Best Shots Reviews: WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN, ANIMAL MAN, More

Welcome to the big column, 'Rama Readers! Best Shots has been hard at work over the holiday weekend, so let's cut to the chase with the return of artist Chris Bachalo on the latest issue of Wolverine and the X-Men #8...

 

Wolverine and the X-Men #8

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Maybe that's what Jason Aaron's mutant power is — self-sustaining storytelling.

I've enjoyed Aaron's run on Wolverine and the X-Men way more than I have any of his previous work, and I'm realizing now it's because his cast is so diverse and so eclectic that this book could go anywhere and still feel organic. Case in point: a done-in-one fight comic in space featuring the gregarious Beast taking on the murderous Sabretooth. It's action-packed, self-contained and shows that Aaron doesn't just know his characters well, but knows what makes the X-Men as a school tick.

From the beginning of the issue, Aaron doesn't just give exposition, but he shows the dramatic irony between the Beast — an erudite scientist in the body of a monster — and Sabretooth, a guy who probably could have "passed" for human but decided to give into his killer instincts. I love the way that Aaron reveal this, by having Sabretooth complain about the X-Men's holier-than-thou tone: "You gotta remind them they ain't gods or saints or nothin' of the sort." It isn't the deepest message in the world — whether or not brains and guts will win out over muscle and mercilessness — but Aaron cuts to the chase fast, and brings up the tension with every slash and cut that Sabretooth inflicts.

Artist Chris Bachalo is a welcome sight on this book, balancing the cartoony with the shadowy and menacing. Sometimes he can get a little too overcomplicated for his own good, but he's very expressive with his characters (particularly with the combative, mohawked super-teen Kid Gladiator), and his use of color is extremely bold. That said, Bachalo does trip himself up a little bit in the second half of the book, with some of his fight choreography — already hampered by space suits and debris — gets a little too frenetic to be clear. The space suit issue is part of it, and while I understand you need space suits to have a fight in outer space, it also makes it more difficult to differentiate between aggressor, defender and hostage.

Now, I mention this main story, but the best part about Wolverine and the X-Men is... that's not all that's in this issue. Aaron weaves in a nice subplot featuring the students that gives this issue a little bit of lightness, particularly in a bittersweet moment where the amnesiac Angel bonds with Genesis, the teenage clone of the man who tormented Angel for years. There's a lot going on here, but these characters are so fun and so high-energy that you don't even notice how quickly the pacing is going.

While there's a hiccup here and there with how the main fight sequence turns out, the fact that this is a likeable, stylish, done-in-one adventure makes me root for this book even more. When people want to compare comics to television — and the exponentially higher viewership that TV has — I can only point to high-concept, self-contained, accessible comics like Wolverine and the X-Men. With a gifted writer, gifted artists and some terrifically gifted youngsters, this comic is a can't-lose proposition.

 

Animal Man #8

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Steve Pugh, Travel Foreman, Jeff Huet and Lovern Kindzierski

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Buddy Baker can’t seem to catch a break. From issue one, Jeff Lemire has been piling on the problems for Buddy and his family with seemingly no end in sight. With issue eight, Animal Man maintains its status as one of the premier titles of DC’s Dark line and the entire New 52. While the last couple of issues have slowed down the story to a snail’s pace, this one succeeds in amping up readers for the upcoming crossover with Swamp Thing, “Deadworld.”

I might love Buddy Baker’s family more than I like Buddy himself. Animal Man is a superhero and as such his character adheres to certain rules of the genre. His vegetarianism and animal rights activism may make him a little quirky but we know his motivation is generally just to save the day. But that’s what’s so great about his family. They aren’t held to any preconceived notions of what a superhero family should be like and this allows them to have more real reactions to the insanity that Buddy has them mired in. This applies especially to Buddy’s daughter. She does only what she believes she needs to with a childlike ignorance of right, wrong, weird or otherwise.

For the first time in a few issues, Lemire strikes a nice balance between Buddy and his family that carries the book forward. The first half features the constant struggle to keep them safe while also exploring more of Maxine’s powers. Lemire is forcing Buddy to come to terms with failing on every front; as a man, father, husband and now in light of MAxine’s abilities, a superhero as well. These motivations spark his actions in the second half of the book to awesome effect, for the readers anyway, as a face-off with the maniac animals of the Rot adds an ample amount of punching to the issue. And as much as the fighting and zombie beheading is fun, the psychological implications of Buddy’s actions are far more interesting.

Travel Foreman and Steve Pugh split the art duties with Foreman providing the first five pages and Pugh filling in the rest. As much as I thought that Foreman really set the standard for nightmarish horror in this book, Pugh is proving that he can turn in some disturbing work of his own that is just as good, if not better. He handles most of the action in the book and pulls off a few impressive layouts that add drama to what otherwise seems like a relatively standard confrontation for this title. And it’s worth noting that the final splash page is an incredibly striking image that rendered as perfectly as it should be for a reveal with the kind of potentially lasting effects that it has. Absolutely chilling work.

Animal Man has really come back into its own thanks in large part to Steve Pugh’s phenomenal work. This book is at its best when Lemire continues to expand our knowledge of Animal Man’s mythology while still grounding the conflict with his family, some of the greatest supporting characters in comics ever. A great comic satisfies you with answers but always leaves you with questions and this one fits the bill.

 

Casanova: Avaritia #3

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Gabriel Bá and Cris Peter

Lettering by Dustin Durbin

Published by Icon

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Casanova: Avaritia #3 is just plain weird. It's about a man who's stopped trying to kill alternate versions of the man who ruined his life because he's fallen in love with a younger version of that man. Fraction has never shied away from showing Casanova as a man who follows his heart to a fault but Fraction is also showing us in this story that for every action, there are consquences. Casanova: Avaritia #3 is about those actions and those consquences. Everything that happens in this newest issue could not have happened without any of the preceding issues going back to Image’s Casanova #1.

Fraction aptly named his lead character here; "Casanova.". A lover and a fighter, there is no one that gets pulled into Casanova's orbit that doesn't develop a strong love for the man and yet doesn't also end up being horribly disappointed in his actions. In his issue, we see his dying father giving him possibly final instructions, "Don't do anything stupid. An' you call your mother oneccchaweek..." This the man who told Casanova just an issue or two ago that Casanova was no son of his. And considering that Casanova is the Cass of another dimension, his father has every right to deny him.

Everyone in this book has the right to deny Casanova. Almost to a person, he's done wrong to everyone and yet he's our hero. He's Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's hero. Maybe "hero" isn't the right word for Casanova. He's no Superman or Captain America but he is also a more real character than either of them or their ilk. Fraction can show us all of the messed up stuff that Iron Man does but they never feel as real as the mistakes that Casanova makes or the redemption that he seeks.

Casanova Avaritia #3 plays off of that quest for redemption or at least his running away from the mistakes he’s made in the past. Casanova has spent the last couple of issues dimension hopping, killing of the Xeno Newmans of every dimension. But now that he's figured out who his adversary was before he became the bandage-wrapped Bondian bad guy, something has changed. Now the bad guy has a name that Cass knows and he has a life that Cass understands. Fraction plays with the idea that there are no good guys and that there are no bad guys. And if we take good and bad out of the equation, all we're really left with is our mistakes.

Bá and colorist Cris Peter continue to make Cass's world psychedelically sexy and exciting. The details that Bá puts in like the medical monitoring equipment in Casanova's father's room or the forensic dissection of a ship by secret agents could just seem like window dressing but Bá puts such glee into every panel, making pages that just sing even as Fraction explores the darker sides of the character's actions. Ba's distinct artwork keeps the tone of the book light while Fraction's story just pulls the hearts out of its characters.

At this point in Casanova: Avaritia #3, Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá have made it hard to tell anymore who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Between this issue and the first two of this latest Casanova series, all of the people we thought hated Casanova have some to show their love but disappointment in him while the people we thought loved Casanova seem to be acting only for their own self interests. And yet, thanks to the honesty that Fraction and Bá put on the page, we never doubt that in the heat of the monent that any animosity or allure to Casanova is 100% real. That's the book that Casanova: Avaritia is: it's about these messed up people who are just trying to make it through this life without getting any more messed up.

 

Action Comics #8

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant & Bob McLeod, Brad Anderson & David Curiel

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Grant Morrison wraps up his first arc with an issue that is meant to be defining for the character. After the reboot, Morrison was charged with making Superman exciting, and revamping the character for newer readers. In a finale that is climactic but confusing, Morrison is able to offer some conclusion for DC’s greatest hero. But Action Comics is nowhere near the great comic it should be.

First, the good stuff: Morrison addresses some pretty important character traits in this issue. Readers find out who was offering tips to Clark in order to help him report on the corruption in Metropolis. We get an answer to one of the persistent questions about the character: Is Superman a reporter pretending to be a superhero, or a superhero pretending to be reporter? We’re also given an answer (albeit a poor one) to the question posed to Clark last issue — is he saving Kandor or Metropolis? Nature or Nurture?

But in Morrison’s choppy writing style, the comic reads uneven. Several times, the dialogue feels completely out of place, for example John Corben tells Superman “Nothing’s faster than a speeding bullet” and on the following page, Superman responds by saying “I’ll raise you light.” I fail to see the direct connection between these statements. I get what Morrison is saying, but the link between the pages is tenuous at best. Most of the comic is like this. Moments are coupled together by thin hooks and while everything worked out in the end, the lack of continuity in the comic hurts its flow and makes for a frustrating read. At one point, Superman’s costume changes completely and while I know Grant Morrison has a reason for this, I feel like the issue should come with annotations to help readers get the deeper meaning for which he’s striving.

The switch in art only adds to this frustration. Rags Morales illustrates the first 21 pages, but the last seven are drawn by a different illustrator (who is not directly named). Morales’ art falls short of his usual work, and this may be more due to the amount of detail he has to put into each paenel. When John Corben is intertwined with Brainiac, the image is difficult to make out because of the odd design for the alien. It’s a bit like a multi-headed metallic beetle, but I had a hard time focusing on the design because it’s asymmetrical to the point of being a visual mess.

The latter half of the comic has a cleaner art style. Superman’s costume glows and his facial features are much more defined, but the composition is all wrong and while Clark is meant to look excited for his future as the protector of Metropolis, he looks psychotic. In every image of the last seven pages, he has a slight, knowing smile on his face. The full-page illustration showing Superman flying directly at the reader is unnerving. The forced perspective makes Kal look completely disproportionate. I can see what the artist was attempting, but the final product is a misstep.

I expected a very cerebral ending, but sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. I feel like the only person who knows what’s going on at the end of this issue is Grant Morrison, and where other DC heroes have been written in a more inclusive way, Morrison has tried to make Action Comics an erudite book. The end results, however, lack the excitement generated by the initial issues where Kal was jumping around the city, wearing a white T-shirt with a red “S” printed on the front. Superman is back to his old self, somewhat, but he still feels like a distant character rather than the down-to-earth farm-boy he’s always been.

 

Daredevil #10.1

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Khoi Pham and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Call it the Week of Waid — between his buzzed-about premiere of Marvel's Infinite Comics and this "Point One" issue of Daredevil, the veteran writer has been reminding everyone why he's among the best of the best. And as Mark Waid provides an entree for newcomers to Daredevil's life, readers are also treated to some wonderful pacing and characterization, as well as some real artistic achievements from Khoi Pham.

When you think about Daredevil as a character — blind lawyer uses heightened senses to become a superhero — it's a bit of a stretch, but you can handle it. But then add on things like "had his secret identity outed to the media." Or "can't act as a litigator anymore." Or "stole a disk drive featuring the secrets of five international crime organizations, all of whom now have Daredevil in their sights." Yeah, that's a lot to take in, but Waid gives readers a master class in introducing exposition, delivering much of the key elements to DD's character with tactile imagery and a wry sense of humor.

Waid's story structure is also smart, as he compresses a fight scene — which, c'mon, that's what everybody wants to see, right? — into a flashback, which lets him work double-duty in showing how tough Daredevil is... and how often people underestimate blind lawyer Matt Murdock. The kicker of this story has to be when Matt deals with the shadowy cabal tracking his movements — I can't give too much away, but who thought getting in the middle of a Mexican standoff could be this funny?

Khoi Pham, however, is the real interesting part of this comic, even though many people will overlook him in favor of artists like Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera or Chris Samnee. I give editor Stephen Wacker some real credit for working with Pham, who really matches that kind of character-focused composition of his predecessors. While Pham's artwork is sketchier in the details than Rivera or Martin, the body language and camera angles are really inviting for new readers, who won't have to struggle with figuring out what just happened or what panel to jump to next. Colorist Javier Rodriguez continues to be this book's secret weapon, balancing the brightness and the shadows to keep Pham's working popping and to maintain the energy and visual consistency of this book.

Pham might not be the kind of virtuoso that Martin or Rivera are, but it's more than clear that he's playing his strengths to the hilt here. And that's what makes him a good pick to team with Mark Waid. This book might not be overwhelmingly perfect, but this creative team has done everything right for this story. This isn't just a comic — this should be a learning experience for everybody.

O.M.A.C. #8

Written by Dan DiDio

Art by Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In the last seven issues of O.M.A.C., it’s been easy to see the Jack Kirby influence on this book. After all, Kirby created the original Buddy Blank O.M.A.C. but Giffen, never one to sublimate his artistic influences, has been in full Kirby mode for a couple of years now, producing some of the best looking pop action comics in years. Inker Scott Koblish, coloring collective Hi-Fi and lettered Travis Lanham have joined Giffen to create completely bombastic artwork that takes the Kirby mindset that every panel needs to be showing some action larger than life.

For this final issue, Giffen and Koblish show the O.M.A.C. rampaging Hulk-like through Checkmate, tearing the organization down as it tries to get to Maxwell Lord. Using all of Kirby’s techniques from emotive figures to thunderous sound effects to the ever classic but effective Kirby crackle, Giffen and team serve up a tour-de-force of Marvel action.

Marvel? Wait, isn’t this a DC book?

Well, the thing that DC has lacked going on forever is a strong identity. The last era of comics that you can point to being DC’s is arguably the Silver Age. While Marvel went on to define the superhero comics of the 1960s and beyond, DC has always been playing catch up. Even when they brought over Kirby in the 1970s to create new wonders, something was always lacking. He created great comics but as a kid growing up on those books, O.M.A.C. was no Hulk or Fantastic Four.

Of all of the new DC 52 books, O.M.A.C. has been the most Marvel-like. Giffen perfectly captures the passion and energy that was on every page but in this last issue, it’s DiDio’s turn to tap into the Marvel magic. DiDio actually begins channeling Stan Lee (even though he’s not dead) in the same way as Giffen channel’s Jack Kirby. While Giffen is showing us the powerful fight between O.M.A.C. and Checkmate, DiDio’s narration lets us into the life of Kevin Kho, O.M.A.C.’s unwilling host, a Cambodian boy who has had to fight and struggle his whole life. As DiDio taps into Kevin’s past, telling us how an orphaned boy from Cambodia got to a place were he could be taken over by Brother Eye and O.M.A.C., you see how Kevin is the classic Marvel character. He’s Peter Parker stuck with Bruce Banner’s curse.

Maybe that was the problem with O.M.A.C.; it was a Marvel book under a DC cover. And if we know anything about fanboys, it’s that they don’t want their Marvel and DC getting mixed up. For the New DC 52, O.M.A.C. #8 still feels like one of the most vibrant books DC had going but it was doing nothing to establish the New 52. It looks like DiDio and Giffen were producing the book that they wanted but it only had the trappings of of DC Comic. They threw fans a bone with Maxwell Lord, Checkmate and veiled references to Kirby’s New Gods. Everything else about the books was Marvel 101, how it looked, what it sounded like. The lead character’s first and last name both began with “K.” Sure trick has been around forever with comic characters but who took it and ran with it and created a new comic universe around it?

Giffen’s part of the story, the artwork, is as loud and explosive as DiDio’s story is quiet and personal. Giffen’s large and expansive panels give O.M.A.C. plenty of space to rampage through the pages, with the bright colors and imaginative monsters that he faces. Giffen is doing his best Kirby impression but it’s more than just an impersonation right now. He’s not aping the Kirby style but he is modernizing it. Some artists who are trying too hard to get that Kirby look often look retro or old. They don’t get the power and allure of a Kirby image. Giffen uses Kirby as his starting point as if all superhero storytelling was codified by Kirby. Kirby laid out the path for artists and Giffen is following that. But it’s more than just drawing to look like Kirby; Giffen is tapping into the spirit of Kirby, reminding us that you can do anything on the page.

With the most Marvel-ish issue yet, DiDio, Giffen and O.M.A.C. ride off into the sunset, leaving us with eight issue of pure super-hero comics. With O.M.A.C. #8, the duo shows us one last time distilled super hero comics, with a fighting hero and a conflicted alter ego. It would have been a fun ride to see where they would have gone with this? More down the Marvel path? Maybe diving into those Kirby Fourth World references? Or maybe they would have created something that didn’t revere and seek to recreate the past so much. With a book that was so much about what comics were, could there ever really have been a long future for it?

Goodbye, O.M.A.C., you omitted, mutilated and cancelled book.

You were too fast to live, too young to die. Bye, bye.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man #683

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin, Jr.

Lettering by Joe Caramagne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Although seeing the Webhead in that action figure-looking suit can be off putting, there isn’t much wrong with all the fun being had in The Amazing Spider-Man #683. It’s just nice to see a serious through down between The Avengers and The Sinister Six and it’s made all the more enjoyable by not being weighed down by any company-spanning results. What we have here are heroes versus villains with the safety at the world at hand.

Granted, readers have seen this played out time and time again; especially in comics. However, Dan Slott can make you forget the history and enjoy the moment on his run on The Amazing Spider-Man. There is definitely something familiar and reassuring seeing a team of villains take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and that’s what you get in Issue #683. Just the details of the fight were enjoyable like seeing Hawkeye’s net arrow against Mysterio or the new magic horn Rhino was flaunting. It isn’t so much that the step up pulls the reader in as much as the excitement keeps them there. That being said, sure, Spidey’s new get-up helps him against the Sinister Six but hasn’t he always beaten them in the regular costume? Is it unreasonable to assume that he could equip the new tech in his original duds (thanks to a spiffy new job at Horizon Labs)? There doesn’t seem to be much point to the "Xtreme Spider-Man" look. It isn’t enough to ruin the book, but it is distracting sometimes. The hits keep coming and the issue ends with a sizable enough cliffhanger to keep readers coming back to this title. The story is well paced and all the elements fall into place seamlessly which helps keep the reader hooked instead of bogging them down in tons of exposition. The fact that this story is self-contained to the series helps keep the flow tight and quick without the hindrance of cataclysmic results for the entire Marvel Universe. If Marvel's goal is to make Spider-Man a fun, easy read, they have nailed it here with Dan Slott’s writing.

Stefano Caselli’s pencils and Martin’s colors really match the tone set forth by Slott. The book is entry-level comic book art that’s easy to read and top notch. Instead of an over-stylized look that can be off putting or dividing, Caselli and Martin use that creative eye towards enhancing what is already great line work. It’s details like the replacing black pencil lines with toned colors to that make the figures feel more palpable. There isn’t an excess of hash marks or motion lines in the style of Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld or Tony Daniel, and this lends the work to a more cinematic realism which fits nicely with new readers that might be coming in from The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Sure, Caselli knows how to use panels to enhance excitement or play an intimate moment. However, it is the little details that really sell the panel work. The shocked faces in the small panels when Spider-Man punches Al Gore (yeah, I know, read the issue!) are an excellent way to excite the reader and pull them in but avoid what could be a very messy crowd scene. Even the best artists would get tired of drawing a hundred little surprised faces and Caselli finds a way around that which is even better. Martin’s inks really know when to be subtle and when to come out flashy. That new Spider-Man costume could look a whole lot worse with bad coloring but Martin mutes the color down a few notches and lets the suit look more organic with its surroundings. However, the two-page spread beach battle is something to behold. Sure, the pencils are amazing but it’s the coloring choices that make the page stand out. The grit of Sandman and the sheen on Mysterio’s helmet match the pencils and writing in quality.

Although there are other Spider-Man choices on the rack and the costume still doesn't quite wow me, The Amazing Spider-Man #683 is genuinely enjoyable and a lot of fun for new readers and fans of the Webhead. Where Slott, Caselli and Martin are taking the story not only keeps the reader holding on for more but is just good old-fashioned Marvel Comics.

 

Justice League International #8

Written by Dan Jurgens

Art by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

As an long time comic fan and reader, I can appreciate and enjoy the shifting in storytelling styles. There is a certain type of charm that comes from reading a comic from the late 60s and early 70s, with characters delivering large amounts of exposition. Exposition that the reader never really needed when you consider the artist was basically drawing everything you were reading. In modern comics, there is a very fine line between playing homage to such writing style and flat out refusing to grow and evolve as a storyteller. Case in point, the original JLI run played around with what we expected from a team book. It never once fell into tired stagnation. Since there is nothing better than reading about a band of misfits excelling against all odds, it's a real shame that this current incarnation of the Justice League International never finds that balance.

The team is in shambles, having been busted on pretty hard in the previous issue after a devastating attack on the United Nations. Batwing gets pulled from duty from his own title at Batman's request to lend a much-needed hand to the very weakened team. From there, it's a series of exposition fights, exposition drives, exposition walks, and even an exposition fall or two. Which is my biggest issue with this comic. Dan Jurgens writes as if there is a massive disconnect between he and artist Aaron Lopresti. I don't need a character to tell me how his powers work, I can see him making hard light constructs. Nor do I need Booster Gold to remind me how tired he feels after a fight, I can tell by the art. And sadly, those are but a couple of examples from the multiple times a character tells me exactly what he or she is doing, as I see them do it. Jurgens also doesn't feel like he has a good handle on some of the characters, particularly the guesting Batwing. His David Zavimbi doesn't read as driven as he is within his own title. It's hard to imagine Batwing getting so caught off guard within his own book as he is in Justice League International #8. Indeed, I'm starting to wonder if they included David just so Jurgens could give an excuse for Batman to drop in.

Visually, the book also falls rather flat. In fact, I might be more disappointed in the art than the writing, simply because I know what Aaron Lopresti is capable of. His character composition is your basic by-the-book superhero fair. Nothing about it stands out and grabs the reader's attention. There is no way I am suggesting Loprestri swiped any art for this issue. However, it does read like a book drawn by someone that's been in the industry for a very lone time and isn't challenging himself within the title. He draws a few intimate character moments between Guy Gardner and Ice that reveal some decent drama. And, there is a strong splash page showing the big bad of the arc, but for the most part the book is simply weak from a visual stance. In fact, where is not for some good inking by Matt Ryan, this issue would have fallen completely flat. As it stands, Ryan is the best element to the issue, bringing out real definition and depth to Lopresti's pencils.

Like I said, I can enjoy a trip back to an older era of comic writing from time to time, but Jurgens and Lopresti go far beyond the comfort zone in this issue. With a title that's supposed to celebrate a diverse cast, in a line of comics trying to usher in a bold new era; Justice League International #8 succeeds at neither.

 

Hulk #50

Written by Jeff Parker

Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Val Staples and Dan Brereton

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

Be honest, with Red Hulk (I refuse to use the word Rulk) as the lead, did you really think Hulk would reach Issue #50? I mean, after all the insanity that was “Who is the Red Hulk” and the fan burnout that seemed to surface after the War of the Hulks; it seemed a death knell to make Thunderbolt Ross the lead in Hulk. Not to this comic book reader. Jeff Parker was going to write the title and though he might not pull in Bendis, Brubaker, or Fraction numbers, he writes the heck out of lesser-known (or liked) Marvel characters. Hulk #50 is a textbook example of how you take a character no one likes and perfectly cement him within the Marvel universe. And, manage to have some fun doing it.

General Ross is in something of a contemplative mood as he and his team investigate the whereabouts of Zero/One. In doing so, Ross is disturbed by a haunting vision that soon leads to a rather destructive Machine Man. In what could have turned into a smash and dash, Parker reveals his understanding of Ross as a hero. Even in his enraged state, Red Hulk knows his robotic companion isn't merely malfunctioning. But better still, Red Hulk isn't quick to simply assume Machine Man is a traitor in his camp and when you consider the machinations Ross has been through in the past, this is no small feat. The bulk of this issue acts as a trip through Ross' past and emotional baggage. In doing so, Parker shows his how well he can play within the Marvel universe at large. Seeing the short moments where Red Hulk literally lands in the Avengers back yard, it's obvious Parker understands the distinct voices within Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. The playful banter from Spider-Man and taunting disgust towards Iron Man makes me wish that when Bendis finally steps down, Parker gets a stab at Earth's Mightiest Mortals.

Considering the tone of Issue #50, with it's supernatural foundation, I will admit to missing Gabriel Hardman on pencils. However, new penciller Carlo Pagulayan is more than up to the task when the book calls for serious smashing. He has a strong eye for panel composition, with each panel driving the reader to the emotional focus on the page. His Red Hulk has a real presence in this world, without being a totally domineering force unless the scene demands it. Beyond the big action moments in the book, Pagulayan shows a keen eye for dramatic character moments as well. When Dr. Strange sends Red Hulk down memory lane, his interaction with his daughter Betty is warm and heartbreaking. With little words, the reader fully understands the pain growing within Ross as he sees just how much precious time he missed between he and his daughter. The impact is stronger still when Betty's own Hulk persona flairs in disgust at this weak man, as he waxes on about the past. Pagulayan's art doesn't quite convey the horror of Red Hulk's past literally walking the streets, but as a whole, the book is a visual treat.

The issue ends with a back-up story from Jeff Parker and artist Dan Brereton. It's a classic monster tale in the tradition of 70s Marvel horror as we learn a little more of General (then Colonel) Ross' military past. While not the deepest story, it's a real treat in it's simplicity. This is a smash and grab war book against supernatural forces in a haunted castle. The short illustrates Ross' early passion for keeping his men safe over the mission and acts as stark contrast to the Hulk obsessed man to come. However, the real star of this short is Dan Brereton. Very few artists make monsters look so cool and Brereton doesn't disappoint. With fang, tentacle, and gun, Brereton's panels are gruesome, violent, and all together wonderful. And, considering the path of the main story, I doubt we've seen the last of the horrors introduced in the back-up.

I know Red Hulk is still a very hard sell for many comic book fans. Well, it's time to put all those well-earned preconceived notions aside. Jeff Parker is writing one of Marvel's most well-rounded and complex characters in years. Although he hasn't been at it as long, Parker has a keen eye for character interaction and understanding of the Marvel universe. As such, he just might go down as one of the best Hulk writers since Peter David. Jump in now, while you can.

 

Stormwatch #8

Written by Paul Jenkins

Art by Ignacio Calero, Daniel Hdr, Sean Parsons and Pete Pantazis

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

No matter how many comics I read, I always feel a little bit guilty about the books I don't buy. Am I missing out on a great comic? Am I not giving a creative team the chance they deserve? Am I overlooking something special?

And then I take a risk and buy something like Stormwatch. Hey, I tried. I wanted to like this book. But try as I might, this isn't just unfriendly to new readers, it's unfriendly towards the typical standards of superhero comics. Slow pacing and uneven artwork are just the tip of the iceberg, because with only a few minor exceptions, the characters of Stormwatch resonate so little with their readers that their largely absent adversaries never get your pulse going.

Even looking at the previews of this book, you might get a sense that something is wrong with how Paul Jenkins' script is being translated. For the first eight pages, there's barely anything going on visually with this book, only conversation after conversation. It's exposition in the style of Geoff Johns, only this backstory isn't particularly interesting — the Gravity Miners are coming, and the Engineer needs to interrogate her Daemonite ship while the Midnighter and Jenny Quantum rescue the kidnapped Apollo. If you haven't been reading this series, you're going to be lost, but what's worse is that, for the most part, Jenkins just talks about the Miners rather than shows off visually how dangerous they are — and with a name like the Gravity Miners, I need a lot of face-time in order to not think of intergalactic hillbillies complaining of the Black Lung, you know? It's that old rule that too many comics pros forget for this visual medium: Show, don't tell.

With a script that starts off with such leaden dialogue, pencilers Ignacio Calero and Daniel Hdr don't really have a lot to work with, here. The conversations don't really have any visual hook, just the Martian Manhunter grimacing and the Engineer occasionally making either an action scowl or a precocious smile. The main introductory splash page is overwhelmed by screaming pink from colorist Pete Pantazis, and in general the images get bogged down by random detritus rather than strong composition and character interaction. Case in point might be a sequence with the Midnighter, whose costume is so overdesigned and extreme that it looks laughable next to a 12-year-old girl. (The design isn't so much Calero and Hdr's fault, but as the philosopher Tim Gunn once said, "make it work.")

To his credit, near the end of the book Paul Jenkins does set up an actual surprise regarding the relationship between the Midnighter and Jenny Quantum, but that's one spark of humanity in an otherwise fairly impenetrable read. The Gravity Miners get repelled by... people making deals that you probably won't understand? I've read and reread this book several times, and I'm still not sure I caught everything. I'm no newbie at this, either — I know Stormwatch, I know comics, I know DC's New 52. If I can't properly absorb this book, what does that say about the rest of the reading population? I feel like I did my duty, trying to expand my horizons and try something new, but it's no use — there's no silver lining to Stormwatch's cloudy storytelling.

 

The Waking: Dreams End #1

Written by Raven Gregory

Art by Novo Malgapo, Michael Garcia

Lettering by Crank!

Published Zenescope

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Waking was a series that introduced a new take on the Zombie genre. Instead of people coming back from the dead for no reason, someone had figured out a way to have people come back from the dead to avenge their deaths. This caused a great shift in the world, and the number of murders and murderers dropped dramatically because people knew that even if they killed someone, that person would come back from the dead and find them until they got even. In his new arc, Dreams End Raven Gregory continues his zombie story, this time focusing on detective Vanessa Pelagreno and Madison, setting up a tale that is intriguing and creepy, and a story that is a great pair to an engaging initial arc.

By having the story focus on Vanessa, Raven Gregory is able to move the tale forward without more than a few trivial comments that make a bridge between the first and second arc. Where the first arc was split between four different main characters, this one is smoother and more detailed. Vanessa is a flawed but interesting lead. She struggles with depression and alcoholism, but these stem from her previous experiences as a New York City detective. Gregory focuses the majority of the issue on her, and through her conversations with her new partner, readers get the connecting back story that fluidly leads the first series to this one.

The other half of the issue deals with a new menace. Someone has found a way to murder people without having them come back from the dead. This is where Vanessa’s case is leading, but she’s still dealing with killing Madison’s father and the guilt — and ultimately the vengeance that will be dealt to her. Vanessa’s sadness is made palpable through Gregory’s convincing and realistic dialogue. Her partner plays the role of the reader, asking all the questions we would have, but at no point do his actions feel forced or false. Gregory’s writing is solid, and the story is a seamless read because of it.

The first series had Vic Drujiniu as the artist, and I enjoyed his work better than Novo Malagaro’s because Drujiniu had cleaner lines (the book also had a different colorist in Mark Roberts). But Malagaro has an edgier style to his work. He uses more shading lines so the art isn’t as smooth. It’s not a complaint, but a noticeable difference from the first series. Since this is only the first issue, it’s hard to get a handle on the tone of the series, but Michael Garcia has the tone of the book down. Since The Waking deals explicitly with murder and horror, he uses a lot of dark colors, and the moments where Malagaro focuses on the dead are where Garcia creates somber and scary images. The final two pages are super-scary, and in addition to being a great cliff hanger, they set a precedent for the rest of the series.

I loved the original Waking so much that I had doubts I would like this series too. But Raven Gregory does a fantastic job with this issue. He catches up new readers quickly, skillfully addresses Vanessa’s past, and he introduces the new conflict so smoothly that I wonder if this was his plan all along, or after the success of the first series he decided to continue the story. Either way, I’m on board with The Waking again.

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

Twitter activity