Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN, NINJA TURTLES, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Best Shots is already way ahead of you, with this week's installment of our Advance Reviews! So let's start off with Lan Pitts, as he takes a look at the penultimate chapter of "Night of the Owls" over in Batman...


Batman #10

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy B

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There has been a large amount of speculation leading up to this issue on who is behind the Court of Owls and who will face Batman in one final showdown. The curveball thrown here is a big-time swerve as Scott Snyder pulls the rug out of all of us and catches us off-guard. What he's also done is create a great antithesis for Bruce Wayne and Batman as well that leaves you in anticipation for their last battle.

Yes, we still have one more issue until this new villain and Batman slug it out, so here we have the revelation and Snyder playing up Bats' detective skills. He's really laid the groundwork since Day One on how this will play out, and looking back it's all there. It's not obvious at first, but once it hits you, it'll make sense. Though, the big reveal isn't what's really going on. Between the back-up feature with the Jarvis Pennyworth backstory, and this issue, it all comes together in one nice puzzle. I think Bruce's monologues are the strongest here because he does taste a bit of defeat in the middle of the issue. It's interesting to see Batman really struggle here trying to get to the bottom of things, and keep coming up short. As I mentioned, Bruce's detective skills are keen enough to where he does figure it out, and we're back to the villain and Batman spelling it out for us. I think the dialogue gets in the way of the action in this last scene, and we're left shaking our fists wanting to see the throwdown right then and there.

So, what about Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion that hasn't already been mentioned? There is a lot going on here scene-wise, and both penciler and inker bring their collective A-game and really knock it out of the park. The moody atmosphere that Snyder has envisioned comes to life here as Capullo and Glapion smother the underbelly with graffiti, dirt, and ghosts of the past — it's amazing how seamlessly they can change settings and nail every bit of Gotham seen here so wonderfully.

There are some panels, of course, that I thought could have used a stronger delivery, especially with the big reveal. It's not distracting, but when you get an understated revelation when you're anticipating a huge denouement, it leaves you wondering. Still, the artistic treatment of Gotham as not just a city, but an embodiment all its own, is tremendous. Add a fine layer of dank colors to add to the seediness of Gotham by FCO Plascencia, and you've got a great-looking book.

It's been almost a year since the relaunch of DC's publishing line, and Snyder was a good fit to lead the way and give this book a proper direction. Capullo is certainly a breakout star because of it, and the two work great together and have brought us something definitely new to Batman. I love the approach that there are certain things in the Batman mythology that are deemed unchangeable — well, Snyder here may have just laid a game-changer on us all.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series, Vol. 1

Written by Brian Lynch and Tom Waltz

Art by Franco Urru, Fabio Mantovani, Andy Kuhn, Bill Crabtree, Valerio Schiti, ScarletGothica, Ilaria Traversi, Ross Campbell and Jay Fotos

Lettering by Chris Mowry, Robbie Robbins and Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even heroes on the half-shell need to have solo adventures. Writer Brian Lynch looks at what makes each turtle unique in this collection that serves as a great sampler of the current incarnation of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s creations. Collected here are four one-shots featuring each of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, loosely linked to the story begun in their new ongoing series.

Though it must have been tempting to flood the market with Turtles comics, IDW smartly opted for this route instead. As a result, Lynch must carefully craft a story that is both done-in-one and reaching outward towards a larger picture. That’s no easy task, but he manages it quite well, giving each turtle their own distinctive voice that echoes the 1980s cartoon but does not ape it.

We open with Raphael’s tale, where he's joined by Casey Jones and works against early versions of Rocksteady and Bebop to save another mutant ninja who is far more than she appears. Raphael almost lets down his guard, but it’s his distrusting nature that saves the day, putting a smooth edge on what can be a rough character.

Unfortunately, this opening sequence also features the weakest art. Mantovani tries to match Raphael’s dark mood with dark colors, but it muddies the picture and makes it hard to follow along with the script. I also felt like Urru’s turtle design was too sleek. The Turtles are meant to look a little box-like, and his thin Raphael did not work for me.

Things are brighter in the second chapter, featuring Michelangelo. He wants an adventure worthy of New Year’s Eve, and ends up in a museum caper — as one of the thieves! The “cowabunga” personality shines through in this one, even if it’s filtered for a new generation, as Michelangelo’s child-like nature tries to apply the teachings of his brothers to this delicate situation.

Kuhn, using a style that’s very similar to Paul Grist, takes full advantage of the light-hearted nature of the story to create as many comic moments as possible. Bill Crabtree puts the color emphasis on the characters, while blending the rest into a variety of solid background colors. This was a fun story all around, though the ending leaves me wondering if Michelangelo is just a bit too naive.

I can’t stop snickering over the idea that a man with the screen name of “Kirbyfan01” is an obnoxious jerk online, but that’s only one small part of Donatello’s adventure. Lynch cleverly makes Donatello an online junkie, which makes perfect sense given his inquisitive nature but inability to interact personally. Once again, we have an echo from the past, as an updated version of Baxter Stockman tries to lure a secretive scientist over to his side. Donatello gets a great mix of humor and logic in this one, while also showing he can be a good fighter when needed.

As with Michelangelo, Lynch’s voice for him is spot-on and the art works well with the script. Schiti takes the most realistic approach of the four creators who drew the Turtles in this collection, but still makes sure that Donatello looks like a giant, mutated turtle, especially when in a ridiculous trenchcoat disguise.

The Turtles’ answer to Cyclops, Leonardo, gets the final story, fighting off a horde of foot clan members in the search for Splinter, who is missing in the ongoing series. He seeks answers, but finds nothing but questions, both about the clan and about himself. It’s an interesting take, actually, as Leonardo’s self-confidence is used against him.

Ross Campbell provides the best art of the collection, doing an amazing job of creating a clear and concise battle while also portraying the overwhelming odds stacked against Leonardo. His final pages of Leonardo’s defeat tells so much, all with only one word of dialogue by Lynch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series Volume 1 not only provides four quality stories that don’t require reading the ongoing, it’s a perfect chance to sample the new Turtles and see if they are for you. I think most old-school fans of the characters will agree that they are in good hands.


Night of 1,000 Wolves #2

Written by Bobby Curnow

Art by Dave Wachter

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

No man can outrun his fate, not even one with determination and a family to protect. Harrick Benjyon finds the wolves closing in on him no matter where he turns and no matter how much help he receives as this excellent dark fairy tale heads into its second issue.

Though I’ve read many classic fairy tales in my time as well as countless re-imaginings of stories we learn from childhood, it’s rare to come across a modern myth that evokes the agelessness of the best folktales but is a completely new invention. That’s the case here in Night of 1000 Wolves. Bobby Curnow and Dave Wachter’s story feel like something your middle school teacher might relate to you in a unit on oral stories. Fortunately, we have the written and visual product in front of us for this story.

One of the things I really like about Curnow’s script is the slow unfolding of the legend behind the horrors that are faced by Benjyon and his family. It would have been easy to provide the whole thing at once, but instead we’ve gotten slightly changing versions here in the first two issues, which is fitting because no oral story is ever told exactly the same way twice. Though this time we know more, such as how the older residents predicted the wolves would swarm that night, there is still the matter of why. Evils in folklore don’t just appear because they can — there’s always a reason. Curnow gives us a few hints here in whispered dialogue, but the final answer lurks in the concluding issue, which is just how it should be.

In addition to strong plotting and pacing, Curnow has an ear for how these characters should speak. There is a distinct difference between Tine’s aged wisdom and bitterness as opposed to, say, the nervous confidence of Benjyon or the rueful tones of the brother who could not save a life. Even though we are in an ancient time period of axes and arrows, Curnow spares us fake accents and has each character speak naturally.

If you ever go to any of the comics shows on the East Coast, you might have seen Dave Wachter’s excellent commissioned work on display. That’s what first drew my eye to his work, as I saw images of everyone from Batman to Ben Grimm sketched in an eye-popping style that showed care and time. Those same qualities shine through in a full comic, as Wachter packs as much emotional punch into every page as he can manage.

The first issue had some great panels, but this issue is, if anything, even better. As a character narrates the last encounter with the wolves, his torch’s flame turns into an angry wolf head and a torched cabin, while we learn that to stave off the wolves, a life was sacrificed in the process. Just a page later, this same narrator is engulfed by wolves in a scene that features almost no blood but the unforgettable look of rage, fear and pain as the man is left to his own certain doom. Every single human and wolf looks like they are in a race of life and death as they fight for their side, making a marked contrast for the scenes in which calm reigns down.

Some of the pages look like they belong in a gallery, especially the two-page splash where Benjyon and his family learn that one pack of wolves is not all the face. Though drawn incredibly small, you can still see the power and movement amongst the hundreds of wolves who ready for the attack. But the best of Wachter’s work is in the final page, where the mythical leader of the wolves, with eyes emitting yellow and white Kirby Krackle (and an extreme Kirby close-up), makes the statement that can change everything. This is comics as art, and it makes for an amazing set of visuals to go along with the strong story.

With so many comics on the shelves and in digital libraries these days, it can be hard for series that don’t have a big name or character attached to thrive. Night of 1000 Wolves is a hidden gem that shines with spectacular visuals and a story that is both timeless and modern, and I strongly urge you to check it out.


Valen the Outcast #7

Written by Michael Alan Nelson

Art by Matteo Scalera and Archie Van Buren

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

In order to make a comic that really stands on its own two feet, it has to do two things: It has catch readers up to speed no matter what issue it is, and it has to make readers care in every issue. With a top-heavy action sequence starting the book, Valen the Outcast #7 may look good, but the heart is missing for new readers.

First impressions — even on a seventh issue — are one of the reasons why comics have lasted as long as they have. Comics' greatest strength as a medium is that you're able to linger on the perfect shot, allowing introductions, harrowing character beats or high-flying action to be seared into the reader's brain. Starting off, Michael Alan Nelson and Matteo Scalera don't really give readers those memorable opening images — Valen, who is basically a cross between Conan and Frankenstein, is introduced as a tiny blip on top of the first page, with it taking a surprising amount of time to get a full body shot at all.

Unfortunately, since the opening eight pages are largely action or exposition, this means we're struggling to catch up with all the politics — and, once a tentacled beast shows up, it means we're struggling to care what happens to these characters, especially if you haven't been following them closely. It's a shame, as Valen's pulpy heritage is so clear, yet those influences don't really manifest themselves in either characterization or in action.

That said, the final two-thirds of the book are a bit more engaging, if slower-paced. There's some real temptation for the otherwise intractable Valen, and that erosion really speaks volumes about his wants and weaknesses as a character. Whereas Scalera's opening sequence is shaky in the composition, his design for Valen's archnemesis looks so sharp and sinister that you're much more willing to go along with a lengthy conversation.

Overall, Valen the Outcast has a big problem — namely, it isn't embracing it's elevator pitch nearly enough, and as a result, its story comes off slow and its main character comes off as a bit of a cypher. With some more deliberate shuffling by Nelson and Scalera, this book could give Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. a run for its money. But right now, this book is nothing but a handsome corpse.

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