Best Shots Comic Reviews: HAPPY, FLASH, CAPTAIN MARVEL, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your regularly scheduled Best Shots reviews? Well, not so fast, True Believers — the Wolfpack has grown by one, as we welcome Shag Matthews of Firestorm Fan and Once Upon A Geek to our team! So let's give a warm Internet welcome to the new kid on the block, and get started with Scott Cederlund on Happy! #1, just one day after MorrisonCon…


Happy #1

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Darick Robertson and Richard P. Clark

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I think that thanks to the last 10 years of his DC-centric output that we've got a set vision of how we picture Grant Morrison currently — he's the dreamer of superheroic epics. Right now, he's dreaming Superman and Batman's adventures, glorying in the rich and colorful history of both characters. While Geoff Johns may be DC's architect, Morrison is their visionary. With his head in the clouds, Morrison rarely gets his hands dirty by digging in the dirt. That's why the opening of Happy! #1, filled with the type of dirty words that you find in DC's Vertigo comics, feels shocking. You'll never find Superman or Batman saying these things.

Happy #1 opens on a snowy Winter night, as two brothers prepare to kill another man. One of these brothers is seasoned at his task while for the other it's a rite o passage for him. Of course, they're tough guys and talk in a tough, vulgar way. Of course, Nick Sax, our hero, sounds the same as them. Morrison, free to swear as much as he desires, want us to know right away the world we're stepping into and the characters we're going to encounter. In the first few pages, Morrison shows us everything we need to know about this world. "Unreal" is the first word of the comic and that should be echoing in the back of our mind as we step into the city streets with killers and stoned Santa Clauses.

It's amazing how at home Darick Robertson's artwork is in this kind of world. Seeing a dog urinate on a man as he's vomiting feels like one of Robertson's more wholesome images from his career. Robertson makes Nick's city a very physical city. In the opening pages, he takes some of Morrison's most outrageous images, like a man getting sexually pleasured while wearing some sort of insect costume, and draws them quite literally. There's no sense from Robertson's artwork that this is anything other than the "real" world. This city is as dirty, smelly and perverse as Robertson can make it but it is never anything less than real, even if Morrison declares it "unreal" in the second panel on the first page.

Morrison plays to his meaner side in this book. It’s a side we maybe haven’t seen in a while, not since the days of The Invisibles, The Filth and Marvel Boy. Those works still had a touch of fantasy to them as Morrison used that to explore the uglier sides of humanity. In this book, it looks like Morrison is going to tell a story about cold-hearted bastards until he introduces Happy, a small, blue, winged unicorn that only Nick sees. The cold hearted bastard has an imaginary friend. Or at least he’s inherited one for the time being as Happy recruits Nick to help save Hailey, Happy’s true real friend.

Maybe it’s part drug trip, maybe it’s the morphine that Nick’s on after getting shot, but Morrison breaks down the walls of reality and fantasy, creating a fun dichotomy between sweetness of childhood imagination and killing of a much harsher reality. There should be no room for blue winged unicorns in Nick’s world and vice versa but here Morrison is, exploring reality versus fiction much like he did in Joe The Barbarian but only taking both sides to further extremes than he did there.

It’s too early to tell if Happy is invading Nick’s world or is Nick invading Happy’s. Maybe it’s even too early to tell which world is real and which one is imaginary because with Morrison’s work you can never tell. With Darick Robertson grounding this story in a recognizable if vulgar world, Morrison can use his magic words to distract us with cursing and cuteness. He draws us into the story even if it’s only to figure out whether the cursing or the cuteness is the true heart and soul of Happy #1.


The Flash #0

Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Art by Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato and Ian Herring

Lettering by Wes Abbott

Published by DC Comics

Review by Shag Matthews

’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Flash is consistently one of the best books from DC’s New 52, and #0 is no exception. This issue reveals some critical moments from Barry Allen’s life, leading up to him becoming the Flash. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato bravely present some big changes to the origin of the first superhero of the Silver Age; alterations that work even for this long-time fan of the Fastest Man Alive. Together Manapul and Buccellato have made that rare transition from successful artist to successful writer/artist. On top of their already beautiful visuals, these guys produce compelling scripts that leave me anxious for the next issue.

Much of this issue focuses on Barry’s obsession with the murder of his mother, a retcon first introduced in The Flash: Rebirth back in 2009. The murderer’s identity and story surrounding that recon never sat well with me. Well, here in the New 52 continuity all bets are off as to the identity of Nora Allen’s killer, and watching Barry struggle with this tragedy and approach it from a policeman’s point of view makes for good drama.

One change to Barry’s origin is after his mother’s murder he was raised by Darryl Frye, his eventual boss and Captain in the Central City Police Department. This makes for an interesting development, one with deeper meaning you’ll discover when you read the issue for yourself. I like the idea of Barry being raised by Frye, as it helps inform the character and Barry’s dedication to the police force.

Another surprising change in the origin of the Flash is what happens after the infamous lightning strike. It’s not what you remember, and may frustrate some die-hard fans, but I feel it still works well within the spirit of the character. There was one scene towards the end of the issue with confusing time shifts. I understand why they cut back and forth in time during this scene, but I felt it may have worked better being straightforward.

Francis Manapul’s art and Brian Buccellato’s coloring are two of the main reasons for the success of this book month after month. With some recent issues drawn by guest artists, Manapul goes all out demonstrating why this book is truly his. His characters, panel design, and overall storytelling are top-notch. Whether it’s happy memories of a boy and his mother, or a lightning bolt ravaging a police scientist, every page in this issue is a beauty.

Manapul's artwork is even further enhanced by Buccellato’s painterly coloring, who is joined this month by Ian Herring. The flashback scenes are beautifully muted with color accents in the right places, while the bright spandex moments pop off the page. By the time you see the words "The Flash" appear on the final page as speed lines just beneath our hero’s feet, I couldn't help but love it.

The changes to Flash’s origin presented here aren’t tremendous, but are noteworthy. Some fans might be displeased with the changes to such an iconic origin, but I think they move the character in a positive direction. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato turn in some of their best artistic work on the series so far, creating visuals that are among the most iconic of the New 52. The strength of the story and art in Issue #0 leaves me even more excited for next month’s gorilla siege of Central City. The Flash is continuing its renaissance this month, and I’m glad to be along for the ride.


Captain Marvel #4

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Dexter Soy, Al Barrionuevo, and Wil Quintana

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When I first dove into Captain Marvel, I was more than a little excited. Watching the public evolution of the character and Kelly Sue DeConnick's reasons behind those choices felt fresh and exciting. Then I read the first issue. While I had a blast and dug the debut comic, I was a little put off by the instant path down time-traveling craziness. But after reading Captain Marvel #4 for the third time, I understand. We, along with Ms. Danvers, are visiting her own inspiration and drive for the very first time. The whole time-travel thing is just the vehicle to take us on this journey. Well played, DeConnick, well played indeed.

Captain Marvel is still trapped in the past with the Beautiful Banshees as they face off against the Japanese piloting some wicked alien tech. Watching Marvel take out the mother ship from within provides the reader an insight into the ever shifting Carol Danvers. Although she's always going to have a brawler streak in her (evident by her willingness to let her body take a hit or two), she's using her military mind more and her near-invulnerable body less.

DeConnick is slowly showing a Danvers that adapts and evolves on the battlefield. Tonally, this issue has a very serious and transitional tone to it. Gone is most of the witty banter between Danvers and the Banshees. While her internal monologue still comes at the reader with welcomed lightheartedness, I can't help but sense some darker moments on the horizon.

What Issue #4 does have without question is the confidence of the artist, Dexter Soy. From this first outing, Soy was a hard sell for me. I understood the style he was trying to capture, but be it experience or coloring concerns, it wasn't working as well as it could. All that is gone now. This isn't a case of an artist simply growing on the reader. No, there is a true sense of growth with Soy's pencils and coloring.

Colors now pop off the page and have good sense of placement. The issue lacks the haphazard blending of colors that hampered previous issues. There is real power and strength behind Marvel's attacks against the enemy ships. But better still, that strength is evident in the expressions and movements of the Banshees as they face off against a larger force. For the first time, I believe these are some tough ladies that will stand down to no one.

The time shifting at the end is distractingly jarring. I understand that's the nature of the time-traveling trope, but this makes it hard to get back into the story. Most of this concern coming from Al Barrionuevo on pencils and Wil Quintana on colors. Although a decent team in their own right, with art reminiscent of a smoother Howard Chaykin, it's a distracting shift. Thankfully, DeConnick keeps up the strong banter between Helen Cobb and her ace pilots, so the panels move with a brisk pace. The tone of the final page suggest interesting times in Ms. Danvers' future. As the team DeConnick and Soy continue to gel, I for one can't wait to see what happens next.


Mind the Gap #5

Written by Jim McCann

Art by Rodin Esquejo, Adrian Alphona, Sonia Oback and Beny Maulana

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Every series has that one great issue which stands out above the others, and that is issue number five of Jim McCann’s intricately written mystery series Mind the Gap. For a while now, McCann has been plodding along in the never-space between life and death, showing readers the world of the coma Elle currently inhabits, but not really giving away more of the story. Issue #5 doesn’t get any closer to solving the mystery of who attacked Elle, but the structure of the comic makes for an engaging and captivating read.

In the previous issue of Mind the Gap, Elle’s boyfriend, Dane, was arrested on suspicion of being her attacker. McCann takes readers back in time to show Dane’s past, building a rich history for the character and adding more gravity to the situation. Much like any in medias res story, the circular nature of the plot brings everything full circle and adds greater depth to Dane as a person, and his beginnings with Elle. Dane’s relationship with his father is the driving point of the issue and this makes the interactions that occur in the book that much more intense, especially considering Dane’s father’s role in his arrest.

While the story is impressive, the art is even more impressive, with Esquejo joined by Runaways artist Adrian Alphona. Characters are slightly misshapen and the rich detailed art of the series is replaced by a cartoonish and simplistic style that clearly sets the past apart from the present. Panels are tighter and in some places the gaps between them are gone making for terse movement between sequences. But this helps moments blend together smoothly, particularly in a montage page that shows how Elle and Dane met and then fell in love.

Sonia Oback and Beny Maulana comply with the shift by adding different tones to the art, creating an almost brand new visual. The darker moments of Dane’s life are grayed while the happier moments take on a sepia look. One page in particular, a dream sequence where Dane sees his mother, is the stuff of which nightmares are made. But it’s powerfully illustrated, even if it looks like a page pulled from an H.P. Lovecraft novel.

We’re no closer to discovering the mystery of Elle’s attack, but the slowed pacing helps the story achieve an emotional strength that makes the final pages of the comic both frustrating and enticing. Lost used this method, successfully, as the driving point of its series, so readers familiar with the show will see sparks of that technique here. This issue has rejuvenated my interest in a series that felt mired in its own puzzle for the past two issues. If nothing else, this will show readers that the talent on Mind the Gap has got some skills.


Batman Incorporated #0

Written by Chris Burnham and Grant Morrison

Art by Frazer Irving

Lettering by Pat Broseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham show us the behind-the-scenes machinations of Bruce Wayne's attempt to run a team of international superheroes like a business. At least that is what Batman Incorporated #0 feels like it is attempting to do as it reworks the very basic idea of Batman Incorporated for the New 52, reminding us who these Batman-like heroes of many nations are. There's the British Batman, the Australian Batman and even a new Russian Batman who wants to knock back victory vodka with Batman and Robin. Morrison and Burnham have all of these heroes running around the globe without a story to actually tell.

The fragmentary storytelling that Morrison and Burnham use here is an often repeated method that Morrison has been using during his Batman run, most recently in the second issue of the latest series focusing on Talia's history. Morrison has used this style to fill in the gaps of his story, revealing aspects of his story and Batman history that are more important than they originally seemed. The fragmentary flashbacks before have filled a narrative function.

In Batman Incorporated #0, Burnham and Morrison's return to this type of storytelling has no narrative foundation. It's driven by the gimmick of a #0 issue rather than developing out of the greater story that Morrison and Burnham are trying to tell in the series. DC decreed all issues this month are to be #0 issue and that means the creators have to tell an origin story or at least an early story of their current continuity. The problem is that Morrison just told that story not long ago in the old continuity so here he just revisits some characters, reminding us that they are still hanging around in the background. If there's an actual story here, it's hidden behind the checklist of Batman knockoffs that have to be shown.

With a script that goes nowhere, Frazer Irving is not given anything to do here but draw figures on a page. His artwork works best with moody or quirky stories. When he has a story that takes advantage of his unique, painterly qualities, he creates worlds that we have ever seen before. In Batman and Robin, his Gotham City was a colorfully hazy city, giving Batman more than just black shadows to hide in. His artwork in this issue is as lifeless as the script because it ends up being illustrations of moments rather than any kind of exciting storytelling. The washed out colors and stiff action only mirror the lifeless script, hitting the beats without filling in any of the personality of this story.

With an unfocused story and uninspiring artwork, Batman Incorporated #0 is a scattershot collection of deleted scenes from a much larger work. While Morrison has used this approach before, his and Burnham’s attempt here to fill in the gaps just highlight the gaps (where have these heroes been all this time) without showing us anything new or revealing about Batman or any of his international partners. It’s an issue put together by editorial decree without finding a unique place within the story that’s being told in this series.


Captain America and Black Widow #637

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Shag Matthews

’Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

I’m a sucker for team-up books, so the new format for Captain America seems right up my alley. Sadly, Captain America and Black Widow feels confused whether it wants to be an espionage adventure or a science fiction epic. It begins as a street-level investigation with intrigue and possible betrayal, but transitions into Invasion of the Body Snatchers and War of the Worlds.

Cullen Bunn’s story begins strongly enough, with Captain America looking helplessly up the barrel of Black Widow’s rifle. It’s an exciting start to the issue, leaving the reader to wonder exactly why Natasha has betrayed the Captain. But the story’s espionage vibe quickly gives way to more science fiction elements, yet tries to hold on to the heavy emotional baggage of a moodier plot. These are two great tastes that just don’t work well together in this case.

As the story continues, the big reveal about Kashmir Vennema, the arms dealer Captain America and Black Widow had both been tracking independently, is very clever but further pushes the story into the realm of science fiction. While the final splash page is visually striking, it’s right out of classic sci-fi and leaves the reader scratching their heads rather than, “I have to read next issue!”

One problem Bunn's story has is that some of Captain America and Black Widow’s characterizations seem off. One heavy-handed scene was intended to evoke pity in the reader for Black Widow’s past as a brainwashing victim, but it might leave a bad taste in the mouths of readers who are used to Natasha being a traditionally stronger protagonist. Towards the end of the book we get a confrontation with Captain America and a couple of goons in which the good Captain makes an out-of-character proctologist-related threat. Strange.

But from the first page it's obvious that Francesco Francavilla is an asset to this comic, consistently impressing with his faces, figures, and usage of shadows. I was attracted to this particular book because I enjoyed Francavilla’s work on Zorro and felt he’s been lacking mainstream attention since he finished his run on Detective Comics. Francavilla is very good at creating a sense of noir and realism with his simple and effective use of line work and shadow (think David Mazzucchelli). While Francavilla is excellent at drawing people and moody situations, there is an action scene with Black Widow early in the book that could have used further development to ramp up the excitement. The standout moments of the issue are Francavilla’s quieter, character-driven scenes. He’s got a knack for making the talkier scenes visually compelling.

This issue suffers from contrasting street-level heroes with the fantastical, as well as from some out-of-character moments. Both Captain America and Black Widow have been part of cosmic-level adventures in the past, but the contrast is too jarring in this team-up comic with very atmospheric art. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some science fiction epics, but I feel this creative team would have been better suited focusing on the espionage aspect of the story.


Hit-Girl #3

Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Dean White and Michael Kelleher

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Icon

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In reading more and more about bullying at school, and seeing how awful Mark Millar can make kids treat each other, I want nothing more than to see Mindy Macready succeed in her attempts to not only fit in, but to defeat the girls who hate her. Hit-Girl, however, is starting to bleed into the Kick-Ass universe, and while the comic is meant to be its own standalone title, it feels like Kick-Ass part three. Where Millar established Mindy as such a badass earlier, the overcrowding in this issue takes away from her story, and almost makes Mindy a secondary character in the plot.

In earlier issues, Millar gave Mindy a new depth, showing readers that despite her abilities to kill hoards of gangsters, she fails in her ability to fit in with kids her age. This made from some uncomfortable situations with her peers. But Millar also shows us that Mindy is a pragmatic and intelligent girl, and she has an end game. We get to see that play out a big when Mindy confronts her bully, the bitchy Debbie Foreman. The results are everything you’d expect from Hit-Girl, and I couldn’t help but feel vindication for Mindy.

When Millar shifts his story to Mindy’s adoptive father, police officer Marcus Williams, the interactions feel out of place. The scene is connected to the opening of the comic, but for a story meant to be so focused on Mindy, the moment is quickly shunted in and mixed in with the beginning of another scene, yet without any smooth transition. And considering how powerful the scene before it is (where Mindy confronts the popular yet cruel Debbie Forman), I didn’t really care about Marcus.

Because despite all of the extra character moments, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. All I want is to see more Hit-Girl.

The one constant is the art as Todd Palmer’s finishes are extra smooth, taking away some of the grittiness found in earlier Romita Jr. designs. The lighting and colors Dean White and Michael Kelleher play with highlight some of the emotional beats, particularly in the scenes where Mindy is moments from snapping. At times, character heads seem a bit too big for bodies, but this only really happens a few times and doesn’t really distract from the visuals.

Mark Millar has crafted a violent and interesting universe, but where he set out to make this series solely about Hit-Girl, the rest of his plot lines are bleeding in together. I like seeing Red Mist and Kick-Ass, and I like Marcus Williams as an altruistic foil for Mindy. But I guess I don’t care enough to see them play major roles in a series that’s meant to be about Mindy dealing with retiring her Hit-Girl persona. The comic is still entertaining, but Mindy alone is more fun than any other person in this universe.


The Shadow Annual #1

Written by Tom Sniegoski

Art by Dennis Calero

Letters by Rob Steen

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

A good annual delivers a self-contained story with more pages than a regular issue that isn’t usually handcuffed by the monthly goings on of the title. It’s an added bonus for fans clamoring for more of their favorite characters. But a bad annual has the potential to dilute a property to some extent and make fans feel like inferior product is being pushed out because the powers that be figure they’ll buy it. The Shadow Annual #1 is unfortunately, placed firmly in the second category.

The Shadow is enough of an empty vessel archetype-based character that a creative team can really do a lot with. Lamont Cranston is a deeply troubled man. He’s the kind of character that can be used to examine the human condition. But Tom Sniegoski’s script forgoes much character work with Cranston deciding to instead place the focus on his alter ego The Shadow and the mystery at hand. Sniegoski enters the supernatural realm with an evil that is older than creation, some possessed children and enigmatic purple flames however any attempt that is made to make any of this compelling is lost in clunky dialogue and overwrought narration. The pacing suffers as well, forcing a hasty conclusion that isn’t satisfactory in the least.

Dennis Calero should be a perfect fit for The Shadow, and on a fair amount of pages, he is. His work lends itself to the noir settings, dark shading and heavy blacks of the character’s world. Where the art falters the most is with its coloring and use of digital effects. This book is overrun by purple. I understand that the mystical, purple flames are a large part of the story but at times whole chunks of pages are doused in violet to the detriment of otherwise usually strong layouts and character renderings. The worst of it comes when digital effects are clearly use to render the regular flames engulfing some of the figures on the page. The end result is something too glossy and clean that looks more akin to video game concept art than something that belongs in a comic book.

Shadow fans are better off leaving this one on the rack. Five bucks for inconsistent art and snooze-worthy storytelling isn’t a great value and would be better spent on the next issue of the series proper.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles Part 1 and 2

Written by Joshua Sternin and J.R. Ventimilia

Directed by Michael Chang

Broadcast by Nickelodeon

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As a child born in the early 80's, there was never quite something as powerful as Turtlemania. Growing up, the Turtles took on a few different versions along the way, and here we are again. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the newest adaptation that debuted this weekend on Nickelodeon. With its CGI animation, it definitely has a different feel from anything else. But is it any good? Yes, but it's not like we're treading on new ground here.

"Rise of the Turtles" essentially acts as a reintroduction to the team, the supporting characters, and sets the stage for old familiar enemies to appear soon. The animation itself looks fine. It definitely sets itself apart from any other production by Nickelodeon Animation Studios, with the boys having a more blocky look to them that's almost similar to Clone Wars. The show has been promoted for about a year now with Sean Astin and Jason Biggs providing the voices of Raphael and Leonardo respectively. In addition, there is TMNT alumni and voice actor veterans Rob Paulsen (who was originally Raph in the first series) portraying Donatello, and Greg Cipes (Teen Titans and Ben 10) as Michelangelo.

Everybody really works in their role, except it did take a small amount of adjustment to see Donny and hearing Raph's voice. Jason Biggs is almost unrecognizable as Leo and does a pretty decent job. Hoon Lee provides the voice of Splinter and is nothing new in how Splinter usually talks. Kevin Clash set the standard for that years ago and still holds a place as my favorite version. Kevin Michael Richardson makes a brief cameo as the Shredder at the end and lets us know he's coming soon.

The most surprising turn about the series is how young they made April. In the comics, she had more of a science background before changed into a reporter. Here, she's a scientist's teenage daughter and has an instant bond with Donny. This time around she's voiced by Mae Whitman (Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim, Avatar: The Last Airbender).

There are some really neat things that they've done with the boys to set them apart aside from weapons and characteristics. Donny has a gap between his teeth, playing up that he's the nerd and brains of the group. Raph has a chip right by his shoulder, and his tattered mask shows he's a bit of a hothead who gets into his share of fisticuffs. Mikey is the youngest and innocent, so he has some freckles under his eyes. Each has a different shade keeping with the custom.

They've changed their weapons up a tad, too. Mikey's nunchunks also become kusarigamas, and Leo wielding not just his traditional katana, but also a wakizashi. Though that was more traditionally used by Samurais and not ninjas, but I think it still works. That said, the characterization can get a little too broad — Michelangelo, for example, I couldn't help but feel they were overplaying as the goofball. Yes, he's the more juvenile one, but there's a moment where Splinter basically admits he's not that bright.

Storywise, as forementioned, it's nothing really new. It takes the approach from the old cartoon with Hamato Yoshi once being human and being exposed to mutagen the same time as the boys and now living in the sewer. Oroku Saki/The Shredder's rivalry with Splinter/Yoshi stays intact. We even get to see some Foot soldiers briefly and possibly a hint of Karai showing up later. One thing they did here for the Kraang, was mix them with the Utrom origins. I almost think it's too much at once, but for almost an hour, I had a good time. I'm interested in how things progress and where they want to go with the April/Donny relationship, as well as see who else makes an appearance.

If you haven't seen it yet, has both episodes on their site. It's a solid interpretation, and even if it's something older Turtles fans have seen before, it's a good gateway for the younger crowd.

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