Best Shots Reviews: UNCANNY X-MEN, GREEN LANTERN CORPS, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with an addition to the Best Shots family! That's right, our team keeps growing, and today we're welcoming Brian Bannen of Unwinnable.com to our ranks. So while you all give him a round of Internet applause, we're going to let fellow newbie Pierce Lydon kick off today's column with a return to Tabula Rasa, in the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men

 

Uncanny X-Men #7

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten & Guru eFX

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The beauty of the current bevy of X-books is that they’ve each managed to carve out their own unique niche. Kieron Gillen’s high concept of an X-Men team on par with the Avengers not only sets up this summer’s aptly blockbuster event but also sets the bar for large-scale stories sure to cause ripple effects throughout the Marvel Universe. While the first arc captured that essence by melding Sinister with the Celestials, the follow-up has been a much slower build. By discarding the bombastic nature of its predecessor in favor of an intricately plotted sci-fi mystery, Gillen manages to change pace without losing momentum and still deliver a story that is wholly unique to him as a writer.

Gillen is at his best when he gets to do a little bit of world building. The introduction of the mysterious land of Tabula Rasa has allowed him to do just that. While some comparisons to the Savage Land could be made, the revelation of the conflict between Apex and the Immortal Man as well as their connection to each other sets Tabula Rasa up with a whole new dynamic. Apex is a great character who slides very easily into the role of pompous higher being. Despite the tension created by the Immortal Man’s plans, Apex’s interactions with the X-Men while he learns English provide well-timed moments of levity. But if Apex’s attitude wasn’t enough, his race’s evolution of language past words and into music provides proof that the X-Men are inferior while injecting the script with one of Gillen’s other personal passions. But besides great character moments and general story development, we get some excellent scenes. The fight between Apex and his “Unwife” is epic especially as Danger expands our knowledge of her capabilities. All in all, Gillen provides this entry a perfectly balanced script while still upping the ante in the denouement.

In fact, Gillen’s script is so good that it almost saves Greg Land’s art. On the whole, the issue is well-executed but it suffers just like many Land books before it. Early on, Land has trouble with some figure work. Cyclops looks like he’s packed on a few pounds since we last saw him and by a few I mean he looks like he should be playing offensive line for the Giants. That problem seems to work itself out over the course of the book but most other figures lack any sort of energy. This leads to was looks like a lot of simply standing around and heroic posing rather than any actually action. Land does well with some close-up shots though but I’m still counting the days until Carlos Pacheco returns.

Gillen writes an issue that is a combination of the best Star Trek episodes and the greatest X-Men stories tat still works under the umbrella of Cyclops' new mission statement for the team. X-Men and aliens aren't always a sure bet but keeping our favorite mutants’ feet on the ground rather than up in space definitely helps the issue out. It's a shame that Gillen didn’t have a better collaborator for such a well-written script, but Land puts in a rare satisfactory performance so it isn’t all bad. The conclusion to this arc is sure to be a doozy — if Gillen keeps going at this rate, it’s going to be interesting to see how he tops this one.

 

Green Lantern Corps #6

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by David Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One series DC has done consistently well is Green Lantern Corps. Whereas Green Lantern focuses solely on Hal Jordan (who is having his own slew of issues), Green Lantern Corps has really become a book about Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner. Ever since Tony Bedard killed off the planetary Lantern Mogo, it's been apparent that the writers of Green Lantern Corps aren't afraid to take chances with their characters. This issue is no different, and Peter Tomasi proves once again that the Green Lanterns will do whatever it takes to protect their world.

Tomasi does two things very well in this issue: he crafts a very innovative solution to the problem of the villains, and he makes his characters willing to do anything for the Green Lantern Corps. Guy and John have been fighting a series of willpower-draining aliens over the course of this arc. These sentient beings have found a way to deflect the constructs of the green rings, making them impervious to the Green Lanterns. So Guy does the only thing he can think of: he goes back to Earth and gets a whole lot of guns. They even find a way to use Sinestro Corps members to unwillingly help them weaken their enemies. The results are bloody and fun. But the real star of the issue is John. Remember when he killed Mogo during the Blackest Night saga? John does something similar in this issue, once again proving just how dedicated a soldier he can be. The result is pretty shocking, but not unexpected. In fact, how John protects the Guardian homeworld of Oa is the highlight of the issue. Tomasi makes John the strongest character because of his loyalty and honor. His actions will probably cause him some serious issues later on, but his justification is pretty sound.  

For my money, Green Lantern artists have the most difficult job of any artists in comics. If you've ever picked up a GL comic, you know that the corps is always fighting some sort of alien presence, and they're usually outnumbered five hundred to one. The epic battle sequences in this issue are visual candy. They can be overwhelming, especially on splash pages, but they are also very stunning. Fernando Pasarin deserves an award for his work on this comic. The majority of pages have several characters, and a few have hundreds of characters depicted. Scott Hanna and Gabe Eltaeb also do phenomenal work as it must be difficult it is to ink and color the green aura around the Lanterns as they're fighting an army of masked and armored aliens. Throw in glowing weapons, sprays of alien blood and bullet casings, and you get the general summation of detail that the artists have to depict. It has to take a lot of time and effort, but it looks fantastic in print.

I feel like I’m assured a good story when I pick up an issue of Green Lantern Corps. The consistency in the tone is what sells the book, and the visuals make it great to look at. I look forward to see the ripple effects of John’s choice, and the ways in which Tomasi uses it in the story. The tone — of brotherhood, valor, and honor — has been unwavering since this series started, and while Hal Jordan gets his own book, Green Lantern Corps has been great at using the “other lanterns” in ways that show their importance as well.

 

Daredevil #9

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Paolo Rivera and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even when it slips, Daredevil is still a book that stands high above its competition. Nine issues in, this issue doesn't quite have as much of that tactile, supersensory magic that has made this title such a treat, but Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera do bring some striking imagery to give this particular devil his due.

Zooming away from the Spider-Man/Black Cat crossover from last issue, Mark Waid drops Daredevil — and his readers — into a brand-new mystery, as an entire graveyard is robbed via underground. And to make matters worse: one of those caskets belongs to Matt Murdock's father. It's an intriguing enough hook, and while Waid doesn't quite put Matt into one of his trademark rages — after all, the whole premise of this new Daredevil series was a more positive spin, a hero who literally stops to smell the roses — he does bring some sparks by the end of the book. In that regard, it's actually kind of nice to be reminded that Daredevil isn't just some smirking vigilante, but a dude who can literally take your arm off if you get him mad enough.

But the real strength of this issue, I'd argue, is the artwork by Paolo Rivera, and the imagery that he and Waid produce together. One of the many reasons why Daredevil has been so enduring is that demon iconography, that internal metaphor that can be spun off into thousands of different stories. Yet I don't think I've ever seen Matt Murdock literally steering a coffin down an underground stream, like a crimson Charon crossing the River Styx. Rivera also has such a nice sense of motion and weight to his characters, whether its the mutated Mole Men lunging at Matt like wild dogs, or Matt hooking his arm around the Mole Man's head, his jaw clenched with rage.

While the Black Cat subplot does get a little bit of screen time in this book, I will say that that's one of the two major weaknesses of this particular issue — we left the crossover too early. Daredevil and Spidey fighting over the Black Cat was an incredibly fun, character-driven story, but while the beginning and middle were solid, the end comes so quickly, with such little fanfare, that you almost wonder if you missed an issue along the way. To be honest, it feels like there's more to work with in that setting than with this particular story, which feels a little more forced with the Kirby critters running around. That's the other downside — the environment. Waid has really charmed readers with the different angles Matt has been able to perceive (and exploit) through smell, hearing, taste, touch and his ever-present radar sense, but unfortunately, many of those senses aren't on display here. It's a shame, because that clearly makes this book the treat it is.

Still, even though the sheer inventiveness of Daredevil isn't at its highest in this issue, a "solid" outing by Waid and Rivera is what would be considered a high point for many other superhero titles. To be honest, when most titles falter on their strong suits, they don't have anything to back it up with, and if we're going to lose out a little on Daredevil the Sensualist, I think seeing Daredevil as Man Made Demon is still a pretty good consolation prize.

 

Birds of Prey #6


Written by Duane Swierczynski


Art by Javier Pina and June Chung


Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual 


Published by DC Comics


Review by Jake Baumgart


'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

There is something eerie and unsettling lurking in the negative space on Birds of Prey #6. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have so much to do with the story as it is the vacant and awkward artwork. Although Javier Pina and June Chung have been on point for the previous issues, the lack of Jesus Saiz’s layouts seems to be hurting the book. Although the story really seems to be ramping up for an awesome conclusion to the first arc, the artwork is distracting and, at times, actually hurts the momentum the comic is building.

It isn’t the pacing of the artwork that is off or that the line work is sloppy (although it is inconsistently heavy in certain parts). The real problems come from the figures themselves. Go to the credits page with the large splash where Black Canary and Starling have their culprit cornered. Starling, standing in the foreground, seems to just be staring into the middle distance, not really concerned with the mission at hand. Her eyes aren’t on the target at all, just staring into whatever is in front of her. All of the characters throughout the book are devoid of any sort of detail or, ironically, character. The art could be the opposite of the Image school of penciling (tons of busy lines that don’t really do anything) but I know there has to be a happy medium somewhere. The figures aren’t ill proportioned, in fact, they are a little too perfect and this makes them come off as stiff and lifeless. At best they are a set of action figure stances arranged throughout the book and at worst they look like renderings of photographs. It’s the lack of detail, the folds of a shirt, the etching on a belt buckle, and the knick-knacks in cubicles, which are really missing from this issue’s artwork.

The backgrounds suffer from this as well. Some of the flavor is lost in not being able to tell what kind of building the characters are in because of the lack of pencil mileage. While on the topic of filling up space, the use of large, half-spage panels is out of control here. Sure, it’s great story telling to use a large panel for shocking, revealing moments or maybe a battle for impact but here we have them on almost every single page. There weren't enough twists and turns to justify this. Sadly, where Pina fell short, the colors, by June Chung, don’t really pick up. With the lack of stuff to color in, the coloring brings out the overly blank pages with lots of gradient fades and filling in the blanks. I like to think that, with something more to work off of, the coloring in this book would have been fine.

Although I feel like it has been one issue too many leading up to the climax of this arc, I like Swierczynski’s long road approach to this story. The reader wasn’t bombarded with a lot of characters to familiarize with right off the bat and this lends itself nicely to the Birds of Prey being more of a task force than an actual team (like the X-Men or Teen Titans). This is perfect for a team containing Katana, Starling and even Batgirl who don’t seem like the kind of characters that would hang out but would definitely work well together. It would be nice to see a little bit more characterization from the protagonists behind the masks because of right now; they all seem like assassins and not people. This is especially true for Black Canary who, pre New52 was pretty well fleshed out and connected to the rest of the DC heroes. However, I do think that fans of the Birds will enjoy this run and this issue in particular because of how it does feature the whole team and gears up for what appears to be a nasty battle.

Although I can see that long time fans of these characters might be enjoying the book, it seems that the rearranging of the art team might have been too sudden or thrown this book for a loop. The shakeup definitely put the Birds of Prey on unlevel ground and, unfortunately, they are going to need it for the next issue and if this title wants to stay relevant.

 

Ultimate Comics X-Men #7

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong and Marte Gracia

Lettering by VC's Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The first arc of Marvel’s restructured Ultimate Comics X-Men focused on the fallout from Ultimatum where Magneto switched the Earth’s magnetic poles and caused a series of natural disasters in an attempt to exterminate the human race. Mutants are still feared, and at the hands of William Stryker and his fleet of Nimrod Sentinels — created by Pietro Lensherr — all mutants are being hunted down and killed. And it appears that Pietro has been manipulated into doing this. Ultimate Comics X-Men explores the aftermath of these events where Quicksilver, despite all his arrogance and pride, looks weak, vulnerable, and most surprisingly, human.

The real stars of this issue are Pietro and his sister Wanda (also known as The Scarlet Witch) who serve two opposing, yet somewhat united forces. By using an alternative narrative voice, one that divulges the depth of Pietro’s failure, Nick Spencer writes in a way that makes readers feel for Pietro. Yes, he’s a jerk. Yes, he manufactured the downfall of the mutant race to make himself its supreme ruler, but we can see that he never intended the level of destruction that occurs. When Pietro confronts his sister about her role in the plan, she makes him look unbelievable weak and his frailty makes for a palpable reader sympathy. I also have to credit Spencer for his fluid story-telling which takes readers from past to present without ever losing focus of he core narrative. The building blocks of the climax are put into place over the course of the issue and the end result opens the doors for a much greater story. It's particularly enjoyable to watch Pietro craft the perfect Sentinel, giving it the ability to withstand every mutant attack, only to have it blow up in his face Readers know that by the end of the issue, Magneto is no longer the biggest villain in the Ultimate Marvel Universe.

Carlos Barberi gives a solid effort in this issue as his panel construction fluidly takes readers through a story that relies on the manipulation of time. The few pages where Pietro is depicted running and the panels around him tell the story of the Sentinels came to be are beautifully crafted. Barberi makes sure to have the narrative work around Pietro while still keeping him as the main focus of the comic. The Nimrod Sentinels are sleek and terrifying to which I credit Walden Wong and Marte Garcia. They add excellent inks and colors to emphasize how dangerous the Nimrods are. For example, when the Sentinels kill, Wong and Garcia highlight them in red and black. This dark tone sets a visual mood that helps enhance the recurring violence. I love the glossy, metallic highlights of the robots, and the use of shadow and light as mood enhancers. I think some readers may find the visuals a bit distracting as a lot of action occurs on each page, but at no point is it too visually compacted.

I’ve been consistently impressed with this series as each issue has offered up a solid story. After laying the ground work for the first few issues, the series feels like it’s really picking up steam and building to a pretty epic climax. The image on the final page of the comic has me very excited to see where the series goes from here. Ultimate Comics X-Men is an ambitious series that rewards long time readers and new fans alike. And with one of the best authors in comics currently, I don’t see this series failing to entertain any time soon.

 

Blue Beetle #6

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Ig Guara, J.P. Mayer, Mark Irwin and Pete Pantazis

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Out of all of the titles of The New 52, the hardest to separate from its pre-boot predecessor has to have been Blue Beetle. Having barely had five years to introduce Jaime Reyes the first time, DC and Tony Bedard have been thrown in between a rock and a hard place — Jaime is just too good of a character to leave on the table, but they also want to provide an easy entree for the property. Unfortunately, this bug can't have his cake and eat it, too, because what Bedard, Ig Guara and company bring is a story that's heavy on action but light on all the nuanced characterization that made Jaime so special in the first place.

From the first page, you get the sense that Bedard has a very binary take on the Blue Beetle, as opposed to the "anything goes" sensibilities that Keith Giffen, John Rogers and Matthew Sturges brought to the table — Jaime can't just be friends with his classmate Brenda anymore, now it's a love triangle between them and their missing friend Paco. Paco, who was so likable and so layered in his previous iteration, is no longer any of these things — he's a threat, a thug, a flat object rather than a vibrant supporting character. And with a series like this, particularly with a protagonist who is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of powers and weapons, you have to be fully invested in the characters in order to give the threat much weight. It's only near the tail end of the script where Bedard makes a few unexpected choices — granted, these choices might leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, but at the very least, it doesn't feel quite as Column A or Column B as many of the other plot points in this story.

Ig Guara, meanwhile, is a bit of an interesting case. I think in terms of expressiveness, he's got some serious potential — that Blue Beetle mask isn't necessarily the easiest thing to show emotion through, but I really like the way that Jaime's awkwardness and fear really shows through his eyes and his mouth. That said, Guara also has some major challenges to overcome — he skews heavily towards the widescreen-style horizontal panels, often to the point where the composition suffers. Additionally, there are plenty of pages that simply just lack backgrounds, which then makes the Blue Beetle and his nemesis, the Red Beetle, fight in dull brown space. Guara's inkers, J.P. Mayer and Mark Irwin, also have a tendency to harden his otherwise wonderfully fluid lines, giving him more of a harsher Matthew Clark vibe than I think this title might merit. I will say that colorist Pete Pantazis does more than his fair share of heavy lifting on this book, imbuing the Blue and Red Beetles with a vibrant energy, particularly in their eyes, as well as filling in background details when neither the penciler nor the inkers could.

That said, with these critiques in mind, there are some diamonds in the rough here. First off, this chapter is pretty well structured, giving new readers a decent entry for the series. (Granted, this pacing comes at the cost of fleshing out Jaime's family, and you're going to pretty much have to smile and nod at Jaime's interaction with his sentient bugsuit. You can roll with it, it's just a comic.) It's also heavy on the action, which raises the stakes fairly quickly, and keeps the audience from getting bored. And ultimately, Bedard has thrown together enough complications for Jaime that he does elicit some degree of sympathy in that old Spider-Man vein, where great power doesn't just bring great responsibility, it also seems to say that no good deed goes unpunished.

And maybe that's the lesson to take from Tony Bedard and Ig Guara's relaunch of Blue Beetle. It's well intentioned, and in certain ways does try to incorporate some of the magic from the original series. But at the same time, how do you recapture that lightning in a bottle, when you aren't adding to it? This is a reboot of a reboot, but it ends up feeling like a low-calorie version of a favorite dish. There is a ton of room for Jaime Reyes to grow — and to be honest, would it have even been that terrible to just continue from the pre-boot continuity, a la Green Lantern? —but instead of being the character that feels fresh and takes new directions, Blue Beetle is sadly feeling like more of the same.

 

Athos in America

Written by Jason

Art by Jason and Hubert

Published by Fantagraphics Books

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Athos in America is the latest collection of graphic novellas from esteemed Norwegian cartoonist Jason. Taking the same format as 2009’s Low Moon this new collection features six brand new stories written and drawn by Jason, and coloured by his long-time collaborator Hubert.

The collection takes its title from the lead story, which is a prequel of sort to Jason’s graphic novel The Last Musketeer, which finds a seemingly immortal version of Alexander Dumas’ Athos character journey to America in the 1920s to play himself in a film version of The Three Musketeer. Athos recounts his tall-tale to a New York bartender, and the pair hold an interesting conversation about the differences between European and American culture. Elsewhere in the collection we get an autobiographical story in “A Cat from Hell,” a tale of kidnapping gone wrong in “The Smiling Horse,” a bizarre mash-up of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Wolfe,” four lonely lives coming together in a catastrophic way in “Tom Waits on the Moon,” and a prison-escape love-triangle in “So Long, Mary Ann.”

All of the stories are told in Jason’s trademark “almost silent” fashion, where he uses no narration or captions, and keeps his script to just a small amount of dialog. He instead allows his artwork to do the bulk of the storytelling, and trusts in the reader’s intelligence to comprehend what is going on. A notable exception to this formula comes in the form of “Tom Waits on the Moon,” in which none of the characters ever speak, and all we see are speech bubbles, expressing their thoughts of regret.

It’s certainly an eclectic collection, with stories ranging the gamut from the fantastical to the mundane, and themes ranging from crime drama to science fiction to slice of life. There are some common themes running throughout though, most prominently in my mind, are the themes of love lost, regret, and loneliness. Many of the characters in the collection seem forlorn and dejected, desperate for human contact, and yet unable to realize this goal, either through pure circumstance, poor decisions, or self-destructive tendencies. This includes Jason himself, who bares his soul in an autobiographical tale that paints him in a none too flattering light. In the story an altercation with his girlfriend ends with him slapping her in the face, and her leaving to stay at her mother’s house. He then gets drunk, goes over there, and sets a picture of her on fire in the street. Later, at a party after a reading, he pulls a knife on a fan, before picking a random groupie to sleep with. He ends up paying for his behavior though, before finding redemption by throwing himself on his girlfriend’s mercy. It’s a sad and brutally honest look at the horrible things that we’re capable of doing to ourselves and the ones we love.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, and the collection has its fair share of comedic moments, although most of it admittedly dark, subtle, and deadpan. In particular, the crime lord from “So Long, Mary Ann” has some standout moments, as he punishes his underlings in more and more hilariously elaborate ways, for minor transgressions such as spilling a drop of soup on his sleeve.

If you are not familiar with Jason’s work, now is probably a good time to mention that all of his characters are anthropomorphic cats, dogs, and birds. His characters rarely show any form of facial expression, with their mouths generally being drawn as a stoic thin line. In addition, all of his characters have dead white circles for eyes, with no irises or pupils. This makes for some incredibly haunting imagery that seems to heighten the emotional impact of the stories, because all of the characters just look so sad.

Jason’s style is probably best described as being minimalist, characterized by clean linework influenced by the Ligne Claire style pioneered by Hérge - typified by clear strong lines of uniform importance. There is no use of hatching, and all blacks are filled solidly. It’s an incredibly simple approach, with no need for frills or embellishments, but its so beautiful in its simplicity - every line is there for a reason, and there’s no unnecessary detail to distract from the narrative flow. As storytelling methods go, it’s an amazingly effective approach, and one that is so unique to Jason’s work. 
 
There’s some fantastic imagery throughout and it’s hard to pick out favorites, but I particularly like the image at the end of "A Cat From Heaven," where bruised and battered and feeling utterly dejected, Jason sits down at his drawing board and begins drawing the very first panel of the story which you've just read, which is incidentally is of him sitting at his drawing board and drawing, it gives you an eerie feeling of deja vu. Another great image is in "Tom Waits on the Moon" where he pays tribute to "The Fly" with a scientist who has been gene sliced with a fly.The fly creature seems menacing to all the characters in the story, where to the reader it's just another anthropomorphic character, which gives the scene a feel of the ridiculous.

There’s a lot to be said for the color work of Hubert as well, as the pair have worked together so frequently that their styles compliment each other perfectly. In keeping with the minimalist approach, Hubert favours solid colors, with no variation in shade or hue. In some scenes he’ll seem to carry a color theme through the panels, which makes for some quite striking pages. Athos in America is a tour de force that showcases Jason’s immense talents as both an artist and a storyteller. These haunting stories will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

 

Wolverine #301

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Billy Tan, Jason Keith, Steve Sanders and Sotocolor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

If you're looking for crazy, off-the-wall action, Jason Aaron is pretty much a sure bet right now. Between Wolverine and its brighter, bouncier sister title Wolverine and the X-Men, he's throwing as many ideas against a wall as he can to see what sticks. While Aaron doesn't always nail it, the ambition and enthusiasm is contagious, and makes for a pretty entertaining sophomore chapter in this sword-swinging, shape-shifting epic.

Pitting Wolverine against Sabretooth, the new techno-version of the Silver Samurai, a horde of angry ninjas and chainsaw-wielding bikers gives Jason Aaron's story a real grindhouse vibe, just frenetic violence for violence's sake. You can sense not just the Grant Morrison high-concept ambitiousness at play here, but you actually see a little bit of that Garth Ennis-style, near-cartoonish levels of over-the-top violence, particularly as the Silver Samurai talks about putting his schoolyard enemies in traction for a month using nothing more than a microwave, bicycle chains and a bag of nails. But that sense of humor actually goes a long way towards making this story feel memorable, and to be honest, once you wear down that suspension of disbelief a little bit, it gives a lot of room for Logan to maneuver. When you've been around as long as Wolverine has, suddenly imaginary fighting with a ninja coma victim doesn't seem so bizarre.

Where I think this book stumbles a bit is in the art. Last issue, the "milestone" 300th issue, had the advantage of having Adam Kubert and Ron Garney on board — that book looked positively sick. This issue brings back Steve Sanders and teams him up with Billy Tan, and it's unfortunately no contest. Sanders is the more impressive one out of the bunch, with some smooth lines for the Silver Samurai and an almost Chaykin-esque chunkiness to Wolverine's features. He's very rounded, on occasion, similar to Jamie McKelvie, which gives a surprisingly indie vibe to a book as ruthless and mainstream as Wolverine, but it gets the job done. Billy Tan, meanwhile, merges better in style to Garney, but his characters often stick out, and not in a great way. He's definitely trying to stretch himself in terms of making his characters expressive, but oftentimes their features seem very similar, and the extremely blocky nature of his anatomy (particularly in the necks and shoulders) makes the action compositions feel a little flat. That said, the one time we see Wolverine in costume actually looks pretty intimidating, and makes me wish the script could have been tailored to suit that strength a little bit more.

Now, people could certainly argue that this comic is self-indulgent, or just mindless action — if you're looking for some sort of sequel to that seminal Claremont "soul-searching in Japan" yarn, you're not going to find it here. This isn't a book about character growth, this is a book about fighting ninjas and Yakuza and cyber-samurai, and it's to Aaron and company's credit that they revel in that, rather than try to apologize for it. The relentless action, combined with some slightly halting artwork, doesn't always make this book the most memorable one in the world, but this is more of an exercise in tone than in execution. It's not in the same class as last issue, but it's fun nevertheless.

 

Red Hood and the Outlaws #6

Written by Scott Lobdell and Josh Williamson

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Blond

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

I thought DC’s decision to bring Jason Todd back to life was a great one. His “return” in Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Hush story line generated a lot of excitement. Then he officially came back during Judd Winick’s run in Batman, his resurrection explained as a course correction in the aftermath of Superboy-Prime punching holes in the timestream. Then he became a badass of the DCU, trying to become the leader of all the gangs in Gotham. My point is that a lot of fodder exists for a good antihero story rather than the one that appears in Red Hood and the Outlaws. What Scott Lobdell attempts to do in this issue is explain how Red Hood and Starfire met. What could have been an interesting story, however, turns out to be a weak journey of self-discovery coupled with bad dialogue.

Because this the story is by Scott Lobdell and the dialogue is written by Josh Williamson, I don’t know who is truly to blame for this comic. The most interesting moments of the story delve into the relationship between Dick Grayson and Jason Todd (back when he was Robin), but this only gets one page. The rest of the issue follows Jason as he strolls around naked, save for a few leaves over his crotch, and talks to Princess Koriand’r. It appears that she’s quite the philosopher as she offers up pearls of wisdom like “I do not define myself by the men I have known . . . or by their clothes. And neither should you.” This kind of nebulous statement seems to resonate with Jason Todd as it starts him on his path to redemption. But Jason’s transformation might feel more genuine if he didn’t refer to Starfire as a “space kitty” or an “orange chick,” and Koriand’r might be taken more seriously if she didn’t spout lines like “This heat that roars through my body is supposed to be there.” Plus with how the comic opens, readers would think that Jason Todd has to work very hard at becoming a better person. Yet from the moment he wakes up, he’s more awkward than fierce. He follows Koriand’r around like a puppy. This Jason Todd is much different than the independent rogue readers remember from years past.

Kenneth Rocafort’s art isn’t bad, per se, but I still find his depiction of Starfire to be a bit much. At all times, it feels like Rocafort is trying to remind readers of Princess Koriand’r’s level of sexy. Every time she appears, she looks like she’s posing for a Victoria’s Secret ad. And because the story takes place on a tropical island, Starfire spends a lot of time showing a lot of skin. Rocafort’s Jason Todd also feels inconsistent. While Lobdell and Williamson attempt to write Jason as a tough guy, he makes too many childish faces. At no time does he feel threatening. That said, Blond’s colors are very engaging. I enjoyed looking at the comic, even if I didn’t enjoy reading it.

The Starfire I remember, before The New 52,” was smart, strong, and confident. Here, she’s a body to look at. While Lobdell and Williamson try to make her more innocent — almost like she’s experiencing things for the first time — they fail to really emphasize her virtue. The same can be said for Jason Todd. He’s lost the initial spark of ferocity and violence. This incarnation feels miles away from the original foil he played to Batman. Red Hood and the Outlaws is a shame, really. It could have been what Uncanny X-Force is to Marvel -- a group of anti-heroes doing a series of covert missions in the name of justice. And with a cast of young and impressive heroes, Red Hood and the Outlaws has the ability to tell some good stories. The problem is that the comic doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. I see it attempting to be hip and sexy, while being explosive and exciting. Yet these two things never fully materialize, and the story feels anything but compelling. I’d say that of The New 52, Red Hood and the Outlaws is one the weakest of the bunch. Count me out for any more adventures involving this crew because after this outing, I don’t want to spend the money on something this bad.

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

Twitter activity