Best Shots Comic Reviews: MARVEL NOW! .1, MINUTEMEN #4, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Best Shots is back in action, and we've got a column for you, with a six-pack of this week's biggest releases! So let's kick off with Marvel's launchpad for six new series, as we take a look at Marvel NOW! Part One... 



Marvel NOW! Point One

Written by Nick Spencer, Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction and Dennis Hopeless

Art by Luke Ross, Lee Loughridge, Steve McNiven, John Dell, Justin Ponsor, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Marte Gracia, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matthew Wilson, Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and David Curiel

Lettering by Clayton Cowles, Cory Petit, Albert Duschesne and Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Fans might be salivating over the new first issue launches of Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor, but the House of Ideas also has the new to juggle with its Marvel NOW! initiative. With Marvel seemingly hand-picking its best and brightest of its fledgling titles, this Point One issue is a surprisingly effective entree for prospective readers, acting as both a compelling marketing hook and an artistically satisfying anthology in its own right.

To be honest, I knew this initiative was in the right hands when the weakest of the bunch was by Marvel's heaviest hitters: Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven. Teaming up on Guardians of the Galaxy, the duo focus less on the grandiose space opera and more on the childhood of team leader Peter Quill. This bite-sized story is mainly violent action, which showcases McNiven's muscular, sleek characters. That said, I was surprised to see how inconsistent McNiven's faces looked, particularly a panel where young Peter is so surprised, he spontaneously changes hair styles. While McNiven's widescreen storytelling looks gorgeous, combined with Bendis's decompressed scripting, Quill's supposedly fertile origin story is really over before it begins.

Still, McNiven raises the bar high, and so it's nice to see that Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness deliver with their take on Nova. To be honest, their short, action-heavy story reminded me a lot of DC's Blue Beetle, but making no pretense at deeper meaning or characterization. That's okay, this book knows what it is, and makes no apologies — it's a Saturday morning fight cartoon comic, thanks to Ed McGuinness's ultra-fluid lines, and the goofy motivation for Diamondhead to attack this brand-new Nova will put a smile on your face. Loeb doesn't tell you too much about this all-new Nova or his origins, but he's got enough of a youthful impetuousness that you can't help but be charmed by this cosmic-powered Scrappy Doo.

Just a few pages into their story, I already see that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton are destined to have another sleeper darling on their hands with Young Avengers. You can feel Gillen and McKelvie's quirky brand of Phonogram-style cool as the superstrong Miss America has a lunch date with the pint-size god of mischief Loki. McKelvie is really the MVP here, with some gorgeous expressions on Miss America's face, as you know she doesn't trust Loki as far as she can throw him — and as one eye-popping action bit demonstrates, that's quite a distance. Loki goes a long way towards making this series seem bright and fun (particularly with his band-style handouts at the end), but McKelvie's clearly been sharpening his chops lately, and it shows.

Matt Fraction and Mike Allred also won me over big-time with their lead-in to FF starring Ant-Man. It's a matter of having the right artist to fit the right tone — Fraction's clearly had his fill of impersonal big events, and instead takes a quirky observation about art and twists it into a sci-fi revenge story. Allred's pop-art smoothness is perfect for this story, as his weird, almost Kirby-esque micro-landscapes make the personal moments — like Scott sobbing over his daughter's body — hit all that much harder. This isn't a dark story, but it is odd, and it's perfectly aware of that fact. Like the fable with the blonde and the three bears, this story isn't too dark and it isn't too light — it's just right.

But for my money, the best of the bunch has to be... Cable and X-Force. Believe me, I'm more surprised writing it than you are reading it. Dennis Hopeless really comes into his own with this short story featuring Forge, a man who has become unhinged by his mutant gift to create any machine. Armed with a smart metaphor and a character in a very interesting place psychologically, Hopeless's big secret weapon is his artist, Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Walta looks so much like Doug Mahnke it's uncanny, with a rigidity to his lines that make each panel dynamic, claustrophobic, full of emotion. Walta is the big winner of this book as a whole, and I'll be honest, I'm just disappointed he's not sticking with Hopeless full-time.

Along with a perfectly readable, if not particularly memorable, framing sequence with SHIELD agents Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Phil Coulson, and you've got yourself a really strong launchpad for a number of new series from across the Marvel Universe. But that's maybe the big downside to Marvel NOW! Point One — if you wanted to really establish a no-risk environment, it would have been better to issue this book for free, rather than selling this 48-pager for a whopping $6. With that price point, many readers may simply just buy what piques their interests off the stands. And that's a shame, as this book otherwise does a great job in showing what's new in the Marvel U.


Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4

Written by Darwyn Cooke

Art by Darwyn Cooke, Phil Noto

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It may have taken a couple issues to see the larger picture in Darwyn Cooke’s entry in the Watchmen universe, but it’s with Issue #4 that the reader can start to see the theme and what the creatory is trying to accomplish. With Before Watchmen: Minutemen Cooke is creating the anti-New Frontier.

​While Cooke was able to polish up the Silver Age of comics with story and art that represented the hopefulness of that area, with his latest work he has moved a forward and the destruction of that dream. The same character archetypes are represented in both stories and the audience gets to see Cooke’s take on the more flawed human elements that make up these super teams. Both stories share that element of hopefulness but Before Watchmen: Minutemen takes it a step further.

​The best books of the Before Watchmen series knew well enough to keep their distance from the source material. It’s just plain foolish to rub too closely to a book that has been beloved and studied so closely. These books are at their best when they are finding the stories in the backgrounds and building from there. Minutemen does exactly this. The Minutemen are the perfect group of characters that had established faults and endings but no middles. There wasn’t a lot of story on them so Cooke is able to play around a bit more than the writers on some of the other titles.

​Issue #4 shows us a different side to characters audiences are very familiar with in this new series. Cooke takes the Silk Spectre down a dark path that wasn’t even hinted at before. Until now, she has just been a pretty face sewn into a skin tight suit. It’s the characterization that makes this such a satisfying jump for Sally Jupiter. It’s the twist of guilt and anger that lends the identifying factor for the reader, almost justifying her violent actions against the the Liquidator. Sally isn’t just the overprotective mother of Laurie but instead Cooke has shown that even parents are people, too, with pasts best left forgotten.

​The Comedian’s characterization in this issue might be the best in any of the Before Watchmen titles. So often, Eddie Blake is a mad dog or tornado of a man in the stories. He is a brute that represents the very worst of humanity and what happens when violence goes unchecked. Here, Cooke has turned down the volume on the blusterous Eddie. Instead, the Comedian shares his first war story with Sally in a way that actually leads the reader to feel sorry for the monster that Eddie becomes. It’s the burning away of his innocence that changes the man and Cooke is able to capture this both in the story and his artwork.

​It’s a no-brainer that Darwyn Cooke was the right man for the job when it came to art duties set in the late '40’s to early '60’s in America. He has a knack for drawing superheroes and maintaining a level of majesty in their appearance instead of the absurd. Cooke is able to nail it on every setting that the issue runs through. His war pages actually feel like the descendants of Joe Kubert’s Sgt. Rock and the gravesite scene is chilly and quiet. It’s not every day that an artist in comics is able to convey this level of tone in a book and be able to switch between them so seamlessly.

​His layouts remain true to the style established by Dave Gibbons as well. There is no need for the modern, cinematic, layouts that are popular today. Cooke is able to tell the story masterfully using these older techniques and smaller panels. It remains true, not just to Gibbons, but of comics of this era. At the beginning of the Silver Age, the simple panels were the frames that held in the characters and setting. It was about the creativity of trying to convey the story in an organized fashion. Cooke is able to tell so much more story in this efficient style that is both practical and fitting. ​It’s safe to say that, when this series ends and is collected, Before Watchmen: Minutemen will be an acceptable and perfectly fitting title to stand next to your copy of Watchmen on the shelf.


Daredevil #19

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What happens to a man with super-senses when he can't even trust his own mind? Mark Waid and Chris Samnee work wonders in creating problems for Daredevil, but the actual mystery behind Matt Murdock's woes is lacking a little in logic.

Execution-wise, however, this book is as sharp as ever. Waid slips in the exposition so fast and so smooth you barely notice he's told you everything you need to know about Matt's possible insanity in the first three pages.  He also scores plenty of points for the interpersonal relationships in this book — not only does Matt's beleaguered partner Foggy Nelson potentially mess things up in a big way with Matt's new girlfriend, but I love one scene in particular between Matt Murdock and Hank Pym, of all people. Waid's been very good at expanding Matt's universe organically, and that helps diversify these stories beyond the simple Tom-and-Jerry school of fisticuffs.

Artist Chris Samnee, meanwhile, makes this all look good. His action choreography is impeccable, with some lovely visual continuity between his panels. One sequence, for example, has Matt bursting out of a glass elevator, when suddenly, amid his acrobatic pose, we see a look of sudden terror — that's when we see his grappling hook baton is missing. Samnee's characters are clean and his expressions are so easy to read you probably don't even need dialogue. Add that to some energetic colorwork by Javier Rodriguez, and you have yourself a gorgeous-looking book.

The problem with this book just happens to be where the plot is going. We've seen the villainous Coyote before — at least, Waid makes us think we have — but the evolution for him getting to this point doesn't quite make a lot of sense. Furthermore, the bedeviling of Matt Murdock winds up raising more questions than it solves. There are a ton of opportunities for Matt to have been wiped out, no muss, no fuss, so Waid is going to have to work double-time to explain that one away. But if Waid can do it, he's going to have one excellent storyline on his hands... one that might give Daredevil a lasting addition to his already killer rogue's gallery.


Wonder Woman #13

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Tony Akins, Dan Green and Matthew Wilson

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

It's time to trim the fat off this comic. Wonder Woman as a character has so much potential, but ultimately she's second fiddle in her own comic. Olympian politics may be Brian Azzarello's bag, but it ultimately feels like a poor fit for DC's amazing Amazon.

For six of this comic's 20 pages, we're bounced around from the Arctic to Olympus, checking out new villains and adversaries for Diana of Themyscria to combat. It's clear that Azzarello really enjoys these beats, too — in fact, it seems like he enjoys reinventing War, Dionysus and Moon far more than actually focusing on his title character. By the time we've checked in on the entirety of the supporting cast, both friend and foe, we've already been jogging in place for half the book.

The other big problem is that Azzarello has a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through — namely, if you have problems navigating around the world and need a demigod to help... why would the very next scene involve Wonder Woman traveling all the way to Libya? Diana does get a few decent action moments in the book's second half — particularly when she deflects one-handed a hail of scimitars thrown at machine-gun speeds — but the cliffhanger of the issue should have been hit in the first seven pages, maximum.

The art isn't bad, however. Tony Akins is a bit more exaggerated, a bit more cartoony than the universally praised Cliff Chiang, but it's not a jarring shift whatsoever. He does give Diana a bit more emotion than Azzarello lets on, particularly when she grins at a group of Libyan gunmen who she is about to trounce. Akins also sells the horror stuff decently, particularly a giant hairy behemoth who crunches into a scientist's head like a Tootsie Roll Pop.

But that's ultimately too little, too late. This comic is spinning its wheels instead of focusing on Diana's character first, and that leads to a listless read. Perhaps Azzarello's insights are more based on her mythology rather than Diana specifically — and while the expansion of the mythos helped form Green Lantern's extended universe, it had to start with a rebuilding of Hal Jordan first. Perhaps a streamlining is what  Wonder Woman truly needs. Cleanliness is, after all, next to godliness.


Glory #29

Written by Joe Keatinge

Art by Ross Campbell, Owen Gieni and Charis Solis

Lettering by Douglas E. Sherwood

Published by Image Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Glory #29 kicks off a new arc, "Bloodshadow," for the book and now is as good a time as any to jump onboard. Glory's little sister, Nanaja, is exposed to her own trials and tribulations forcing her to choose between the righteous path that Glory has taken or something else entirely.

Keatinge continues to keep up with the best of the Extreme relaunch titles (read also: Prophet) by building the world around Glory and letting her be the foil for everything. It's a smart choice, considering that Glory has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. While Glory and her crew check in with some friends from the past, Nanaja's story unfolds in a series of flashbacks spread throughout the book. While Glory struggles with what she must do about her sister, Nanaja struggles with her future. This device brings a good sense of balance to the book, never sacrificing the title character any FaceTime while still allowing the backstory to inform the main narrative.

Ross Campbell's art is as good as ever. His knack for exciting and interesting character designs is on full display here as the flashbacks force us to see characters over a large expanse of time. Nanaja's transformation, in particular, is impressive and mirrors the journey that her character takes. In much the same way, seeing a younger version of Glory offers up exciting questions about the changes in her character design as well. Campbell's storytelling is effective as well even as it struggles to breath from under some of Keatinge's wordier passages. A change in layout may have helped alleviate some of the clutter, but it's hard to blame Campbell when there's so much text on the page.

The coloring team of Owen Gieni and Charis Solis deserve a mention, too. Oftentimes, stories with dramatic shifts in settings and time make it difficult for colorists to maintain a consistent palette of colors. The details of this story are less dynamic the previous issues (less giant battles and ultraviolence) and that removes much of the "wow factor" that those sequences can deliver in color. But But Gieni and Solis do a commendable job with the balancing act.

Glory is a great book for anyone looking for a little ugliness in their superhero comics. These characters aren't perfect and some of them aren't all that attractive. They're weird and conflicted but they're trying. It's easy to get caught up in the off-the-wall aliens and the less-than-normal proportions of our heroine but in the end, the first part of "Bloodshadow" is a sibling rivalry story on a grand scale that many of us can relate to.


Shinku #5

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Lee Moder, Matthew Waite, and Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After ten months being shelved due to unforeseen health reasons from a member of the creative team, Shinku is back and in full form. Comic audiences haven't had a taste since this past January, but the team stuck to their gun and pulled through and it's finally here. I had to do a small refreshment course, but when I finally got to this issue, I was ready for a bloody good time and I was given one in spades. 

Ron Marz really loves his Samurai. This issue is the finale of the first arc and it's damn bloody. The entire issue feels like a one long fight scene, because for the most part, it is. Shinku is a rare character in comics and there's something just awesome about this bad ass gal trying to kill her enemy even with her side split open. Marz has created quite the dynamic of Shinku vs. Asano and his Yagyu. She's going up against evil almost in its purest form and she is not backing down. The climax does feel like we've seen this before in some other form of medium, but to see how Lee Moder constructed everything, is a pretty nice thing to have. There's not a whole lot of room for dialogue here and it's primarily all action. It's not a bad thing, as this is the end to this arc, you want to end with a bang. Just at the end, it gets a bit predictable.

Speaking of Moder, there is not one boring page here. Nothing is gone to waste. There's some high impact moments here and Moder really drives it home with great use of cinematic angles and wonderful fight choreography. Going back, to earlier issues, it looks like Matthew Waite stumbled a bit here. His inks aren't as consistent and make or break certain panels. The first half looks great with some solid linework, but later on during the more hectic scenes, things get a bit jumbled. The silhouette panels of Shinku silently slicing up random baddies definitely look cool, but when things start going up in flames, that's when you begin to see the crack.

Michael Atiyeh's colors are worth the wait. His palette reminds me of a more subtle Dave McCaig. The rich blues and deep reds really sell the images without going overboard with overdefining the character's outlines. The scene with Oshima with a blowtorch is a good example of this. Atiyeh's first few pages are some of the best ones. Atiyeh's use of blues add a somber feel right before going to his warmer colors later in the final fight scene. It's very much us seeing what's darkest before the dawn.

Shinku #5 is not really a good jumping on point, per se, but if you dig it, I say go back and check out the previous issues. But if the showdown between Shinku and a ton of vampire goons and Asano doesn't sell it for you, you have my sympathy. I think Shinku is a book that comes along that mixes genres together to create something shiny and new.

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