Best Shots Advance Reviews: AVX: INFINITE, GODZILLA, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Then buckle in, because Best Shots has you covered! So let's kick off today's column with Marvel's latest experiment, with Avengers vs. X-Men #6: Infinite...


Avengers vs. X-Men #6: Infinite

Written by Mark Waid and Balak

Art by Carlo Barberi, Marte Gracia and Balak

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Evolution always takes place in fits and starts, and Avengers vs. X-Men #6: Infinite is no exception. But the irony with this issue is that while the X-Men's Cyclops wrestles with whether or not the all-powerful Phoenix Force is pushing him too hard too fast, Mark Waid, Carlo Barberi and digital comics pioneer Balak don't quite push the envelope far enough.

Ultimately, an enterprise like Marvel's Infinite Comics line has to serve two masters — it has to be a story that stands on its own two feet, but it also has to justify this new format with some innovative execution. Unfortunately, this comic tries to start with the latter directive — as Waid, Balak and Barberi show off the transitions and panel tricks, there's nothing really memorable enough to kick the story off. A few head turns here, a couple of panel transitions there... it doesn't really electrify the page, leading to a surprisingly slow introduction.

Which is a shame, because the story itself does pick up after a bit. Cyclops turns to a very unexpected confidante to discuss his dramatically enhanced powers, and the conversation these two have is both enlightening and heartbreaking. The Phoenix Force gets a subtle spin that I think makes a lot of sense in the Marvel Universe here, and Cyclops' growing competence as a leader is now rightfully called out as arrogance. There's some sadness here, and some real heart.

In terms of the artwork, Carlo Barberi actually comes off as really restrained — but in a good way. In the past, Barberi has come off as excessively cartoony, but here the art looks a bit more reined-in, particularly because we're not seeing giant eyes with a visored character like Cyclops. I do think that a style as bright and open as his kind of saps some of the pathos of the flashbacks, but seeing Cyclops say goodbye to his greatest failure is a moment of understated greatness. That said, he does struggle with some of Balak's tricks, particularly a few head movements that seem jarringly askew rather than organic and natural.

As a story, Avengers vs. X-Men #6: Infinite does work. As an exciting platform for a new medium... well, it's still a work-in-progress. The price point does make this a good purchase for die-hard Cyclops fans who want to see him deal with the cosmic force that killed his wife, and for some, that will be enough. For me, I think it's a well-intentioned misfire. But then again, that's what evolution is all about.


Godzilla #2

Written by Duane Swierczynski

Art by Simon Gane and Rhonda Pattison

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The best-laid plans of man against monster often go astray. Butler has vowed revenge against Godzilla and all of the creatures, but it’s not going to be easy, even with a handpicked team to help him. The battle begins in a great follow-up to the promise of the first issue of this ongoing series.

Everything that I liked about the first issue of Godzilla is back in this installment of the series, with even more monster action than before. A comic like this one needs to play to the strengths of the title character, and in this case, it’s Godzilla (and his fellow creatures) and their sheer destructive capability. Swierczynski does not disappoint, as he plots the story with several scenes of devastation before a brief interlude where we find out what Butler has been up to.

I appreciate that there’s some logic behind the locations — we learn that viewing the attacks in Mexico and Brazil were not just to show how bad Rodan or Kumonga are, but to introduce members of the supporting cast. The link gives the story some extra depth and layering that means I’ll be paying close attention to any other cities we see going forward, in case they matter later.

Though most of the story is still in narrative captions — a trick that works because of the source material, but could be a problem for some readers — there is a lot more dialogue this time, and I love the way that each of our monster-hunting team has their own voice. There’s great banter, especially between Butler and his ex-girlfriend Claire, giving a nice line of humor within all the serious pathos involving the human characters. I also like the way Swierczynski integrates blogging and tweets into the picture, as that’s exactly how our world would communicate such a global tragedy now. Some of these messages are downright haunting, showing great range by Swierczynski as a writer.

Simon Gane’s artwork works perfectly with this story, as his style involves so many little lines that give the entire comic a gritty, grimy, dirty impression that fits with the ruination of many of the world’s major cities. He captures the epic scale of the monsters so well, making them pop from the page. I wish that Rhonda Pattison had made them stand out a bit more in terms of contrasting colors, but even without that assistance, the reader’s eye is drawn to Godzilla, Anguirus, or any other monster just by the sheer size of the beasts in relation to everything around them.

Because of the little lines he uses, Gane is really able to capture the emotions of his characters. We can easily see when Butler and his crew are angry, scared or happy, as he works to match the looks of the people with the lines of dialogue that Swierczynski gives them. Even the monsters’ faces display a range of expressions, which echoes the best of the Godzilla franchise movies. The placement of an eye or a line on a forehead can tell so much, and Gane gets that. He also manages to make the major battle scene chaotic yet completely readable, which is no easy task.

I also appreciate the fact that Gane takes the time to make his cities look like their namesakes. While I am sure it happens to New Yorkers all the time, I am absolutely infuriated when a comic book takes place in a city I know and bears no resemblance to that city. I read a comic recently that was set in Pittsburgh for the entire issue, and it might as well have been Baltimore. On the other hand, Gane’s Pittsburgh, which we only see for a few pages, perfectly imitates not just the famous cityscape view from Mount Washington but also the unique buildings along Grant Street, if I am remembering the city correctly. It was really cool to see Godzilla himself taking down my old hometown, and I give Gane a lot of credit for taking time to make sure he got the city right.

It’s that combination of attention to detail and faithfulness to the nature of the original Godzilla films that makes this new Godzilla comic such a pleasure. It’s 22 pages of rampaging creatures and desperate humans, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Reed Gunther #10

Written by Shane Houghton

Art by Chris Houghton and Jon Ulrich

Lettering by Shane Houghton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Reed Gunther is not the smartest man on the planet. That should be an understatement as he offers his soul to a demon to save his ally who happens to be a bear. Only in comics, folks. The appropriately titled Reed Gunther continues its stride of being a well-thought out all-ages comic, but is this end of his adventures?

I've really liked this comic and what it entails. It reads sort of like Mystery, Inc in the Old West and you really can't go wrong there. This issue has probably some of the best art to date on the series, including a double splash that really shows the potential Chris Houghton has as an artist and storyteller. The style reminds me of a mix somewhere inbetween Shane Glines and Guy Davis. His brother Shane's script is just as wacky as the previous installments. It's not every day you see people fighting a soul-stealing demon with the world's best pickles and a tickle fight.

I think one thing that I really love about this book is you can jump in at anytime. The main issue's plot points are explained through dialogue in the first page or so and while it's not spelled out for you, you can easily wrap your head about what is going on. The panel layouts are cohesive and easy to understand and I think one page breaks Kirby's rule of "more than six panels is too much," but how everything is told on the page could easily be storyboards for a cartoon. The animated feel is a definite plus in my book. Jon Ulrich's muted palette is pitch-perfect for this book and really makes it pop.

There's just something about this book that's been hard to explain to other readers I've tried to get them reading. It's just old-fashioned fun. In a market with a lot of grim and gritty expressions and world-ending scenarios, Reed Gunther is like a smile that greets you in your pullbox. Sadly, there is a letter written by Houghton's that explains that this could be the end for a long while. So soak up what you can, and seek out the other issues for a ride I'm sure you'll enjoy.


The Secret History of DB Cooper #4

Written and Illustrated by Brian Churilla

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Oni Press

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Although I am still enjoying the heck out of The Secret History of DB Cooper, the title gets harder to recommend each month.

Mind you, it isn't due to a lack of quality in story or art. Not at all. It's because the book is quickly turning into that series where someone can't just jump in and start reading. At least not if they want to understand what's going on. It's like being to watch Twin Peaks, but you came in around episode 7. Sure, you understand what's happening on the screen is great and fun, you just don't really know why.

Issue #4 kicks off with Cooper in all kinds of trouble as the creatures from the Glut, the psychic world where he wages his battles against the Commies, are trying to enter our world. Through him, literally. Through him in a wholly unsettling and repulsive way that would make H.P. Lovecraft all kinds of proud. Thankfully, he's saved in the nick of time by the broken teddy bear with a questionable past. In the “real world” the CIA uncover a double-agent, the Soviets use their mental assassin to stalk Cooper, his father tells him his death is inevitable, all while Cooper continues his quest for his missing daughter. Like I said. This book has a lot to keep track of, but if you've been there since Issue #1, you're having a blast.

Although to be honest, I was really expecting — or perhaps hoping — Brian Churilla could have provided some answers in Issue #4. I understand it is the nature of the book to keep the reader in the dark. But, even the most convoluted of thrillers tosses the audience a nugget of truth now and then. Then again, we're dealing with a title that asks just what is the truth. And were we to know it, would we want to go back to the lie. In that respect, Churilla is crafting a dense and interesting Cold War mythology with Cooper as our Homer.

As an artistic choice or not, most of the characters in The Secret History of DB Cooper lack a distinct voice. When you're not dealing with Cooper, his teddy bear companion, or his father, it's hard to notice any real variety. But again, Churilla is playing around with our preconceived notions of authority during the height of the Cold War. Notions filled with shadow agents, evil empires, and all the disenfranchisement that came out of that era.

Churilla's art also plays with our concept of a supernatural thriller. It would have been a safer call to use an art style that added a dark edge to Cooper's surreal world. Instead, Churilla has a style that leans closer to humor and satire.

In doing so, Churilla embraces the art of the counter-culture of the time in which this book takes place. I know, that's a lot to read into a comic about a guy that fights psychic Soviet heads of state with a katana and a teddy bear. But trust me, Churilla understands the balance between the whimsical and the horrific. And, how both are rarely far from those dark corners of our mind.

Though it's not all bulbous beasts and grotesque manifestations of the subconscious. Churilla also has fun with our stereotypes in the real world. There isn't a single character in this book that doesn't look like they've lived a hard life. He draws everyone with a face that's taken a hit or two. Or three, as judged by his wonderfully vibrant violence when characters square off against each other.

With a good sense of proportion and when to scale down background detail, Churilla is able to focus the reader on the action at hand. He knows how to pull you in tight for a panel and when to let your eye wander the page. It's a neat trick. One you need in order to play in this bizarre world of his creation.

The Secret History of DB Cooper is not for the casual comic fan. It demands multiple reads. If you're coming in late, by all means, get this issue. Just go looking for back issues first. If you've been here since Issue #1, well then I'm really just preaching to the choir.


Alabaster Wolves #3

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg

Letters by Steve Lieber

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As if being a former ally of an avenging angel of God isn’t strange enough, Dancy has just been saved by the ghost of a werewolf. The price of life? To tell the reason she’s on this strange quest. The pieces start falling into place as the story comes around in one of the best mini-series Dark Horse is publishing.

At last, author Caitlin R. Kiernan is giving us the backstory of Dancy’s trek into this southern wasteland, and it’s well worth the wait. Set up organically within the comic by a set piece that features crisp dialog between the dead and irreverent werewolf and a still-clinging-to-her-faith Dancy, we see a horror story within the larger story. It’s a trick that you sometimes see in older horror fiction, and it doesn’t always work. Here, however, Kiernan uses the idea to good effect, allowing the reader to start making guesses as to Dancy’s purpose and just being really creepy in the process.

If you’ve ever visited an old, nearly abandoned town, the idea that the man running the convenience store is also a low-level warlock with a creature in the backyard is not all that far-fetched. Aided by sinister backgrounds from Steve Lieber and off-putting coloring by Rachelle Rosenberg, the whole thing has a Twilight Zone feel to it. It’s a great set piece, showing the ability Kiernan has to vary her writing style within the same narrative.

What I really like about this issue is how the three separate parts link together effortlessly and tie in to what has come before while also setting up the climax. The werewolf’s taunting of Dancy’s situation and her inability to connect to the god she clings to like a life preserver leads to telling the story of how the quest began. It’s a draining memory for Dancy, leaving her exposed for the werewolf’s plans that were hinted at in Issue #2 and wrap up this issue. This series is so tightly plotted that each issue is essential to understanding the big picture. At the same time, however, each issue works on its own as a complete part of the narrative. Though not a regular at writing comic books, Kiernan understands the needs of a single-issue reader, but also keeps an eye on the big picture when the story is read as a trade.

Not to be outdone by Kiernan’s skills at weaving each issue into the next, Lieber and Rosenberg create a subtle effect with the dead werewolf that was actually featured at the end of issue two. It’s so small, but shows how an artist can do amazing things to aid the writer’s story when they are working in harmony together. The dead werewolf is both a ghost and not, so Lieber and Rosenberg portray her as being mostly solid, but occasionally allowing the background to bleed through her, showing the contraction in terms set up by Kiernan. I have no idea which of the three of them came up with this idea, but it’s absolutely brilliant and echoes the angel that abandoned Dancy way back in the first issue.

Lieber's visuals continue to be strong in all areas save one — the fact that the human forms of the werewolves look just a bit too much like Dancy for my taste (though at this juncture, I’m wondering if that’s actually a hidden plot point). He’s asked to do a lot of different things this issue, from visualizing Dancy’s nightmare to making a ghost look solid to creating an old-school small-town horror story, and each is handled with skill and care. Dancy’s look changes depending on the situation she’s in, becoming steadily more run-down as the events of the series take their toll. Angles are shifted to increase the drama, and his creature’s wide eyes instill both terror and sympathy. This is some of his best work, though the style is quite different from Whiteout or .

Alabaster Wolves, with its mysterious story, variety of horrors, and an extremely clever integration of a latter-day Johnny Cash song, is everything that a mini-series should be. It gets stronger with every issue and leaves me on pins and needles waiting for the next issue. This is a haunting comic book that should be on your pull list this week.

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