Best Shots Extra: AVX: VS, SUPERGIRL, More - Reviewed!

 

AVX: VS #2

Written by Steve McNiven and Kieron Gillen

Art by Steve McNiven, Salvador Larroca, John Dell, Morry Hollowell and Jim Charalampadis

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Self-indulgent premise aside, there's a lot to like about AVX: VS Combining everyone's favorite superheroes with top-shelf art teams for a little bit of fist-fighting fusion, this book seems to have it all.

Well, everything but a twist, that is. But I'll get back to that in a minute.

Imagine a fighting game as a comic — albeit with that added panache of a well-constructed punchline — and you've got AVX: VS in spades. I'd argue that this month's lineup, with Captain America versus Gambit and Spider-Man versus Colossus, is a bit more well-known than the last installment. Yet bigger names might mean bigger expectations, because the feeling of decompression feels a little bit more pronounced here.

The real winner of this book is Steve McNiven, who provides a fine turn as both writer and artist for the Cap versus Gambit matchup. A book like AVX is a good place for him to test the waters of being a pure auteur, with the expository "ringside" captions giving him the tonal leeway to go wild. It also doesn't hurt that McNiven also knows how to choreograph a fight scene, particularly with Cap, who steals the show pretty definitively from the Cajun super-thief — with McNiven's crisp cinematic character designs, watching the Star-Spangled Avenger dart and dodge from a volley of explosions is pretty breath-taking, and the look on Gambit's face when a ploy doesn't work is a well-earned comedic beat.

If McNiven's work is consistently good, albeit not revolutionary, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca hit the extremes a bit more with Spider-Man-Colossus throwdown. Gillen chews through some precious space with an awkward lead-in featuring some other Avengers, and I'll be honest, Colossus gets even shorter shift in characterization than McNiven's Gambit. Larroca makes Colossus seem particularly huge and imposing, but occasionally the way he introduces elements like discarded Doombots can take readers out of the story. Still, Gillen hits a tremendous high point with his characterization of the Web-slinger near the end of the issue...

...That abruptly has to end.

Remember that twist I was telling you about earlier? The biggest problem with AVX: VS isn't predictable victories or unbalanced characterization — the thing that keeps these fights from being truly memorable, as opposed to being just fleeting moments of fun — is that just when they're really gearing up for something unexpected or giving the underdog a shot at the win, they have to end. Each of these fights clocks in at about 10 pages a pop, and I can't help but wonder how much better they would have been if each team had even two more pages to expand.

The fights are short, but they are still admittedly pretty sweet. AVX: VS #2 is, in certain ways, an anthology on steroids — even if these stories are largely self-contained and have little to no effect on the Marvel Universe as a whole, these match-ups are an entertaining platform for some of Marvel's best and brightest artists to jam together. I still wonder how much better this book might have been with some more breathing room, but the fact remains: whether it's the Avengers or the X-Men who lose, readers of this series win either way.

 

Supergirl #9

Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson

Art by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig

Letters by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I'm a little surprised that Supergirl isn't getting more attention than it's had since DC's relaunch. For all the heat they've taken for their treatment of female characters, it's nice to see that not all the women in the DCU are destined to be the brunt of fanbase flak. It may not be breaking new ground, but Supergirl has been one of the most consistent titles that DC is publishing. Michael Green and Mike Johnson are underrated storytellers, and Mahmud Asrar has the kind of style and chops that many DC creators have lacked for some time. On top of that, the team has managed to synthesize many of the identities and concepts that Kara Zor-El has embodied through numerous relaunches into a character that, while she's still finding her feet, fills a compelling role in the Superman family, and in the DC Universe at large.

In the latest arc of Supergirl, Green and Johnson have stuck with their formula of adding new threats to expand Kara's mythos, while also starting to bring in some of her classic enemies and supporting characters in the form of the semi-heroic Silver Banshee, and her villainous father, the Black Banshee. Using Silver Banshee makes a lot of sense- she's one of Kara's most regularly recurring enemies- but the character's magic-based powers also provide yet another lesson for our hero as she adapts not only to her powers, but her weaknesses now that she's been bathed in the light of Earth's yellow sun. Adding Silver Banshee's alter-ego, Siobhan, to Kara's supporting cast is also a cool touch, finally giving her someone to talk to, and adding a layer of pathos to the character that, combined with the introduction of her father as her more outwardly evil counterpart, makes the character one of the more compelling revised super-villains yet to appear in the rebooted continuity. If there's one problem with Supergirl right now, it's that Kara has moments of indecision that occasionally make it seem like she's a side character in her own book.

Mahmud Asrar is really the star of this title, filling his pages and characters with all the personality and nuance that many of DC's artists seem to leave by the wayside. The most obvious comparison for his work is that of Frances Manapul's "Flash," and while Asrar doesn't have Manapul's gift for out-of-the-box layouts, his art is backed by a stronger sense of storytelling and far better scripting from the Green and Johnson. There's an energy and flow to Asrar's pages that matches Kara's wide-eyed, breakneck introduction to her post-Kryptonian life, and the synergy between art and story is the best argument for this book's quality.

In past years, Supergirl has struggled off and on to hold an audience, and to differentiate it's titular character from her namesake enough to stand alone, while still keeping the sense of wonder and strength that has made Superman the most enduring and inspirational character of all time. While it's hard to say that Green, Johnson, and Asrar's Supergirl is the definitive take on a character with a storied a history as Kara Zor-El, the team has made great strides toward building the character a niche and corner of the DCU all her own. It's not quite solid gold just yet, but Supergirl is a great example of the reboot done right.

 

Conan the Barbarian #4

Written by Brian Wood

Art by James Harren and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Richard Starkings

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This is an interesting time for Conan fans. As a rule, the Conan tales from Dark Horse Comics have followed a rather chronological path. There have been some deviations from time to time, but you can pretty much draw a straight line from Kurt Busiek's wonderful run all the way up to this volumes preceding installment. Which makes Brian Wood's take on the Cimmerian a little tricky to follow. He is regaling the reader with tales from Conan's younger days. Days when the Barbarian wasn't yet filled with doubt and cynicism. This is a Conan that is still trying to find his place in the world and within the heart of Bêlit, the Queen of the Black Coast. Part 1 of The Argos Deception finds Conan, his Queen, and their band of pirates scheming to steal vast quantities of treasures from the uptight and tradition bound leaders of Argos. The very people Conan escaped from at the series opening.

Throughout this issue, I needed to keep reminding myself that this is a different Conan. Although much younger, this is a far more introspective character. A man that has not yet had a lifetime of violence to temper his path. And Brian Wood writes with a tone that perfectly captures this uncertain aspect of Conan. In fact, he might go a little too far in his emotional uncertainty. It was only a few issues back that we read of a Conan that rode through the city, laughing as the guards called for his head (and other body parts). And yet, after a short time with Bêlit, Conan is one confused Barbarian.

It's a jarring transition in character, one that I fear will set off those that want a purer interpretation of Robert E. Howard's creation. Which is ironic, since Wood is doing a good job in adapting the original stories. Indeed, once I set aside my own preconceived notions of a “proper” Conan story, I found myself fully engaged with the character and his connection to the world. This is still a very impressionable young man. He's torn by his conflicts with the past and a true desire to give someone his undying trust. For lack of a better term, this is a sensitive Conan. Well, at least as sensitive as the character allows.

James Harren draws a Conan with a truly powerful presence within the world and is quite the departure from Becky Cloonan's more ethereal style. The story doesn't really provide him the opportunity to cut loose on the page, but there are hints at what is to come. Harren draws with a very heavy line weight that really allows that characters to stand out from the page. Which is very important, because there is some series detail to these backgrounds. Although there are a few panels with a stylistic use of negative space, Harren does not waste an inch of page.

The entrance to the city of Argos is simply stunning and when combined with the legendary Dave Stewart on coloring, the result is nothing short of breathtaking. If Harren can somehow find an emotional connection with the people he draws that matches his attention to setting, you will have one gorgeous book. As it stands now, the interaction between Conan, Bêlit, and the various characters in the book feel a little flat. But taken as a whole, Harren works well with Wood's more introspective Conan.

To be sure, issue 4 is a big tonal shift from the previous story arc. But step back and take a deep breath. This is a path that Conan has to take and it should be an interesting one.

 

B.P.R.D. - Hell on Earth: The Devil's Engine #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by Tyler Cook and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With reboots and crossovers still the standard for modern comics, it's pretty great to see a title like the B.P.R.D. chugging along. Although listed on the cover as issue #1 of 3, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Devil's Engine is technically issue #92 in the long-running series. Which leads to an interesting question in regards to continuity and the accessible nature of comic books. Being limited on space, this review isn't the place to argue the pros and cons of long-standing continuity. However, when speaking of the B.P.R.D., it is both a boon and hindrance.

After all the previous paranormal events in the world, the B.P.R.D. is playing a serious game of catch-up and Mea culpa. With agents scattered in a world ravaged by Liz Sherman's actions against the underworld alliance, the simple act of contact and regrouping is a dangerous one. Agent Andrew Devon needs to get the woman Fenix and her clairvoyant powers back to Denver and the bureau. Things don't go as planned. All while Herr Marston of Zinco begins his final stage in resurrecting The Master. It's a fairly basic set-up and one that perfectly reflects this comics hindrance by continuity. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The writing from Mike Mignola and John Arcudi is as strong as ever. It should go without saying that Mike and John have a more than perfect grasp on each characters individual voice. Agent Devon is a good mix of the all business field agent and the rather humorous bumbling of an academic that's far more comfortable in a lecture hall or library. Even with all he's seen, his mind still finds greater comfort in assuming a person is off their meds, rather than exhibiting true paranormal power. And on the other spectrum, the emotional Fenix never once devolves into the insultingly cliched “whining companion”. She has a real reason for concern and you will find yourself siding with Fenix's feelings more so than Devon's logic. However, for all the well-scripted dialogue, very little story get told in issue one. Even the departure to Herr Marston does little to move the story along. We already know his plans. So, his scenes just read like a vanity shot to remind newer readers. (Which I'll get to in a minute.)

Tyler Cook and Dave Stewart are the real stars of this comic. One of the best elements of the B.P.R.D. (and Hellboy) are just how naturally the mundane mixes with the fantastic. But in this issue, Cook has very little of the fantastic to play around with, and that's OK. There is a wonderful attention to detail with all his characters. You can truly feel the emotion behind every word they say. Indeed, there are moments when the reader doesn't need the word balloons. We can sense Devon's deep uncertainty and Fenix's barely contained fear. Cook's line work, combined with Stewart's colors gave the comic a near animation feel. The panels look like they are in a constant state of movement and really draw you into this world. It helps keep the book moving at a good pace, which is good, because without that pace you're going to be slightly bored and / or confused. Which gets me to the point I've been avoiding.

No one really needs this issue. Not the characters. Not the readers. Not even the story as presented. There is no way anyone new to the B.P.R.D. series can pick up this issue and have a hope of understanding what's going on. While long-time readers aren't going to experience any real forward progression of the over-all story; save the last couple of pages. Most of the content found within The Devil's Engine #1 could have been trimmed down to a few extra pages and included in a denser installment. Decompressed storytelling has its place, but this issue reads like filler and won't satisfy anyone. This is a well-written comic that is expertly illustrated. But stand back, you'll see it's all façade.

 

New Crusaders #1

Written by Ian Flynn

Art by Ben Bates, Gary Martin, and Matt Herms

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Archie Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out 10

If I can be honest here, I will admit, I know little to nothing about the Red Circle characters, aside from the facts that they're characters from the 70's and 80's and that DC attempted to revitalize them...that's it. With the characters returning to Archie Comics, this is a great attempt at an all-age approach to super heros, even with minor hiccups.

What I'm gathering here is that this is a legacy-type take on the characters. Each New Crusader will be a representation of the old guard, the Mighty Crusaders. We're treated to a decent story with characters reflecting on the old times and how good retirement can be, but as I'm sure you're aware, evil doesn't take a holiday. An old nemesis from the team makes himself known again, and the Mighty Guardians are off for one more round. Ian Flynn's script is alright, but easy to comprehend and pick up and dive in. It does seem a bit problematic when there are just too many characters at once, even with them being labeled on the page, I wasn't quite sure who was who, and who was related and whatnot. His dialog isn't heavy, but gets enough exposition through the characters, that you can see where this is headed if you couldn't figure it out from the cover. However, the cover is a bit misleading here as the Mighty Crusaders take the main stage.

I am sure the art is going to get called and tagged things like "cartoony", or even worse, "too cartoony" and in a derogatory manner. Thing is, I don't see the problem with that. At all. Since New Crusaders is being marketed and aimed at younger kids, who cares how it differs from other books in the mainstream market? I think Ben Bates has a great style in the same vein as what Archie has come to represent as of late. It reminded me of Bill Walko and Sean Galloway. Not over-rendered and gives us an idea on what to expect as the line continues. Adding the broader inks by Gary Martin, and a soft pallet from Matt Herms, it just looks great on the page. It's very animated and sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Especially for anyone who wants to get their kids, or any young reader into comics, but afraid of what to choose from today's racks and shelves.

Having comics geared towards an 8 to 10-year-old crowd isn't a crime and something that should be attempted more these days. What Archie is doing here is bold, along with their other creative choices. Now I know, the Big 2 have all-ages books, but the digital initiative that Archie is pulling here (0.99 for app, with weekly installments to follow soon) is distinguishing from what other companies have in store with their digital packages. I'm interesting to see how this unfolds as the adventure is just beginning.

 

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #2

Written by Brian Clevinger

Art by Ryan Cody, John Broglia and Matt Speroni

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Red 5 Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Atomic Robo is a book with limitless possibilities which makes it perfect for anthologies.Robo creator Brian Clevinger and a team of talented artists work on expanding the Atomic Robo universe one short story at a time. The second issue of Real Science Adventures continues two stories from the first issue and features two brand-new standalones.

The first story is part two of “To Kill A Sparrow,” which follows a couple of female freedom fighters in occupied France during World War II. This is a fast-paced follow up to the first part that features a motorcycle chase that would make Indiana Jones proud. .The art has a simplistic charm with character designs and action sequences reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s animated work. The worst part about this chapter is that it ends.

The second entry is the best of the lot. Drawing from Clevinger’s love of video games, “Monster Hunters” finds Robo teamed up with the Red Team from class-based shooter Team Fortress 2. Fans of the game will find their favorite classes’ personalities and sense of humor intact and amplified by the inclusion of Robo and a monster on the loose. The art looks straight out of a concept book for the game and gladly Robo fits right in. Clevinger saves the best in the final reveal, proving once again that one and done storytelling can be effective in the right hands.

Part two of “Leaping Metal Dragon” is really the first time that the anthology starts to drag. The inclusion of Bruce Lee as Robo’s would-be martial arts mentor has potential but the typical “martial arts master resists training eager student and instead tries to teach a lesson by doing things that aren’t fighting” gag is tired. This one feels like it will read better in a trade format.

The final story pits Atomic Robo against the ghost of Rasputin during finals week in 1924. An oddly appropriate story for this time of year, Robo gets to do his best Peter Venkman impression complete with a Tesla edition proton pack. Clevinger puts a historical spin on this story, reminding us that Robo really can work in any setting and that his soon-to-be seven comic book volumes only scratch the surface of his potential.

There’s a little bit for everyone here. Anthologies are great primers for new readers and Clevinger wisely crosses over into video game territory to maybe try and bridge that gap. Despite multiple artists, the different visual styles all suit the story at hand and more importantly the Atomic Robo universe. Three out of four solid entries isn’t bad for this kind of book and I’m sure that time will prove the one outlier to be a quality addition to the Robo mythos as well.

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