Best Shots Comic Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE, FANTASTIC 4, More

Greetings, 'Rama Readers — you ready for the Monday column? Best Shots sure is! So let's kick off your daily dose of reviews with a look at the other big team of superhero all-stars, with the latest issue of Justice League...


Justice League #9

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair and Peter Pantazis

Lettering by Pat Brousseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What's the appeal of the Justice League? I'd argue that it isn't the worldwide threats or the status quo-changing adventures, but the camaraderie. It's the interactions, the team-ups, the unexpected insights you gain by the contrasts.

And nine issues in, Justice League has finally got it.

While this comic still has its share of rough edges, what Justice League #9 does right carries far more weight. Geoff Johns shows a side of him that I don't think I've ever seen him show before — while he's a master of theme and an obvious enthusiast of mythology-building, Johns chooses this comic to explore the character dynamics within the team. And it's not only awesome, it's long overdue. Watching the Flash and Green Lantern argue over who's going to play good cop and bad cop is a chuckle-worthy bit, and Johns reveals more about Clark Kent in one page than some comics have in six months.

The other interesting thing about Johns's writing this go-round is the pacing. He and Jim Lee pack a ton onto each page, but what really caught my attention was the hyper-focused bursts of characterization that Johns would riddle across his script. For every present-day bit of action, we also get a handful of flashbacks that show the little bits of irony that define these characters. While occasionally this make for some cramped layouts, these bits go a long way towards making these heroes into characters rather than action figures.

This issue might also be where Jim Lee and Geoff Johns have finally aligned in terms of their styles. Lee's splash page of Superman and Batman teaming up against the hordes of Arkham Asylum is a poster-worthy piece of art, down to the hint of a smile on Clark's face as he illuminates the room with heat vision. There are some nice small moments, as well, including the transition from a younger, haunted Bruce Wayne to his older, still-haunted counterpart, or Lois Lane giving an arch of her eyebrow that leaves her looking sexier in one panel than she has in decades.

That said, this book does have some issues that are keeping it from perfection. The big anchor around Justice League's neck is still its POV character, Col. Steve Trevor. He's got none of the flash and all of the angst — breaking up with Wonder Woman, the most gorgeous woman in the DCU, doesn't make me feel sorry for that lucky son of a gun, because that still means he dated Wonder Woman, for Pete's sake — which makes the four pages (of 20) devoted to Steve just drag. The mysterious villain of the piece also is missing something to really make him click with the audience. Artwise, Lee occasionally will trip up his figure composition, such as Batman doing a weird can-can kick through Clayface, and his figures can still be a bit over-rendered.

That said, this comic's successes are far more memorable than its flaws. From a process perspective, I think we're seeing yet another reinvention of Geoff Johns, and after some initial fitful starts, he might be finding his balance between spectacle and substance. But ultimately, Johns and Lee are delivering what we wanted all along — we want to see our favorite characters in the same place, playing off one another and showing us how they compare and contrast. In other words, the flagship title of the New 52 is finally starting to live up to the name.


Fantastic Four #605.1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Mike Choi and Cris Peter

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

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Reed Richards is something of a bastard, isn't he?  Since introducing the Councils of Reeds back at the beginning of his Fantastic Four run, Jonathan Hickman has been determined to show us every way that Reed Richards is potentially the most evil and self-concerned man in the universe.  Any universe for that fact.  Maybe we're just lucky that our Reed Richards, the one from our little part of the multiverse, is a good guy. Fantastic Four #605.1 tries to tell us the story of a Reed who lived on a world where the Nazis won World War II. It's a simple story actually that fails in one easy thing: it doesn't tell us why this Reed Richards is the bastard that he is.

Imagine Stan and Jack's Fantastic Four #1 if Reed was a Nazi sympathizer, Sue and Johnny were jackbooted thugs and Ben Grimm was a Jewish concentration camp prisoner. This isn't a story about friends and family going into space to beat the Russians and accomplish something no one else had. This Reed Richards has an agenda for going into space and for working with the Nazis, but it's a reason that Hickman is largely set to let us speculate about.

This is a story that we start out knowing the major beats of: four astronauts going into space to in the name of exploration.  Early on in this issue, there are glimpses of of the story that we know, but as Hickman introduces these grotesque changes to the character’s lives, Mike Choi draws them as plainly and striking as possible.  He doesn’t pull any punches when he shows how Reed deals with Victor Von Doom or with the look of sorrow in Ben Grimm’s eyes as he’s picked to be the pilot of Reed’s rocket.  The surety of his actions that Choi gives to Reed makes each act and each betrayal vivid and calculated.  It’s a story that starts out as something that we know but Choi makes the world that this Reed lives in simultaneously look so alien and so familiar that it’s easy to accept these horrible acts as something that a man we know as Reed Richards could do.

Hickman's larger story has been about the mistakes that Reed Richards has and continues to make. Hickman uses these mistakes and the work to correct them to reinforce the humanity in Reed Richards. But while he has been doing that, he's also used these multiversal counterparts of Reed to show us everything he isn't.   We know our Reed is good and most other Reeds are bad.  Three members of his Council of Reeds came to our world and wanted to use it just for their own gains.

In Fantastic Four #605.1, Hickman shows us the story of one of those other Reeds but he doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.  These other Reeds are bad guys but why?  Why are they so different from the one we know?  That's what this issue doesn't tell us. From the opening pages, where Reed is sharing a cup of tea or something with Hitler, we know something is off here.

Reed sharing a meeting with Hitler or killing Victor Von Doom in the name of knowledge should be everything we need to know that we are not reading a straightforward retelling of Fantastic Four #1. Hickman and artist Mike Choi are not just repackaging a Lee and Kirby story.  They're telling their own story about their own characters but they aren't letting us in on why this Reed is so different than our Reed.  It's not just as easy as saying our Reed has Sue, Johnny and Ben because the Reed of this issue doesn't have those characters in his life and is very different from the very beginning.  There has to be some event from before the decision to enter the space race that drives this version of Reed to be so altered from our version. The why of the difference would be much more intriguing that just seeing the differences.

“But do you know what happens when you give a god an infinite canvas and all the time in the universe?” Reed ponders near the end.  Hickman doesn’t bother with any subtlety with Reed’s God complex, but sometime it would be interesting to find out why that God complex is there and why it’s tempered in our universe's Reed.  Since the beginning of Hickman's run, we’ve seen mirror images of Reed unburdened of his love and compassion.  We’ve seen Reeds wanting to “solve everything” but we still haven’t seen where it has gone wrong wtih these other Reed Richards.  Hickman had the opportunity to show us the whys and hows Reed Richards is so different from one universe to the next, but instead he just went with more of showing us that other Reeds are just simply bad with no insight into what makes our Reed Richards the hero he is.


Glory #26

Written by Joe Keatinge

Art by Ross Campbell and Joseph Bergin III

Lettering by Douglas E. Sherwood

Published by Image Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Glory’s deadly game of hide-and-seek with the troops from her evil father’s planet is about to end, and not because her friend Riley has to be home before dark.  With some revitalized storytelling from Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell, time is running out for Glory and her allies, as the forces from her home planet make their move.

As I mentioned last month, I was rather disappointed in the last issue, a padding-filled dream sequence that sets up future adventures but could have been either more fully developed or placed within another story.  Here, however, the pacing is crisp, with Keatinge teasing things from the dystopia that Glory's companion Riley dreamed of just before the start of this issue, as well as the beginnings of a battle that Glory clearly isn’t ready for yet but must face anyway.  It will be interesting to see if we shift right into battle mode, as the story and title imply, or if Keatinge will take another left turn to slow down the pace.  I really hope it’s the former.

Between these two ideas is quite a bit of storytelling.   We see Glory’s attempts to harden Riley in a battle training exercise that ends up being darkly comedic thanks to Ross Campbell’s clever artistic portrayals, particularly when Glory and Riley are standing next to each other, showing just how preposterous it is that Riley could ever challenge her.  After it’s revealed to the reader that Glory’s cover is blown, we ramp up to having Glory herself learning the fateful truth, done in a style that echoes a thriller movie, where the hero is working towards finding out just how much trouble they are in.  The answer in this case?  A whole heck of a lot.

While Keatinge really does a nice job setting up this story with just the right amount of tension, new information, and nods back to his work on the series so far, the book once again is driven by Campbell’s visuals.  This is yet another strong set of illustrations, filled with backgrounds that might put George Perez to shame.  Not only does Campbell continue to do an excellent job with the three female primary characters, making them look like strong characters without turning them into sexual objects, he also adds more aliens into the mix, and they are as stellar as they are different.  One is creepy and disgusting, with gaping jaws and eyes coming out of its tentacles.  The other looks like it stepped out of Princess Mononoke , complete with a gentle attitude that belies great strength.  As we move closer into Glory’s world, I cannot wait to see what other creatures come from his talented pencils.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Glory so far, however, is that the focus, if anything, is on Riley, not the title character.  Though we do see Glory fighting briefly in this issue, Keatinge’s story is still grounded from Riley’s perspective, and we as the reader are not given much knowledge that Riley herself does not already have.  Though physically weak, Riley has an inner determination that I have a feeling will play a key role before this story finishes.  Similarly, Campbell strives hard to make Riley the focal point of any scene she’s in, drawing the reader’s eye towards the girl no matter who else is with her by changing the angle or shape of the panel.  He also does a great job of expressing Riley’s feelings with her eyes, especially when she’s thinking of matters she’d rather not discuss with anyone.  It’s going to be interesting to see if this perspective changes at some point or if their run on the book keeps Riley in such a prominent spot in the story.

Though there was a lot going on in Glory #26, there are still many unanswered questions, impossible situations to overcome and great battles to be fought.  As long as Keatinge and Campbell turn in work this good, I’m in with this book for the long haul.  You should be, too.


The Secret Service #2

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Dave Gibbons, Andy Lanning and Angus McKie

Published by Icon

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Secret Service is a book unlike other Mark Millar books. It’s methodical in its storytelling, deep in its character development, and has a well-rounded mixture of dialogue and action. Maybe this is due to Dave Gibbons and Matthew Vaughn’s influence, but Mark Millar delivers another great story with the second issue of his British spy series.

The book opens with a typical Millar action sequence — it is truly outlandish, but also chilling, beginning and ending quickly enough so that it doesn’t dominate the book.  That’s because the majority of the issue is spent on developing the relationship between the dead-end Gary and his spy uncle, Jack. There’s copious amounts of dialogue, more than I’ve seen in any other Millar book, but it’s not overwhelming. I was fully engaged by every conversation because it reveals more of the plot which, if what the characters say is true, means that Gary’s training will be long, arduous, and based on what he has yet to do, very cool to see.

Dave Gibbons’ traditional panel construction and deliberate visualizations help keep this comic grounded. The story feels calculated and the visuals echo that. Gibbon’s has a palpable confidence in his illustrations and his realistic designs help the story avoid being too zany. This works particularly well in the scenes that take place at the spy headquarters. Readers are given an insight into some incredible technology, but all of it seems possible. It’s not like the cheesy gadgetry of the earlier Bond films (I’m thinking of the prosthetic nipple from The Man With The Golden Gun).

The thing about Gibbons is that he also brings history to the table. Every Gibbons illustration reminds me of his work on Watchmen, and I can’t help but feel comforted by that. Watchmen was a very deliberate story. Hopefully, with Gibbon’s guidance, The Secret Service can have the same kind of meticulous delivery. Angus McKie’s colors, while muted, make for some beautiful imagery. The shot of Jack lighting a cigarette, his face illuminated by the flame, is eerie and awesome. Truly a work of art.

I think what I love most about The Secret Service is how unlike a typical Millar comic it is. His work is normally equated with the over-the-top action found in a Michael Bay movie — all flash and no substance. But this series is more than one dimensional heroes and villains, and graphic violence for the sake of graphic violence. I want Gary to succeed. He’s a loser, but he’s a victim of his surroundings. Jack is an enigmatic and engaging lead. There’s a depth to his character that will eventually be revealed, and his subdued confidence makes him an intense hero. So far, the first two issues of this series have been great, and I hope the rest will be as good, if not better.


DC Universe Presents #9: Savage

Written by James Robinson

Art by Bernard Chang

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

A few things immediately pop into my mind after reading DC Universe Presents #9. First, Vandal Savage is the clearly the villainous darling of DC these days, with his appearance as lead baddie in Justice League: Doom, his role in Demon Knights, and now a mini with his name. And second, James Robinson does some his best work when he's dealing with characters from DC's Golden and Silver Age.

A series of grisly serial killings have the populace in a panic. These killing are made even worse because they seemingly copy-cat those performed by Jon Savage, aka “The Vandal Savage.” This prompts the FBI to bring in their finest profiler, Kassidy Sage, to question the now incarcerated Jon Savage. It becomes obvious, even before the characters acknowledge it, that this will be more than a profiler getting insight on the mind of a killer. This is going to be one heck of a father-daughter reunion. In what could have been a rather bland retelling of every serial killer movie, but with DC characters, is instead a strong start to a dark little corner of the DCU.

In the debut issue, the current serial killer and his potential victims are really just a catalyst for the real entertaining elements of the book. After just a few pages of Kassidy Sage, I all but forgot the reason she was even speaking with her murderous father. Robinson paints a picture of two masterful chess players, one a seasoned veteran and the other the young upstart. Neither willing to reveal their full skill as they size up the other.

Yet , the dialogue between Savage and Sage is not without it's darkly humorous moments. There is an abrupt break in the conversation when an escaped killer, with electrical based powers, make his attempt at Kassidy Sage. As she dispatches her potential murderer, a genuinely proud father looks on as his estranged daughter dispatches the meta-powered killer with true skill and calm. Like a real Savage.

However, for as much as I enjoyed the verbal cat-and-mouse between father and daughter, this issue would not have been as effective were it not for art and coloring by Bernard Chang. As the bulk of this book consists of a series of talking head scenes, Chang had the difficult task of selling these people as living, breathing characters. His panel layout has a strong cinematic feel to it, I could almost hear Kassidy's shoes click on the drab tile floor as she entered the penitentiary. And while our first image of Vandal Savage is one of a prisoner behind bars, he still casts a frightfully domineering presence.

What I enjoyed the best though was how Chang captured the eyes of both characters. Regardless of morality and ethics, both Jon Savage and his daughter Kassidy are predators. Wonderfully balancing shadows and colors, we feel both characters as they take in the world around them. As this issue progresses and Kassidy is forced to take a life, a startling similarity shows through Chang's art. While Kassidy takes no pleasure in the kill, as her father does, they both perform the act with perfect calm and precision. It's a seemingly simple, but effective use of coloring that I'm sure will play out in future issues.

I'll be perfectly honest. I wasn't expecting much going into this issue, and being of fan of Gail Simone's Secret Six, I was a little annoyed this wasn't a “reformed” Scandal Savage. Still, this is a very good debut from Robinson and Chang. One that will hopefully solidify Kassidy Sage as a new strong female character into the DC Universe. This is exactly the kind of story I was hoping DC Universe Presents would tell. Well done.


Amazing Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth Featuring Big Hero 6 and Union Jack

Written by Rob Williams and Brian Clevinger

Art by Thony Silas, Victor Olazaba and Will Quintana

Lettering by  Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Branching out from the “Ends of the Earth” series, this Amazing Spider-Man one-shot deals with the effects of Doctor Octopus’ satellite launches around the world. While it seems the story focuses only on Britain’s Union Jack and Japan’s Big Hero 6 teams, several other international heroes appear. But the issue is, at best, an aside that tries to accomplish too much in too short of a time, making it feel cramped and disjointed.

The first part of the issue, written by Rob Williams, focuses not only on Union Jack, but Australia’s Kangaroo, Israel’s Sabra, and Russia’s Titanium Man. While all four are charged with stopping Doc Ock’s satellites from taking off, only one of them succeeds, and the rest are dispatched without any real effort. Sabra’s one scene begins and ends in two pages. She arrives, kills some Octobots, and then is shot in the head (I think — it’s never resolved). Only Union Jack gets any face time, and even his tale is truncated. His battle with Slaymaster lasts a total of five panels, and then he succeeds in his mission, but I don’t really understand how. Williams’ pacing is too fractured.

The second part, penned by Brian Clevinger, is a bit more cohesive. I know nothing about Japan’s Big Hero 6 team, but I enjoyed learning about them. I would equate them to the Young Avengers because their characters are all young and inexperienced, but they work together to achieve their goal. Clevinger’s writing is more along the line of Dan Slott’s; it has elements of humor and fun character banter, but an intense amount of action. Clevinger is able to introduce, explain and develop his characters successfully in the short space he’s given. By the end of the issue, I felt like I had a much better knowledge of the team, and was generally interested in their adventure.

The one constant is Thony Silas who draws both parts of the story. His characters tend to look cartoonish — like Humberto Ramos’s — but his action sequences are fluid, especially in the second half of the book. His female characters, however, look ridiculous, particularly during the action sequences. GoGo Tomago’s breasts are like two rockets that operate independently from her body, and female faces, from a distance, lose any type of detail. The ink lines in the second half of the book are thicker and make some of the images look fuzzy, but that could be a printing issue rather than an artistic error.

I think this would have worked better if each group was given its own one shot. The story is too big to be confined, and given the space they have to work in, both Williams and Clevinger are limited in their writing. The conclusion of the second story in particular  is too quick to have any emotional impact. And no true resolution occurs in either half of the book. Seeing as how End of the Earth has a global impact, the impetus behind this issue made sense. Its execution is where it suffers.

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