'Rama Readers! Ready for some Rapid-Fire Reviews? Then let's let the Best Shots team do what they do best, as Jake Baumgart kicks us off with a look at Worlds' Finest #1...
Worlds' Finest #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): DC makes their New 52 Universe a little bigger this week with the introduction of Earth 2 and World’s Finest #1 — and it is definitely for the better. Although both Karen Starr and Helena Wayne/Bertinelli have already made their appearances in the New 52, World’s Finest #1 explores their origin and sets them up as a pair of friends and characters all their own. While there is some serious exposition and a few editorial notes, Paul Levitz never lets the story feel labored, really taking the opportunity to explore the relationship between Huntress and Power Girl. These fan-favorite characters have long deserved their due on the stands, and Levitz provides for those who have missed these two beloved characters. Although George Perez’s pencils are still as good as they were back on Crisis on Infinite Earths, the flashback scenes by Kevin Maguire really stand out, leaving the book all too soon. Perez might be a better fit for the book given his history with these characters and the DCU, but Maguire definitely leaves you wanting more. With DC introducing the concept of another Earth and parallel characters, one might wonder if they are working themselves into the same corner that required a reboot (see Crisis on Infinite Earths, Final Crisis). However, Worlds' Finest compliments what’s already there, and actually provides a fun female team book that doesn’t insist on a lot of history lessons of DC Comics past.
Daredevil #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Mark Waid and Chris Samnee might have produced the best opening pages in 2012, and it's barely into May. This team starts off on the right foot with a coy, comic and even sexy introduction, and winds up charming readers with the best date Matt Murdock has had in awhile. Samnee balances expressiveness and pacing with absolute perfection, with the optimistic tone of his artwork providing a nice counterpoint to the crime-filled exposition that Waid lays out. That's not to say that this issue is down in the dumps — on the contrary, Waid plays up Matt's relationship with ADA Kirsten McDuffie with all the right sparks, down to her trying to catch the blind man with his super-powered hands red-handed using some... interesting style choices. Even the subplot, a story-within-a-story explaining why Matt and his law partner Foggy Nelson are so tight, reminds readers that Daredevil isn't just an effective crimefighter, but a skilled courtroom combatant and a downright good friend. Yes, there are a couple of decent-sized plot holes with this subplot (like why someone would forge a paper just to accuse someone else of plagiarism), but what matters more is what's revealed for Matt as a character. There's little in the way of action in this book, but the story is downright compelling. This might be my favorite issue of Daredevil in months.
Earth 2 #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran;
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10)
Now this is how you relaunch a universe. James Robinson doesn't waste any time in pulling the reader into the action with Earth 2. Avoiding the arguably unnecessary tedium of serious world-building we saw in Justice League #1-5, the introduction of Earth 2's Justice Society is pitch perfect. New or old, do we really need another back-story for Wonder Woman, Superman or Batman? Alas, this isn't a story of how heroes saved the day and basked in glorious victory. Earth 2 is a story of loss and the promise of a new beginning. In one issue, Robinson has me more vested in these characters and their world than seven issues of Justice League — in no small part, I am certain, to the wonderful pencils of Nicola Scott. Her grasp of realistic anatomy blends perfectly with her eye for the fantastic, creating some truly compelling scenes within the book. There is a real sense of finality in her art. You know, from Page 1, that this is the final showdown for our heroes, but it's a showdown they will face with honor. It's exactly what you'd expect from men and women that dedicate their lives to defending those they love, yet Scott is able to capture the sadness in their actions. These are people for whom even victory will bring no joy, and still they stand strong. Were you not all but required to read World's Finest as a companion book, Earth 2 just might be a perfect comic. Still, as it stands, Robinson and Scott are drafting a compelling world, one I can't wait to revisit in a month.
Avengers vs. X-Men #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This week’s installment of Avengers vs. X-Men might have been a bit more quiet than the previous two issues, but still provides one of the series’ high points with an Avenger/X-Men showdown. Although a bit more tame than the other issues (and still more powerful than the tie-in books), Avengers vs. X-Men #3 sees Captain America and Wolverine finally go mano y mano. It’s a fight that is truly brutal, even compared to the match-ups so far. It’s especially nice, given that Wolvie’s answer to most problems in the Marvel U lately has been “kill ‘em” — so who better to put him in his place than Captain America? Ed Brubaker goes a different route than the other writers on the series and builds to the action scene instead of jam-packing the pages with a huge slugfest. The issue suffers from a somewhat startling narrative jump at the beginning that might make the audience feel like they forgot an issue or tie-in with the X-Men as prisoners of the Avengers. John Romita, Jr. is still in top form and can really make a hardened comic reader’s skin crawl seeing the burnt and naked Wolverine grow back his skin. Romita doesn’t miss a beat and can make the dialogue exchanges just as engaging as the fight scenes. Avengers vs. X-Men might have been holding back a little this week, but it certainly feels like it’s ramping up to something bigger.
Mind the Gap #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Being trapped in one’s body, unable to move or speak but mentally aware, is a terrifying thing to contemplate. That is the fate of Ellis Peterssen, a young woman whose consciousness drifts back and forth between the hospital room where she lies comatose, and the vivid purgatory separating life from death. How she got there is the central question in the fully absorbing first issue of Mind the Gap. Jim McCann has written a multilayered story that is rich in mystery and interesting character sketches. Ellis — just Elle to her friends — has no idea what has happened to her; however, the circumstances are fishy enough that a young doctor openly challenges her colleague’s medical assessment. And who is that shadowy figure that keeps having ominous phone conversations about a “package?” While surrounded by worried friends and dysfunctional family members in the hospital, Elle tries to make sense of the bizarre but occasionally entertaining dream world she's in. The circumstances are dark, but McCann is not without a sense of humor. (In one instance, Elle is annoyed to find herself dressed in the Bee Girl costume from Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video.) Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback’s art is sophisticated and beautifully rendered. It’s the little details that catch the eye, like strands of Elle’s hair intertwining, or a character emerging not out of thin air, but curling cigarette smoke. Mind the Gap #1 raises a hell of a lot of questions, all of them fascinating, and it's yet more proof that Image is publishing some of today's best comics.
Swamp Thing #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The story behind this might be simple enough — Swamp Thing has to convince Abby Arcane to fight off the mind-bending effects of the Rot — but damn if it doesn't look super-pretty, as well. Writer Scott Snyder more or less provides a bare minimum of structure to just let Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy go to town, and while for many comics this would be suicide, this dream team has what it takes to deliver. Paquette is the powerhouse of the group, giving the inhuman Swamp Thing some surprising humanity with his body language, the sort of sad slump as he tries to reason with his one true love. I also adore Paquette's inking, a really lush use of shadow that particularly pops when we see Abby reach out from her parasitic prison for the first time. Marco Rudy takes a little longer to warm up, with a lot of shots that are either distance shots or blurred by wind and debris (called for in the script, in his defense); that said, by the end of the book, he's pulling out some amazing layout tricks, particularly with Abby framing a page like a dark angel of vengeance. Whew. It's a fairly quick read, as the story is essentially resist-blast-repeat (with a weird victory involving spiking someone's peaches?), but despite that simplicity, Swamp Thing continues to be one of DC's best-looking books.
X-O Manowar #1 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It's strange be to excited for the return of Valiant, without having any real knowledge of Valiant. I mean, I remember seeing the titles and people telling me I should like them, I just never got into them. Well, it's 20 years later, and I still don't know if I'm excited, but at least I'm having fun. X-O Manowar #1 plants a rather fantastic world of honorable Visigoths, marauding Romans, and invading aliens from beyond. I know, I don't really get it either, but that's a fun concept to play around with and so far writer Robert Venditti has me entertained, if not fully enthralled. We meet our hero Aric, bold and savage as he faces uncountable hordes, both on Earth and in space when the aliens take him as their prisoner. We can tell from a mile away how this story is going to play out, but Venditti plays it straight, and this lends some credibility to the story. Gary Nord on pencils is functional, if not all that groundbreaking in his composition. He does a good job of mixing the savagery of Dark Ages combat with classic sci-fi tropes, but the panels always feel a little lacking. For a title called Manowar, I want to see some absolutely insane, balls-to-the-wall action. What we get is all setup, with but a sampling of what might come. This is by no means a Conan-in-space-style adventure, but it wants to be. Maybe now that our hero is in space and the foundation is poured, Issue #2 will deliver on that title promises.
Justice League International #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Having enjoyed Dan Jurgens’ pre-reboot reinvention of Booster Gold, I had high hopes for this new incarnation of the JLI. A UN sanctioned superhero team had great potential, it could have even been the DC equivalent of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. relationship — a dose of “realism” much needed by the DCU. Sadly though, Jurgens opened with a rather messy and unfocused opening arc, pitting the JLI against a new, and underwhelming, villain. This second arc picks up a subplot from the first, concerning terrorist attacks on the UN and JLI headquarters. The problem is that the plot is just so scattered — Batman shows up for some reason, then Batwing randomly appears, then O.M.A.C turns up and starts fighting everyone, mumbling some nonsense about Brother Eye, then at the end of the issue Firestorm turns up, and readers are told to pick up his solo series to see the continuation of the story. All in all, nothing really happens in this issue except heroes punching first and asking questions later. The characterization is poor, the dialogue is awful, and the story is just a ploy to get readers to pick up other under-performing DC books. Aaron Lopestri’s artwork on the issue is quite nice, but pretty typical superhero style stuff — bulging muscles, chiseled jaws, ample bosoms — and doesn’t really do anything overly special. Justice League International #9 is to be avoided, especially if you don’t want to be forced to pick up another series to read the story’s conclusion.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It may feel short, but Ultimate Spider-Man is still awfully sweet. Brian Michael Bendis's chatty dialogue can come off as forced or annoying in his other books, when you give him an emotional connection, suddenly he gains a focus and direction that makes all those word balloons worthwhile. Case in point: Miles Morales, the 13-year-old who is the new Spider-Man, wrestling with both his conscience and his super-thief uncle, the Prowler. Bendis is really onto something here, giving Miles a twisted mirror reflection of Peter's Uncle Ben — the Prowler has this conflict about him, where he both wants to see his nephew thrive, as well as to see if he can be used in a more... lucrative manner. The action also heats up something fierce here, giving Sara Pichelli a chance to strut her stuff in terms of choreography. Her smooth linework makes the fight seem that much more dynamic, particularly with a kung-fu-esque kick by the Prowler, or Miles firing his venom blast right underneath his uncle's chin. The only downside to this issue? It comes off as a bit decompressed, where you feel it might have been able to progress further down Miles and Aaron's unlikely relationship a bit further. Still, the key ingredient to this comic is a soulfulness to the characters, whose connection makes you root for our hero. It's a highlight for this series, no doubt about it.
The Spider #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): I am such a sucker for the classic pulp era of superheroes. I don't care if most of these characters look the same — give me a trench coat, a fedora and a couple of pistols, and I am in for the long haul. The Spider is just one of those characters. Writer David Liss does a fine job of establishing this new version of the Spider into the modern era. This incarnation of the Spider follows the basic rule of pulp heroics, with its female news editor, a rich man behind the mask and very obvious villains, and yet Liss adds just enough original elements and back-story to the main character that he seems fresh and believable. His Spider is driven, but understands what he's doing may not be right. He's the Punisher, but without all that angst that gets tired really fast. I only wish the art felt as interesting as the writing. There really isn't any other way to put it — Colton Worley's art simply falls flat. When the Spider takes center stage, his panel design and execution of the action works. Sadly, those moments are extremely fleeting. Outside of the mask, Worley lacks any form of depth. Each character looks like they're highly rendered photos that are dropped onto the panel, rather than a living element in the story. Even during moments of intense action, if it doesn't actively include the Spider, the art just doesn't pop. Which is a real shame, because Worley has the look of the Spider down, sadly, he lives in a world that doesn't look real.
Epic Kill #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): A young girl in an asylum begins to remember her violent past, at the same time (coincidentally) a mysterious gang lord dispatches goons to dispose of her. But there’s more than just gangsters who want to kill her, as the police chase her down, and even the president himself wants her dead. Writer-artist Raffaele Ienco’s inspiration for this character seems readily apparent: there’s some of Mark Millar’s Hit Girl in here, some of Quentin Tarrantino’s “Bride” character from Kill Bill (see the pin-up of the protagonist in a tight yellow tracksuit), and even some of the girls from Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch — the protagonist doesn’t see the people she kills, but creates a fantasy world where they are animals. The character can even dodge bullets in “bullet time,” a bit like in The Matrix and the Wanted movie. Ienco’s artwork on the comic is really very pretty, with detailed linework, nice composition, intricate inking, and great colors. There’s a definite manga influence to the art, making it look very stylish overall. This is the problem with the comic though — it’s all style over substance. The plot is filled with holes, the dialogue is weak, and peoples’ actions are random and nonsensical. If you want a comic featuring a sexy girl kicking butts, then look no further, as this even comes with pin-ups and variant covers of her in her underwear. If you are looking for a story with a plot and direction, though, look elsewhere.
Green Arrow #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): No bones about it — this comic is freaking weird. Ann Nocenti basically shoehorns Green Arrow into an Alaskan western, complete with (arrow-shooting) pistols, green hoods and ponchos, and a saloon filled with downright cartoonish ne'er-do-wells. On the one hand, you have to give Nocenti points for ambition, since she blends romance, westerns, action and enormous amounts of melodrama for a pretty avant-garde kind of fusion... but unless you're into bizarre execution, you're probably not going to actually appreciate Nocenti's efforts. The art also tests your suspension of disbelief past the breaking point, thanks to some downright hallucinatory colors by Mike Atiyeh. Considering Harvey Tolibao's artwork is already characterized by distended anatomies and weird, twisty angles, the cranked-to-11 colors (particularly a green, rippling sky in the beginning) makes reading the book an outright chore. Cap that off with a finale that's even overwrought than the faux-western dialogue, and you have a disappointment on your hands. The sad thing about Green Arrow is that I know Nocenti can tell some knockout stories — but this is just being bizarre for bizarreness's sake.
Insufferable #1 (Published by Thrillbent; Review by Scott Cederlund; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Maybe it’s just me, but I wish that when people wanted to write stories about sidekicks, they’d find some other template to use than Batman and Robin. Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable #1 begins fairly strong, with a madman ranting into a camera how he didn’t get his $50 million ransom, blaming the city’s apathy and reliance on a hero named Galahad to take care of their problem. In a brief but compact debut, Waid and Krause let you know everything you need to about Galahad and Nocturnus, a mentor and sidekick who have had a falling out as the sidekick takes the credit for all of the work that the mentor is doing. By using the Dynamic Duo as a template, Waid and Krause get to take a short cut into their story, because it builds in all of the back-story we need to get into what’s happening now. Since this is a webcomic (or whatever we’re calling comics on the web nowadays), they experiment with panel transitions, showing one panel at a time in a sequence, controlling how you move from one panel to the next like traditional comics control the way you turn a page for a big reveal. It’s not motion comics bad, but Waid and Krause still haven’t gotten beyond the contrived feeling of wanting to recreate the kind of jump cuts that you can do with video.
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