Best Shots Comic Reviews: IRON MAN, CATWOMAN, HAWKEYE, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Hope you had a happy holiday, because Best Shots is coming to you with all the fixin's, including a half-dozen of last week's biggest books! So let's kick off with Marvel's mightiest armored Avenger, as we take a look at the sophomore issue of Kieron Gillen and Greg Land's Iron Man...


Iron Man #2

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Guru eFx

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Writers have occasionally toyed with the idea of Iron Man being some sort of "modern-day knight," but Kieron Gillen is taking that metaphor seriously, as he places Tony Stark in the jousting match of his life. While the first issue of this series meandered a bit upon launch, this issue does ramp up quite a bit.

In a lot of ways, this comic is an interesting experiment in how far the medium will go — it is, in essence, a video game boiled down into sequential art. As Tony is challenged into one-on-one battle with a group of Arthurian-inspired "mech-knights," Gillen's major hook — the modular nature of Iron Man's armor — is finally introduced. It's definitely got some potential, reminding me a lot of a boxing match: Tony scores a knockout, goes back to his corner, gets his head back in the game, and comes back to face a new challenger. It really plays to the strengths of superhero comics in a style that reminds me of Chuck Dixon: Very personable, fast-paced, heavy on the action.

That said, Gillen also has to do a lot of the talking here. Granted, for somebody like Tony Stark, some chattiness isn't out of character, but in Gillen's case that's because he has to do all the heavy lifting. Where he takes two steps forward, Greg Land takes a step back — the action looks clean, but that's not good enough here.

There is so much design potential in this comic, with Tony literally popping off different parts of his armor to adjust for different situations. Yet even with new weapons and different armor options, Iron Man looks essentially the same, panel after panel after panel. After awhile, it doesn't matter how nice Tony looks in his armor — the actual hook of the story gets kind of lost.

Additionally, this comic starts off strong, but does stumble at the end, with Gillen essentially ending the jousting match via cheat code, pulling the plug arbitrarily rather than organically. (The science behind this spectacle does feel a little light still, making the solution feel groan-worthy.) Still, the concept alone is a strong one, as Tony Stark struts his stuff with style. Marvel's modern-day knight may have his flaws, but he's still undeniably entertaining.


Catwoman #14

Written by Ann Nocenti

Art by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The appeal behind DC's newest Bat-crossover, "Death of the Family," is that we're ultimately gaining new insight into the relationships between Batman, his extended network of protégés, and that blackest of black sheep — the Joker. When done right, this additional layer puts a new spin on the tried-and-true carnage of the Clown Prince of Crime. When done wrong, however... you get comics like Catwoman #14.

Honestly, I was expecting a lot more. Ann Nocenti is a legend, and while she does decent work in terms of creating new deathtraps for Selina Kyle to struggle with, it's all spectacle and no substance. That's not to say she doesn't try — in many ways, the tension between Catwoman and the Joker is actually kind of catty, in a sort of "The Boy Is Mine" kind of way. It's a little weird, because the Joker's digs at Selina needing Batman to save her ring way truer than Selina's tired "you can't even smile" retorts, making the main character feel like a rube in her own book. When the big insight is that the Joker "just wants to be Batman's be-yotch," you know things have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The art, meanwhile, tries to make the best out of a not-great situation. Rafa Sandoval's composition is really nice, particularly a sequence where Catwoman's rooftop reminiscing is interrupted by a nasty-looking blowdart barb. He also adds in the sex appeal, even to the point of cheesecake, as we see Catwoman literally holding her breasts in her miraculously in tattered lingerie — it's hard to blame him for what's in the script (and how this comic has been set since issue #1), especially when even Selina looks embarrassed. Yet Sandoval isn't without sin himself, as his take on the Joker is completely toothless, with the horror-show quality of his skin mask barely registering in the art.

Ultimately, there's more than one way to skin a cat, but beyond the sly humor in the concept, Ann Nocenti doesn't make the most out of a strong crossover, delivering a really disappointing comic. If we cared more about Selina (or the child she rescues, then promptly forgets about), this would be different. If the stakes were higher, if we believed Selina might actually perish, this would be different. If we actually learned anything about Selina or the Joker's relationship with one another or with Batman in general, this would be different. This book is surface-level, shallow. A little more curiosity and care wouldn't have killed this particular cat.


Hawkeye #4

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Javier Pulido and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Handing Clint Barton S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Black American Express card, Maria Hill gives him a gentle warning: "Don't lose it, Buttercup." After being told that a videotape showing Barton shooting some foreign dignitary in both eyes with arrows is going up for auction in Madripoor, Barton is on the plane to the mysterious island to bid on the tape himself. Matt Fraction and Javier Pulido's Hawkeye is a man who's work life is intruding on his personal time, and now he's got to clean up the mistakes he's made. The most interesting part if his mission is that neither Hill or Captain America deride him for being a loose cannon or for doing something that he wasn't sanctioned for. They all accept that the deed was done. Now it’s just a question of how do they clean it up.

Fraction's Hawkeye, even after stealing a small fortune from the Russian mob and being given a limitless credit card, is just another working-class hero. He can enjoy a beer on the rooftop, hanging with his neighbors and his sidekick/protege/source of sexual tension Kate (the other Hawkeye of the Young Avengers). "Have you ever killed anyone?" she asks out of nowhere, causing him to spit up his beer. Well, apparently he has while acting as an agent of SHIELD and Commander Steve Rogers, as we see briefly on the very first page of this issue. Fraction's Hawkeye isn't a superhero, even though he hangs with them on the day job.

Travelling to Madripoor, we witness how Hawkeye is a different type of hero than others. Most writers would show their heroes hitting the underworld dives and bars looking for information. Bodies would be thrown through windows and fists would be thrown. Instead of using the criminals to find more criminals, Hawkeye steals a cab and drives around the city waiting to pick up a piece of info from the other cabbies. He even picks up a fare or two waiting for the intel. Even when he finds out where the auction is being held, does he sneak in and steal the tape? No, he walks in the front door and allows himself to be taken.

There’s a cool aesthetic at work in Fraction’s story. Imagine '90s era Steven Soderbergh (more Out of Sight or The Limey than Magic Mike) directing Steve McQueen. Fraction is assured in his storytelling, creating a groovy rhythm in this book, highlighting just how cool a customer Clint Barton really is. Hawkeye’s swagger doesn’t come from being a god, a soldier or a super-powered hero. His “power” is more his brain than his arsenal. Fraction’s Hawkeye sees the action around him and reacts to it not as a superhero but as a man who is used to this kind of action and has the knowledge how to handle it. He doesn’t think to rush in, arrows blazing into every situation. Fraction’s Hawkeye is smarter than he should be, and that causes him to impulsively toss himself into situations without thinking them all of the way through.

The adventures of Hawkeye the Cabbie are drawn by Javier Pulido, stepping in for series’ artist David Aja. Pulido doesn’t get to draw the carefree Hawkeye that Aja did. His Hawkeye doesn’t even get the benefit of the doubt that the videotape is fake. Pulido’s first image shows Hawkeye shooting someone in both eyes. There’s no question of Hawkeye’s innocence in this issue so Pulido often draws Hawkeye in the shadows where we cannot see his face. He’s guilty of something, even if we don’t know the circumstances surrounding his actions. From that first image, it’s hard to see Hawkeye as a hero and Kate’s question, perhaps asked innocently enough, becomes an accusation that Hawkeye faces on every page. Has he ever killed someone? Pulido doesn’t avoid the question, but keeps Hawkeye’s face hidden so we can’t read what his answer to that question would be.

Pulido’s artwork doesn’t move across the page like Aja’s but he finds these perfectly unique ways to frame moments in the panels. From Hawkeye’s night of driving around Madripoor to the scene where he is captured by Madame Masque and accidentally lets slip that he has S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Black Amex card, Pulido draws each moment to show us Hawkeye’s impatience, his humor or his canny cunning and control of the situation. The moment he reveals to Madame Masque where his Black Amex card is (hint: it’s in his pants but not in a pocket) can be read a couple of different ways by the time you get to the end of the comic. Pulido simultaneously plays it with humor, a bit of sexual tension and just awkwardness as Masque goes looking for it. Pulido captures the sense of improvisation and careful planning that has gone into this adventure for Hawkeye.

“Don’t lose it, Buttercup.” Fraction is a smart writer and puts this line in there telling us what’s going to happen later on in the comic. Of course he’s going to lose it! That’s the center of Fraction and Pulido’s story. It’s not the “what’s going to happen?” question that we’re left asking, but the how and why? But by the end, Fraction and Pulido turn it back around to “what’s going to happen?” as they throw a twist into the story that makes you question and reexamine every other page of this comic book. It’s a slick ending that just makes everything the creators have done up to that point so much more mysterious and intriguing.


Supurbia #1

Written by Grace Randolph

Art by Russell Dauterman and Gabriel Cassata

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I loved Grace Randolph’s initial run of Supurbia. I thought it was funny, inventive, and unbelievably clever. So when Boom announced that the series would be ongoing, I was excited to see how Randolph could keep the story as engaging while knowing she had no limit to her run.

After the first issue, I can safely say that she’s more than adept at producing a strong narrative, creating engaging and interesting characters, and giving readers a reason to keep coming back to see the soap-operatic lives of the families of superheroes.

Because Supurbia has garnered new readers, Randolph needs to reintroduce her characters, but she does so smoothly, moving quickly between scenes so that within the first ten pages, she’s reestablished the conflicts as well as given new readers the foundational knowledge they need to understand the story. The flow is clean, and despite the amount of scene changes, the story never gets choppy. She also finds ways to add depth, particularly with “Hella” Heart, a reformed criminal living with one of the heroes. Hella’s moments in the comic are few, but they are also the most intense.

Furthermore, Randolph writes punchy and effective dialogue, particularly in the opening scenes with Sovereign and Hayley Harper, a Lois Lane character who has a score to settle with the aloof and imposing Sovereign. Character interactions drive the story, and there are no shortage of them in the comic as Randolph finds a way to involve every character in some major or minor conflict, peppering the story with individual moments.

Russell Duaterman returns as the artist, so he’s already familiar with the characters and his character faces, in particular, are impressive. Given the amount of emoting that occurs in the book, Dauterman perfectly illustrates feelings and reactions. He also aids the story with his point of view choice, particularly with Hella Heart when readers learn a bit about Heart’s dark and violent history. Gabriel Cassata adds vibrancy to the imagery, skillfully using colors to make the panels vivid, and using shadowing to elucidate turmoil.

In its return, Supurbia is an impressive, strongly crafted read. Grace Randolph is a great storyteller, and Russell Dauterman an outstanding artist. The book has all the necessary elements to be more than worth the buy, and if readers wondered if Randolph could pull off making Supurbia an ongoing series, their doubts will be assuaged by the end of the comic.


Daredevil #20

Written Mark Waid

Art by Chris Samnee and Gabriel Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Matt Murdock’s life has been nothing but turmoil lately. Between finding the bones of his dead father in his office to being fired by his longtime friend, Froggy, Matt has had a lot going on. In this issue, we find out why.

And the explanation has to be one of the most original and horrific I’ve ever seen.

The majority of the book is narrated by a headless Daredevil. In other writers’ hands, this idea may not work as well. Waid, however, takes what is a very peculiar explanation and finds a way to create reader buy-in. This may be because of the strength with which Waid has written the previous issues, but I think it’s more due to the appalling, nightmarish nature of the story.

Waid really borrows a page from horror masters, making the final half of the book a visceral and unsettling read. I was genuinely disgusted to see Coyote’s plan in action, and the build up to the climax is well constructed so that it has a strong emotional impact. The one minor deviation, where Waid switches back to New York and Kristin McDuffie, doesn’t derail the story, but purposely works as a filter that gives the darker parts of the book more effect.

Additionally, Chris Samnee is a master of composition in this issue. Point of view is very important to the story, and Samnee finds a way to keep the Coyote’s plan a secret until its reveal in the middle of the comic. Samnee has one page in particular which I cannot spoil here (due to its importance in the story), but it’s perfect in its use of color, shadow, and point of view. The effect is immediate, and the moments that follow it only aid the tension and terror.

Waid has built this arc up so much that even though we know Matt isn’t crazy, he’s nowhere near being out of the woods. The conflicts he has to deal with once getting back to New York City seem overwhelming, particularly the mess he’s still in with Froggy. But Issue #20 shows once more that Daredevil is really one of the best comic books on the market, and Mark Waid one of the best comic book writers. It’s easy to see why this series was given an Eisner Award.


The Bravest Warriors #2

Written by Joey Comeau

Art by Mike Holmes and Zack Sterling

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

In The Bravest Warriors #2, the story about our quartet of heroes (each braver than the others) and their friend and who is a mermaid going off to save a midget clowns from “the sadness” is filled with some cute and some disgusting sight gags peppered with some clever bits of dialogue. Is the giant two headed cat who attacks their ship in space a “he,” a “she” or an “it?” To get one of their members over his fear of clowns, another plants spider eggs in his head and then watches them hatch. See? Disgusting. And not really that much fun either.

This issue is a series of gags thinly strung together around a plot. It’s a joke book that tries to play around with nonsense. The clown midgets are really munchkins from The Wizard of Oz so they get a few jokes out of that. The clowns are sad because all of their tire swings don’t have tires in them. There’s a joke in there somewhere but the creators just don’t sell it. For a book that’s trying to be cute and funny, The Bravest Warriors #2 lacks any real cuteness and only manages to find a couple of humorous gags.

Writer Joey Comeau and artist Mike Holmes and the spirit of the book is trying to tap into the same zeitgeist as Scott Pilgrim, creating its own video game-like reality to create the world and its own internal logic. Where Bryan O’Malley was able to create real characters around his video game realism, Comeau and Holmes use it just to play up their gags and most of those gags do not connect to anything in the plot. When they land in the clown’s version of Oz and have the Bravest Warriors try to defeat the sadness that’s oppressing the clowns, they begin to connect the jokes to a bit of the plot but then they telegraph the larger punch line of their story and stumble into the end of the issue.

Comeau and Holmes’ The Bravest Warriors #2 just doesn’t provide enough of anything. There’s not enough story. There’s not enough humor. There’s not enough characters or danger or fun. The creators try to instill all of those elements into this comic but the book tries too hard at each of them, creating a story that’s just moving from panel to panel and page to page with no real life to it. 

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