Best Shots: Amazing Spider-Man, Fables, Sub-Mariner and More

Best Shots: Spider-Man, Fables and More

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Before we dig in, let’s have some links to our Best Shots Extras from this week . . .

Catwoman #82

The Alcoholic

Secret Six #1

Now, on with it!

Amazing Spider-Man #570

Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: John Romita Jr.

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

I may no longer be a Spider-Man completist, but the same can not be said about my obsessive love of John Romita Jr’s kinetic and fluid art. When this storyline was first announced there was no doubt in my mind that I would be buying Amazing Spider-Man for the first time since the end of “One More Day.” Make no mistake, I am not upset with the undoing of Peter’s wedding or the reset to his status quo, what I take umbrage with is the fact that the everyman of the Marvel Universe took the easy way out when the going was tough – a complete contradiction to the nature of the character and a lesson I would never want to teach a child, but I digress.

Stepping away from my disdain for the “deal-with-the-devil” seemed an impossible chore, but thanks to the seeming ease in which Dan Slott writes the title character and some spectacular work by the art team of John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and Dean White, the disdain quickly disappeared. Instead I found myself completely captivated by the unfolding story and was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly Slott minimized the references to the new status quo, which greatly enhanced the overall enjoyment of the issue.

From Spider-Man’s inner monologue to his handling of the Front Line staff Slott does a nice job of constantly giving the reader information about the characters while expertly moving individual stories forward. As the main thrust of the story is a fight between Venom (Mac Gargan), Anti-Venom (Eddie Brock) and Spider-Man Slott expertly breaks up the battle with some well placed cut scenes that progress other simmering storylines from a political race to Norman Osborne’s reappearance in Peter’s life.

Even though his resurrection was incredibly inane – even by comic book standards, Norman’s growth as a character and place within the Marvel Universe has never been more realized. Slott craftily utilizes Osborne’s new found status in a manner that is organic to his story and enhances Norman’s scenes with some well-written dialog and spot-on characterization that augment the narrative to great effect. If there has been one issue that has stood out since last issue it is Norman’s memory or lack of as the case may be.

Throughout the storyline Norman’s lack of memory when it comes to Spider-Man’s secret identity has been a minor distraction, but this issue Slott’s sets into motion an event that could possibly rectifying that problem. Pay close attention to Osborne’s initial rooftop landing; it is a perfect snapshot of a well-placed plot twist. Of course I could be wrong, but stranger things have happened.

While other plot threads are skillfully strewn throughout the issue and Slott efficiently moves various story beats forward the main conflict, a classic Spidey throw down, is given all the gravitas necessary to convey the importance of the scene. As the battle between Spider-Man and the Venom’s reaches its crescendo, Slott unleashes an interesting twist to the nature of Eddie Brock’s new found powers that are displayed with some interesting results. Slott’s script is further enhanced by the energetic pencils of John Romita Jr. who masterfully choreographs the battle as it flows from panel to panel.

Romita adeptly opens the issue with a familiar scene from the Spider-Man pathos as he renders our hero hurriedly swinging from building to building, as he tries to intercept potential danger heading toward his Aunt May. As each subsequent scene plays out Romita displays an understanding of comic book art second to none as he eschews the normal pattern of presenting a battle in giant panels or splash pages and instead utilizes a constantly changing arrangement of 4-6 panels per page to expertly captures the intensity of the ensuing battle and keeps the reader constantly engaged in the unfolding melee. Although the extended fight was the highlight it is the final scene that really solidifies the overall success of this issue as Romita perfectly captures the look on Osborne’s face as he comes face to face the goblin-wannabe, Menace.

No stranger to Romita’s pencils, Klaus Janson steps up his game this issue and gives the art a consistent look utilizing some remarkably clean lines. It almost seems that Janson is utilizing a different style in his handling of Romita’s pencils that give them a more refined look. Although Janson minimizes his usual scratchy somewhat gritty style throughout the issue he does brings it out when necessary. Adding to the overall package, Dean White displays a solid understanding of light and shadow as he skillfully adjusts his color palette based on location and light sources within each individual setting and location.

There is a lot of story development throughout this issue and thanks to the skillful storytelling of the creative team; “New Ways to Die” is an enjoyable read. Although I have no plans of picking up ASM after this arc, I have to give credit to Marvel for making it a difficult decision.

Fables #75

From: Vertigo

Writer: Bill Willingham

Art: Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Review by Mike Mullins

From opening with a murder mystery to revealing the identity of the Adversary to convincing us that Cinderella was capable of getting her hands dirty in ways never dreamed of by her evil stepsisters, Fables was managed to capture an ever-expanding following. The final issue of the War and Pieces arc is an oversized issue that presents the finale to the war between the residents of Fabletown and the Adversary that occupies the fables’ original home worlds.

Where the first two parts of this arc establish a Fable army that is triumphing in easy fashion, this issue quickly establishes that the Empire is a force to be reckoned with and not so easily defeated. The means by which the Empire mounts their defense against Bravo site and the Glory of Baghdad are fully believable and well detailed. The turnaround brings the Fables to the brink of losing the war while placing series stalwarts such as Bigby, Prince Charming, Sinbad, and Blue in deadly peril.

This issue captivates as each and every character maintains a voice and point of view that is consistent with the characterizations established over the course of the first seventy-four issues. Readers familiar with the series will find themselves nodding at the actions taken by the characters, making the entire issue feel like there was no other way the story could turn out. That feeling, however, is only realized as the story unfolds and doesn’t diminish the impact of any particular story beat. This reveals how intimately the author knows these characters and illustrates the depths of characterization that has been established since the inception of this title.

The narration of the story is provided by Blue. Blue’s cloak enables him to teleport from front to front and back home to the mundy world, making him the only choice to provide a single perspective for this storyline. His presence with each group of Fables allows for just enough commentary to move the story along without too much text pulling the reader away from the unfolding tale. Plus, seeing Blue getting offered meals by everyone, as pointed out in a previous issue, actually impacts the war in this issue.

Overall, the story and pacing are well orchestrated by writer Bill Willingham. The art is also impressive with pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, and colors by Lee Loughridge. Given the amount of fighting in this issue, Buckingham makes the action scenes easy to follow and while fully depicting the outcome of each battle. Leialoha and Pepoy are impressive in that no page stands out from having a different inking style which can often happen when more than one inker works on a project.

DC also deserves a lot of credit by moving all of the ads to the end of the book, allowing the story to be told without any interruptions. I wish they had page numbers, but that is a minor irritant.

The issue also has a nice bonus in the back with a number of artists contributing full page depictions of various Fables characters. I particularly enjoyed the pieces by Eric Powell and Kevin Nowlan. I would be quite content to see Eric Powell take over cover duties with issue 82, when James Jean leaves the book.

While I have tried to remain as spoiler free as possible, there was one hidden gem that I absolutely adored. As a long time fan of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as Disney World, I was particularly fond of the second page of the Epilogue where a funeral is being held at the grave of Mr. Toad.

Sub-Mariner: The Depths #1 of 5

Writer: Peter Milligan

Artist: Esad Ribic

Marvel Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

From the jump, anything drawn by Esad Ribic should be an automatic purchase by comic book enthusiasts. While Loki is still, in this fan’s opinion, his best work for Marvel, the current effort is an improvement on his Silver Surfer: Requiem. His work is beautiful, with soft lines lending an ethereal, almost dreamlike quality to the story, but in the right moments of Peter Milligan’s script, can be downright spooky.

Mr. Milligan’s story involves one Doctor Stein, labeled “The Great Debunker” by the New York Times, fresh from a seminar wherein he laid bare the truth behind the Abominable Snowman (a “triumph of reason over fantasy”, he said), who is hired by the Navy for a quest of sorts. They seek one Marlowe, an expedition leader with suspected Communist ties obsessed with finding the lost city of Atlantis. Marlowe has gone missing somewhere in the vicinity of the Marianas Trench and the Navy wants to know for certain if Marlowe has managed to find the fabled city, for if it does exist, the reds cannot be allowed to lay claim. What the Navy brass doesn’t know but the crew of Stein’s boat does, is that any plunge to the ocean’s depths in search of Atlantis is sure to court disaster at the hands of an urban legend called “Namor”. When Stein’s submarine departs controlled flight, he sets out to make science trump superstition, to prove that one man’s half-man-half-god is another’s giant squid. I have a feeling that in four more issues, the good Doctor will wish he had chosen to chase the Chupacabra instead.

Mr. Milligan manages to weave a haunting tale that that brings to mind a couple of nautically-based and terrifying novels, Dan Simmons’s The Terror and Albert Pinol’s Cold Skin. Stein’s expedition to find Marlowe already feels claustrophobic and cloying, and when you add the pressure of the depths wreaking havoc on the mind, as well as shadowy depths playing tricks on the mind’s eye, and the crew’s abject fear of some…THING…some unknown, out there just beyond the thin skin of their submarine, it’s difficult as a reader to suppress a shudder.

This is a terrific first issue for the series and will probably go down as being one of the best Namor stories ever told.

Slow Storm

Written & Illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Novgorodoff’s first full-length graphic novel is an ambitious one. Following two people afloat in a sea of cultural disconnects, Slow Storm brings together Southern firefighter Ursa and Rafi, an illegal Mexican laborer, when a fire in the barn where Rafi works brings surprising chaos down on them, while raising equally disturbing emotions from within.

A moody book that leaves itself open to the reader's impressions, Slow Storm moves back and forth between the two characters' points of view, tracking Ursa's confusion while running her discontent up against Rafi's imagination of what America should be versus the reality he's encountered. Though it doesn’t quite achieve the high rung Novgorodoff is striving for, the book has a lot of very noteworthy strengths. First, her ear for dialogue is tremendous. Ursa comes across as a tomboyish Southern woman, expected to go to college, marry, settle down, yet she resists the expectation by continuing to put her life on the line as a firefighter. Rafi struggles between his rich inner life, full of his cultural icons and magical imagery, and his inability to connect linguistically or culturally with the world around him. Novgorodoff manages to capture the nuances of Ursa’s Southern twang without resorting to heavy-handed phonetic dialect, and Rafi’s broken English convincingly portrays his lack of language skills without making him sound unintelligent.

Thematically, the book doesn’t come across entirely finished. Ursa and Rafi’s connection never feels entirely sound. Due to its dreamlike quality, the story feels slightly incomplete. Ursa and Rafi's encounter is only a contrast of two confused, disconnected young people, each looking for their role in life, yet neither seems to find any answer or direction from the other. Perhaps that is Slow Storm's message, but I'd be interested to see what Novgorodoff could do if she tightened up the narrative and allowed the characters to drive the story rather than the mood.

The line art is loose, fitting with the moody, atmospheric watercolors, capturing the turbulence of the characters' internal lives and the sweeping gray wall of the storm that bears down on them. The colors and layout, combined with certain impressionistic images, enable Novgorodoff to capture the emotional truth of the moment, though the artwork's sketchiness does occasionally obscure the characters' feelings or unspoken intentions.

Despite a sense that it doesn't quite lead anywhere, Slow Storm is a promising debut and a beautiful work of artistic fiction. The author's excellent grasp of dialogue works to establish the characters' voices as believable, and her atmospheric artwork and attention to the story's setting make for an immersing reading experience. More care to the characters' story arcs will only make each of Novgorodoff's successive books something to look forward to even more.

Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966

Written & Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Published by Fantagraphics

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

From 1956 until 1996, Jules Feiffer’s editorial comic strips ran in the weekly Village Voice newspaper. Explainers is the first of four planned books that will collect the entire run of the Pulitzer-winning strip, compiling the first decade of masterful satire.

What impressed me most about Explainers is how little of it shows its age. Yeah, specific references to cultural happenings date individual strips, but the general tone – dealing with themes including the blindness of patriotism, relationships, mass media – feels like it could be commenting on the recent political pep rallies (excuse me, National Conventions) of the major political parties, the inanity of newsertainment and pop television, and the unspoken complications of men and women.

After moving through the first couple years awkwardly, finding his cartooning voice, Feiffer seems to find a groove around 1960, after which he consistently puts out winning strip after winning strip. The social commentaries, based on relations between the sexes, working environments, and familial bonds, are sharp and biting. Recurring characters Bernard and Huey provide outlets for observations about indecisive, scared men and emotionally unavailable he-men, respectively. A memorable strip finds Bernard waxing poetic about how he just wants someone to be impressed with him, so much so that he’ll namedrop some authors to a young lady, yet never approach the woman in any potentially sexual manner so that she’ll know he is “real.” Another finds a woman yo-yoing between a scheduled date with Bernard, which is cancelled to see Huey, who cancels on her, sending her back to Bernard, who “is going to pay” for Huey’s spurning her.

Political strips are prevalent throughout the book, and the specifics of them may be lost on many readers today. I can’t claim to have understood what he was driving at in them all (the most recent of these strips is ten years old than I, after all, so my knowledge of the time is fair, but not firsthand), but nevertheless, the strips are sharp and Feiffer’s deft at parodying voices and faces. I suspect that many readers will be moved to quickly look up the figures behind several political satires, as the quality of the strips is evident. Alternately, you can substitute names (Vietnam becomes Iraq) and still feel Feiffer’s biting, satirical intent.

As a cartoonist, Feiffer works in a very limited palette. With a few exceptions in the early going, Feiffer eschews bordered panels, leaving the images open to flow into one another, and dialogue is rarely encased in balloons. The most obvious physical characteristic of his artwork is the minimal staging. Each strip sticks with a single “camera,” a steady depth, feeling more like a stage production than the currently popular cinematic approach comics storytelling. Though the line work is lively and expressive, Feiffer specifically keeps the visual storytelling as unobtrusive as possible. The dialogue, the words, the satirical intent is the core of each strip, and Feiffer works hard to keep his cartooning quiet so that the intelligence of his observations remains the reader’s focus.

Despite the content being older than many potential readers, Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966 remains an important document of comics’ power as a tool of social commentary. One of the most important and most intelligent cartooning voices developed here, and the wit that earned the 1986 Pulitzer is already well on display here. The book is one of the year’s must-have items.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Ms. Marvel Annual #1 a.ka. Brian Reed’s Bid to Write Spider-Man (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): So what a minute here, is this a Ms. Marvel Annual guest starring Spider-Man or a Spider-Man Annual guest starring Ms. Marvel? After reading the issue I'm fairly certain that the cover was incorrectly labeled. It's clearly Spider-Man who is the star of this story. Not only is old Web-Head front and center - having way more screen time than the supposed hero the book is actually named after - but he comes across as goofy, smart, heroic, funny, and an all around swell fella. Someone the read enjoys reading about. Whereas the book's "star", Ms. Marvel, comes off as a raging, angry bitch - a character I was more than happy to see go away as soon as Spider-Man showed up to hijack her story. And it doesn't help that on top of it all Ms. Marvel sports a horribly awful, super choppy, Bill Ray Cyrus mullet. The poor gal appears to be drawn as an after thought. It's apparent artist Mark A. Robinson isn't so great at rending the ladies (which is rather ironic considering he is working a superhero book with a female star). I figure Robinson was lured to the project because the blond grump would be secondary to the story. Thankfully what Robinson lacks in the Ms. Marvel department he more than makes up for in his Spider-Man, as Robinson joyfully draws a lively, almost breathing Spider-Man. As for the lackluster story? It involves lots of roboty fighting and hero on hero punchiness and something about androids, but otherwise, I have no idea why this Annual exists, other than to serve as a resume builder and an obvious ploy by Ms. Marvel's regular series writer, Brian Reed, to show Marvel that he can write Spider-Man (hey, it worked for Dan Slott when he had Spidey quest star in his She-Hulk series). And you know what, Reed probably should be added to Spider-Man's current crop of writers. His Spider-Man is darn-near perfect. He nails Spider-Man's voice and, as I stated above, makes his a thoroughly likable character. His Ms. Marvel? Not so much. That is unless you enjoy reading about a protagonist is a total close-minded, humorless, jerk. Me, not so much.

X-Men Manifest Destiny #1 of 4 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Now this was a good read. I love how writing superstar Mike Carey (as well as the other latest crop of X-Scribes) has no problem smiling at the continuity rich past, borrowing from it, and using it to better the present. Great writers are never hampered by all the continuity behind them; they instead embrace it, toy with it, dust it off, and give the long time readers a pleasant surprise. (This rant brought to you by the sorta return of old X-Factor Ice Man girlfriend, Opal!) This anthology-ish comic works so well because not only do we get the continuing story behind Ice man's power problems, but we are treated with the return of the twisted Mystique and her strange fascination with Ice Man, a smile worthy mini-story featuring Meltdown/Boom Boom and a return to her Valley Girl ways, and a very emotionally rich tale featuring the former New Mutant refugee Karma. (Remember when Karma got all fatsy and was possessed by the Shadow King? Good times, good times). I would say that a monthly book with this caliber of writing, spending some extra time on the less popular X-Characters, would be a very welcome thing. We all have favorite mutants who aren't Wolverine and it would be nice to see quality tales that wink back at what's come before while welcoming what's going on now. A fun read.

Dead of Night: Devil Slayer #1 (MAX Comics, Reviewed by Richard): Everything about this issue read as a by-the-books war comic, that is until the last page. Writer Brian Keene does an excellent job of drawing the reader into the story before unleashing a twisted ending enhanced by the moody and emotive art of Chris Samnee who expertly captures the horrors of the moment. Dead of Night seemingly centers on a missing soldier in Iraq and the platoon sent out to find him. On the surface the story may seem simple but thanks in no small part to Keene’s deliberately subtle foreshadowing and Samnee’s noir-influenced art style, the impact of the final scene and its implications of future issues really causes the reader to sit up and take notice of the overall story.

Green Lantern #34 (DC Comics, Reviewed by Richard): Geoff Johns continues to prove his vast knowledge of the DCU as he skillfully updates and reinterprets events from Hal Jordan’s past to reveal the truth about Abin Sur, the previous bearer of Jordan’s ring. Although a much traveled story, John’s main goal with this arc is to add a sense of scale to the mythology of Hal Jordan’s importance to the Green Lantern Corps as well as to add dimension and context to the Darkest Night prophecy. By peppering this storyline with pertinent information that will be relevant to the highly anticipated Blackest Night storyline, John’s does a good job of engaging the reader and building the suspense level for the forthcoming event. Assisted by Ivan Reiss’ career defining work, Geoff Johns continues to build upon the legacy and mythos of the Green Lanterns while introducing new concepts in a believable and natural manner.

Freedom Formula #2 (Radical; review by Jeff Marsick): Sure, this book came out last week, but this series is such a hyperkinetic rush that it deserves some recognition in this feature. While it’s not Radical’s flagship title, it is, hands down, their best. In issue two, the Corporation reveals that they’ve got a mole on the inside of the illegal Freedom Formula racing series, but since they don’t necessarily trust this Judas, they hire their psychotic Frankenstein, Daedulus, to infiltrate the group and tear it apart from the inside, collateral damage be damned. Meanwhile, Zee has managed a stay of his execution at the hands of the Rev, and accompanies the crew on a mission to raid a Corporation warehouse of pristine Formula Infinity engine parts. Typically, the raid goes south, and Zee puts on a demonstration of driving prowess which garners him a seat in a Vicious Cycle exosuit for the next race. Zee is only supposed to be a show of force for an exchange of parts for cash, but inevitably gets challenged to the starting line against another newcomer. The flag drops, the suits fly, and Zee puts on a formidable display. But that’s nothing. It’s the reveal of his opponent’s identity that will change everything for Zee starting in the next issue. Beautiful artwork, fast-paced storytelling, intrigue, mystery: this series makes a shot of adrenaline feel like a double dose of Xanax.

Double-Shot: Secret Six #1 (DC; by Mike Mullins): Secret Six #1 shows a Catman that is striving to move away from villainy, but it is not a transformation that will come naturally. His inherent nature as a “bad guy” is fully illustrated as he and Deadshot interrupt a neo-Nazis robbery of a convenience store only to leave the workers in the hands of the angered skinheads when they depart. With Deadshot gleefully providing less than constructive criticism for each of Catman’s failures to be heroic, this series looks primed to have a great back-and-forth between these two characters. Another dynamic pair that looks to be developing in this new ongoing is between Ragdoll and the team’s new member, Bane. Ragdoll’s verbosity and unusual turn of phrase contrasts nicely with Bane’s terse speech. Really, its not all that different than Ragdoll’s interaction with the stuffed parademon, once a member of the Secret Six, that he keeps around in his room. The last member of the team, Scandal, suffers what may be the one of the most insensitive but well-meaning birthday gifts you may ever see. So far this series has everything that was loved about the previous Secret Six appearances: off-the-wall perspective, debauchery, violence, and great dialogue.

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