Best Shots Reviews: ACTION COMICS, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, More

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Still standing after your Avengers movie hangovers? Best Shots proves that we are gluttons for punishment, as we rose from our popcorn-and-candy comas to give you some Monday reviews! So kick back and enjoy the other show as Pierce Lydon leads the column, with a look at the latest issue of Action Comics...

 

Action Comics #9

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Gene Ha and Art Lyon

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As a whole, Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics thus far has disappointed me. The everyman, working class approach we were promised was quickly pushed aside in favor of a bland, hard sci-fi take. It’s not just that the story was bad, it was the bait-and-switch that was disconcerting, further solidifying that DC was still lacking a true, consistent vision for the Man of Steel. But with Issue #9, Morrison has written the single greatest Superman issue of the New 52. It’s telling, however, that the man wearing the shield isn’t Clark Kent.

There was a lot going on in Action Comics before we got to this point. Clark Kent had very quickly gone from a T-shirt and jeans wearing do-gooder to an all-powerful alien super-being in the course of just a few issues. While seemingly schizophrenic on the surface, both characterizations match up with Morrison’s own ideas about the Man of Steel, but it never seemed like the shift was meant to happen so rapidly. Morrison takes a breather in Issue #9. We meet Cal Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23, who also happens to be the President of the United States of America. What’s truly wonderful about this book is how Morrison manages to cut right to the crux of the issue at hand without slogging through Kryptonian history or weighing the story down with minute continuity details. He is still able to spin a high-concept, science fiction superhero story, but he does it in 20 pages. He exhibits a handle on pacing that hasn’t been this good since he was on Batman and Robin.

Morrison uses the villain’s backstory to draw parallels between the current comic book industry climate that are hard to ignore. The young scientists are a stand-in for creators (perhaps more specifically Superman creators Siegel and Shuster). The corporation that buys their ideas could be either of the Big Two. The product of the corporation’s influence on the original idea results in a “violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero concealing a tragic secret life, a global marketing icon.” Sound a little bit like DC’s handling of the Superman over the past few years. A hero who is supposed to be a champion of the people is actually a champion for no one, and instead is used to sell bed sheets, T-shirts and false hope.

Gene Ha’s storytelling abilities are on full display. Some artists have a tendency to try to pack too much into a done-in-one. As a result, layouts become claustrophobic and panels seem overly cluttered. But in this issue, Ha matches the pace set by Morrison’s script. The layouts may not be overly dynamic and occasionally the backgrounds are a little bit bare, but as a whole, it all works to tell a clear and concise story. Together with solid character renderings and an effective new design for Cal Ellis’ Superman suit, Ha has crafted a fine work that communicates a larger sense of understanding of the medium in which the story is presented.

This isn’t a perfect book. The plot of the book is fairly predictable but it serves the larger metaphor. This creature chews up and spits out lesser Supermen until Cal Ellis can take him down. And Lois Lane’s final words then serve as an echo of a largely disappointed Superman fan base. On the last page, with victory a reality, she says, “I guess you must be Superman done right.” I can’t say I don’t agree with her.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #685

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The twice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man has been speeding along like the Webhead in his Spider-Mobile, which seems fitting given that new costume. However, with Issue #685, the title seems to have hit a bit of a road bump. Although Dan Slott’s script continues to raise the stakes, Humberto Ramos’ stylized pencils have crossed the line into distracting from being the perfect mix of exaggerated proportions and cartoon aesthetics. What has been fun ride so far might be suffering from a bit of a second act lull.

Dan Slott has really nailed down his version of Peter Parker. With the whole world against him for opposing Doctor Octopus’s plans to stop global warming (or fry the Earth, whichever side of that you’re on), Spidey has stepped up to the plate more as a war general than a wisecracking New Yorker. Slott has brought out a unique side of the character that doesn’t get as much screen time — this Peter Parker sees a world at stake and, being the only hero around to handle it, takes on the mantle of both commander and Public Enemy #1.

It’s nice to see Spider-Man working with Horizon Labs, talking with soldiers like Black Widow and Silver Sable and putting out the Patton-like call to whatever heroes are left planetside. Slott has realized this Spider-Man more as an idealized hero and with less of the foibles of Peter Parker. However, Slott hasn’t changed the character, as you can see through the Webslinger's familiar comedic tone during battle. Instead, Slott has grown the character. The story’s pacing within the issue moves quickly enough and doesn’t linger long on any one set piece. However, it does seem to be languishing a bit towards the end of the issue, with a lot of dialogue and no real action scenes. Yet, with that last page reveal, the action is definitely coming.

Unfortunately, Humberto Ramos does not fare as well this issue. Ramos, the perfect choice for a Spider-Man book given his figures and dynamic style, hits a few potholes this time around. This certainly is a hit-or-miss issue for the artist. On one page, Ramos's figures would look dynamic, with intuitive layouts would express the script clearly and super-clean linework... and then the next page would have none of these things. There were bits like people having no noses (later colored on by Edgar Delgado) or the women looking too spindly. A televised J. Jonah Jameson is exaggerated to the point of almost looking like a anthropomorphic kangaroo (which is unfortunate for the character Kangaroo, who is also in this issue). Heavy inking by Victor Olazaba spills a lot of black space on the page, muting the excitement and unnecessarily bringing down the tone of a very entertaining book.

While his linework seems quicker and scratchier this time around, Ramos is still no slouch when it comes to presenting the script enthusiastically on the page. Sometimes Ramos hits the nail on the head with figures and proportions — it’s nice to see, for example, that the Sinister Six don’t all have the same muscular physique. Panels are shot from unique angles and draw attention to the action and then arranged in a way that, without repeating itself, keeps the story moving quickly.

Although certainly no reason to drop the title, Amazing Spider-Man might just be in a rough patch this month and will work out the kinks by next issue. The title has been able to capture a sort of adventurous fun reminiscent of a cartoon series while still staying true to the comic. With the talent on this book and the direction it’s going, consider Amazing Spider-Man #685 the calm before the planetary-level space inferno.

 

Supreme #64

Written by Erik Larsen

Art by EriK Larsen, Cory Hamscher, and Steve Oliff

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Image Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Fight for your lives! It’s the Legion of Daxes versus the Team of Supremes in this battle royale follow-up to the last Alan Moore Supreme story that holds its quality while setting up a danger that is even bigger than the threat of an entire planet of Dax alternatives.

It wasn’t going to be easy for Erik Larsen, trying to pick up where one of the most revered comics writers of the last 20 years left off, but this issue shows that he has the ability to keep the momentum of this revived Rob Liefeld property going. Reveling in Supreme’s Superman-like nature (one of the foes that Supreme and his alternates must fight is “DoomsDax,” among many other little Easter Eggs that continue, albeit in a less blatant form, in this issue), Larsen fills the pages with many of the ideas and concepts that were prevalent in the Silver Age of the Man of Steel. There’s the Fortress, of course, which falls to earth in a great visual metaphor, but we also see things like Supremium, a multi-colored metal that impacts on Supreme just like Kryptonite and a so-called mirror prison, where horrors undescribed lay waiting.

The whole thing reads very much like an homage turned on its ear, as Larsen has the Daxes destroy everything iconic about Supreme, bit by bit. It’s a deconstruction that works here because unlike in other superhero universes, I don’t get the impression that all of this will be reset later, when a new editor or writer or corporate owner comes along. These deaths are real, and while they don’t have a lot of impact individually—they’re mostly created to be killed—collectively Larsen uses them to good effect, setting up the final part of this comic and its big reveal, where we learn that not all versions of Supreme are heroic and good-hearted.

I don’t know if the Extreme Supreme (my name for him) was Larsen’s idea or is a legacy from Alan Moore, but the idea is perfect. He is ruthless and stops at nothing, the kind of hero that was so popular during the original run of Supreme. When he arrives, this Supreme does exactly what you’d think, and before he’s through, nothing may be the same again. It’s hard to believe, but by the end of this issue, Larsen has created a threat far worse than the army of Daxes. It’s going to be fun to see just how this resolves itself, and I love that we’ve seen so much in only two issues. This is old-school storytelling with modern sensibilities, and it works perfectly.

Though there aren’t any copyright-tweaking visuals this time around (though one of the Supreme characters, a rocky version, calls the whole thing “a revoltin’ development), Larsen and Hamscher once again turn in an issue that is visually amazing. Despite so much chaotic action, I had no problem at all following along with the story and knowing just what was going on. The battle scenes are epic and large, but I still felt like I was getting a complete story, because of the pacing. Larsen uses a wide variety of panel styles, and is actually very restrained in terms of splash pages, which make the ones we do get have a lot of power. (The first shot of Extreme Supreme, which I don’t want to spoil, is especially effective for this reason, I think.) We continue to get a lot of wide, expressive eyes and facial features and the placement of characters across the page is top-notch. While there is definitely a lot of blood and gore, none of it feels gratuitous. The choices of what to show and how to show it match the storyline perfectly. As I mentioned with Supreme #63, Hamscher is a great collaborator for Larsen, and I hope they continue to work together for a long time.

There’s a lot to like about Supreme #64, which shows that a superhero comic can be a lot more than just a series of splash pages and speeches. Though it would be impossible to match Alan More stride for stride, Larsen and his appreciation for older, epic stories is a good replacement. I don’t know how long he can keep up the fast and bold pacing, but for now Supreme is one of the books I look forward to every month.

 

Dial H #1

Written by China Miéville

Art by Mateus Santolouco, Tanya Horie and Richard Horie

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

A book like Dial H is a hard sell for readers. Unlike Swamp Thing and Animal Man, DC's two big “dark” breakouts of the New 52, Dial H lacks the Vertigo pedigree that pulled in readers of the aforementioned titles. But, this also isn't the Dial H long-time DC fans remember from classic '60s run, or even the unappreciated H.E.R.O. limited series. What it does have going for it is the wildly imaginative writer, China Miéville and the relatively unknown artist Mateus Santolouco. Miéville is extremely skilled in weaving fully believable if wholly insane worlds. But, as has often been the case in the past, novel writers don't always make the smoothest transition into comics. So, all this stacks up into a comic that has the potential for epic train-wreck or something truly special. Well, without getting too meta on the book, that might be exactly what China and Mateus intended.

Our randomized hero, Nelse is nothing to write home about. But he used to be. With some well-placed exposition we learn he was once a professional boxer on the rise. A man with a real future and drive. What happened we don't yet know, but now he's just a fat man that barely survived a faux heart attack, smokes way too much, and is slowly driving away the one friend he still has. A simple but good setup for what we know is coming. Thankfully, Miéville avoids too many pitfalls in bringing out the phone booth hero within Nelse. Nelse's transformation into hero is born more from guilt and sadness, rather a real sense of right and wrong. He didn't follow his friend outside because he saw him getting jumped by thugs. Nelse did it because he knew he was being a colossal jerk to the only guy that puts up with him. It just so happens his buddy is in mid mugging when his guilt kicked in. It's when Nelse fat-fingers an attempt to dial 911 that Miéville gets to crank his weird-o-meter to 11.

Don't go looking for established or even logical heroes in this book. What you'll get is Boy Chimney, a carbon and petrol-spewing beast of a hero that just might be what a bad case of urban blight needs. Just as it takes days to get the smell of a dingy bar out of your hair, so too does Miéville find his hero oozing into the evils of the city. Mind you, we're only halfway through this issue with this creature creating all manner of heroic havoc. Still, there are moments in the comic where Miéville's writing feels a little contrived. We aren't introduced to the villain through any force of organic growth. Rather, the bad guys make an appearance simply because the book needs a villain and to be perfectly honest, that left-field reveal takes away from the story. Although I'm willing to chock this minor plot bump to Miéville making the transition from novelist to comic book writer. As a rule, comic book readers aren't as forgiving, and Miéville might have felt a need to get to the conflict a bit too fast.

Mateus Santolouco is an interesting artist for Dial H. He has a truly wonderful eye for the dark and twisted machinations of Miéville's world. When the various heroes and villains dominate the pages, the art transports you to an extremely bizarre and almost hellacious world. Physical features are twisted just enough to remain recognizable, but still very unsettling. I also enjoy how the heroes abilities directly effect how the pages break down. When Boy Chimney oozes and sifts around his targets, so too do the panels seem to shift and move, with Chimney himself often occupying more than one panel. Although this also has the unwanted effect of altering how you read the book. Unlike J.H. Williams or Yanick Paquette, Santolouco still hasn't fully grasped panel movement. But, when that day comes, we readers are going to have all kinds of twisted fun.

Santolouco's pencils in more mundane settings lacks the passion and energy from previous action scenes. The shift of living smoke and grit slithering into a rather bland alley with a lone figure is a little too extreme for my taste. Santolouco clearly loves some heavy inks, but I wonder if the quieter scenes would be better served by dialing them back a bit. Still, his attention to horrific detail reminds me of Lukas Ketner's work in Witch Doctor and will only enhance the story as Santolouco and Miéville work more together. Another note of kudos is due to colorists Tanya and Richard Horie. This book takes place in a very dark and morbid world where rich coloring would have lessened the otherworldly impact of the title. As it stands, Tanya and Richard found a good balance of tones and are a strong match for both Santolouco and the book.

Dial H still has a long way to go before it makes required reading status, but this first issue is a very strong debut from a character that only the oldest or most diehard DC fans remember. Miéville definitely has a lock on the voices of the people that live in this world, he just needs to find the balance between long-form prose and 20 pages of comic. And the art? If Santolouco can find some focus without losing his innate craziness in style this titles needs, then DC will have another hit on their hands with Dial H. I know that's a lot of “ifs,” but I'm willing to stick around long enough to see them give it a go.

 

Skeleton Key #1

Written and Illustrated by Andi Watson

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Writer-artist Andi Watson unlocks the door to more stories in his Skeleton Key series with three endearing tales collected together from the pages of the new Dark Horse Presents, showing there are still plenty of great stories to be told within that ever-changing universe.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Skeleton Key is about a girl named Tamsin who holds a key that can open up to just about any place, except, sadly, for home. She’s joined by a fox spirit, Kitsune, and they go on adventures from place to place, with almost unlimited possibilities. It gives Watson a lot of room to work, and that variety shows in this short collection, as each story has a very different feel from each other.

In the first story, “Dead Can’t Dance,” Tamsin and Kitsune stumble upon three pretentious musicians who are trying to use real zombies to spice up their act. When that doesn’t work, they move on to a new level, summoning a creature called the Dance Master of the Dead. Because this is an Andi Watson comic, instead of being gory or partly dismembered or something similarly bloody, the Master is dressed impeccably in Victorian-era clothing, and dances accordingly, though he and his undead companions are clearly skeletons. Only Tamsin can save the day, in a clever twist that isn’t what the reader is expecting. It’s a great done-in-one that gives new readers a good idea of the premise and even ends with a one-liner.

Popping out of a filing cabinet in a great visual splash page, our heroines (and their raccoon) must solve the mystery of a haunted hotel room in the second story, “Room Service.” More comedic this time, they soon find out that a tragic incident involving complimentary food leads to a rather pathetic spirit who just wants to find a home. This story works mostly because the events are absolutely preposterous, yet seem to make sense to all involved. In a world where keys lead to different worlds and times, what’s wrong with a ghost who wants to work nights?

“Lost Property” rounds out the collection, and it is by far the most serious of the three stories, though that is a relative term. Starting out in a nearly blank room, the girls find themselves trapped in the Museum of the Lost, because the museum’s curators believe they should be the newest exhibit! This story has some great references, from lost passports to lost explorers, and the way Tamsin figures out how to beat their captors is really innovative, even if it makes Kitsune’s head hurt. I also love the final panel on this one, which closes everything neatly. This was my favorite of the three, and it’s a great way to close the comic.

Like many of the independent comics creators that came up via Slave Labor Graphics and Oni Press, Watson’s style is simplistic, getting the job done with visuals that might look more at home in a comic strip for the newspaper instead of a comic book. While his characters show a lot of movement, they are not very detailed. Each main character is delineated with just a few simple lines and their expressions are often blank and missing noses, or just very basically sketched out.

The first story features the most detailed work, with the pretentious outfits for the band and fancy Victorian closing for the Dance Master and his troop.  The backgrounds are effective, but are similarly light on details, giving just enough of an impression to ground the reader in the setting. This comic is referred to as a “color special” but it’s more shading than anything else, and I don’t think it actually adds anything to the stories. All three tales would work in black and white without any problem. Again, the comparison to newspaper strips is apt here, as their colorization is also often unnecessary. Skeleton Key is more about the story than it is about the artwork, so those for whom the art skill is paramount might do better to stay away.

I’m a long-time fan of Andi Watson, so getting to see more of his work was a pleasure. If you are looking for a comic that features young girls who act like young girls, Skeleton Key is something you should seek out.

 

Earth 2 #1

Written by James Robinson

Art by Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott and Alan Sinclair

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The original belief behind a second Earth within the DC Universe was to explain how characters from the main DC titles could exist beside older, outdated versions of themselves. For example, in Earth-2, Superman’s name was Kal-L, The Flash was Jay Garrick and Green Lantern was Alan Scott, except he got his powers from a ring of magic rather than one made of willpower by little blue men. So how does James Robinson’s version stack up? To be honest, I’m intrigued. James Robinson turns in a decent story that does well to differentiate itself from the original DC universe.

From the onset, James Robinson immerses the readers in action. The first 21 pages are pure energy, but they also go far to introduce the three main characters, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. Robinson’s version of these characters is a lot brighter than the Earth One versions. Superman is the confident leader he should be, Wonder Woman is a powerful and intelligent tactician and Batman is a less brooding, yet just as calculating version of himself. I liked all the characters, and thought Robinson’s work in this issue really made them intriguing. The way the three work together kept me engaged in the story and I was genuinely curious to see how it would play out.

The final seven pages, however, detract from the beginning of the comic. Suddenly, Robinson switches to Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, yet both of these characters are shadows of their former selves. Here, Scott is now a media tycoon and Garrick is a shiftless loser. I wish Robinson had saved this type of character introduction for the second issue because it feels out of place here. The momentum comes to a dead stop, and then we’re given a quick yet unsuccessful origin of Scott and Garrick’s lives, both of which basically occur on a single page. The way the first part of the comic works to establish its characters is almost the opposite of how it attempts to do the same thing in the end. Robinson’s execution in the beginning is not as fluid as his execution in the end. Whereas Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are all seamlessly intertwined with each other, Scott and Garrick feel like tacked-on additions to the story. Unfortunately, I think the last third of the book will diminish just how good this comic could have been.

As for the art, I was a bit thrown at first by Ivan Reis's cover, as Superman’s costume looks different in the actual comic. But this bothered me only for a minute, because Nicola Scott’s art is pretty good. The character lines are sharp and smooth, and for the amount of detail Scott has to draw, she succeeds in jamming the panels with imagery while not making them too cluttered. Like Reis, Scott's pages, while full, never loose their clean composition. Trevor Scott’s inks help with this as each character is articulated wonderfully. Even background characters are highly detailed — as Wonder Woman talks with Mercury in the foreground of one panel, you can see Kal-L fighting a group of Parademons in the background. That fight may be in the distance, but the art team still makes it look powerful.

This is also due to Alan Sinclair’s colors. Superman’s blues never looked more engaging, and even Batman's dark colors seem to shine in Sinclair’s hands. Basically, the heroes look like heroes. The art is really the best part of the comic as even the scenes lacking action — like those found at the end of the issue — still appear as visually engaging, particularly the final page.

I’m still on board with Earth 2, but I’m not sure Robinson can keep the momentum going if he has to work so hard on revamping characters for new readers. We’re given a new Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the beginning of the issue, and their origins are woven seamlessly into the story. Garrick and Scott, however, feel out of place here, and now that I see towards whom Robinson is shifting his focus, I wonder if he’ll be able to tell as good a story with such uninteresting characters.

 

Exiled #1

Written by Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning

Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Andy Troy

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

So the New Mutants' neighbor just happens to be a peeping tom Asgardian. There’s something you don’t get in just any old Marvel crossover.

In an age where Avengers vs. X-Men exists to satisfy fannish questions of who would win in fights, Exiled #1 feels like an old fashioned setup for a crossover as writers Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico bring together characters who have shared pasts. That’s not to say that Asgardians and mutants belong together but ever since Chris Claremont and Art Adams’ classic “Asgardian Wars” New Mutants special, there has been a link between the groups of characters. Particularly there’s been Danielle Moonstar, a mutant and a Valkyrie. While more part of the X-Men camp, she has her feet in both worlds.

The true star of this book is Carmine Di Giandomenico, who effortlessly brings the high-exalted gods of myth together with the daily humdrum life of a group of kids (or in this case, mutants) together. Di Giandomenico even gives new life to the depths of Mephisto’s Hell, showing the netherworldly demon as some kind of 9-5er having to ruthlessly and despicably let off some steam at the end of “another day’s work’s over.” He pulls of the godly, the hellish and the mundane, all in the span of pages. He draws everything with the same vigor without ever losing control over his setting or his characters.

Di Giandomenico has an energetic style brings his characters to life. Unlike other big stories that are more about some plot device or self-indulgent “who would win” argument, Exiled #1 is about the characters reacting to the other characters around them. Gillen, Abnett and Lanning have written an issue that’s about the struggle of characters, not of costumes or teams. This is what Di Giandomenico captures, particularly in Zig, the New Mutants' neighbor and peeping tom. He has his secrets that keep him apart from people but he’s always watching and vigilant. Mephisto has a job that’s all about secrets, and Loki has made pacts that are secrets from the other Asgardians. Everyone is protecting something they don’t want their partners or neighbors to know. And that’s what Di Giandomenico draws until the end when a number of those secrets explode in the New Mutants’ faces.

The writing trio use this issue to set up what happens when the world of mutants and the worlds of gods collide. This issue is about the potential of what will happen as everything churns beneath the surface. The Disir, a mutant Valkyrie, an exiled god and deals made with the Devil are all ingredients in this witch's brew of storytelling. There’s something in all of those that scare the other characters in this issue. Gillen, Abnett and Lanning all excel at writing large casts so there’s no wasted effort in getting these characters together. Nothing is forced in this issue as all the characters have their own trouble and they all intersect when the volatile Disir, the oldest Asgardian shieldmaidens, escape the hell that they were in.

Because everything flows together, Exiled #1 doesn’t feel like the type of crossover we’ve gotten much of lately. Gillen, Abnett, Lanning and Di Giandomenico simply have a story that involves a large cast that all have problems and troubles that are somewhat related to one another. All of those problems are perfectly on display in Zig, the mutant’s voyeuristic neighbor who has something to hide. That’s what drives the drama in Exiled — not some trumped-up plot that forces these disparate characters together, but the secrets that we hide to protect ourselves.

 

Venom #17

Written by Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn

Art by Kev Walker, Terry Pallot and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

"Oh, Eugene. You just excrete bad luck."

The hits just keep on coming for Eugene "Flash" Thompson — better known to readers these days as Venom — but I'm starting to wonder if we as readers are becoming numb to the blows. Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn take our antihero to even darker places with this installment of the series, but despite a colorful cadre of villains, there's not many surprises to really sink your teeth into.

Maybe that's because, at this point, losing has been begun to feel like the natural status quo for Flash Thompson. Forget the Parker luck — Flash hasn't been able to throw a punch without getting tortured in the Savage Land or in Blackheart's realm, hasn't been able to walk out the door without getting dumped by Betty Brant or getting blackmailed by the Crimemaster. And so Rick Remender, joined now by The Sixth Gun writer Cullen Bunn, is in a fairly unique position — whereas some writers box themselves into a corner with overpowered, unbeatable characters, Venom is a character where you know his plans aren't going to work out. You expect him to lose. It almost comes to a point where, aside from Flash's addiction to the Venom symbiote, you kind of wish he'd just hang up the suit already — it's clearly not up his alley.

Unfortunately, since you know Flash isn't going to score a win, this series starts to wax masochistic. Remender has been setting up a quirky crew with the Savage Six, and while they're not the iconic world-beaters that the Avengers or the Fantastic Four fight (or even the shadow reflections Spider-Man faces), they're serrated and weird and uniformly vicious enough to be worth Flash's time. (Bunn joining this story hasn't affected the book's ultimate strength, which is the jazzy, character-building dialogue.) But even with the fight scenes that everybody wants to see, there comes a point where you just get tired of seeing all the different ways Venom can get hit — we do read these books to see the home team strut their stuff a little bit, too, and it feels like it's been a long time since Flash has even connected bat to ball.

Artist Kev Walker, on the other hand, continues to evoke the visual tone that artist Tony Moore set up when the series first began. I love the haunted look on Flash's face as he agonizes over whether or not to try to kill the Crimemaster — there's some real acting going on, down to him pressing a pistol against his forehead. With Terry Pallot inking his work, Walker looks smoother than usual, with some of his expressions actually reminding me a bit of Paul Pelletier. That said, the one bug Walker still needs to work out are the action sequences — with all of the dodging and shooting in Remender and Bunn's script, there aren't a lot of memorable action beats in this chapter. It's a problem with composition, with the camera often lingering at a distance when it should get down, dirty and in your face.

I've heard a decent amount of buzz for this issue of Venom, and for two characters, I would say that big things do happen to them. Well, at least they'd say so. And that's what I think saps Venom of its energy — it's hard for us to see a lot of this stuff as a big deal. Ribs broken? He'll get better. Villains assembling? He'll escape. Family is in the crosshairs? That's just a typical Tuesday for Flash. Now that the stakes have been upped, I'm hoping that Remender and Bunn can crank up the tension some more and give Flash an actual win to shake things up. Copious fight sequences aside, this frenetic opening salvo still fizzles more than it explodes.

 

Batwing #9

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Marcus To, Ryan Winn and Brian Reber

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

For a comic that’s supposed to be a tie-in to “Night of the Owls,” Batwing is more about telling its own hokey story than it is about being a worthy addition to a great series.

Initially, I was pretty intrigued by the comic. It opens with a parlor meeting of the Court of the Owls, and readers are reminded of why the Owls are so dangerous. But when Judd Winick shifts back to Batwing — who is an African named David Zavimbe — the story feels more about getting its geopolitical message out about the massacres of the Congo and the hypocrisy of dictatorial leadership. What bothered me more was how transparent the story became. The second a dinner party was mentioned, I already knew when the climax would occur.

I would also say that for a lead character, David is pretty one-dimensional. It’s like as a character, he’s just waiting for the moment when he can put the Batwing suit on. His supporting cast, however, is interesting. I loved seeing Lucius Fox as the technological go-to guy and Matu Ba, David’s butler (and this comic’s version of Alfred) is serviceable as David’s confidant and mentor. Much like a father figure, Matu provides David with redirection when he needs it. But because the story is centered on Batwing and the Court of Owls, both characters have diminished roles.

On the other hand, Winick writes some intense action scenes. Batwing’s fight with the Owl who attempts to kill Lucius Fox is brutal, and David makes some painful yet necessary decisions to save Fox’s life — decisions Bruce would frown upon, but one’s which make for some cool moments. But even in these scenes, David’s narrative of the fight detracts from it. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the final two pages, when the evil dictator gets his just desserts.

Macus To’s initial illustrations are great, but as the comic progresses, his art becomes less engaging. Maybe it’s because Batwing’s costume is pretty silly and because it just looks so clunky, or maybe it’s Brian Reber’s background colors (which are mostly the same dull brown/orange), but I didn’t really enjoy the art in the book. To’s character designs are great, and both Ryan Winn and Brian Reber do a great job on the illustrations of the Owls. But, similarly to Mark Bagley, character faces appear thickly inked and overly shaded. This makes them look muddled and less detailed. Even Batwing’s costume looks like a big heavy piece of metal, and as I see him fight, I can’t help but think how hard it must be for him to move.

I like Judd Winick and I’m a fan of some of his earlier work (his Green Arrow and Batman runs, for example), but this issue failed to engage me. It might be its predictability or its less than interesting main character, or it might just be the fact that Scott Snyder is just that good, but Batwing does not come close to being as absorbing as some of the other Bat-titles on the shelves.

 

D.O.G.S. of Mars TPB

Written by Johnny Zito, Tony Trov, and Christian Wieser

Art by Paul Maybury

Letters by Gabe Bautista

Published by Image Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Not everyone is happy to have new neighbors, especially in space. A terraforming mission goes horribly wrong when a freak Martian weather event leads to horrible deaths and desperate decisions in this sci-fi horror comic whose premise works a bit better than its execution.

Zoe is the captain of an exploratory force whose goal is to reactivate the magnetic field of Mars by bombing its core. The idea is dangerous and the mission has a high-risk factor, made worse by the less than stellar nature of the crew. From the domineering captain to the power-seeking second in command to people who are only on the ship because there was a recession, it’s clear that the mission is ill-fated. When danger signs crop up, Zoe refuses to take the more prudent course of action, and soon the whole ship is in danger from Martian creatures that are eventually compared to wild dogs. But these dogs, with their ability to assimilate and convert the human crew into more monsters, are far more terrifying than anything this crew has faced before. Most of the drama is about the attempts of the humans to stay alive while they fight their petty jealousies and the creatures that are determined to wipe them off the planet.

Dogs of Mars is a great concept. We have an alien world, a monster that is so powerful the humans look like they have no hope, and instead of the usual noble crew fighting the good fight, we get a set of characters who you wouldn’t want to be associated with, making their task infinitely more difficult. The problem is that while the story features quite a bit of running from the alien, the main characters aren’t established enough (beyond Zoe and her second in command, Turk) to be more than cannon fodder for the escalating danger of the alien. There are some cool moments, such as when we first run into the Martian dogs or when the crew must escape across a canyon by shimmying along an improvised bridge but it’s hard to care whether or not these people survive when we just barely got to know them.

I think the story actually would have worked better had everyone save Zoe and Turk been killed off right away, allowing this to turn into a blend of visceral and psychological horror as the two humans duel against each other and the monsters. That’s actually what happens by the end, as the pair wind up together with one last, desperate plan to stop the dogs and still accomplish the mission. I think it would have been more effective to see this dynamic sooner, as the other crew members who die are just cyphers.

Another issue with the story is Paul Maybury’s art. His style is very loose and sketchy, not unlike Paul Pope, and while that creates a sense of unease because we cannot clearly see the monster, it also muddies the story and often makes it difficult to know what is going on. There were quite a few times where I had to flip back and forth to try and make sense of the action, either because of panel design, camera angle selection, or just the way the characters were portrayed. I think that Maybury was trying to visualize the chaos going around Zoe and her crew, but the end result are entire pages where I had no idea what I was trying to read. This unfortunately includes the end sequence, where I still don’t quite understand what happens to Zoe and Turk, beyond the fact that they have a fight.

I really liked the red shading that is used, given this story is set on Mars, but other than that, the art was a real disappointment for me and it definitely took away from the story. Dogs of Mars started on Comixology, and I wonder if the conversion from digital to print might have contributed to some of the issues.

While I am a big fan of horror comics and I like the idea of an otherworldly horror that seeks to prevent humanity from converting its planet, there’s just too much wrong with Dogs of Mars for me to recommend it, unless you have a compelling need to read everything set on the red planet.

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