. There's a loose dynamism to Davis and Farmer's usually clean and composed lines that brings out the urgency of the story. There are a few missteps, such as Davis's less than stellar take on the Falcon, but even those stylistic errors are compensated by Laura Martin, who understands better than probably any other mainstream colorist how to balance the brightness and depth of superhero comics with the moods and atmosphere's required by a given story.

It's hard to look at a book like Captain America and not weigh it against what's come before, even within the author's own run, but it's also kind of refreshing to be reading this title without the weight of a major event looming around it. Free from the implications stemming from “Fear Itself,” or “Siege,” or any of the other recent events that have colored the possibilities for a Captain America book, Brubaker is back to simply telling stories. It's not entirely groundbreaking, but as of this arc, it's at least fun, and there's plenty of forward momentum to keep the title strong for the foreseeable future.

 

Batwoman #6


Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman


Art by Amy Reeder, Rob Hunter, Richard Friend, Guy Major


Lettering by Todd Klein


Published by DC Comics


Review by Jake Baumgart


'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

Although Batwoman #6, with story by J.H. Willams III and W. Haden Blackman and pencils by Amy Reeder, continues with the same long form story that has been building since issue #1, the art would suggest a new direction. Issue #6 starts the “To Drown the World” arc in the Batwoman books and the beginning of the new art teamwork. Reeder is taking the place of Williams and the inking and coloring team is all new to the book as well. Granted, while the new team did an amazing job on the book, they have a hard act to follow from the previous five issues.

The cover was done by Amy Reeder as well and is a perfect example of the rest of the book. Until I read the interior credits, I was fairly certain that Williams provided the cover and that, perhaps, Reeder was only doing interiors. I was wrong. However, it seems like the creative team has gone to great lengths to preserve the tone of the book going forward and will continue with the artistic themes established even before the DC reboot. The cover features the protagonist gently removing/adding the mask to her costume so gently that she almost looks paused instead of static. There is an ethereal and melancholic balance to the cover image that perfectly reflects, not only the character of Kate Kane, but the work done by Williams in the past that is so well that it is deceiving as to who actually did the image.

However, if the cover is trying to stay as close to Williams’ previous look, the interiors go a different direction. The first page is clearly Reeder’s work, which isn’t a bad thing. It does take a moment to readjust because the coloring looks so similar to the past issues. There is the unique use of washed out grey tones and the otherworldly reds that remind the reader of the other times that coloring has been used to draw the reader’s attention. The more realistic rendering on Batwoman contrasts with the bolder and more lo-fi of the bottom panel and the peril of her hero-life. Even though the coloring, by a different team than previous, keeps the pace of its predecessors, Reeder’s interior art is definitely not Williams’. Again, this is not to say that it is bad at all. However, it is certainly different. First, the unique panels are gone. Whereas William’s would play with themes and contrasting images to create some truly eye-catching panels (the wavy, water streams from the first arc come to mind) Reeder is more traditional but still above average. The full page spread of Batwoman getting mowed down by a machine gun is excellent and the tiny, light blue panel lines keep the eyes busy, allowing the reader to linger on the page. Reeder also implements a much more sparse use of lines on her characters and backgrounds. This actually does fall short of the rich settings and perfectly realized characters of William’s time penciling the book.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the writing of the book. Williams and Blackman are keeping the pace they have set and I would even go so far as to say that this is a stronger first issue (to an arc) than the previous one. The script follows a non-linear story line that brings the reader up to speed with Batwoman since the last issue. With Bette still in critical condition and Kate working for D.E.O. now, things have certainly changed but a stronger and more confident Batwoman really takes control in this issue with the enhancements to her uniform and the success of both her love life and crime fighting. We are seeing the story smoothly play out from issue to issue in Batwoman with the next stage in her mission underway. There isn’t much of a cliffhanger and that is perfectly fine because every page in the issue pulls the reader in, leaving them wanting more from the vignettes of Kate’s life they just witnessed.

Although I am curious for the reason why the art team was switched up and I miss William’s artwork on the book, Reeder is doing a fine job keeping up and holding the ship steady as the guide their way into another story arc. I wish her luck because after the first arc, this is going to be a tough second act.

 

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #2 (of 5)

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi


Art by Tonci Zonjic and Dave Stewart


Lettering by Clem Robins


Published by Dark Horse Comics


Review by Shanna VanVolt

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

Let’s get this right out of the way: Tonci Zonjic is an artist to watch. This book looks great, and Zonjic doesn’t miss a beat on capturing Mignola’s noir macabre.

Zonjic brings an ease and simplicity of line to the Mignolaverse have never experienced before. His ability to emote through facial expressions and body language bestows realism on the bizarre nightmare of Lobster Johnson which emerged originally from a spinoff on Mike Mignola’s Hellboy characters. Close ups look like Lichtenstein paintings, foregrounds give depth and focus, and the men all come with chiseled chins that could have come out of Will Eisner’s shop. Slyly using what were once-standard pulp comic layouts—three rows with no more than three panels each-- Zonjic drags the reader kicking and screaming into this Twilight Zone-tinged mystique of the 1930s.

John Arcudi’s writing follows suit, giving us a lead gal with the hat of Dorothy Parker (well, that part is still Zonjic) and the chutzpah right out of His Girl Friday. In a lot of ways, Arcudi doesn’t really have to do much in this book. He has Zonjic putting up pretty pictures all over the place, and noir favors the strong silent types. But Arcudi does well to pace and get details that are important in a period piece. Wise guy mobsters come equipped with slangy old world accents, and our tough talking best girl appropriately says a whole lot of words without saying too much.

The tone is also kept light with a couple of jokes, which is nice in a second issue where you are just diving into a deeper plot. And, if you read a lot of Mignolaverse titles, you know that plot always gets a whole lot deeper and darker. The reader gets a great bad guy reveal here that is so enticing I checked the number of books left in the series.

Sadly, that number is only three. That does mean that there is bound to be action in the next issues, but Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand runs the risk of being just another splash in the pond of the Mignolaverse. With all the other titles that are fluttering around in this “Year of Monsters,” I often wish that good ones like this were treated more as entities in their own right, and not just chapters of a bigger disconnected book.

There are aspects of this series that don’t succeed, however. The colors aren’t as careful or inventive as Zonjic’s pencils. This issue has more tonal variety than the previous, (which was mostly the color of various bricks in low light) but I have to think that if Dave Stewart would push the light and play a little (think Edward Hopper), he would knock the art in this book out of the realm of just another paranormal research project.

Future concerns aside, what Zonjic and Arcudi have conjured in this book is a thoughtful simplicity. However, the simplicity here has a danger of being slap-dash. Less meaningful panels — like those of people just talking — can seem a little rushed, and the dialogue and plot, while on point for the genre, aren’t really giving us anything new to fill in the holes.

I appreciate the places where time is taken to be different. In issue #1, Zonjic gives us the date with the debris of a newspaper. Here, he gives us an exterior of a building that is on a sloping street instead of flat ground. In these considerate moments, this book shines.

For the art and sass, grab. this. book. And hope Dark Horse serves up Lobster Johnson as the main dish it deserves to be.

 

Mega Man #10

Written by Ian Flynn

Art by Ben Bates, Gary Martin, and Matt Herms

Letters by John Workman

Published by Archie Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"Adaptation" is usually a pretty dirty word in any medium. It usually means that some generally well meaning company or creator misses the mark when trying to translate a property that you already like to a new medium. Thankfully, "usually" isn’t "always" and Archie Comics’ Mega Man proves to be a bright spot amidst the inky blackness of adaptations past.

Mega Man #10 is the second part of the "Return of Dr. Wily" storyline that sees writer Ian Flynn and artist Ben Bates tackling what may be the best Mega Man game of all-time, Mega Man 2 for NES. Just like he did with the first arc that covered Mega Man 1, Flynn uses a series of battles with the Robot Masters to move the plot along. Despite the fact that their outcomes are essentially predetermined, the fights are fast-paced and fun. It’s akin to actually playing the game (just a helluva lot less frustrating). Exposition is mostly covered by Dr. Light pontificating to Roll back in the lab about Mega’s status. The tone of the book is similar to Mega Man's most recent cartoon iteration, lighthearted with a hint of underlying darkness.

Flynn’s dialogue is solid striking a kid-friendly chord without being completely groan-inducing. But some lines are absolutely perfect. Quickman’s quip about sequels being better than the originals stands out especially. It might seem relatively run-of-the-mill in the context of the story but fans of the game franchise will enjoy the nod to those 8-bit halcyon days. Still, Flynn is treading pretty familiar territory to the plot of his first arc. While the Quickman conflict introduced in the last issue and continued here does add new tension to the narrative, watching Mega Man lose himself to the power he wield is not at all new. Hopefully, Dr. Wily’s devious new programming will add a new and exciting layer of drama to the tale but right now it seems like we’ve read this story before just with different foes.

What’s been wonderful about this Mega Man book has been the incredibly consistent art. Despite the fact that the book is now on its third artist, it has remained in line with Mega Man’s visual representation across all mediums. Ben Bates continues in this tradition. But he brings a little extra to the table. Bates has a specific knack for character expressions. From Crashman’s descent into insanity to Heatman’s inevitable defeat, Bates captures the emotions that make these robots different from one another. Despite the excellent character work, some of Bates’ panel layouts are a little crowded. This isn’t entirely his fault as some of the more expository moment of dialogue contributes to the clutter.

Archie’s Mega Man has generally been an exquisite exercise in fan service and solid storytelling. It’s the kind of book that will convert new fans and keep old fans happy. But it risks alienating some readers if it doesn't prove that it can tell more than one story. Is there more to Mega Man than defeating other robots and taking their powers? Only time will tell and it’s up to Flynn and co. to deliver.

 

Adventure Time #1


Written by Ryan North


Art by Shelli Paroline, Aaron Renier and Branden Lamb


Lettering by Steve Wands


Published by BOOM! Studios


Review by Shanna VanVolt

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

If you have recently been an out of work 20-something or an eleven-year-old, chances are that you have watched an episode of Adventure Time. Here it is in book form!

That is about what can be said for this new comic series—it is that television series on paper. If you are a fan of the series, and I am, you’ll enjoy seeing the same characters. If you have never watched an episode, or never understood why someone would do such a thing, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Why? The problem is that the comic doesn’t capture the manic, childish excitement of the show. This lack of enthusiasm signals that perhaps a comic book isn’t the best medium for this idea. The show is also tightly paced and self-contained. Not so in the comic: the plot is not resolved in this first issue. This doesn’t allow the reader the sense of completion that 15-minute show segments afford. With the imaginative plot twists and general non-relation to anything actual (these things are not negatives) spanning several issues, the pacing suffers. Either TV has sapped my patience for serial, or nonsense should be more concise.

Another large misstep in saga-fying the story is that all of the characters are thrown at the reader at once. This onslaught makes Adventure Time #1 less accessible to the uninitiated. With Ice King, Princess Bubblegum and others thrown immediately into the mix, those not familiar are given little character development. I imagine reading this issue without watching the show would be a little like being blindfolded and unarmed in a Nerf war: amusing at first, but then a little annoying.

Jeffrey Brown does an alternate cover for Adventure Time #1 (of the 5 available) that has more depth (contrast and shading) and intrigue (personified multi-sided dice) than the rest of the book. It illustrates missed opportunities in bringing Jake and Finn to the printed page. Yes, there is still fun and randomness and Manichean good vs. evil (with fun at the foremost), but the format change could have cultivated aspects that don’t exist in the television episodes. Instead of just drawing an episode and giving somewhat disjointed stills, this book could have combed the depths of what it is to be animated in a static environment. And it just doesn’t.

What this book does is continue the adventures of the award-nominated series, and I am wholly in favor of giving this to children. There is still imagination and a no-holds-barred-without-waxing-negative feel to the zaniness— something kids don’t get enough of in this age of education requirements for child-oriented television programs. One of the best moments in the book comes when Finn dons Jake as a “dog suit” a truly plastic and wonderful leap of the imagination that hints at where the book could go, but too often doesn’t. That said, Jake and Finn are the bestest of best friends, and children should dive in and read about the existence of magical dogs who help you win wars against evil Ice Kings who just want to steal princesses.

The back matter on this book does mention some more guest cover artists, which is promising for variety. Hopefully some of that inventiveness can spill over into the comic and North and the content artists can make a product that can be viewed outside of the television series, but this first issue gives us imagination without using some on itself.

 

Wolverine and the X-Men #5

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, and Justin Ponsor

Letters by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for review

Jason Aaron is really succeeding at bringing the smaller scale soap opera drama back to the X-Men. It’s practically Claremontian and a welcome change of pace from the past few years of large scale tales that weren’t always well executed…

Aaron sets up the second arc by addressing the biggest question facing Wolverine and his school: who’s footing the bill? Warren Worthington’s fortune is on ice and Wolverine will have to make some tough decisions. By far the highlight of the book is Beast’s Biology 101 class that has his students on a field trip inside the mutant body. It's like X-Men by way of Ms. Frizzle as they interact with the mutant X gene and Kid Gladiator gets attacked by white blood cells. Quentin Quire and Idie’s exchange hints at future drama between the two and resident infatuated alien, Broo. We get a quick answer to Kitty's sudden pregnancy as well and it’s a shame that the reveal is spoiled on the cover. Considering the outcome of Rick Remender’s “Dark Angel Saga” in "Uncanny X-Force," a sense that no character is off limits when it comes to the great beyond. Kitty is the kind of character that could effectively bite the big one because of what her death would mean to some many other characters. So it makes the tension of her situation all the more real.

I didn’t think I’d be pleased that Chris Bachalo wasn’t drawing each and every issue of this series. But Nick Bradshaw has proven himself more than worthy to pick up Bachalo’s slack. Both Bachalo and Bradshaw’s styles take some cues from anime but it’s clear that Bradshaw has a bit more of a Western influence. His panels are jam-packed with information in the backgrounds and foregrounds. Not a single line is wasted. If Bradshaw bothered to draw it, then you can bet there’s a reason for it. He manges to keep the whimsical nature of the book at the forefront as well. Despite everything going on, we still get to see the Bamfs running around wearing Wolverine’s mask and Quire tagging up the insides of Toad’s cellular structure. It’s small details that make the book feel more cohesive as a whole because in some cases they are things that we’ve already seen Bachalo do and that we’ve come to expect.

Wolverine and the X-Men has quickly positioned itself as one of the best X books on the stands. And that’s saying a lot considering the quality work coming from "Uncanny X-Force," "Uncanny X-Men," "New Mutants," and others. With a Chris Claremont meets John Hughes meets Harry Potter type sensibility, Aaron and Bradshaw are creating high stakes drama on a smaller scale and they’re absolutely knocking it out of the park.

 

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes

Written by Mary M. Talbot

Art by Bryan Talbot

Lettering by Bryan Talbot

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"Dotter."

What a strange term For Mary Talbot to substitute for "daughter." After reading her and Bryan Talbot's Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, you can understand a bit why she doesn't use "daughter," a word that connotes a warmth and love that Mary rarely ever experienced with her father. Of course, the other reading of that title is that she's putting the dots on her father's eyes, finishing his life like you would finish a letter by simply putting a small mark above a vertical line. With either reading of the title, Mary Talbot opens the door on her childhood and tries to find some connection between her life and the life of James Joyce's daughter Lucia.

Mary Talbot's father was a James Joyce scholar — a well-known Joyce scholar — who could occasionally show moments of true love towards his daughter but was mostly a cruel man who had little patience or tolerance for Mary. From her account, she rarely found any love in her home, not even from her mother or her five brothers. To be fair, Mary spends little time with them; her focus is clearly on her father, from whom she once desired some affection before totally abandoning any hope of seeing any love from him. Later in life, before her father's funeral, she is told of the high regard that other Joyce scholars held her father in and how nurturing he was toward them. The man she is told about is not the same man who often yelled at and belittled her.

Just as her father was an expert on Joyce, Mary looks to Joyce's daughter Lucia as if she is trying to find some connection with her father. Mary sees Joyce as being the father that hers was not and Lucia as having the childhood she would have wished for. The book begins with Mary finding her late father's identification card and from there, here tale wanders between her childhood and Lucia's childhood, looking for any explanation of her father's seeming hatred of her.

By interspersing Lucia's life with hers, Mary Talbot gets to indulge in her wishes for what she wishes her own childhood were more like while recognizing that maybe Lucia didn't have the best life either. Maybe we're not supposed to get the childhood we won't but do get the childhood that makes us the adults we are. While she longs for a father like Joyce, Mary Talbot gets the adulthood where she has a husband and children. She shows us that you can find love just as long as you don't close yourself off to it.

Bryan Talbot produces some of the simplest cartooning of his long, distinguished career. He reduces all of the characters to simple, clear lines with mere dots as eyes. As Mary Talbot is trying to have a final word on her father, dotting the I's and crossing the T's, Bryan truly dots the eyes on both the father and the daughter. He lets Mary's collection of memories and facts dance across the page. Simple bordered panels cannot contain the past as Bryan Talbot assembles them like a storytelling collage. Mary's memories fit together like a puzzle that Bryan puts together, even using color as clues and hints of how everything fits together.

It's interesting that Mary Talbot feels the need to explore Lucia Joyce's life just as her father explored James Joyce's life. In James and Lucia, Mary sees connections that her and her father never shared but she knows better than to canonize the Joyces. While her story could easily fall into demonizing her own father while making the Joyces out to be saints, Mary Talbot resists making her story that simple or easy. Bryan Talbot visually reduces Mary's story to its simplest images but she looks back at her own childhood, trying to fit it into the context of the woman she became.

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