Best Shots: ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN, ACTION COMICS, More
Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered! So let's kick off this week's round of comic book reviews with the latest adventures of Miles Morales in Ultimate Spider-Man #11...
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
David Marquez is the real deal.
You remember when Mark Bagley was on Ultimate Spider-Man, and you thought "this just feels right?" That this was a run that deserved to go on for a hundred issues or more?
David Marquez should be with Miles Morales for that long. He's that good.
Don't get me wrong, I know Sara Pichelli was basically the mother of Miles Morales, shepherding him through his first fledgling issues. But Ultimate Spider-Man #11 is all about showcasing Marquez's monstrous artistic chops. With Miles and his uncle, the villainous Prowler, taking down new gang lord Scorpion in a crowded nightclub, Marquez impresses on every page. From his smooth inkwork to the composition of Miles landing a roundhouse against Scorpion's jaw, it's a gorgeously drawn book.
And that's a good thing, as the story is, well, still a little decompressed. Brian Michael Bendis starts off with a nice counterpoint between Miles and his Uncle Aaron's sweet relationship compared to the exploitative partnership they have today. That does add a lot of heart, which goes a long way towards humanizing the fight sequence that Marquez sells so well. That said, there is a part of me that feels this issue and the last probably could have had a bit more overlap, so the pacing could feel a bit tighter. Furthermore, the character of the Scorpion comes off as a bit nondescript, sounding just like Bendis's business-oriented takes on the Hood or Ultimate Mysterious.
That said, if it's a new era for Ultimate Spider-Man, we need a new artist to envision it. I nominate David Marquez, who brings strengths from Pichelli, David LaFuente, even Bagley himself, and distills them into something extraordinary. This is a fight comic that pulls no punches. Read it.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Rags Morales, Rick Bryant and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Patrick Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
After shifting the focus to an alternate earth last issue, Grant Morrison returns to the world of Metropolis in an issue that is, for a Morrison comic, more streamlined than others. It has a great set-up for the future of the series, especially if the climax of the issue is genuine. Even if it isn’t, Clark Kent has never been better, as himself or as Superman, than in Morrison’s talent hands.
The issue is one of Grant Morrison’s best, exploring Clark as a character both in and out of costume. Clark is given some cool moments (like his encounter with a child murderer), and some great dialogue (like his discussions with the Justice League on their role in the world). It’s evident that Morrison understands Clark Kent, and every interaction Clark has in this issue feels genuine. He’s managed to keep what people love most about the character — his naïveté and honesty — while still giving him confidence and power, both in and out of costume.
In the mix is the villain, Nimrod, who is the Action Comics equivalent of Kraven the Hunter. Nimrod thinks he discovered the secret identity of Superman, but when he finally meets Superman, he’s dispatched without much effort. The final moments of the story are cryptic, and set up the next issue, but I think Grant Morrison did the unthinkable, and killed Clark Kent. It’s hard to say so, but given the references to Clarks’ death, and Morrison’s penchant for doing whatever he wants, it’s possible Clark is gone. If this is true, Morrison has written a game-changer.
Rags Morales’ art, however, is a big distraction in this issue. Some panels are chock full of sharp illustrations. Morales’ close-ups, in particular, are intricately drawn and heavily detailed. But the majority of the shots are clunky and inconsistent. Faces, in particular, seem to be a weakness for Morales, especially at a distance. Several characters look like they have lazy eyes or asymmetrical features. The art in this book is a far cry from Morales’ work in other books like .
Part of the problem might lie in Rick Bryant’s inking. He’s heavy on the shadows in many places, and the thick outlines don’t communicate the precision of the illustrations. That said, Morales’ Justice League is the best-drawn part of the issue, even if it only lasts two pages.
I’m a big fan of Superman and a fan of Morrison’s work on Action Comics, and if he really did kill Clark, the story possibilities seem endless. No longer will the writer be weighed down by a need to give Clark a 9-to-5 that only seems to interfere with his saving the planet over and over. If it’s not to be so, however, I still believe in Grant Morrison, and his abilities to make a man fly.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim and Michael Garland
Lettering by Rus Wooten
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
A comic that fails to move readers closer to understanding its point can be frustrating. Secret #2 is similarly a frustrating comic in that, much like Morning Glories, it is layered in secrets. But Jonathan Hickman has created characters that, so far, will keep readers interested enough to dive into the mystery.
The comic opens with one of the best sequences I’ve ever read. It’s a scary moment between a father and his two sons, the lesson that he teaches them being the crux of the issue. Much of this comic feels like it’s building character interaction and planting seeds for later plotlines, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging. In fact, the story’s man character, Grant, makes for one of the most interesting leads in any comic. He’s a super-confident person, but by the end of the issue he looks weak and defeated. The payoff at the end of the issue, referencing the opening moments, isn’t surprising, but it’s still shocking.
Artist Ryan Bodenheim doesn’t have to stretch his talent much in the issue. The majority of background detail is irrelevant, making the panels look sparse. But when he has to depict emotion, Bodenheim gets a chance to display his true abilities. He’s a master at shifting perspectives to depict surprise, anger, and mostly isolation. Grant is dealt some pretty emotional blows in this issue and Bodenheim palpably conveys this. Additionally, the composition of the comic is so damn near perfect that color is almost unnecessary. If the comic were to be colored traditionally, it would almost be garish, given the plainness of the imagery.
Even though the comic lacks traditional style, I’m still loving the simplicity of Michael Garland’s colors. Black-and-white works best for this comic, and the occasional moments when Garland throws in color really stand out, usually in conjunction with emotion. When the red appeared in the first few pages, I knew we were in for violence. Similarly, the subdued green used when Grant opens his divorce papers helps elucidate his state of being. In all aspects, the comic is well-executed.
The issue is really a slow burn. We’re no closer to understanding what’s going on, and the introduction of new characters makes settling in to the established story difficult. This isn’t a complaint on Jonathan Hickman’s writing; in fact, it’s one of his best assets. He’s established the world for us, and now we’re being moved through it, even if we’re given no further explanation. It’s evident, however, that Hickman has a plan, and given what we’ve seen so far, it’s probably going to be pretty spectacular.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
There may be nothing to the rumors of our world ending in 2012 due to the Mayans, but it’s a distinct possibility in the world of Ron Marz and Walter Geovani’s new comic, Prophecy. Long-time Red Sonja villain Kulan Gath wants to use the power of human sacrifice in Mayan culture to conquer the world, crossing timelines to do it. Sonja herself must fight not only Gath, but possibly some very interesting guest stars as well in this new limited series that opens to a lot of potential.
I think a lot of the comics press tends to think of crossovers as primarily happening in the Marvel or DC Universes, with occasional nods at other publishers who might be bringing two of their worlds together for a special event. Quietly, however, smaller publishers like Dynamite have been building up large character bases, allowing for books like Prophecy to exist. This is not just a team-up of Red Sonja with Vampirella — it’s an epic story that spans multiple times, links to a popular urban legend involving a dead civilization, and uses public domain figures to great effect.
I’m really impressed so far at how well Marz takes so many disparate ideas in this issue and ties them together in a way that works for me as a reader. I never thought anything felt forced, even though Marz has to wind us through late Victorian England, Mayan civilization, and eventually, the present day. There is a thread and a link between each set piece in the story, easing transition.
What I think I liked best about this issue however is among all the action, Marz gives us a detective story (and a detective) to add depth. I don’t want to reveal the identity here, but the inclusion of this person is a nice touch, even if I don’t entirely agree on the characterization. There’d be nothing wrong with Sonja fighting though time to stop Gath and meeting characters like Vampirella, but Marz goes further, challenging the reader to figure out just how everything fits together. I don’t know the answer yet, but I can’t wait to find out. You can tell that Marz has a love of detective fiction.
Working hard to match the quality of Marz’s script is artist Walter Geovani, who has the never-enviable task of drawing two female characters that are often portrayed in an exploitative manner. There’s not a lot you can do, given one is in a chain-mail bikini and the other forgot about half of her bathing suit at the beach, but I thought that Geovani tried hard to make Sonja and Vampirella look powerful and athletic (and yes, attractive) without emphasizing the deficiencies of their costumes. At one point, Sonja attacks Vampirella, but the staging is completely designed to show the dynamics of the action instead of placing them in posed positions.
All of Geovani’s pages are fluid, with the characters moving through the pages, not just standing around waiting to speak with each other. There is a lot of variety in the panel selection and he does a great time-travel splash page near the middle of the comic as well. My only complaint is that his faces seem to have a limited range of expression, which hampers the impact of Marz’s dialogue from time to time.
Though the palette may be a bit too bright for some, I really enjoyed Adriano Lucas’ vibrant colors. Sonja’s hair is almost like a living flame, while a mystical knife surges with purple energies. The sky is bright blue, unhampered by pollution in Mayan times, while the forest where Vampirella lurks is awash in green, waiting for bright red blood to be spilled. Compared to the dull coloring used in so many comics, I found this approach both refreshing and appropriate.
After reading this first issue, I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in Prophecy, and that’s a good thing. With almost anything open to Marz save killing off the characters with their own ongoing books, this series can go almost anywhere. This might just be my pick of the week, and I strongly recommend you go back to your comic shop or digital reader to give this one a second look if you passed on it initially.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Who'd have thought that all a hard-luck team like the Defenders would need is a Black Cat to cross their path? Yet true to her larcenous nature, Felicia Hardy absolutely steals the show in the latest issue of Matt Fraction's quirky series, as she helps give Defenders a focus and panache I haven't seen in months.
From the very beginning of this issue, Matt Fraction makes you realize that there's more to Felicia Hardy than other writers have given her credit for. While some have written her off as "just" a Spider-Man love interest (or a Catwoman analogue), Fraction plays up the fact that she's also a super-smart, super-stylish super-thief. Felicia's got snark, a sense of humor, and once she gets her hands on a Satan Claw? Rawr — this kitty's got you hooked.
And that's a good thing, too, because Fraction's focused take on Felicia doesn't quite extend to the rest of the team. The big weakness of Defenders is that the individual quirks of the team still don't gel well together — you've got the seeds of several cool relaunched characters, but nothing that justifies them as a cohesive team. The overarching storyline with John Aman and the Black Panther doesn't help — while Felicia's story is accessible to a fault, the Defenders themselves need you to have a PhD in Continuity Studies to really get everything out of it.
In terms of the art, there's a lot of form following function here, because who better to draw this felonious fox than Terry and Rachel Dodson? You can tell they're quite simpatico with Fraction's vision here, from Felicia's "come get some" battle smirk down to her web-slinging boots, and that enthusiasm is contagious. There are a number of other nice visual gags that the Dodsons pull off with aplomb, particularly the Silver Surfer's reaction to some psychedelic Wakandan spirit juice. Colorist Sonia Oback provides some interesting counterprogramming here, with some really sunny colorwork that keeps the comic from falling into the realm of depressing.
In a lot of ways, Defenders #7 brings back a Matt Fraction I haven't seen in awhile, not with the hustle of or or or . With Felicia Hardy, Fraction seems to have gotten a second wind, delivering a dynamic character that might be what Defenders has been missing all along.
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
So, maybe Swamp Thing wasn’t at the top of your list when the New 52 rolled around. It’s understandable that, with all the new reboots and origins, some books may have fallen off a reader’s radar. With Swamp Thing #10, it’s time to correct that mistake. With this issue, you get your second chance to catch up on an amazing book with the start of a new story arc and the reintroduction of one of Swampy’s oldest nemeses Anton Arcane.
Although writer Scott Snyder has had hands full with the storyline over in Gotham and , Swamp Thing hasn’t suffered a bit. The writer has been able to give the audience a version of Swamp Thing that is recognizable even to the most casual of comic fans by forgoing the years the book spent at Vertigo and concentrating on character mainstays like Abbie, Anton and the Un-Men while blending the mythos in with other like-minded DC titles.
Yet this isn’t a glitzy superhero version of the character. The book is still a horror story at its core filled with monster and damsels in distress. Even though Dr. Alec Holland had his time in the spotlight recently with , Snyder shows that Swamp Thing might be better off playing alone. The scribe does an excellent job of balancing the horror elements with the drama and is able to create something unique for readers every month.
The issue paces nicely for the beginning of an arc. The lucky reader gets the calm after the storm of Holland and Abbie finding their way back to the swamp but with the impended dread of Anton in the shadows. There isn’t a ton of dialogue in the issue, which is perfect. Snyder captures the characters' voices quickly, and Francavilla is so vivid that too much exposition on the page would be a felony.
Anton carries most of the narration here; the former scientist is so terrifying, the reader can almost smell the sticky blood on his teeth as he talks. Although the title is still fleshing out its characters’ background, the relationship between Abbie and Holland is a unique one. These two people rely on each other. It almost seems that the two of them need their relationship to hold onto some sort of dissipating humanity. With the epic battle from the last story arc over, it’s exciting to see where the title is headed with Swamp Thing and the monstrous Anton Arcane.
Even with the amazing writing on this title, it would be worth picking up for the artwork alone. Francesco Francavilla has managed to recreate a seedy, horrific, '70s grindhouse film on the page that sets the tone perfectly for the title. The rounded edges of the panels of Abbie and Alec Holland have a retro feel and are paired nicely with the harsh red and blacks of the Anton pages.
The full-page spreads in this book are frameworthy works of art all on their own. Francavilla knows how to use them and even though there were a high number of them in the issue each one is startling piece to enjoy. The colors themselves can create a feeling of uneasiness in the reader. The muted palette of the Alec and Abbie pages is punctured with the heat of the orange-red sky.
Francavilla also knows exactly how to frame a character in the panel; sometimes askew or distant to build tension. This helps the vibe of old horror film and harkens back to the age in which Swamp Thing was created. The line work here is minimal with a heavy, almost brush-like, inking style on top of it. It’s reminiscent of Charle Adlard’s work over on . This isn’t to say that one is mimicking the other, but perhaps this is DC’s best artistic competition for the successful Image title.
Lapsed fans of Swamp Thing get a second chance to jump into the title with Issue #10. A reader doesn’t need to be a fan of the character because the talent on this book will convert the uncertain. Swamp Thing is for fans of great storytelling and, starting with Swamp Thing #10, has become a must-read.
Written by Paul Grist
Art by Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree
Published by Image Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
It seems like nothing can hurt Owen Craig, the teenager turned mysteriously into Mudman. He can fantasize about using his powers to get the girl without a care in the world. That all changes when Owen runs into a disturbed man with power over water who teaches Owen there are worse fates than drowning. There’s a learning curve for Owen and a bit of familiar ground to be covered in the fourth issue of Mudman.
While I suppose it was inevitable that Owen face a water-based villain, given that he lives in a coastal town and that he also would discover his power has limitations, I couldn’t help but feel like writer-artist Paul Grist borrowed just a bit too heavily from the playbook this time out.
There are several similarities that long-time fans of Peter Parker will instantly recognize, and given that Grist is aiming this at unabashed old-school superhero fans, I can’t help but think they’ll be pretty obvious to most who pick up the comic. A mysterious figure with ominous intentions wants to mentor Owen, which reminds me just a bit too much of the time Peter was advised by Ezekiel during the JMS years. Owen daydreams about getting the girl, but doesn’t, which is effectively the story of Peter’s teen life. Finally, the idea of water and mud not mixing very well just feels recycled from various bouts Spidey had with Flint “Sandman” Marko and/or Hydro-Man. One echo might have been okay, but three in one issue was just a bit too much for me.
There’s also the problem of Owen’s complete failure in this issue. Heroes lose all the time, especially new ones. But instead of working his way out of it, Owen is saved by the man we are pretty sure is a killer, who uses it to try and draw the young teen closer to him. All of a sudden, Owen looks to be reluctant, and for some reason, I just can’t square it with his character so far, even if he did just face a near-death experience.
Despite these problems, I still thought the story worked well as a continued reimagining of the way superhero books used to operate. Owen saves a person he doesn’t like, and risks his life without any hint of ambiguity. The villain of the piece is set off by a hysterical visual set up and drawn perfectly by Grist, and we do have a feeling that something larger is happening, even within these individual issues that each form a complete story. The man who can stop a super-powered individual dead in his tracks is going to tip his hand eventually, leading to a strong conflict. It’s textbook Silver Age, and anyone who, like me, has a soft spot for the stories that inspire Grist will definitely enjoy the pacing.
Though I had a few issues with the plotting choices this time out, I have absolutely no complaints about the artwork, which continues to use innovative panel designs to tell the story. Grist’s work evokes Steve Ditko with his character placements and poses, using all of his skills to really show just how Owen’s powers work. This carries over into the water creatures used against Mudman, who also defy conventions in their actions. A few times Grist reaches his limitations, with the art moving almost into primitive territory, but the dynamic action of most of the pages covers these few issues.
As in prior issues, Grist uses a few tricks from Eisner and Neal Adams as well, feeling free to make the page design and lettering as part of the art. The details, however, are a lot more sparse than either of those creators might have done with the same script. Grist’s art is a bit of an acquired taste, but I love his willingness to experiment.
Mudman #4 is probably my least favorite of the issues so far and shows that it can be difficult to do an homage to a particular era of comics without falling into some of its tropes. There are some things in this issue that could be problematic if they continue but I still feel like this is a solid series for those who find today’s heroes just a bit too morally relative and violent. Mudman could sink under its own weight, but right now, it’s still recommended reading for the right audience.
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Diego Bernard, Fred Benes and Arif Prianto
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Sometimes we tend to think of New York City as the only place with super-powered problems, but Sara Pezzini, the current user of the Witchblade, is about to find out that Chicago has its own issues, one of which is closer to her than she can possibly imagine. Sara must face the unrelenting forces of age, artifacts of great power, and even the police in this set of stories that provides a good jumping-on point for new readers and a story that hooked me on a character I’d previously ignored.
As we open this trade, Sara has just moved to Chicago and promptly landed herself in prison, giving Seeley a clever way to make the character reflect on her new life and provide information to a curious reader. Once a police officer, she’s now a private detective and getting into trouble, just like any other P.I. might. The difference is that her problems take on mystical proportions, and soon, with the help of a man with ulterior motives and a female cop who’s written in the Harvey Bullock mode, Sara is fighting the kinds of evils the Witchblade is designed to protect humanity against — forces that take on properties quite similar to her own abilities and offer their own temptations to a woman who is very much feeling her mortality.
What makes this story so compelling for me is how realistic Sara’s life changes are, and the fact that Seeley uses the villains in this story to echo some of the thoughts and concerns that Sara has about herself. She’s getting older, but still wants a lot out of life, and in this story arc, she’s faced with younger women trying to capture an essence that will preserve their youth forever. Meanwhile, a group of older people are corrupted by that same power into doing anything to remain young. The choices made by these character show Sara how her life could end up, and by the end of the story, she must decide where she goes from here.
It’s a great set of character development, all within five issues, and I really started caring about Sara by the end of the trade. Sure, she’s got superpowers, but her problems are the same as anyone else who sees their youth slipping away, bit by bit. It will be interesting to see how Seeley proceeds with this idea in future issues. It also helps that Seeley has a great ear for dialogue, balancing serious comic book melodrama with irreverent comments from the cop that seem to come at just the right moments.
One of the knocks on Witchblade in the past is the way that Sara has been portrayed visually. Artists Diego Bernard and Fred Benes certainly do not shy away from drawing the main character in a very sensual manner, but with the exception of the biker girls who seek the power that de-ages the senior citizens, it does not feel exploitative. All of the characters with powers are drawn to heighten their attractiveness, but this includes the men as well. They are also all very well-crafted, with linework that shows an attention to detail and proportion.
Bernard has a slick style that uses very few lines and Benes does not try to over-ink the pencils. I also like the clever panel placement, which varies from page to page, using whatever shapes best fit Seeley’s script. There’s a determination in the eyes of Sara and others that really pops out at the reader in a way that other superhero comics I’ve read lately do not. The overall effect works very well for me, especially given the high quality of the plot.
I have to be honest that before I decided to sample Seeley's Witchblade, this was a title I used to make fun of regularly — and probably unfairly. Reading the issues of this trade changed my mind in a big way. Seeley writes a solid story that treats its main character with respect, and though there’s definitely an emphasis on the sensuality of Sara and her antagonists, it works within the story. Witchblade is definitely headed in a strong direction and worth investigating for yourself.
Written by Josh Wagner
Art by Joiton, Alejandro Marmontel, Veronica Gandini and Nicolas Pena
Lettering by Sergio and Lauren Norby
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Created and written by Josh Wagner, Fiction Clemens was originally released as a three-issue miniseries by Ape Entertainment in 2008. For this trade paperback collection, Wagner decided to take the property and go the self-published route. For this reason, you likely won’t find the collection on the shelves of your local comic store, but should be able to order it from some of the bigger online retailers.
The book tells the story of the eponymous protagonist, an easy-going gunslinger, who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Embroiled in a bizarre love triangle, Fiction finds himself on the run, across a strange reimagining of the old west, filled a mixture of technologies from the past, present, and future. Fiction Clemens is a tale of mistaken identity, unrequited love, hapless bounty hunters, a toothpick tycoon, an ancient prophesy, the cyclical nature of life, an urban myth of a man called “The Clockmaker” who controls all of our actions, and an alien conspiracy to drag the world kicking and screaming into the Space Age.
Fiction Clemens is a story with a grandiose concept that is hard to boil down to a quick blurb. In its simplest form, this is a comedy of errors, packed with unique and interesting characters, smart and thoughtful dialogue and tons of hilarious and laugh-out-loud moments. There are a lot of elements to the plot, but it isn’t overly complex, as Wagner paces the story perfectly, introducing all of the characters and plot threads in a gradual manner, before beginning to tie all of the disparate parts together for the climax.
While the book can easily be read as a simple adventure, it is definitely a multi-layered story, with lots of hidden meaning, metaphor and subtext lying just beneath the surface of the words. The book is filled with philosophical pondering on the natures of existence, the meaning of life, and other subjects of an existentialist nature. These elements add greatly to the richness of the story, and make for a book that can be read again and again, with each reading revealing new details and meaning.
The book’s art is provided by Joiton, an Argentinian artist who hasn’t really done a lot of work in the comics medium. His artwork on this story is a highly animated-looking brand of cartooning, with very curvy and flowing linework that makes it feel like the only straight lines in the comic may be the panel borders. His characters all have exaggerated and distorted anatomy, and all of their faces are like highly expressive caricatures. Joiton brings Wagner’s reimagined Wild West to life in fantastically whimsical fashion, and manages to blend the modern and futuristic elements of the world together seamlessly with the Old West elements. He has a great sense of perspective, and picks some really interesting angles from which to depict the action, which helps to make even the more pedestrian scenes look magical.
The book is also beautifully colored, with a very vibrant and expressive palette that makes the artwork look like it’s about to jump out of the page. Colors are used in a lot of creative ways on this story, to help to bring a different feeling to each scene. For example, there’s a part of the story where Fiction wanders into a forest filled with strange munchkins, who travel on the backs of giant turtles — the colors in these scenes bring a hallucinatory feeling to the artwork that makes this strange sidestep into a fantasy realm that much more feasible.
Fiction Clemens is a wonderfully whimsical story, filled with thought-provoking concepts and ideas, fantastically interesting characters and stunning artwork. If you are looking for something fresh and original to read, then Fiction Clemens may be just what you are after.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!