Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots team! Ready for the big column? So are we, so let's kick off with the latest installment of "The Omega Effect" saga in Punisher #10...
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The problem with being the quiet one isn't always an obvious one — that is, until you're in a room with a person that talks and talks and talks.
Case in point: Frank Castle. Greg Rucka's take on Punisher has been an exercise in minimalism in character, with Frank as a silent killer, all business, no quips. Unfortunately, alongside Daredevil and Spider-Man — two of Marvel's three best books right now, alongside Wolverine and the X-Men — that also makes it feel like Frank has no personality, either. With Spidey and DD pushing the plot along and providing all of the exposition and moral conflict, Frank is simply left as a complication, but not particularly a challenging one, and it makes this chapter of "The Omega Effect" slump from the last installment, even in spite of some gorgeous art.
Of course, the term "slump" is all relative. While Frank Castle more or less gets overshadowed in his own book — even his new partner, the widow Rachel Cole-Alves, gets more screen time than he does — Rucka still brings some nice riffs off the other two protagonists of this piece, Spider-Man and Daredevil. Unlike last installment, Rucka is flying without Mark Waid, and it is interesting to note that the more visual elements of the last chapter — ninjas flying off buildings, radar senses illuminating the page — are nowhere to be found. Instead, this is a slower, talkier chapter, but if you slow down and take it all in, you'll find some good moments here, from Spider-Man quipping about cake to Daredevil trying to stop someone from taking on Frank's dark path. The character dynamic is still there — this feels like a story with Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher, with no one feeling interchangeable — but there is a spark missing here, something that keeps this story from true A-game.
But I wouldn't say that about the art. Marco Checchetto has this style that I can only describe as "gritty cartoon," with his characters looking both gorgeous with their smooth lines and ready for blood with the jagged shadows that cut across their faces. Unlike the last issue, there aren't really any knock-down, drag-out fight sequences to really let Checchetto cut loose, but there are a few panels where you see Daredevil and Spidey fly through the air in the middle of some melees that looks particularly dynamic. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth does keep the mood going, with some darker washes really evoking this grimy, street-level feel. That said, I'm not 100 percent sold yet on Checchetto's expressions, however — Rachel, for example, looks intense when she's ready to take a life, but she doesn't quite look conflicted enough to stop. That might have been a direction in the script, but at the same time, it would have been nice to see a little more "acting" going on here.
In certain regards, Punisher #10 does do a lot right — the characters work well together, there's some action involved, a nice cliffhanger, some beautiful art. But as far as showing the Punisher's point of view, well, it doesn't exactly do Frank any favors. You can't always bat a thousand, and this comic still stands higher than much of its competition... but that still doesn't make this less of a sophomore slump.
Green Lantern Corps #8
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Where the last issue of Green Lantern Corps was a bit of a letdown, this issue did not disappoint at all. Peter J. Tomasi spends the majority of the issue introducing the next conflict, involving the Alpha Lanterns, as well as giving a lot of face time to everyone’s favorite bad boy, Guy Gardner.
Recently, Peter J. Tomasi made some major waves on the Green Lantern Universe by having John Stewart kill one of his own Green Lanterns, Kirrt, when he was begin tortured into giving away information about Oa. The last issue dealt with the epilogue of that story but in a very corny, saccharine way. This issue goes immediately back the main story, but Tomasi puts most of the emphasis on Guy Gardner.
For a long time now, Guy has been a fan-favorite. He’s crude and egocentric, but also quick thinking and stubborn — the right mixture for a great Lantern. Much of the issue focuses on Guy and his arrogance, and I couldn’t help but love every page. Guy is at his arrogant best, but he’s also reasonable and thoughtful. When he argues with Salaak about Sinestro being a Green Lantern again, I had to sympathize with Guy. While Salaak is the enforcer of the guardians, Guy is the sensibility of the Green Lantern Corps. He may be self-centered, but he also has the best interests of the Corps at heart, and this is fully on display in this issue. The Guardians have a new assignment for Guy, but given their sinister motives in the most recent issues, I don’t trust their intentions.
I usually praise Green Lantern, and this time is no different. While Fernando Pasarin’s art is clean and smooth, Scott Hanna’s inks help the comic come to life. Each image is highly detailed, and Hanna knows when to add depth (usually in close up images involving shadowing on people’s faces) and when to back off (particularly in the action sequences). Also, the colors of the comic are beautiful. Gabe Eltaeb does a phenomenal job adding green auras to the Lanterns, as well as changing the tone of scenes with a shift in color. As usual, Green Lantern Corps is, above all else, fun to look at.
I was wondering when Tomasi would come back to the elephant in the room that was John’s killing of his fellow lantern. To see that finally addressed is exciting, as is the extra time given to Guy Gardner, particularly since Kyle Rayner now has his own series, New Guardians. Recently, Green Lantern scribe Geoff Johns teased a new story called "The Third War." This may be the beginning of it, and if things are going the ways they’re hinted at, I see major changes in the Green Lantern universe. Now is a great time to jump on board.
Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2
Written by Tom Taylor, Paul Dini and Walt Simonson
Art by Colin Wilson, Bill Morrison, John Paul Leon and J. Scott Campbell
Lettering by Robbie Robbins, Chris Mowry and Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
I’m a big fan of anthologies. A good anthology is like listening to your favorite musicians al jamming on the same blues riff. It’s familiar and stays true to the original idea but each one brings a little bit of their own flair to it. IDW Publishing’s Rocketeer Adventures has been exactly that: a good mixture of some of the most well-known names in comics and some lesser-knowns all riffing one of the most well-regarded characters in comics, Cliff Secord, a.k.a. The Rocketeer.
A six- to eight-page story doesn’t leave that much room for set-up, so most creators have chosen to zero in on one aspect of The Rocketeer’s character or mythology. Tom Taylor’s opening jaunt, “Work to Do,” joins Cliff in the middle of a battle as he saves an injured soldier and they have a telling conversation about their girls back home. With this single conversation, Taylor taps into the everyman charm of The Rocketeer. Despite his larger-than-life persona and heroic feats, Cliff Secord is just another soldier trying to get back to his girl in one piece, terrified just to talk to her again.
Colin Wilson’s artwork is appropriately dreary, and seems to clear up by the end of the story. The battlefield is a cold, dark place though Wilson’s linework struggles to combat it. Dave Stewart’s muddy colors keep them in check but the exuberance of Wilson’s work wins out on the second-to-last page as the Rocketeer pauses in the stratosphere, unsure of the future but dreading his next move. Finally as he plummets toward the Nazi war machine, he is steadfast in his resolve: there’s work to do and he’s the only one that can do it.
The next story, “Betty’s Big Break,” by Batman: The Animated Series legend Paul Dini, is a much lighter affair that focuses on Cliff’s eternal damsel in distress, Betty. The story finds Betty on her new movie set, and Cliff is getting more than a little jealous. But a supposedly stealth flyby to check up on her ends up getting him in trouble months later on opening night. It’s a cute story that allows Dini to have some fun with Cliff and Betty’s relationship. Their romance has always been an essential part of the Rocketeer story, and it allows us to see another side of Cliff. What really sells Dini’s script is Bill Morrison’s art. Clean linework and a classic romance comic feel really lend themselves to this story and enable it to stand out from the other two in this set.
Walt Simonson and John Paul Leon’s “Autograph” rounds out the bunch. Cliff ends up saving a pretty major celebrity from the clutches of a bunch of kidnappers. The tone of the story is almost a straight mixture of the two that came before it. While Leon’s noir-styled artwork and dynamic layouts coupled with Dave Stewart’s color give the story a more serious feel, Walt Simonson’s script is fast-paced and Cliff is extremely quippy. He dispatches of the kidnappers rather quickly so the threat never seems all that threatening, but the reveal at the end is actually pretty funny.
The book ends with a pinup by J. Scott Campbell of Betty in the arms of the Rocketeer and it is exactly what you would expect a J. Scott Campbell pinup to look like: dynamic pose, pretty girl and impossible proportions.
Altogether, Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2 is a great book. For four bucks, you end up getting more story than most mainstream comics and without the bother of events, tie-ins or messy continuity. The fact that proceeds from this comic go to help fight hairy cell leukemia, the disease that took Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens too soon, is only icing on the cake. This is good, ol’ fashioned fun like only the Rocketeer can deliver.
The Shadow #1
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Aaron Campbell and Carlos Lopez
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Dynamite is trying to revive pulp with its titles The Shadow and The Spider. The first of the two, The Shadow is a well-written introductory piece that introduces the character to new readers in a way that makes him interesting and intriguing. Unlike the movie, Garth Ennis’ The Shadow delivers on a story that is violent, engaging and captivating.
For those of you who are unaware of The Shadow, the character started out in pulp and the eventually found his way into all forms of media, including radio and television. The Shadow has the ability to “cloud mens minds” so that they can’t see him when he attacks. The character made a brief resurgence in the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, but even when going back to watch it, the movie doesn’t do the character any justice.
Garth Ennis doesn’t bother the reader with lengthy origin details. Instead, he jumps right into the story in the beginning of this comic. We’re given snippets of the character’s most famous lines such as “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?” and “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit,” but other than that, Ennis treats this like a brand-new tale. He shows readers both Lamont Cranston and The Shadow, but we’re never given a full explanation of his powers. In fact, it seems like The Shadow can do a ton of new things, including talking to the dead and seeing the future. Much of the issue concerns itself with developing the conflict rather then the character, and this makes for an awesome introduction. Readers are never bogged down with the explanation of things. Instead, it seems, Ennis is saving that for later, while whetting the appetites of fans of the series.
The story works so well because of Aaron Campbell’s art. I would compare his pencils to Tommy Lee Edwards’ work in 1985. His images are roughly illustrated and his characters are jagged and angular. Much of his work looks cleaner when illustrated from afar, but he does a great job of keeping up with Garth Ennis’ violent tendencies. The action sequences are beautifully crafted, and Carlos Lopez’s colors help deliver the mood heavy atmosphere associated with both Lamont Cranston and The Shadow. The colors are flatly rendered, giving the entire comic a retro feel that works to ensnare people in the time period. Campbell’s inks help create the perfect shadows on characters, particularly his scene between Cranston and his girlfriend Margo Lane.
For those who are interested in The Shadow, I recommend you skip Alec Baldwin’s movie of the same name. In this comic, instead, The Shadow is powerful, scary and full of crazy new powers of which most people are probably unaware. And under Garth Ennis’ crafty pen, he is intimidating and interesting, both in and out of costume. I look forward to reading about the evil lurking in the hearts of men, especially if this version of the Shadow is on the case.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Wes Craig, Hi-Fi, CAFU, Bit and Santiago Arcas
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Goodbye, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I'm going to miss you. So in this book's honor, I'm going to tell two stories: the story of how it lived, and the story of how it died.
For my money, Marvel exclusives and deals with AMC aside, I always thought that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was some of Nick Spencer's best work. When he was on his A-game — and make no mistake, the first half-dozen issues or so were pure Spencer A-game — he was like the Second Coming of Brian K. Vaughan, moving from quirky and talkative to powerful, visual, moving. There are elements of that in Spencer's final issue, as AWOL agent Colleen Franklin has one last heart-to-heart with Toby Henston, the smooth-talking salesman who was essentially chained to two warring entities: the white hats known as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and its terrorist opposite, SPIDER.
But at the same time, this series also betrayed one of its central concepts — the idea of death as a redemption for sins past. Last issue I went to town on Spencer and company, but I raged because I loved. Having a book where the core concept is that these are fundamentally broken characters whose death is a certainty isn't just a recipe for sure-fire tension, especially in an industry where resurrections and writer fiat have become the norm. Having the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents burn out rather than fade away was also a powerful theme, and seeing disgraced runner Lightning see his death racing towards him — and still finding the strength to move forward — was always far more interesting to me as a reader than the ever-shifting loyalties between T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and Spider. Without giving too much away, Spencer does save part of his message — namely, about second chances — but in certain ways, death gave many of his characters a bit more meaning than they had being alive. It's ironic that two of the most fully-developed character of the bunch are the only ones unable to escape the Reaper, and it's those scenes that are far more compelling than Colleen's sudden transformation into a renegade.
Art was always been one of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents's great strengths, as well. From the beginning, editor Wil Moss was batting way out of this series' league, netting artists like George Perez, Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin to jam on this anything-goes kind of book. But for my money, the best decisions Moss and company made for this book was CAFU and his successor, Wes Craig. Craig was more of an iconoclastic choice, sort of this scratchy, punk-rock vibe that really soared when it came to speedy, forward-flowing action. But CAFU, the original artist behind this series, will always be my favorite. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was, in my mind, DC showing a great deal of trust to a largely unknown artist, and I think that gamble paid off in spades. Imagine Barry Kitson with just a sharper edge, a real cinematographer in a pencil artist's body, a guy with a real sense of composition, of acting, of style. The look on Colleen's face, for example, when she receives her last message from T.H.U.N.D.E.R., is just heartbreaking, even without Spencer's truly moving dialogue.
When T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents first came on the scene, it struck like lightning. But a lot of things took place behind the scenes — Spencer going exclusive at Marvel, DC relaunching their entire catalog, the usual struggle of sales versus survival — and ultimately, this series about mortality had its own accelerated date with destiny. This series didn't burn out, but instead had to fade away, making the best of what little time it had to make for a powerful story. Do I think it could have ended more strongly? I do. Do I think that this was still a fantastic series, and one of the best that either Spencer or DC have put out in recent memory? I do.
So farewell, Nick Spencer, from the company that Superman built — you have enough Marvel and creator-owned work that I know we won't see the last of you. Farewell, Toby and Colleen, an odd couple that was one of the best on the stands. Farewell, NoMan, and Lightning, and Dynamo, a team that always did good work, even when no one was watching.
Farewell, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents — you were too bold to live, too strong to die. You were a damn good comic book. And you will be remembered.
Resident Alien #0
Written by Peter Hogan
Art by Steve Parkhouse
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Dr. Vanderspeigle just wants to be left alone on his lake, but when the small town of Patience experiences the murder of their local physician, he’s thrust into the role of clinic specialist and amateur detective. The only problem is that the doctor himself is hiding a major secret — in a cleverly used twist that made this book my pick of the week, he’s a space alien!
While the premise of Resident Alien might seem a little contrived on the face of it, creators Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse work hard to make the combination of a whodunit with an alien refugee more than just a concept. They don’t try to hide the doctor’s secret from the reader — we learn of his unique standing by finding him out on a fishing boat, trying to do what humans do when confronted by the cops — and play up the preposterous situation that our alien finds himself in from the very start. By avoiding making the alien doctor a shocking revelation, Hogan and Parkhouse can place the focus on the fact that the tourist village of Patience is hiding more secrets than just Dr. Vanderspeigle and that the good doctor may just become a victim of his own curiosity.
A lot of the story is driven by the alien’s internal monologue, which offers keen insight into his character and his reasons for getting so entangled in a case that’s bound to have implications for his life on earth. From the first moment he learns of the murder (which he calls “fascinating”), we see that despite his protests, he wants to solve the crime of Dr. Hodges’s murder. This obsession, combined with his first real interactions with humanity, both positive and negative, give the reader a strong sense of his character that make us want to find out what happens next to him. Will his ability to disguise his nature hold under constant use? Will poking his nose where it doesn’t belong ruin all that he’s worked for? Can a creature not native to earth solve the crime by watching Poirot movies? It’s too early to tell, but those questions are raised early and often in this preliminary issue, that comes from parts of the new Dark Horse Presents. By the time we leave this issue, between the subtle help of the plot and our protagonist’s newfound interests, it’s clear that things are about to take a major turn for the worse in Patience.
Tasked with the difficult job of making our alien look both strange and passably human at the same time is Steve Parkhouse, who I’ve heard of here and there but never read any of his books previously. He worked for quite a few years on Dr. Who stories and I think that shows here, as the alien has that vaguely humanoid look of a lot of the Doctor’s antagonists. He knocks the first splash page out of the park and the art that follows is solid from start to finish. There are a lot of little moments in the story, such as when a police officer daintily drops a bloody sheet, that work primarily because Parkhouse has chosen exactly the right way to illustrate the action and make it rise from the level of the mundane. He gives the alien plenty of emotional range despite having an appearance that looks like a slightly more humanized “grey” alien (a la the ones from Area 51). Despite not being one of us, the extraterrestrial doctor looks perfectly at home meeting with patients, sitting on a boat or renting a movie. Because the art is so strong, the book survives the heavy use of narrative boxes as the alien talks about his eventual acceptance of his dilemma and the fantasy of being the next Agatha Christie hero. Though the art is somewhat overly reliant on stilted figures (not unlike Parkhouse collaborator Dave Gibbons), the high quality of detailing, individuality, and realistic portrayal of the characters and places involved more than make up for the lack of action or movement.
Resident Alien #0 shows that Dark Horse can also be a spotlight for innovative creator-owned projects and not just adaptations such as Star Wars or Conan. This is an amateur sleuth story like you’ve never seen before and is not to be missed by fans of crime comics.
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Kev Walker and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Comic books these days are experiencing a bit of an identity crisis, struggling between the literary and the decompressed versus the low-brow, the action-packed. While I prefer my books to be at least trying to straddle the line, there's something refreshing about Venom #16, a done-in-one fight comic that doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: a slugfest.
Seeing Kev Walker's name on the cover, to be honest, is what made me buy this comic in the first place, and I was not disappointed. Walker has a rough angularity to his characters, the sort of geometrics that make you think of David LaFuente from the wrong side of the tracks. Walker is at his best, surprisingly, in the moments of stillness, with his Venom cutting a menacing figure as he stares off the page. I also like the little details he adds in here, like the organic spines that grow just a little out of Flash Thompson's shoulders — it gives that vibe that his symbiotic suit is seething in rage, always ready to overwhelm him and become something much more sinister and deadly. On the non-masked characters, Walker's style also gives a real ugliness that helps inform and influence the darker world that Flash Thompson inherits, and he really does work well within the style set up by original series artist Tony Moore.
Having an artist like this on his team, writer Rick Remender doesn't get cute, doesn't get selfish, but instead gives Walker plenty of action to deliver to the reader. Remender lightly touches upon some of the themes he's sowed in this series — namely, the nuances between good and evil, the relationships between fathers and sons — but ultimately this book is a fight book, and it's not looking to redefine comics by doing that. That's cool by me, especially when you have Flash take on the Fly and his would-be killer, the Hobgoblin. The fight banter comes fast and furious, a skill Remender has always possessed, and it's to his credit that what should have been a predictable plot does have its own twists and turns.
Venom #16 is a fun comic, and perhaps even more importantly, a fun comic that doesn't try to put on airs or try to apologize for its escapist tendencies. What it does do is it puts a nice artistic spin on an existing book, and it juggles three characters extremely well for a self-contained chapter. It doesn't always have to be deeper than this. Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe; sometimes a fight comic is just a fight comic.