Best Shots: Iron Fist, Titans, Prince of Persia and More

Best Shots: Iron Fist, Titans and More

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Before we begin, I want to welcome a new team member and acknowledge a departure. First off, welcome to Mike Mullins! We’ve know that he was coming aboard for a while, but he makes his column debut this week.

As for the departure, some of you have already read this around the internet in the past couple of weeks. I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it because I didn’t want to embarrass her or anything like that, but I now hear that she’s going to be included in a DC Nation column. That, and it’ll be pretty obvious when her name starts showing up in credit boxes this month. Our own Janelle Siegel went and got herself hired as an Assistant Editor at DC Comics. The lovely J is now in the Office of The Bat, and I, for one, am ridiculously proud of her.

Now, let’s have some links to our Best Shots Extras from this week . . .

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1

Kick-Ass #4

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament #1

Runaways Vol. 3 #1

Iron Fist #18

Marvel Comics

Writer: Duane Swierczynski

Artists: Travel Foreman and Russ Heath

Colors: Matt Milla

Review by: Brendan McGuirk

The Iron Fist revival series was one of the most pleasant, unexpected surprises of the last few years. A B-list character, and relative unknown creative team (minus crime and heroics guru Ed Brubaker), could not deter the acknowledgement of a truly special book. After sixteen issues, two oversized Specials, and an extremely creative recolored presentation of Iron Fist’s first appearance, the time came for the series’ architects to depart. This meant that for the book to survive, editor Warren Simons would need to use the same bottle to catch a second genie.

Two issues in, and the jury is still out. While the character and structure of the book is consistent, and the potential is apparent, there are a few holes that cause concern. First, the wistful voice, and total spontaneity, are somewhat lacking in Duane Swierczynski’s script. Throwaway lines like “[He was] popping up everywhere, like VD,” simply reek of wasted energy in the effort to keep the book cutesy, edgy, and funny. Additionally, characters like Luke Cage, much welcome as a solid suppoting cast, lose part of their charm and appeal with one too many “yo’s.” The book’s most unique asset, the story jumps to the Iron Fists of days past, is well represented, with Russ Heath drawing a mean old West. The biggest difference, though, is that the previous writers used the flashbacks primarily to develop characters, with a secondary ability to advance the central plot. This story is the inverse, providing more plot exposition, with a subtle side of character development. Swierczynski has a few aces in the hole, notably his awesome visual labeling of such moves as the “Screaming Eagle Slap,” the “Gouge of the Forlorn,” and the rarely utilized but highly effective “Bronx Sucker Punch.” Ideas like this are strong enough to cover any other missteps.

On the art side, Travel Foreman is a more than adequate replacement for David Aja. His stylized interpretation for the book makes for dynamic pages, and engaging visuals. His weakness seems to be faces, sometimes appearing muddled and often altogether avoided. Matt Milla’s deep, nuanced color palate keeps the look interesting.

So the book is a decided mixed bag. Hopefully, the team gets enough time to grow, and find their own voice. With a book as strong as the 16+ issues of this Iron Fist book, a simple clean pass of the baton is enough to be considered success. If you enjoyed what David Aja, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker did with this little book that could, don’t neglect the book without them. It won’t be quite what you remembered from the early issues, but it will be enough fun to warrant further and future reads.

Teen Titans: Year One #6 (of 6)

From: DC

Writer: Amy Wolfram

Art: Karl Kershel with Serge Lapointe and John Rauch

Review by Mike Mullins

My first reaction after reading this issue was to go back to the cover and make sure this was the last issue of the mini-series. While the last page said, "The very end," it was the only aspect of the issue that felt like a conclusion. The rest of the issue, much like issues 4 and 5, felt more like an interlude between story arcs.

While the story and pacing were not a fit for the finale, credit must be given to the art team of Karl Kershel (pencils), Serge Lapointe (inks), and especially John Rauch (colors). The stylization of the characters and locations works really well for a title like Teen Titans, but the watercolor feel to the art really helps establish the mood of the comic and works suprisingly well with Kershel's art. It reminds me a bit of the watercolor colorization techniques used by Milestone years ago. In this issue in particular, the coloring really worked well in terms of storyline and evoking a nightmarish aspect to the comic.

There isn't much text to the issue, which makes the issue a quick, but confusing read. Are the rest of the titans really inside Dick's head, do they have a shared nightmare linked through Antithesis, or are they simply imaginary friends created by Dick's thoughts? The impact of the issue really hinges on that unanswered question because a battle cry of "Titans Together" coming from Dick and imaginary versions of the team isn't all that important.

I loved the first three issues of Teen Titans: Year One, but the last three issues ended the mini-series on a whimper rather than with a bang. This issue is worth having to complete the series, but it shouldn't convince anyone to collect the back issues.

Teen Titans #62

Writer: Sean McKeever

Artist: Eddy Barrows

From: DC Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

After sitting out the Terror Titans arc, I picked this issue up more for the nostalgia of Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog then for the actual story of the angst-obsessed Teen Titans. To say the cover was misleading would be an understatement based on the events that transpire this issue, yet the misleading nature of the cover works perfectly in the context of the story.

Sean McKeever has a knack for youthful voices, from his work on Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane to Gravity yet somehow on Teen Titans that youthful voice seems to be all but missing from the titles main characters. The overall story is well told in terms of structure and pacing, event the manner in which McKeever foreshadows Wendy and Marvin’s ultimate fate is well-done as he skillfully lures the reader into a false sense of security.

While the payoff to the story’s main plot, “Who is Wonder Dog?,” is well done, it’s the almost smothering, emotional weight that most of the Titans seem to exhibit under McKeever’s pen that causes the most consternation. It almost seems that the sole purpose of teaming these particular teens together is to squeeze the most melodrama possible in twenty-two pages and squeeze the do.

Throughout the issue, Tim Drake whines like Jason Todd, which is completely out of character for him. To make matters worse, due to the way artist Eddy Burrows interprets McKeever’s script, Tim also comes across as pathetic, much like Jason Todd. For a character whom in the main Batman titles is just a notch below Nightwing for the mantle of their mentor, it seems ludicrous to watch Tim fall apart the way he does this issue. The events that these characters are experiencing in this title do not seem to require so much drama, but McKeever sure does love to wring it out of each character in turn.

To make matters worse, Wonder Girl’s answer to Tim’s whining is to suggest hitting something; which is yet another scratch-your-head moment that occurs, but the necessity of removing the Titans from the main tower is understandable based on Wonder Dog’s story needs. Yet, even this moment leads to another major problem with this issue: exactly how protected is Titans Tower?

Wendy had to make her way all the way to the training room just to try and get help, yet Cyborg is tied into the main system where he has just upgraded the security system, amongst other things. Are there no panic buttons in Titans Tower? Considering how many times they have been attacked in their own home, it would seem to make sense; yet, there is Wendy with no help in sight and nary an alarm to be heard. On my initial reading of this issue that plot point was no more irritating than Wendy’s constant negativity, but after multiple readings it became a bigger and bigger distraction.

Eddy Barrows’ emotive art is definitely a saving grace this issue as the main story beat plays out like a scene straight out of Aliens and Burrows captures the moment perfectly. The overall character work was impressive, but his rendering of Robin really looked more like Bruce in his demeanor and look.

On a first reading this is an interesting issue that seems to get bogged down in its own emotional quagmire. Miss Martian’s sole purpose this issue was to cryptically say good bye to her teammates. This type of scene irritates me mainly because I know this mysterious reason for her disappearance will eventually require the presence of the Titans.

Even worse though is there seems to be a complete lack of fun in this issue, with the exception of Blue Beetle and Kid Devil who are mainly played for a quick moment of comic relief before the story moves once again into the realm of 90210-type drama.

Northlanders #9

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Dean Ormston

Published by DC/Vertigo

Review by Sarah Jaffe

I enjoyed the first 8 issues of Northlanders—I caught on late, and finally picked them up this summer. It was a fun book, beautifully drawn and well told in the type of modern language that makes period stories much more relatable—using the words the Vikings likely would’ve used if they’d had access to them, rather than trying to write like the Beowulf poet.

I said goodbye to Sven without heartbreak, though. His story was told. And this new arc—a short one, two issues—has grabbed me in a way the first eight books didn’t.

“Lindisfarne” has added another layer entirely. It is About Something in the way that Wood’s best work on DMZ is, and it’s willing to offend not with sex or violence but with thoughts on religion that are genuinely challenging.

Edwin is a boy being raised by his Christian father after the death of his pagan mother, in the shadow of the monastery at Lindisfarne. The unloved second son, he is desperate for something to believe in, reaching for magic, but may be in for a nasty surprise.

His father’s actions are those of the convert who perhaps makes up for his lack of certainty by aggressively forcing his religion on others—if he can convince his sons, maybe he’ll convince himself.

The story interrogates the very nature of belief, asking tough questions about whether faith comes from desperation, and whether it can be enforced at the point of a sword. It also looks at family ties, and pain, and revenge, and how much responsibility a screwed-up kid has for his mistakes.

But it’s still got Vikings, and weapons, and ghostly dragon-boats, lest you think all the fun was taken out of it.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Dean Ormston’s art, but it works well here and there are some beautiful panels that stuck with me for days. The colors are delicious, candy-flavored and fading into dull, military grey for the invading hordes, and the stupidly cruel grin on the face of Cerdic is chilling. And one of the less-noted points in Brian Wood’s writing is that he knows when to get out of his artist’s way.

I’m already sad that this is a two-part arc, but it offers a perfect jumping-on point for those of you who haven’t tried it yet, or perhaps didn’t find Sven to your liking. Like all the best stories, Northlanders might be about Vikings, but it’s really about us.

Prince of Persia

Story by Jordan Mechner & A.B. Sina

Written by A.B. Sina

Illustrated by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland, with Hilary Sycamore

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Having no familiarity with the Prince of Persia video game series, other readers may have differing perspectives on this book, but I must admit that Prince of Persia makes for a fairly compelling graphic novel. Telling of two pairs of princes and princesses, each set living four centuries apart, whose destinies are intertwined in each other’s fates as well as that of the kingdom Marv, Prince of Persia mixes providence, politics and the struggle for survival. The combination is a time-spanning, engaging, dramatic story that should please gamers and non-gamers alike.

A.B. Sina’s script shows a clear understanding of Eastern myths, with a strong focus on each prince and princess’s inextricable role in the unfolding drama. The ninth century edition of Marv’s ruling conflict focuses primarily on the cast-out Prince Guiv, led by his spirit animal on a quest of self-enlightenment and laying a foundation for Marv’s future. In the thirteenth century, runaway Princess Shirin finds the key to a rebellion in Ferdos, a boy living in the wells of an abandoned settlement. Bouncing back and forth between the two time periods, Sina balances both halves of his narrative effectively, and he does a solid job keeping each of his many main characters’ voices distinct. Due to the time flipping, the script could’ve occasionally benefited from indicators as to when a scene occurred, and to whom is was occurring. The dialogue’s formal lilt effectively enforces the foreign and historical setting. Despite dragging slightly during the build to the explosive finale, the pay-off is worth the wait.

Clean and strong, the line work by Pham and Puvilland moves the story clearly from panel to panel, page to page. The character designs could’ve been stronger, as the square-jawed Guiv and heroic Ferdos are occasionally difficult to distinguish when scenes change abruptly. The art tandem switch to a convincing wall-mural style when conveying legends of the kingdom that are told to the protagonists, and the coloring is sufficiently nuanced to always feel like a desert setting without overwhelming the story in brown monotone. A design or art style to indicate a change of era might’ve made a few sections of the story easier to follow, but the art is crisply clean and easy to read.

Though it doesn’t reinvent the storytelling wheel, Prince of Persia is worthwhile for readers interested in well-crafted Eastern myths, the inevitability of fate, or heroes rising from the people. Gamers should appreciate the additional insights into the themes of the game, as well as game creator Jordan Mechner’s afterward, wherein he discusses the evolution of his character from video games to graphic novels. Fortunately, however, non-gamers also will have no difficulty journeying along with the Princes of Persia either.

The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli

Writer: Jay Piscopo

Artist: Jay Piscopo

Nemo Publishing

Review By: Jeff Marsick

Blink while perusing a Previews and you would probably miss the solicit for this book, a mash-up of classic adventure cartoons like Johnny Quest, Golden Age super-heroics of Aquaman and the Defenders, and some Jules Verne and Seaquest for good measure.

It all begins when a futuristic mini-sub of sorts washes ashore off the coast of Maine and within is discovered an infant boy. A kindly lighthouse keeper and his wife are quick to adopt him as their only child and name him Eli, soon marveling at not only the boy’s innate swimming abilities above and beyond his peers, but also his technological savvy. Where he came from may be a mystery, but where he is destined to go is clear. He can’t be much more than twelve when he’s taken his pod and some spare parts courtesy of the US Navy, and built himself a mini-submarine: The Guppy. Accompanied by his bowline-knot-tying dog, Barney, and a two-hundred-year old parrot who speaks seventy languages, Eli sets out for answers and adventure on the high seas. His journey will make him a team member of the Sea Searchers, an aquatic version of G-Force, as they seek the mystery of the Sargasso Sea and the time-displacing vortex of the Bermuda Triangle. Opposing their mission are the nefarious Hydrons, squadrons of Ralph Hammeras-inspired Nautilus analogues, while occasionally assisting from the periphery is the enigmatic Commander X and his equally mysterious and technologically advanced Sub X.

This is simply a terrific and fun book, drawn in a combination of 3-D graphics and comic book-style penciling, with vibrant colors that practically leap off the page. Jay Piscopo has done a magnificent job of creating an adventure tale that never takes itself too seriously and never allows itself to become kitschy and cute. While I think the average comic-reading adult may find it perhaps a little too juvenile (especially those who feel the Marvel Adventures line of books are for kids), it is certainly a book that younger readers can enjoy without feeling “talked down to”. Science and eco-awareness are inherent elements of the story, but are subtle enough to be appreciated and learned from, while remaining far from being preachy or heavy-handed.

If you are looking for something a little different than the tights-and-fights stories of most comic books, especially for younger readers, then I highly recommend that The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli be at the top of your list.

Pellet Reviews!

Double-Shot Pellet: Teen Titans #62 (DC; by Troy): Richard was far, far too kind. I thought that this issue was a flashpoint of all that has been weak and sad about the Titans franchise of late. If there was a theme this time, it was a theme of waste: the waste of Miss Martian, the waste of Tim Drake, the waste of Marvin and Wendy. Honestly, inasmuch as some people hated them from the cartoon (that came out 35 years ago), the new versions introduced by Geoff Johns could have been given a chance instead of becoming the punchline of a bad, revolting joke. Some readers have commented that the Wolfman/Perez days were violent; yes, they were, but they were never cheap. This issue’s twin killing is easy, lazy shock value, and off-putting enough to make us not care if there’s some deep, year-long master plan behind it.

Mighty Avengers #17 (Marvel Comics, Reviewed by Richard): The inconsistencies of Skrull-Pym’s previous appearances are seemingly cleared up with the revelation that the Skrulls are having a hard time keeping the Hank Pym façade going due to the negative effects Pym’s mental state has on the subject. It is an interesting reveal that actually makes sense based on the real Hank’s unease about being a hero (and his complicated feelings about his own intelligence). While the overall story does not have a direct impact on the main Secret Invasion storyline, there are some well-developed character moments strewn threw out the issue that make the story a good read. The ferocity of the Skrull-Pym as he was trying to escape was unexpected and made for some great action scenes. While the attack on Pym and the destruction of the café are major story points, it is the crowd’s reaction to the destruction that should prove to have some long-term ramifications.

New Avengers #44 (Marvel Comics, Reviewed by Richard): In this issue, the manner in which the Skrulls were able to secure the secret to hiding from earth’s heroes is revealed. While not exactly scientific, it is an interesting twist that perfectly plays off elements of Reed Richard’s own natural curiosity. By utilizing a Franklin-Skrull as an emotional catalyst to get what they need from Reed, Bendis does a good job of underscoring just how much the Skrulls have learned about human nature. This development of a genuine understanding of their enemies should prove to be one of the Skrull’s biggest assets post-invasion. Billy Tan’s art throughout the issue really enforces how much he has grown as an artist. I especially enjoyed the opening scene with the Skrulls utilizing clones of the Illuminati which is rendered skillfully by Tan’s improved storytelling skills.

Gravel #4 (Avatar; by Troy): Ellis, Wolfer and Jimenez rock out a more or less pure action issue as one of Gravel’s targets figures to make an early move. Whoops. This one plays fast and brutal, showcasing the deft intellect and ruthlessness of the lead. Jimenez does another terrific job on art, and there’s great flow to the action scenes. This one’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine; issues 3 & 4 were miles apart in terms of approach and intent, but it’s all consistently good.

X-Force #6 (Marvel; by Troy): This arc was at least one issue to long. It started big, but just ran out of steam for me. Still, there were some great moments, particularly Wolverine’s glimpse of the planeload of long-dead enemies. It all builds to a last page that’s a good hook with which to build the series. If the book itself is supposed to be lean and angry, and the team the same, then let’s see some arcs that are only a couple of issues long to match.

Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge #2 (DC; by Troy): Fantastic art by Scott Kolins realizes Geoff Johns’s tough-as-nails take on the Rogues. One of the best “villain” stories we’ve seen in a long time, RR pits the Rogues against an inept team of pretenders to their themes. The Rogues are entertaining in a regular book, but they’re outstanding when they’re pissed. The final couple of twists are sharp, story-drive turns. Can’t wait for the wrap-up.

Best Shots is brought to you by Newsarama, ShotgunReviews.com and Troy’s 35th Birthday. Check out www.shotgunreviews.com, www.shotgunreviews.com/shots and www.myspace.com/shotgunreviews.com at your leisure.

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