Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAREDEVIL, ACTION COMICS, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has your back, with the latest round of reviews! So let's kick off with the Man Without Fear, as Brian Bannen takes a look at the latest issue of Daredevil...

 

Daredevil #16

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Melding the public and private lives of superheroes continues to be a struggle for many writers. Look at Superman. How can a writer tell a strong story about a god-like character living on Earth, while still showing him leading a “normal” life? It’s difficult to successfully convey.

Mark Waid, however, has been masterful at this, and Daredevil #16 is another prime example. Waid seamlessly intertwines Matt Murdock’s nights as Daredevil with his days as a lawyer, and the results are painful and fantastic.

Waid has given readers insight into Matt’s life as Daredevil, and the ways in which he’s had to under-compensate to throw people off of his abilities. To date, Waid has really done this through Murdock’s narration, but in this issue he uses Hank Pym to draw readers to the emotional struggles Matt faces. Because of the nanotechnology implanted in Matt’s brain, Hank has to go in and destroy all of the robot devices Doom injected into Matt to close down his abilities.

Like many superheroes, Pym has also faced tragedy and while these heroes live in their own separate worlds, and exist in their own separate comics, Waid is quick to show that they are all connected, not by their abilities, but by the struggles they’ve overcome. He deftly intertwines their lives with a narrative that never loses focus, builds to an impressive climax, and leaves readers wanting more.

While Chris Samnee’s  Daredevil art is as engaging as Paola Rivera’s, his thick ink lines take away some of the clarity in the earlier part of the book. Given that the majority of the book takes place in Matt’s brain, readers can expect a very different setting. But due to lack of light, pages are shadow heavy and make for a more muddled looking Daredevil comic than we’re used to. The book is so heavily shadowed that the pages lose their usual luster. Samnee’s strengths are really in character faces, particularly the emotional showdown between Matt and Foggy. And due to the lack of detail in the comic, Javier Rodriguez is really kept to a minimized palette.

Daredevil #16 is like two different books combined into one. The first half is action heavy and the second half is emotionally heavy but both work well in the context of the story. Waid’s sympathy for Matt is palpable, and really well executed through Hank Pym. Additionally, Waid’s dialogue for the last few pages is realistic and charged, and truly excellent work by a talented writer. There’s a reason Daredevil is being hailed by reviewers. It’s an example of strong writing, good art, and a fresh take on a character who was mired in dark storytelling for years.

 

Action Comics #12

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Cafu, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant, Bob McLeod, Andrew Hennessey, Brad Anderson and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The “mystery” of the Kansas Superman is solved but did Grant Morrison ever really make it a compelling mystery?  Weakly reintroducing Captain Comet to the New DC 52, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Cafu and Brad Walker cram so many plot points into Action Comics #12 that it is difficult to tell what story they wanted to tell was in the first place.

There’s the story of Adam Blake, the “forgotten Superman” who is also this new continuity’s Captain Comet.  There’s the story of the short life and death of Johnny Clark, Superman’s newest and quickly discarded alter ego.  There’s the race against the clock to save Lois Lane, resorting to some good old-fashioned Superman shenanigans that borders on deus ex machination by Morrison.  There are even 5th dimensional imps running around as Morrison seems to be setting up the conclusion of his Action Comics run.  There’s all of those plots, but there’s very little story being told here.

Grant Morrison’s story in Action Comics #12 is surprisingly small.  Generally his superhero stories have been grand, epic, full of more ideas and concepts that felt much bigger than the page could contain.  Everything from Animal Man to Seven Soldiers to Batman have been out looking at superheroes from the inside outward toward the metatextual possibilities of a real comic book universe.  That’s what Morrison does best and it’s also the thing that trips him up the most often (Final Crisis, anyone?). Action Comics #12 is a more inward comic as Morrison's story is about a boy learning to be a man. As Superman sees his life crumble around him, maybe it is also about him learning to appreciate the life of Clark Kent as much as he does Superman.

If that was the story, a super-boy becoming a super-man, Morrison would have a hook for this series. His writing instead feels as unformed as his character. Action Comics #1 started brash and strong, with the t-shirted Superman facing down the crime boss of Metropolis. This issue shows a more familiar Superman, wearing the blue-and-red longjohns, looking lost as he's being pummeled by a mind-controlled mob. The character has regressed from being a hero in that first issue to being a wishy-washy punching bag by this issue. Morrison is writing Superman as Charlie Brown, and we are all just waiting for him to cry "aaarrrggghhh!" in classic Charles Schultz style.

In a book like this, you would think the art would be the weakest link. Morales, Cafu and Walker, three very different artists, contribute various pages in this issue, even occasionally working on the same page. The combination of Morales and Walker's art clashed in past issues. Cafu, with his Paul Gulacy-by-way-of-Gary Frank style, provides a nice buffer between the other two artists. Morales' earthy artwork anchors this issue, grounding Morrison's working hero story in a middle-class Metropolis. Morales and the art crew aren't drawing the story of a man who can fly to the stars.  Their Superman is more grounded and can maybe only leap tall buildings with a single bound.

After 12 issues, do we have any idea who this new Superman is?  Much like how his alter ego has been in flux ( is he Clark Kent or Johnny Clark?), Superman himself has been poorly defined as Morrison tries to figure out who the 21st century Superman is. With this issue, he defines part of who Superman is as the secret identity story gets resolved but now he's got only a few more issues to tells us about the "super" part of the man. This isn’t the Superman from Morrison’s All Star Supermam.  That was a hero at the end of his career, saving the world one more time.  Morrison’s Action Comics Superman is only a man who has to learn how to save Metropolis before he can save the world.

 

Think Tank #1

Written by Matt Hawkins

Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

In Good Will Hunting, super genius Matt Damon is offered a government job working for a contractor who creates and builds weapons. Struggling with the moral implications of creating tools of destruction, Damon doesn’t take the job and instead heads off to California to seek out the girl whom he dumped. But what if he had taken it?

Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal’s Think Tank explores the idea of a man who has immense intelligence, but refuses to do his job because it results in the death of people. Enjoyable but flawed, Think Tank #1 could be the beginning of something interesting, if only it could move beyond being a cliché.

The problem with Think Tank is not its story. It’s actually well paced and does a great job at introducing its characters through its protagonist David Loren, whose thoughts lead the readers through his dilemma. It’s clear to me that Matt Hawkins had a lot of fun writing David because he is so smart, but because he also has a strong moral center that distances him from his superiors.

The problem is that the comic relies heavily on stereotypes and the characters aren’t developed beyond their expected shells. David is a lazy Einstein and his partner, Manish Pavi, is the timid sidekick. There’s the hard nosed military man and even a cruel and pesky professor who feels pulled from Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School.

Matt Hawkins spends the majority of the comic trying to get readers to side with David, and for the most part it works, but only because the villains are blatantly villains. I imagine that a person in charge of weaponry that is used to kill people would be more sophisticated in his explanations rather than saying “You’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Granted, this is the first issue, and Hawkins’ goal is to outline his characters and his story but the story is very conservative for its scope. If you had a super genius who can basically create any type of machinery, why not have him flex his muscles to show readers just how clever he can truly be?

I know Rahsan Ekedal’s art from Joshua Hale Fialkov’s Echoes but Ekedal’s art isn’t as gritty in this series (which is apropos given the light-heartedness of the book). Ekedal illustrates the comic in black and white, but he relies heavily on thick outlines for characters in order to give greater detail to the backgrounds (which are impressive).

In close-ups, the outline isn’t noticeable, but in distance shots, it becomes distracting. Ekedal doesn’t play much with panel design but the few times he does add originality to the pages. The black and white works well for the book, and the muted shading is effective. If the story falls a little flat, it’s not because of the art work.

While it has promise, my concerns with Think Tank are really in character development and longevity of story. While the idea is novel, I can see it failing to keep readers interested if Hawkins can’t move beyond what’s expected.

There’s not much depth to David Loren, and we’re not given enough of his surrounding cast to make them more than archetypes of a surrounding cast. So while the idea of Think Tank is interesting, its characters hold it back from being truly original. cliché.

 

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #2

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Nick Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

​When DC decided to go back to theWatchmen well they knew it was going to be a risky endeavor. So, they stacked each book with the best talent in the comic book industry. It made the pill a little easier to swallow. For the most part, it really panned out in their favor; Minutemen, Silk Spectre, and Ozymandias are all amazing and unique works that compliment the source material and gently add something new to the mythos of these characters.

And then there is Before Watchmen: Nite Owl.

​First off, whereas the other Before Watchmen books have gone further back to tell the origins of these characters, Nite Owl spends a lot of it’s time too close to the time of the source material. Readers aren’t getting anything new or unique, but instead something that was in the margins of the original Watchmen. It’s a shame that so little time was spent with the boy who would be Nite Owl in the first issue. The origins of a young boy prepping himself to be a super hero in this world would have been different from the other books and offered the audience a different flavor.

Instead, J. Michael Straczynski chooses to just do another super hero book, just with a previously “off-limits” character. Yet, the book concerns most of its time with the working relationship between Nite Owl and Rorschach. This partnership might remind readers of the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories from the seventies. This isn’t a terrible approach for the book either.

However, so much time is spent with Rorschach in a book titled Nite Owl, it almost feels like JMS wanted to write the Rorschach book more than Nite Owl. It suggests that Daniel Dreiberg is defined by his relationship with Rorschach. The writer even goes so far as the give the back story on Rorschach’s alter ego and why he carries the sign. Save something for the actual Rorschach book, JMS. Two issues in and it still isn’t clear what the theme of this book is. What is JMS trying to say about Nite Owl? So far, it just feels like a bunch of facts about the character strung together in narrative.

The real bummer of this book is the potential the artwork had going into it. It could have been amazing to see a legend like Joe Kubert work with his son, Andy, in such a close fashion. However, Joe Kubert’s inks look just like a Joe Kubert penciled book; no matter who is penciling. Andy’s art is lost in the inks and doesn’t feel present at all. Thumbing through this issue again, it’s almost impossible to see any of Andy’s work. Even the panel layouts and angles look like Joe’s work more than Andy’s style.

This might be a good thing — Andy Kubert’s art, although great, looks very modern. It’s what most reader’s see on the rack when they go on Wednesdays. By going with a heavy Joe Kubert look, it lets the book stand out a little more and have an older feel. It actually feels like an older comic book instead of a modern comic.

However, even with so much of Joe Kubert’s influence, the book is very awkward and wonky. Even the cover is a bit odd- what exactly is Rorschach doing with his hands? When the book is good it’s just fine — easy to swallow, with no taste. However, with so many visual potholes it just isn’t the artist’s finest moments. Too many awkward faces are scattered throughout the book which can really take the tension down. Characters can have expressions so pulpy that they feel anachronistic instead of vintage (when Nite Owl first sees the dominatrix’s lair).

Also, Joe Kubert is a little heavy handed in his trade make hashing; sometimes running lines completely over a characters face, obscuring the details of thier visage. So many lines, especially on the overly-sexy dominatrix’s face, make the characters look older than they actually are and can muddle the page. It can almost make the characters look like they are made of clay.

Nothing seems to really be working out on this book. The ingredients of creators J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert have produced something incredibly mundane that doesn’t speak to their actual talent. These creators are better than this but aren’t showing it on Before Watchmen: Nite Owl.

 

Peter Parker Spider-Man #156.1

Written by Roger Stern

Art by Roberto De La Torre and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics​

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Even learning from the past can doom you revisit it.  The ghosts of old battles plague Spider-Man in more ways than one as he must stop a familiar set of criminals with a new agenda on the site where his greatest failure was revealed in this excellent one-shot.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man this year, and Marvel is celebrating with a series of one-shots bearing the names of former series that starred the webslinger.  This is the first one, and if the rest are this good, it’s going to be a party to remember.  Roger Stern, who’s worked with Spider-Man on and off for years, shows he hasn’t lost a step, writing a story that touches on Peter’s long continuity, both past and present, in a way that doesn’t hinder a newer reader.

There are plenty of references to things that were going on during Stern’s run on the character, but they serve as context rather than being essential and are given a quick presentation by De La Torre in a clear and concise manner before moving back to the narrative.

Similarly, current events in Peter’s life are referenced in passing, to explain why he’s not a regular photographer to those who were wondering.  Stern, who worked with Marvel during the Mark Gruenwald years, knows how to weave continuity into the narrative, a skill I wish more superhero writers practiced.  In a comic that’s presented as honoring a hero’s legacy in print, these little touches are essential.

Stern’s story, while rooted in the past, has a very modern feel to it.  The villain isn’t a superpowered figure in a costume, it is corporate greed.  Brand is a long-time Marvel business heavy, and I like the way Stern updates their practices, such as misusing undocumented workers and manipulating the legal system.  There’s something perfect about sending Spider-Man, the everyman hero, against a faceless corporation in a comic designed to highlight his iconic status.

It’s also nice to see a writer use the forces of nature as a co-antagonist.  Spidey not only must stop the bad guys and save the workers—he’s got to do it with water pressure working against his every move.  This keeps the level of the drama high, especially since by this point, Peter can eat low-level thugs for lunch.

The choice of artist for this book is an interesting one.  Roberto De La Torre has very little in common with the artists who are most associated with Spider-Man, such as Mark Bagley, John Romita (JR or SR), Sal Buscema, and of course Steve Ditko.  His art is much thinner in terms of lines than any of these creators, looking more like Jae Lee to my eyes in both terms of overall style and panel positioning.  He frequently places Spider-Man in a crouch, and some of the dynamic nature of reading a Spider-Man comic is lost in a lack of unique positions for the wallcrawler.

De La Torre’s art is beautiful to look at and his figures are very on-model (I had no problem recognizing supporting cast members such as Robbie Robertson and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson), but I miss the innovation and kinetic energy that the best Spider-Man artists provide.  There’s nothing wrong with story clarity or panel design, and I think De La Torre worked well with Stern’s script.  I just wish he’d tried to do more to show that Peter can do things no others can since that fateful day.

Though it could have been more innovative at times, Stern and De La Torre craft a Spider-Man story that recognize his place in New York, as a protector who must remain ever-vigilant and do everything he can to save lives, regardless of the personal cost.  This story has a timeless nature, which is appropriate and admittedly appealing for someone who isn’t reading Spider-Man on a regular basis these days.  Uncle Ben shines in the heavens as the story closes, and he could easily be Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, watching their character carry on through the decades.  Peter Parker Spider-Man #156.1 might have a strange and off-putting numbering, but it’s a fitting tribute and well worth reading for those of us who’ve literally grown up with Spider-Man.

 

Swamp Thing #12

Written by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire

Art by Marco Rudy, Dan Green, Andy Owens and Val Staples

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

There's something rotten in the swamps, but it's not just the forces of Anton Arcane — it's also the overgrown mythology that threatens to choke the life out of Swamp Thing.

Previous issues of this series have gotten by on good looks tempered by the tender love story blossoming between Alec Holland and Abby Arcane, but the second part of DC's "Rotworld" crossover feels more like recitation than an enthralling, relatable story. On the one hand, writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire do an admirable job trying to get everyone up to speed with the Green, the Red and the Rot, but the concepts do more harm than good. With not just one, but two characters needing to discuss their convoluted backstories and relationships, the story is almost over by the time the exposition is complete.

Ordinarily, Swamp Thing's understated character work has been propped up by some spectacular artwork, but this month Marco Rudy and company stumble a bit. Following in the footsteps of Yanick Paquette with panel layouts that look like slashes more than straight rectangles, the impact is lost by overuse here — there are so many instances of the individual panels being subsumed by a greater full-page image that the storytelling is hampered. Rudy's composition, particularly on the first few pages, doesn't give us a lot of memorable beats to focus on, either, making the opening fight sequence sadly forgettable.

While the end twist to this issue does ramp up the stakes in a tense manner, it ultimately isn't enough to justify 15 pages of characters reciting histories and passing the time with lackluster fights. While Snyder and Lemire deserve credit for trying to be accessible, what this story really needs is a message, a heart, a reason for us to care. Even with Buddy Baker's family and Alec Holland's girlfriend in peril, there isn't enough room to really feel scared for them, with all this talk about the Rot. Maybe it's Swamp Thing's greatest foe for a reason.

 

Harvest #1

Written by A.J. Lieberman

Art by Colin Lorimer

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

What kind of surgeon shows up to their licensing board hearing with coke still smeared across his nose?

The kind of messed-up surgeon I want to read more about. Dr. Ben Walker is a train wreck with a scalpel, and A.J. Lieberman makes him an instantly compelling figure. Which is why the big weakness of Harvest #1 is just that he introduces Walker too late.

Lieberman starts off this story diving head-first into the central premise of his world — namely, underworld of black market organ donation. Sometimes it's voluntary — drugs, pills — other times it's not quite as clear-cut. Structurally, however, it's really jarring, and the exposition pulls the reader out of the story. (To compound this, Lieberman introduces another ill-fated doctor early on in the book that many could confuse for being the protagonist.)

It's only when Dr. Walker is introduced, sleeping off a few lines with a couple of hookers scoping out his pager, that things really heat up. The irony of this surgeon, this bringer of life just utterly ruining his own existence is enough to pique my interest, and the fact that he seems to have some more twisted skeletons still in his closet makes me even more intrigued.

The art is also stellar. Colin Lorimer reminds me a bit of Tony Harris, with a slash of that John Paul Leon creepiness, or maybe even Yanick Paquette. There's a slow-mo feeling of irreparable damage, for example, when we see Walker's fall from grace, particularly with the inhuman-looking body on the O.R. table. There's a strong sense of storytelling, particularly as Walker begins to lose his grip on what's real and what isn't. It's chilling.

I'll be the first to admit that the Dexter/ER/100 Bullets elevator pitch isn't quite in full form for the first issue of Harvest, but that's not to say there isn't plenty of potential there. Tackling all the exposition head-on might have been a bit of an alienating tactic, but Lieberman is aided by some stellar artwork and a character who's self-destruction is both beautiful and all-consuming. This isn't a particularly clean entry into this surgical suite, but I have the feeling that Harvest's future operations will be anything but sterile.

Pellet review!

Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): With each issue, young Miles Morales is learning just how hard it is to be Spider-Man. Not just the physical challenges and endless hassles, but also the emotional wear and tear. And remember that he’s only 13, a fact that deeply troubles Captain America, who still feels guilty about Peter Parker’s death. Brian Michael Bendis continues to write Miles perfectly, making him as charmingly vulnerable as Peter but distinctive in his own right. David Marquez’s illustration work is immaculate and wonderfully expressive. The panel of Miles crying about the circumstances of his villainous uncle’s death? Devastating. The only thing that hinders this comic is that it’s connected to the Ultimate line’s “Divided We Fall” storyline. The issue is still pretty easy to follow, but the tie-in details — however unavoidable — are clunky. Fortunately, there's a juicy ending that will make Ultimate Spider-Man fans impatient to read the next issue. I know I am.

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