JUSTICE LEAGUE #13's Wonder Woman vs Cheetah Variant Covers
Credit: DC Comics


Justice League #13

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Tony Daniel, Richard Friend, Batt and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

A year into The New 52, Geoff Johns is redefining the DC Universe — too bad nobody else is listening to him. Not that they're in a position to, of course, with DC's Big Seven spinning off in some pretty wild directions while Johns slowly assembled them as the Justice League. That's the problem with being a master, as we see in this issue — Johns' unified DC Universe oftentimes reads a lot better than the real thing.

Part of that is because while the rest of DC's writers have gone pretty far afield of their preboot predecessors, Johns actually takes a conservative take on The New 52. Instead of new villains, new origins and new day jobs, Johns focuses on the personal — and the interpersonal. While Wonder Woman's revised origins with Zeus and murderous Amazons might have caused waves within the blogosphere, I think having a prior relationship with the Cheetah — indeed, feeling responsible for her curse and transformation — is far simpler, more logical and more resonant.

It's that human touch that makes the slow pacing not seem so bad, because unlike the more transitory feel of some of DC's other series — say, Superman, which has struggled to find its direction alongside the chronology-challenged Action Comics — you get that there's a big picture being painted here, albeit with small strokes of characterization. It's easy to call a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman just a cash-grab, but when you see a scene of the Flash convincing Cyborg that he's more human than machine — "Do you ever fantasize about making out with a toaster?" — you can't help but have some hope.

In terms of the art, Tony Daniel reads pretty well, even without the ultra-A-list pedigree Jim Lee brings to the table. Paired with colorist Tomeu Morey, there's a nice depth to the artwork here, a darkened, angular vibe that reminds me a lot of Sunny Gho. Daniel's exaggerated figures occasionally remind me of Ed Benes, but I do like the expressiveness he gives characters like the Flash, who worries about the League's stability, or Superman, who just worries about his standing with Wonder Woman. The action sequences are occasionally a little kooky with the composition, but Daniel's skewed angles do play up the speed and savagery of combat, particularly between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah.

That said, while this series is slowly but surely improving, this comic isn't a slam dunk just yet. The pacing still is a problem, with the internal politics surrounding Steve Trevor dragging in particular. The final sequence of the book also feels a little like writer fiat, with the Cheetah getting the jump on not just Diana, but a cadre of DC's most powerful beings. But the big problem with this book is that no matter how many neat insights Geoff Johns brings to these characters, those changes will be ignored in the character's own book. Despite its diverse cast plucked from across the DCU, Justice League feels hermetically sealed, and that hampers the tone of the New 52 as a whole. Still, it's upwards and onwards for DC's premiere superteam — it's too bad the rest of the DCU won't follow suit.


Hawkeye #3

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye may be one of the most stylish books on the stands. It's almost unbelievable that they've been able to create this kind of title using a mainstream character that not only has an already dedicated fanbase, but who was featured in one of the biggest films of all time, wherein they turn that formula on its head, going smaller, more intimate, and more hard-boiled rather than focusing on big, blockbuster superhero fare. On top of that, the done-in-one structure, biting, sardonic tone, and pitch-perfect art all coalesce into a book that should give any other title on the stands a run for its money, along with some weekly TV shows.

In Hawkeye #3, Fraction finally lets Clint Barton loose with his bow and arrows for the first time. We've already established that he doesn't need those things to be compelling, now it's time to see him doing what he does best. Centered around a car chase between Clint and Kate Bishop, his young protégé/partner, and a gang of track-suited, Euro-thugs like the ones he's dealt with before who have kidnapped a young woman with whom Clint has become involved, the simple structure follows two narrative beats. The first, establishing the events that lead to this point, show a series of what Clint describes as "mistakes," starting with committing to organize his arsenal of trick arrows, and culminating in a romantic tryst with the woman the gangsters have taken hostage. The second uses the chase as a chance to show off the numerous gimmick arrows that Hawkeye has in his bag of tricks, and how the use of each drives the action in unexpected ways.

The pieces are all here, and, thankfully, all fall into the right places. From Clint's "aw, shucks" style banter with the obviously exasperated Kate, to his effortless way with the mysterious woman whose dealings with the Euro-thugs remain unresolved, Fraction has a perfect handle on what people like not just about Clint Barton, but about the "gentleman rogue" archetype he embodies. Fans of characters like Han Solo and Mal Reynolds will connect immediately with Clint's frankness, his sarcasm, and, quite honestly, his day job as a casual badass. The surprise here, though, is how well Fraction handles Kate Bishop. To call her Hawkeye's sidekick would be to undersell her, since she's so clearly his equal. Her role as the "sensible," or at least emotionally competent half of the duo perfectly reins in Clint's impulsive behavior, and leads to enough humorous back-and-forth to make Joss Whedon himself jealous.

Even if the script wasn't as good as it is, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth's art would be more than worth the price of admission. Aja is a master storyteller, never breaking too many rules, but knowing exactly how to bend them in just the right places, and complementing his clear vision with expressive, lean characters and an almost impressionistic sense of lights and darks. Hollingsworth's spare, moody colors set just the right tone, focusing on a limited pallet of earth tones and purples, to really make this look distinctly like a Hawkeye book, and that kind of attention to the personality of the characters and story is almost unparalleled in other books.

This is one of those rare books that transcends the superhero medium, at once perfecting it, and eschewing it almost entirely, resulting in something with the personality of a Marvel comic, but the attitude and feel of an indie. This is Matt Fraction doing what he loves, and it's obvious on the page. He's definitely a writer that works best when he can focus on a character that really appeals to him, and let his voice come through, and fortunately, Marvel seems smart enough to be letting him do just that with Hawkeye. I can't recommend this book enough.


Star Wars – Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets #1

Written by John Ostrander

Art by Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla, Vecchia, Wes Dzioba

Lettering by Michael Heisler

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In my younger Star Wars fan days, I simply couldn't get enough of the Empire. Sure, they were the bad guys, but they had the better looking ships. I mean, apart from the spinning cockpit thing on the B-Wing fighter, the Rebels were boring. However, as I grew older I started to think about how strange it was to root for the ones conducting genocide on a galactic level. Even if they did go about in the cooler rides.

Which is a very long way to say, it's tricky to pull off a Star Wars story where we're actually invested in a character that's actively working for evil. The only way you can really pull off that concept is by upping the awesome of said character. Which is probably why we all love Boba Fett, he's nasty as they come, but he's so dang cool at it. And, this seems to be the path writer John Ostrander is taking with Imperial Agent Jahan Cross in Star Wars – Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets #1. But unlike Fett, Cross is starting to see, if not fully understand, the light. We'll get to that in a minute.

Like all good Bond flick, Hard Targets opens with an old fashioned slugfest between Fett and Cross. With hints at what's to come, we jump back a couple of weeks. The Empire sends Jahan Cross to Alderaan on what appears to be a goodwill mission celebrating Bail Organa's reign. The current Count Dooku arrives with his son. There is secret talk of rebellion. Cross makes a blatant pass at Dooku's hard-nosed bodyguard. An assassination. And finally, a spy that's beginning to question those 
that send him out into the field.

If you think you've heard all this before, relax, you have. It's the plot to most espionage stories. And yet, Ostrander does a good job of placing this story firmly within the Star Wars universe. And while he gets the tone of a pre-rebellion setting, some of his dialogue reads painfully like a writer trying to capture 2012 parlance. In fact, I am pretty certain Princess Leia would never claim to have a “mad 
crush” on Han Solo.

Davide Fasbbri's pencils are very strong in this issue. It's easy to let characters get lost in the shuffle when everyone walks around in regal robes or Imperial uniforms. Thankfully, Fasbbri does a good job of maintaining each character’s sense of visual independence. His actions scenes also pop. While I never once got a sense of mortal danger for Cross (or Fett), the movement was tight and had a good cinematic feel. The colors by Wes Dzioba are appropriately vibrant for a setting that has not yet fallen under the full yoke of the Empire. But, Dzioba also doesn't fall into the trappings of making a sci-fi comic burst with unnatural coloring. As in Fasbbri's pencils, the colors have a perfect balance for the scene.

Although nothing truly ground breaking happens in the issue, there is something to be said for a strong setup that promises a good follow through. Hard Targets promises just that. And, it should prove enjoyable to read just where Ostrander intends on taking his Imperial spy. Agent Jahan Cross is slowly emerging as one of the more complex characters within the Star Wars expanded universe. For that alone, I want to know what happens next.


Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness #1

Written by Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh

Art by Kyle Hotz

Lettering by Nate Peikos

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

So, I fancy myself a writer. As such, when I review books, I tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the writing. Well, as much I dig Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh's writing in Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness #1, it's the art that makes this sucker leap from the shelves. Seriously, Kyle Hotz is not playing around with this slimy, gooey, oozing beast of a comic. It's so dang nasty (in the best of ways) that I found myself forgetting just what the story is about. Not that I didn't enjoy it, you know, once I get my head back on straight.

Billy the Kid and the merry band of oddities are still hunting that right Callahan with a goal of serving up some vengeance. Their travels take them to Scotland, which is a lot like the Old West, but with different accents and kilts. (I know, this review is playing all kinds of fast and loose with the English language, can't help it, it's what Eric Powell does to me). Anyway, while chasing their prey, Billy the Kid learns the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and how Callahan 
might be using those old tales to hide like the dirty cur he is. With the introduction of a local saint and his holy bones, Billy and the gang find themselves in all manner of trouble in a quaint but very suspicious village. (Aren't they all)?

Back to that art and the insane genius that is Kyle Hotz. His pencils and inks have a visceral quality to them. As if the rich colors and incredibly dense blacks don't want to stay in the comic. You can almost feel them oozing off the page and sticking to your hands. It would be borderline obscene if the art wasn't so much fun. The characters within slither just to the side of parody or caricature, but never once cross over that line. And the few times they do, it's in full support of the moment and you're right there with them.

Not a single panel or scene is wasted in this issue. When Billy listens to the tale of the saint versus the beast, we're seamlessly transported to this insane match between hell spawn and holy man. It's mean and nasty, but with shades of humor that never once lets us take the book too terribly serious. While I'm certain Hotz's art could unsettle and frighten the reader with ease, that isn't the case in the comic and it works perfectly.

To be blunt. There is something really wrong with Eric Powell, Tracy Marsh, and Kyle Hotz and it shows in Orm of Loch Ness #1. And I really wouldn't want it any other way. In fact, stop reading this review and go out there and get this comic. Seriously. Stop reading and go buy this book! You'll thank (or hate) me later.

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