Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-MEN, BATMAN INCORPORATED, More

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Best Shots is starting your July 4th fireworks early, as George Marston kicks off today's column with the second issue of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's universe-spanning Spider-Men...

 

Spider-Men #2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Pettit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Years ago, Joe Quesada, still Marvel E-I-C at the time, said that if the original Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe were to cross over, then it meant that he and his staff were "officially out of ideas." Many fans have seized on that tidbit since Spider-Men was announced, and if it's true, and this is Marvel's last big idea... well, it's kind of a damn good one.

If this crossover had happened around the time that announcement was made, I probably would've been right there with those fans, complaining and decrying the very solicitation of such a book. As it stands, however, with the "616" Peter Parker in a very different place, and the role of "Ultimate" Spider-Man being held by newcomer Miles Morales, the value in this story is a little easier to see. Gorgeous artwork by Sara Pichelli, and the kind of script that reminds a reader why Brian Bendis got to where he is definitely don't hurt, either. Sure, Spider-Men may be a little bit of fan service, and little more than a distraction, but it's fun and competent, and that makes it a blast to read.

Picking up right where Issue #1 led off, this issue starts with a glimpse at Mysterio, and his ability to cross between the two realities before diving right into the obligatory superhero slap-fight. The dust-up is handled with a little more finesse than your average accidental throwdown, though, with more implications about Miles's knowledge of Peter's identity, and the possibility that it's all a Mysterio-crafted illusion flying around than actual fists.

It's also interesting to see the dynamic between the two heroes, and the differences in their actual power sets laid out on the page. Bendis's dialogue is actually something of a high point, and he manages to find distinctive voices for Peter and Miles. Particularly fun is the scene in which Peter, having been rendered unconscious and delivered to Nick Fury by Miles, breathlessly elucidates his theories on what's happened to bring him to the Ultimate Universe.

Although Bendis's clear grasp of both Spider-Men drives the heart of the story, Pichelli sells the proceedings with ease, complementing Bendis's different takes on the two heroes with a well-defined visual style for each of them. Peter is clearly older, somewhat larger, and in some ways, more conservative, visually, while Miles' slight frame, awkwardly slumped shoulders and more careening movements truly highlight the differences between the characters and their lives. It's not a coincidence that Miles's mask sports larger lenses, lending a kind of "wide-eyed" look at a young character who is clearly ill at ease with the idea of dimension swapping, and in awe at meeting an idol he thought he'd never see face-to-face.

Spider-Men is unlikely to leave either of its protagonists permanently changed, but it does lend something else to its audience. Reading what sort of amounts to a wish-fulfillment story about a character discovering his legacy and the universal truths it implies is a welcome story for Peter Parker, who has consistently struggled to understand his role in the universe, and is a great vehicle for more background and insight in what makes Miles Morales tick.

It's not perfect — there's little weight to the story beyond the emotional "what if" of the two heroes crossing paths — but Spider-Men fills those holes by being fun to read and visually impressive.

 

Batman Incorporated #2

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Review by Erika D. Peterman

’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Batman Incorporated is a story about a father and son, but Issue #2 is devoted to the woman who casts a long shadow over the child in the equation. Writer Grant Morrison’s pen agrees with Talia al Ghul, mother of Damian, presented here in all her ruthless, unblinking glory. Every villain has an origin story, and Talia’s is as colorful as you’d expect from someone with her lineage.

Though there are some very familiar moments in Batman Incorporated #2, Morrison’s character sketch of Talia from childhood to present day adds to the narrative and gives the reader a fuller understanding of who she is. What kind of person would add “assassin” to the list of required life skills for her child? One who was cut off from her mother and raised by Ra’s al Ghul. But before a sword was put in her tiny hands, Talia was just a kid who wanted her father’s love and attention. It’s a little heartbreaking to see her briefly as a tot drawing cute pictures of Ra’s, knowing all the while that she’ll develop a deadly cold-heartedness to rival her father’s.

In a single issue, Morrison conveys Talia’s drive and massive sense of entitlement as a woman who has been given almost every tangible thing she’s ever wanted. Most teenagers would settle for a car as a birthday gift. Ra’s gives his daughter a secret headquarters under London, and yet that doesn’t make up for the fact that he can’t/won’t attend her birthday party again.

Despite having endless resources, brilliance and the physical prowess to cut down ninjas, Talia was denied any real closeness with her father. So it makes perfect sense that this powerful woman finds it unacceptable that Batman, her child’s father, would flat-out reject her offer of love and a family. Damian effectively became Talia’s enemy the moment he chose the Robin role over her, so if he and others have to suffer in her quest to crush Batman, so be it.

Illustrator Chris Burnham and colorist Nathan Fairbairn are a strong art team. Burnham has an eye-catching style and draws an exquisite Talia. Check out that beautifully, dangerously arched eyebrow in the scene where she fixes “the gaze men fear” upon a would-be kidnapper. Burnham and Fairbairn also provide two especially memorable panels that show how mother and son mirror one another.

“Underestimating me is a common and fatal error.” No kidding. Batman Incorporated #2 is a rock-solid primer on all things Talia and an exciting setup for what surely will be an epic family reunion.

 

Hit-Girl #1

Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Dean White

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Icon Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“The Little Bitch is Back!” is stamped under a bloody Hit-Girl on the cover of her first solo title, Hit-Girl #1 — however, readers don’t get the toxic-tongued little brat so much as the genuinely lost little girl. The main thing that Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s third Kick-Ass installment adds is depth and for my money might be the most appealing thing about the crimson-stained grade schooler.

The story takes place directly after Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, yet certainly doesn’t feel like a second act. Instead, this prequel adds a depth to the following story by concentrating on what might have felt lacking in Kick-Ass 2. The reader gets more of Hit-Girl and her life behind the mask. What Millar adds is texture to the fan favorite character and tries to showcase her in a different light.

Hit-Girl isn’t a one-note sadist that makes your skin crawl with her language and executions. Instead, Millar concentrates on Mindy Macready, the girl under the mask, and the hardships of trying to fit in at school. It’s more than just trying to be liked, but trying to work the persona of the violent Hit-Girl and the scared child in one body. Both the writing and art nail the page where Mindy visits her father’s grave and asks why she can’t deal with the emotional bullies in her class. There is a real satisfaction in seeing this side of Mindy and not getting another, pulpy, gore show.

Millar knows how to write the internal monologue of this little girl who grew up very quickly. Also, Millar makes Ralphie Genovese freighting by just having a solitary dinner in his jail. Something about this imposing figure running the institution as if it were his own house is unsettling and makes the reader consider how much power this man actually has.

The only down fall of this book is that it might have been better released before Kick-Ass 2. Although the issue provides excellent texture and background, there is the feeling that the ending is kind of already spoiled. However, being issue #1, it’s hard to tell if that is all the book is going to give its audience.

Another highlight of the issue is certainly the artwork by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Dean White and Michael Kelleher. With so many contributors it’s hard to give credit on certain aspects. However, one artist doesn’t run over the other, and they all blend perfectly. This issue actually feels richer in color and tone than the previous books given the awesome coloring. Romita’s pencils are more subdued and smoothed out by Tom Palmer when compared with the bombastic work on Avengers vs. X-Men. However, you can still feel Romita’s touch on the page; it’s just a bit more polished up and streamlined. The ink washes actually provide a sort of murky depth that fits in really well with the overall tone of the book. In this aspect, the art actually compliments the story and the two become inseparable.

The colors, by White and Kelleher, are warm and muggy. There is a heat coming off the characters or a chill depending on their mood. It should be noted that their world always seems to exist as the sun is setting or rising. This could be an oversight because it does seem to be in most of the book. However, one could interpret that it fits the mood given its prequel status. Take your pick. Even though there is a lot packed into this one issue, the pacing perfectly dips in and out of Mindy’s memories of her father and that time she killed the pedophile. It doesn’t feel rushed or chopped together which is great considering the mess a lot of creators can make out of 21 pages.

Hit-Girl #1 lets the reader further down the rabbit hole of these characters lives. It pulls you down with the title character and elevates the stakes for the next book. Although the art is great, the real testament of this title is the way that Hit-Girl goes from “The Little Bitch” to a lovable character. We loved it when she was decapitating thugs, but we love her when she is at her most vulnerable — a scared little girl who just lost her daddy.

 

Mind The Gap #2

Written by Jim McCann

Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Image

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I found the first issue of Mind the Gap to be a heavy, yet interesting read. The second issue is an improvement in that it is much more streamlined and a lot less compacted. Like Morning Glories, Mind the Gap can be frustrating because it is heavily seeped in mystery. But this is also what makes it such a fun read because writer Jim McCann’s calculated plotting demands attention on the reader’s part, and therefore makes working through the issue an active process.

In the first issue, one of the main characters, Elle, fell in front of a train and is now in a coma, but she has found a way to move between bodies while she’s in limbo. This issue picks right up where that thread left off, and uses the exposition established in the first issue to move the story along. In addition to penning a well-paced story that touches upon each of the major players, McCann’s characters are given lively personalities through their dialogue.

McCann has a way of creating voices that realistically and palpably emote sarcasm, sadness, confusion and anger. The back and forth banter is part of this as quick shifts in dialogue occur often, and McCann uses this to solidify the individuality of his characters. Furthermore, the deepening mystery is intriguing. Whereas Mind the Gap started with a woman in a coma, the side stories occurring around this are just as interesting and involved.

I also think the story works so well because of Rodin Esquejo’s photo-realistic art. His style is great for capturing character emotions and the work fits nicely with McCann’s dialogue as Esquejo aptly depicts feelings that match words. Transitions between the ethereal limbo and the tangible New York are smooth, and the slight change in colorization — from vibrant to muted — really aids the passage.

Dave Lanphear’s lettering is not to be ignored, as it's another piece to help readers distinguish between the two worlds. The only noticeable gaffe is Esquejo’s overhead shot of a hospital wing. The perspective doesn’t work, and people are drawn with heads that are too large for their bodies. It’s a minor complaint, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it took me away from the story for a moment.

I’m intrigued by the mystery surrounding Mind the Gap. McCann’s annotations at the end of the comic also make a second read through a must, especially if readers want to try to figure out the mystery of Elle’s injury. But beyond that, McCann has written a great character-driven story where each player is fleshed out enough to feel real — and Rodin Esquenjo’s art makes looking at the comic that much sweeter.

 

Aquaman #10

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Andy Lanning and Rod Reis

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What do the Others have that the Justice League doesn't?

I don't know, but watching Geoff Johns write this new team and his take on the world's greatest superheroes is like night and day. Maybe it's because of his longtime collaboration with Ivan Reis; maybe it's the freedom to do anything with these characters — up to and including killing them. But either way, Aquaman #10 feels like the kind of rollicking, widescreen action that Justice League should have been... even if the characters are a little less than classic.

Johns continues his reintroduction of Aquaman's first superhero team with the Operative, a vigilante who seems to be equal parts Batman and the Killer from Mark Millar's Wanted. Ultra-cool, brimming with hard-earned confidence and a plan for everything, — not to mention a decent twist — Johns knows how to get readers going, drumming up excitement and speculation on who these unknown heroes are.

Ultimately, though, that enthusiasm comes at a cost — namely, the Others actually steal the show from their orange-shirted compadre. Whereas the Operative has some crackle to his dialogue, Aquaman and his archnemesis Black Manta sound disappointingly old hat: "What do you want, Manta?" Arthur shouts. "What I always want," Manta replies. Johns does give some explanation as to why these two are at each others' throats with such passion, but it lacks the resonance that the rest of this eclectic super-team provides.

But one guy who needs to make no apologies is Ivan Reis. This book is gorgeous, bringing that Bryan Hitch widescreen scale but also keeping some of that cartoony expressiveness. Reis really amps up the danger this issue, particularly when Manta fires a harpoon at an unsuspecting hero, or when we see Aquaman scar Manta's face for the very first time with a very painful-looking piece of machinery. Reis also just knows how to make a striking image pop, particularly when Black Manta pays some of Aquaman's supporting cast a visit, or with the Wanted-style choreography he brings to the Operative's introduction.

There's something about this team — both the heroes and the artists — that brings the best out of Geoff Johns, an accomplished writer who I feel is still on a quest to keep changing and evolving his style. That said, this book isn't perfect, as the focus on these new characters takes away from the already struggling Arthur Curry. But if Johns can tie in these cool new toys with some genuine new insight about the King of the Seas, he might be able to have his cake and eat it, too.

 

Prophet #26

Written and Illustrated by Brandon Graham

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Image Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Tackling both art and writing duty on Prophet #26, Brandon Graham shifts the focus from John Prophet to a robot named Jaxson who needs to somehow communicate to John that the Empire has returned. The result is a wholly unique experience that simply doesn’t exist in most modern comics.

From the get-go, this is sure to be an odd story. Jaxson has no face or even any discernible features on his head that could be construed as a face (you know, in that way sometimes cars’ headlights and bumpers do). The effect is twofold. Not only does this immediately make the robot and the setting alien to us, it also comes in stark contrast to the narration. Jaxson’s narration is very emotive and upon meeting his brother, Xefferson, even the simplest observations and descriptions take on a heavier kind of meaning.

This isn’t just some random break from the events of the main storyline. This is a story that has larger implications while still communicating base human emotions: fear, compassion, duty, sadness. There is a plot. And it is important but Graham has a roundabout way of getting there. It’s almost as if the story was being told to him as he wrote it rather than being something entirely planned out. There’s a fluidity to the narration that complements the action and the main character in a way that we don’t usually see especially with such a tired narrative device.

In another artist’s hands, this story would be entirely different. The collaborative nature of comics always makes it hard to assign criticism or praise on individual aspects of a story. Did the writer call for the specific layout of a particularly compelling sequence or did the artist interpret the script that way? Did an editor suggest the inclusion of a certain line of dialogue or did the writer have it there all along? Some things we’ll never know. With Graham pulling double duty, his intentions are clear and his artistic decisions are deliberate.

What I find most interesting about his work is how the size of a subject in a panel affects the level of detail it receives. Overhead shots of a city feature tiny details packed into every bit of space available while smoke exists in giant billows of outlined gray devoid of any shading or extraneous lines. It’s very reminiscent of Moebius and other European artists. The color palette is also very muted which is understandable considering the deserted setting but Graham uses the color red to inject the end of the book with an added sense of style and scope. There are big, important ideas at work here and Graham accents them with his usage of color.

The last five pages feature a back-up story written and drawn by Emma Rios. It’s a story, that fits right into Graham’s new, weird vision of Prophet, about Prophet, an alien and their relationship. Rios’ artwork is visceral and engaging. Layouts are dense. Panels are packed to the brim. Roque Romero’s colors practically fly off the page. But a strong sense of storytelling remains intact. This is compressed storytelling at it’s best. Rios lets her art do most of the work using only sparse, terse narration to fill-in the gaps. It’s short and fast-paced but we get more here than we do most Avengers comics.

There’s no denying that Prophet is one of the best books out right now. Graham’s vision (and especially the last few pages in this issue) would make Jack Kirby a very happy man. “Bigger is better” and “less is more” might seem like two opposing mantras but here they work swimmingly.

 

Wolverine and the X-Men #12

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey and Victor Olzaba

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

It's funny — had this same creative team written a largely similar issue for Avengers vs. X-Men, I would probably have been pretty enthusiastic. But even with Chris Bachalo at the height of his powers, we've seen variations of this throwdown too many times in too many other books already.

In other words: Wolverine and the X-Men have lost their way.

Don't get me wrong, that's not to say there aren't some memorable bits to this book. It reads like action figures being thrown together in mortal combat, but when you have Chris Bachalo pitting Marvel Girl versus Captain America or Kid Gladiator versus Wolverine, well, you can't help but see some of the promise this event has.

Well, if we hadn't seen it in Avengers vs. X-Men, AvX: Vs. or X-Men Legacy already. But what got me about Wolverine and the X-Men was the concept of "reckless mutant establishing a rule-bound school." That was magic. But Jason Aaron has to basically abandon that premise here, with the check-ins to Rachel, Logan, Bobby and Hank feeling more obligatory than illuminating.

Of course, diehard Bachalo fans will still find a lot to like, and those jonesing for another fight comic will be pleased. (Kid Gladiator in particular gets some great moments, taking down a number of people way outside of his weight class with some of Aaron's sharpest lines.) But aside from getting essentially a visual remix of the same old Avengers-X-Men battles — and that's a big problem that I'm already jaded enough to say that — there's not much new going on for this book. This is a class you can skip.

 

Resident Alien #2

Written by Peter Hogan

Art by Steve Parkhouse

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Physician, heal thyself? Even as the alien who’s moved to a small town tries to solve a complicated string of murders, his own secrets might just be bleeding through. The pieces of the puzzle start slipping into place, but the likelihood anyone will appreciate them is small in this issue of Resident Alien that falls a bit short of the expectations set up by the series.

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this mini-series is that it did not waste any time on backstory, up until this issue. With only a few issues to tell the story, space is precious and I was far more interested in seeing how our fake doctor slowly goes native while acting out a detective fantasy than in how he survived on Earth.

Unfortunately, Hogan’s script takes a left turn this issue, bookending the current narrative with two set pieces relating to the alien’s landing on earth that are, frankly, pretty clichéd. We see him steal clothing from a mall, noting how superior his technology and abilities are. Given that the alien can practice earth medicine and use a visual baffler, I think that point was established.

In the final scene, a mysterious government agency is investigating the wreckage of his ship in a moment that we’ve seen in so many Area 51 riffs that it adds nothing to the narrative. Unless there is a relevant link between the two, which right now has no clear (or even unclear) evidence in the prior two issues, I cannot see why this was added.

Had we see parts of this tale all along, I wouldn’t mind, but this feels like an artificial detour to prolong the narrative—or worse, a way to create a surprise ending (the killer is linked to the alien!) that will resemble a Rod Serling plot instead of the Agatha Christie feel Hogan has been evoking all along, including the middle section of this issue.

Despite my major problems with the opening and closing of this issue, I did like the way the alien pieces together seemingly unrelated bits of information into a plausible solution to the murders plaguing Patience, though somehow I doubt it’s going to be that easy. I do wonder what’s happened to the subplot with the mayoral/police cover-up, which seems to disappear. (I’d have loved to see more of that instead of having the alien raid an ATM.)

We also get a nice character moment with Asta, who has suspicions about “Dr. Vanderspeigle,” but even that ends a bit too neatly, with her father completely okay with the idea that she’s now working for an extraterrestrial. Shaman or not, that felt like a stretch to me. I don’t know where this subplot is going, but I worry that it’s either going to fall out of the story or be pulled together inorganically.

Though there are definitely some issues with the directions taken in this issue, the art of Steve Parkhouse remains extremely consistent. He plays everything straight, even the stealth mission of the alien in the flashback. In fact, if you miss the “Three Years Ago…” buried in the silhouette of the mall a reader might walk into this story extremely confused, because there’s no other hints besides his outfit (easily changed off-screen) to indicate that the alien’s raid is in the past.

This also happens again in the final scene, where the “Three years ago…” is colored almost the same as the skyline. I’m not sure why the decision was made to mute the time changes, but it does harm the storytelling.

In the present-day part of the issue, Parkhouse continues to craft a look that strongly resembles David Gibbons, a former collaborator. The focus is on posing and facial features rather than action, and even characters who seem upset are given a reserved air that sometimes makes them look like they are resigned to their fate in this small town. While it doesn’t make for flashy storytelling, I do like the mood the art creates, working well with the atmosphere set up by Hogan over the course of this mini-series.

Resident Alien is such a great concept that it overcomes some of the storytelling choices made by Hogan and Parkhouse this issue. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how this resolves in the final issue and continue to recommend it for mystery fans.

 

Superman #10

Written by Dan Jurgens

Art by Dan Jurgens, Jesus Merino, Tanya Horie and Richard Horie

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Whenever I pick up an issue of Superman, I think “this will be the one where things start getting good.” Superman is a flagship character for DC, and like an abused animal, I keep thinking things will change. Instead, what we get is a banal story that does little to make the character worth reading about and another story where Superman is anything but super.

Dan Jurgens spends most of the issue having Big Blue tossed around by a villain who looks remarkably like Joan Jett. With powers similar to Kitty Pryde, Anguish has phase-like abilities that keep her free from touch so no one can grab or shoot her. To defeat her, Superman has to resort to hurting her emotionally. His psychoanalysis is what stops her rampage. The problem with this kind of writing is that by humanizing Superman, Jurgens makes him unimposing. Superman is too altruistic to be ferocious and Jurgens resorts to an ending that redeems the villain for her treacherous ways.

Jurgens also has a few visual hiccups. A lot of the movement is after the fact, with punches having landed, or bodies having been thrown. The art always feels like its one step behind the action. Some of the perspectives are awkwardly rendered so that characters appear bigger than they really are. A few times, when Jurgens goes for close-ups, his characters’ heads are misshapen. I thought Jimmy Olsen had a beehive at one point. Granted, Jurgens can make Superman look heroic when he wants to, but these moments are few.

As a fan, I still believe that Superman isn’t beyond saving. But he needs better stories to make him a more interesting character. It’s evident that Jurgens cares about Superman. Above all else, he’s a nice guy. But nice only goes so far, and actions speak a lot louder than words.

 

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Cameron Stewart

Art by Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Seeing how I've been out of the B.P.R.D. loop for a while, I've never been really sure on where to start if I want to dive back in. Being a fan of Cameron Stewart's work and a big shiny #1 on the cover, it wasn't a hard decision to give this a try. I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be a good first step.

When a book opens up with two exorcisms, it can only get more cheerful from there, right? Mike Mignola and Cameron Stewart crafted a great jumping-on point here, especially with the fact you have a character dossier in the beginning to ease into it. We're introduced to Agent Ashley Strode and see her walk the line of being unsure about her position and eagerness to be more hands-on and militant. She's flung into a conversation with a demon and a hunt begins to find famed agent Ota Benga. His story is interesting as he's actually the host of a demon, keeping it in a sort of cage. There's plenty of magic and mythology as one would normally find in a title such as this. The story was well paced, and I didn't feel lost at all.

Serious praise to Cameron Stewart here. His animated style breathes life into every panel. There are horror elements here without being over the top. Stewart has a fantastic grasp of facial expressions and it's never about the a lot of lines, but just the right ones in his linework. I maybe a sucker for the little nuances, but Stewart's handle on how hair is presenting is fascinating. It's all crisp and legible. The backgrounds are kept to a minimal too, but it all comes across nice and clear. Dave Stewart's toned-down palette is a nice choice and addition to Cameron's art, giving everything from the leaves in the trees to Benga's robe the right visual texture.

B.P.R.D.: Exorcism was the proper baby steps to get back in this great title. While it's only a two-parter and I'm not entirely clear on where the rest of the agents mentioned are, this particular issue is enjoyable and a great place to start if you're looking to give the BPRD titles a try-out.

 

Justice League #10

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion, Alex Sinclair, Gabe Eltaeb, Tony Avina and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The mysterious villain known as Graves continues to harass the Justice League, and his identity is revealed as — spoiler alert, if you really don't know how to read between the lines — none other than David Graves, the League’s biographer.

As big reveals go, this one was more than a little predictable, and also rather underwhelming and anti-climatic. The problem lies in the fact that there really hasn’t been enough of a build-up to the reveal, as the Graves character has only been harassing the league for a couple of issues now, and rather than coming off as an uber-villain, his somewhat minor crimes just seem to have been an annoyance to the league.

Graves’ powers seem to be mystical in origin, and involve his use of the ghosts of his dead family to harness the league’s feeling of regret and guilt, and use them against them to cripple them emotionally and physically. It’s a variant of a power that we’ve seen supervillains use dozens of times in the past. Using the ghosts of his dead family is a new slant, but his attack on the league still comes off as a little tired and clichéd.

The other major problem with Graves’ attack on the league is that by using the characters’ regrets against them, the plot assumes that the reader is emotionally invested in the characters’ lives, and I don’t think that Johns has done enough character building in the previous issues to make this the case. All of the characters feel very flat and two-dimensional, and it feels like instead of actually trying to develop these characters and helping readers to get to know the new versions of them, Johns has just depended upon the reader’s familiarity with the characters’ legends — i.e., Batman is moody, Superman is a boy scout, Wonder Woman is a proud warrior, and so on. Consequently it’s very hard to empathize with their plight, and seeing them put in harm’s way generates very little in the way of an emotional response.

Technically, the issue is quite badly paced — opening with a very decompressed sequence, followed by a few pages of filler, before the action hits and the last few pages are packed full of a rushed fight sequence that has very little room to breath. The dialogue is wooden and corny, and the monologue/narration is very poorly constructed and distracts from the action occurring in-panel.

There’s no denying that Jim Lee is a legendary artist, and his artwork has been the blueprint for much of the look of the current DC Universe. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Lee may have spread himself a little too thin here. While the early issues of the series were very well illustrated, with really tight and detailed pencils, his linework in the more recent issues has seemed a bit looser and more rushed that is his standard.

The problem is compounded by the fact that he’s not inking his own pencils on the book, but instead is being inked over by three different artists. Not only does this steal away some of the dynamic quality of his artwork, but the three inkers are going for a very stylized look that has a production line quality to it, with very little flare or sense of originality.

The same can be said of the color job, as the issue has three separate colorists, and even has assists from Hi-Fi color design — presumably to ensure that the book was out on time. As a result the color artwork is flat and lifeless, and looks a bit color-by-numbers.

The book’s final artwork consists mostly of splash pages, with eight of the twenty being used for single or double page splashes. Nearly all of these splashes are unnecessary, and don’t add to story in anyway, and in most cases just act to slow the plot down and decompress the issue.

A book like Justice League should be the linchpin of the entire DC Universe, instead the book is one of the most dull and uninspired books that DC is currently publishing. The title started out strong, but plot and characterization have fallen by the wayside, and the book now seems to be a series of action scenes held together by a very thin thread of narrative.

 

Star Trek – The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimiliation2 #2

Written by Scott Tipton, David Tipton and Tony Lee

Art by J.K. Woodward

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It's strange. We're two issues into the Star Trek – The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimiliation2, and while very little of the main story has moved ahead, I'm still having a great time. Where last issue gave us the attack of the Borg and Cybermen, the bulk of the action focused on the Doctor and his companions jumping through time. In this issue, it's Picard and the crew of Enterprise-D that receive the attention. And I gotta tell you — watching the crew deal with a very typical one and done TNG problem, followed up by a Dixon Hill romp in the Holodeck, well, let's just say that the nostalgia blanket has never felt better to this old school Trek fan.

Co-writers Scott and David Tipton, along with Tony Lee, have a very strong grasp on the individual voices of the TNG crew. Better still, they're characterizations fit right in line with the era in which this comic takes place. The darkness that closely crept into all the cast as the movies progressed is simply missing in this comic. I know that sounds like some super fanboy nitpicking. And it is. But you know what? To readers like me, whose memories of these characters have such a firm hold on our childhood, that point matters. To copy a comment about Doctor Who, this is still the show where intellect and romance triumphs over brute force and cynicism.

While it takes longer than I would have liked, the Doctor's arrival onto the Enterprise is a blast. As is the case with the TNG characters. The writers do a good job of grasping Matt Smith's eccentric and curious take on the Doctor. It's always a good thing when you can hear actors delivering the dialogue just as it's written. It's all there, the pacing, syntax, and quirks we've come to expect. Amy and Rory are still taking a back seat to the story, but for now it fits, as we're just getting the events off and running. And, without giving too much away, I was a big fan of how the writers explained the Doctor's knowledge of the Trek universe. It's simple, easy, and just “Whovian” enough to make fans grin.

I'm still not sold on the art by J.K. Woodward. Taken on his own, I've enjoyed Woodward's various cover work and am a huge fan of his art in Fallen Angel. It's a given that artists need photo reference when dealing with established and licensed characters. Readers expect Riker to look like Jonathan Frakes, and so on. But in this case, I think Woodward might have gone a bit too far. Most of the characters look incredibly wooden and static, as if someone made paper doll versions of the cast and simply pasted them onto the page. I would also like to see some lighter tones on the inks and colors. The dialogue captures the spirit of both shows, but visually the comic looks far too dark, with the exception of the Dixon Hill Holodeck scenes, which are perfectly smoky and noir in their presentation.

There is no doubt, this is still a total hoot to read. My own personal preference on the art not withstanding, this is hitting all the right notes for fans of both Star Trek – The Next Generation and Doctor Who. And while I don't know how long they can pilot the nostalgia train without giving us actual plot content. I'm still willing to have some fun and ride along.

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