Best Shots Reviews: GREEN LANTERN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, More
'Rama readers, get ready for the big column! Best Shots has been hard at work, reading and reviewing this week's biggest releases. So let's kick off with Brian Bannen as he takes a look at the latest issue of Green Lantern...
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen, and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
This is a moment that Geoff Johns teased way before DC’s New 52. The Indigo Tribe has always been a secretive, weird sister tribe to the others in the color spectrum. Now, we get the explanation. In an issue that is probably his best to date, Johns deepens the Green Lantern mythos through a character heavy story that has incredible implications for the Green Lantern universe.
In his essay “8 Basics of Creative Writing,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote that every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. Johns is a true student of this advice as he does just that in this issue. Even the moments where no dialogue is spoken — like the panels showing Hal Jordan traveling through the forbidden forests to find the Indigo Central Battery — go far to help develop the characters.
In this issue, Hal Jordan discovers the secret of the Indigo Tribe, and its history has deep roots in the Green Lantern mythos. Abin Sur plays a vital role (as he has always done in Johns’ universe), and when Hal meets Natromo, the Yoda like leader of the Indigo Tribe, panels are packed with dialogue to explain how the tribe came to be but the comic doesn’t lose its fluidity. I found myself completely engrossed with the explanations and even though not all questions are answered, readers will have a good sense of how important this issue is for the future of the series.
Additionally, Johns gives a lot of time to Thaal Sinestro who becomes an Indigo Lantern in this issue. Over the course of this arc, Sinestro has been central to the story and whereas he played the role of the villain for years, seeing him utilized in a completely different way — a way that humanizes him — is evidence as Johns’ skill as a writer, and as a Green Lantern fan.
Alex Sinclair’s colors are fantastic in this issue. While most panels are a mellow violet, each one is vibrant with detail. Mahnke’s pencil work is always good, but the inking work is truly what sells the setting. Given that the Indigo home world is much like a rain forest, the artists in the book sell the wetness of the world through small tricks like beads of water and vine covered caverns. They make the world come alive.
The pacing of the issue is near perfect with not a single panel wasted. If Johns and company can keep the storytelling this intriguing, I think the series will only get better and better leading to the cryptic "Third Army." In other words, I’m excited to see what Johns will do next.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Patch Zircher and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Issue #11 kicks off the Shock to the System storyline for Captain America — well, it doesn’t so much as “kick off” as is does just “start.” Captain America #11 is less Star-Spangled Avenger and more black ops and secret agent with the tone set by Brubaker and artist Patch Zircher. Given writer Ed Brubaker’s notable run on the character, it’s fair to assume that the issue is simply suffering from first-act fatigue and will compliment the other stories in the arc better than it does standing alone.
It could definitely be said that, if you’re looking for a Captain America that resembles his movie incarnation, then maybe a book like Avengers Assemble or even Avengers vs. X-Men might be a better pick. However, it’s actually nice to see the character handled with diversity within the Marvel Universe, and that Cap is able to provide something different for all kinds of fans. This is not a book for young readers returning to their local comic shops after Free Comic Book Day and The Avengers movie — his current take on the Sentinel of Liberty is a man with the world on his shoulders and taking his current position very seriously. Less Captain America, more Director America.
That being said, this Captain America is definitely for long-time readers and fans of a darker, serious tone that resembles a crime book more than a tights-and-capes affair. Brubaker’s Cap is more secret agent or Falcon Seven, sending Diamondback and Dum Dum Dugan out to investigate the murders of ex-villains in Witness Protection. In fact, those two characters are actually in the book just as much as Steve Rogers is, and gives the book a “Law & Order” sort of vibe going through. Even the dialogue between the characters feels more like a procedural TV show than a comic book at times. Brubaker drops the reader right in the middle of the action, with Rogers trying to save a defector from what appears to be the new Scourge. It’s always great to see Cap charging forward, shield repelling bullets and taking command. Yet after this, there isn’t much more of the title character in action, with more of his time spent investigating and pontificating.
To compliment Brubaker’s script, Patch Zircher provides amazing artwork for the book, with a heavily inked style and thick brush-like lines that not only bring the tone down to a more serious level but also give the impression that the story and characters are singed around the edges. Rogers is often seen half-cloaked in shadows, suggesting a man delving further into the hardships of his dire new leadership position.
Paul Mounts’ colors assist in setting this tone with a color palette that feels muted and dry even in the day time. For all the time spent sneaking around at night or in a dimly lit headquarters, there is this omnipresence of fire with every gunshot, jet pack or explosion. When Dugan and Diamondback investigate the former A.I.M. defector’s apartment, a reader could mistake this for a crime book or suspense story instead of Captain America given the realistic vibe and street clothes look of the characters. This pulls the whole story, Captain America and all, more into the real world that doesn’t feel like Marvel’s version of reality either.
The characters do look organic when discussing their next moves. It feels natural and Mounts’ colors don’t make Cap’s costume stand out as garish or ridiculous. However, with all the standing around and discussing that the characters do, Zircher does bring the action and it pops all the more when Cap leaps from a sky scrapper to nail a double agent as he escapes through the skies. Zircher’s panels and layouts lend to the “Law & Order” vibe by using a mix of white and black borders and forgoing noisy splash pages or exaggerated movements or angles.
Although this fits right in with Brubaker’s amazing run on the character, Captain America #11 is certainly not for everyone, and might require a more mature taste in comics. In fact, this Captain America might feel better off in Gotham City than the same New York that’s home to the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Stjepan Sejic
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
To put it bluntly, Jackie Estacado is a jerk you hate to love, but sometimes it's okay to root for a bad guy. But is Jackie really the bad guy here? After learning the truth about his altered universe, former priest and Artifact-bearer Tom Judge is on a mission to set things right and get to the bottom of it all. What he finds is unexpected and the aftermath is revving this series up with all engines.
Artifacts is shaping up to be the premiere book over at the Top Cow 'verse. It acts as a peek behind the curtain to see how the universe has changed since Issue #13. Judge and Jackie really tear into each other here, and it's never disappointing to see Stjepan Sejic let loose with his monstrous imagination. It's also nice to see that some things never change, as Finch makes a cameo and we see the sparks between her and Dani again. I like that Finch is still a dancer, which echoed her previous life in the pre-reboot Top Cow universe. The coming issues are going to be sure reads as the war for balance is about to escalate.
Ron Marz has constructed some intense moments here. Aside from the fight between Judge and Jackie, the revelation of Jackie's involvement in it all is something interesting to consider. He's a noted family man, and will do anything to save his daughter... even if it means shaking the universe like an Etch N' Sketch and re-making it to his own ideals. Given his ambiguous morality at times, this is quite the fight I don't anybody was expecting. It's good to see Marz take these background characters and make them shine here. Plus as I mentioned, he writes Jackie not like a one-dimensional mafia goon, but a caring man with more-than-shady intentions.
If you're not picking this one up, I can easily recommend it. It's not the easiest to follow along, but the recap page will ease the transition. The creative team is one of my favorites on the stands now, and can't wait to see what all goes down in the months to come.
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Neil Edwards, Karl Kesel and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
I'm not proud to say it, but sometimes, looks matter. And Scarlet Spider #5? That's one of those times. While this self-contained story about Kaine tracking a nuclear bomb moves fast, a new artist has sapped this book's visuals of their former strength.
To make a character like the Scarlet Spider sing, you really need to have a fluidity of line and a dynamic sense of composition. Neil Edwards is clearly stretching himself as far as the composition goes, but his characters don't quite have that same flexibility. His Scarlet Spider reminds me a bit of Doug Braitwaithe, with the faces and bodies looking a little too uneven, but with the extra shadows on his figures that only someone like Mike Deodato can get away with.
The other thing that Edwards struggles with is finding that unique visual vocabulary that the Spider-characters have — there are flying kicks and swinging here and there, but nothing iconic enough to register or new enough to take your breath away. It might not be fair to compare Edwards with his predecessor, Ryan Stegman, but his style doesn't have nearly the same sort of animated appeal.
The writing, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Chris Yost propels this story forward like a '90s action movie, moving from car chase to shootouts to bomb scares like his life depended on it. On the other hand, it means we've seen a lot of his tropes before, including the prerequisite "how much is too much" debate we've seen in characters ranging from the Punisher to Daredevil to, occasionally, even Spider-Man himself.
Of course, Kaine seems almost unusually genre-savvy, from his over-the-top threats to criminals to his chagrin at his public moniker as the Scarlet Spider. While it's not as revolutionary as Iron Man or Green Lantern, Kaine's subtler characterization still registers. But where Yost fails is in the story logic — not only does he eat up space unnecessarily to have a cameo from the new Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, but the way Kaine saves the day is a glaring deus ex machina that nearly derails the whole book.
Scarlet Spider continues its track as a fast-paced action romp, but the thing about these kinds of books is that it needs slick visuals to succeed. Neil Edwards is a more understated kind of artist, and while he's clearly shooting for the moon with his action sequences, his sense of character design doesn't feel like a great fit for this book. Combined with a fairly cliched plot, and Scarlet Spider #5 will leave readers feeling black-and-blue.
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Jesus Saiz, Andres Guinaldo, Mark Irwin, Christian Alamy and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
After having my interest piqued last issue, I figured I would give Resurrection Man another shot. I'll be honest — even with the Suicide Squad on hand trying to take Mitch down, this comic didn't really do much to hold a reader's attention.
Part of this comes from bringing together two niche characters who now have even less cache following DC's New 52 relaunch — if you don't know who Mitch is, or who Deadshot is, or who Amanda Waller or General Hooker or the Body Doubles are, this book will feel more like random violence than something that will emotionally resonate. Considering the point of the relaunch was to declutter and refocus many of these convoluted characters, it's a shame that Mitch Shelley is basically a blank slate, aside from the bland romantic subplot Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning give him in an effort to make him seem more human.
Unfortunately, because DnA have to juggle the Suicide Squad as well, this issue has some particularly problematic pacing. First off, the fact that it begins with the exact same cliffhanger as the last issue is confusing, as it basically makes it feel like the tie-in issue of Suicide Squad is skippable. (I read both. It is.) The story takes a while to jerk to a start, having the not-quite-intimidating Suicide Squad puff their chests out at the even-less-intimidating Body Doubles. With these hit squads having hidden puppet masters, there are parts of the book that drag, as Wallet and Hooker engage in a battle of wits tag feels more like "Mean Girls" than "Three Days of the Condor."
The art, on the other hand, helps redeem things. The best moments of this book belong to Jesus Saiz and Andres Guinaldo, particularly during a sequence where Mitch cuts loose as a T-1000-esque liquid metal destroyer. With some lush inking on these pages — unfortunately, the trio of credited inkers makes it impossible to be sure who was responsible — Mitch exudes both power and fluidity, and makes me wish this team was on a Metal Men book instead.
I was hoping for some fireworks with this Resurrection Man tie-in, but aside from some decent-looking fights, there really isn't a set tone or direction for readers to sink their teeth into. This could have been a case of two smaller titles finding some clarity while clashing against each other. Instead, we wound up with a crossover that felt dead on arrival.
Written by David Lapham
Art by Rafael Ortiz and Digikore Studios
Published by Avatar Press
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Dan the Unharmable is the latest creator-owned series from David Lapham, the mastermind behind the Eisner award winning Stay Bullets, and the beautifully confusing Young Liars.
The series centers around a lazy bum turned private detective, who, for reasons as yet unknown, is completely invulnerable, i.e. he can’t be killed or harmed in any way. This opening issue is mostly spent introducing readers to the protagonist, and following him as he investigates a case, which turns violent and thus introduces his powers to the reader. Dan works for cheap, charging only enough to keep himself in booze and smokes, and maybe get a room in a motel for a few nights. This easygoing way of life comes crashing down around his ears though, when one day a young girl tracks him down, and begs him to solve the mystery of who murdered her mother. Dan cares little, until the girl reveals that she is his daughter, and that he has three other children.
David Lapham’s independent and creator-owned work can often push the boundaries of decency, involving lots of sex and violence, but his stories are always strongly character driven, and the characters he creates are always very three-dimensional and fleshed out. With the character of Dan, Lapham has created a really interesting protagonist, who has a relaxed approach to life; wherever he lays his hat is his home, and he never lets himself get angry or stressed, because life’s just too short to waste time on the small things. In a lot of ways, he’s very similar to the character of The Dude from The Big Lebowski — a simple guy, who against his will, becomes embroiled in a complicated drama. The big difference, of course, is that he has the power of invulnerability. This isn’t the crux of the story though, and this isn’t another superhero deconstruction piece (thankfully). He just happens to have these powers, and uses them to help himself get out of sticky situations.
The issue is well-paced, with a prologue to set up the overarching story, a strong introduction to the protagonist and his powers, some good character moments, and a cliffhanger that definitely leaves the reading wanting to find out what happens next. The dialogue is strong, and Lapham uses an interesting device to enable the character’s narration of events, and deliver some light expository monologue. There’s nothing particularly shocking or offensive about the story, though I found his depiction of a female college student in one scene to be quite derogatory towards women.
The artist on the series is Rafael Ortiz, an industry newcomer, who has previously illustrated an issue of Lady Death from Avatar’s Boundless imprint. His linework has a very meticulous quality about it, and every panel is filled with tons of foreground and background detail. There’s a feeling that he’s used photo reference for some scenes, which gives his cityscapes and outdoor scenes a sense of photorealism to them. His characters are mostly well-drawn, with realistic proportions and expressive facial features. There are a couple of faces though that have an odd quality to them, with slight misplacement of some of the features, and maybe too many lines cluttering things up. He draws good action scenes, with well choreographed fighting, and a strong grasp on how to use perspective to better depict what is going on.
In terms of inking, he seems a little heavy-handed in places, obscuring some of the linework with what feels to be too heavy a line-weight of ink. Although, he does makes nice use of shading to break up the monotony of filled blacks, and utilizes force-lines well to accentuate action and motion. The coloring by Digikore Studios, meanwhile, is a bit slapdash. Their choice of color tones and hues is poor, and the colors in general look oversaturated and garish. It’s a shame, because it diminishes the quality of the final artwork slightly, and the book would strongly benefit from a good colorist.
Dan the Unharmable #1 is a fun opening issue that showcases an interesting protagonist, and lays the foundations of an intriguing mystery. If you ever wondered what it would be like if The Dude had superpowers, then this is the book for you.
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