Best Shots Comic Reviews: TALON, UNCANNY AVENGERS, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, with a ton of releases from the industry's biggest publishers! So let's start off with Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the new guy in Gotham, with the second issue of Talon... 


Talon #2

Written Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Juan Jose Ryp, Vicente Cifuentes and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

How do you make a Batman-like character be original and interesting without him actually being Batman?

You hire Scott Snyder and James Tynion to write Talon, a comic that is everything you’d find in Batman save for the humorless, dogged personality of Bruce Wayne.

Scott Snyder and James Tynion tell a story that’s more episodic than canon driven as Clavin Rose breaks into the Owls’ treasury to find a secret file on the only two people whom he cares about, Casey and Sarah Washington (both of whom have been absent from the series so far). The mysterious sage Sebastian Clark plays an Alfred role, providing Calvin with guidance, but Calvin is more like Jason Todd than Bruce Wayne. He’s rash, impatient, and selfish.

And this makes him so entertaining.

Snyder and Tynion clearly have a lot of fun writing this character due to his quick wit, recklessness, and his heart. Readers see why Calvin is a “reformed” assassin, and what makes him different than every other Talon — and why this puts him at odds with Sebastian. At times, we can see a connection between Calvin and Sebastian and Terry McGinnis and the cranky, old Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond. I don’t know if this is Snyder and

Tynion’s intent, but a connection can be made.

The writers also introduce the main bad guy at the end of the issue, and while he’s the bad guy in every sense of the word (as in he embodies the spirit of a psychopath), I’m still interested to see how his lust for violence will play out in future issues.

The art of the book is equally impressive. Juan Jose Ryp’s art is sharp, precise, and loaded with detail. The illustrations remind me of Chris Burnham because Vicente Cifuentes uses thick outlines, yet the character designs and set pieces are meticulously illustrated, particularly the wide shot of the Owls’ treasury. Whereas Guillem March used a lot of pencil strokes in his illustrations (to great effect), Ryp’s drawings look more polished and create a different aesthetic making each issue of Talon unique in its visuals.

The book also has a lot of action, but the art never loses its clarity. Ryp illustrates a beautiful scene (coupled with Tomeu Morey’s colors) where the Owl treasury is burning down, and despite the destruction, the picture is crisp and lucid. Regardless of the shot — tight or wide — the art carries the story and presents a captivating visual.

I didn’t expect this comic to be as good as it is, but Talon is engaging for both its story and art. Snyder and Tynion are successfully building a mythos that will drive the first arc, and keep readers interested in the series, and with impressive art by Juan Ryp, I can’t find any major flaws with the issue. Clearly, the “Court of Owls” was only the beginning of something larger, and as it slowly distances itself from its source material, Talon only gets better with each issue. 


Uncanny Avengers #2

Written by Rick Remender

Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

So this is what Marvel NOW! is; Wolverine walking the mean streets of NYC and moping that there is no more mutant community.  After Uncanny Avengers #2 and the events of filicide in the most recent issue of Uncanny X-Force, you have to see Remender’s Wolverine as the Charlie Brown of superheroes, just waiting for the next football to be pulled away from him.  That mopiness infects every characters in this issue, from Thor who finally realizes that people are prejudiced pieces of garbage who now need his godly intervention to Scarlet Witch who allows herself to be deceived by the Red Skull into once again nearly uttering the magical phrase “no more mutants.”

Remender’s story is about the heroism of the Avengers and the subculture of the X-Men being blended together.  From mutant-caused tragedies in New York City to the attack on and kidnapping of Scarlet Witch and Rogue, Remender has been trying to concoct a stew of the best of both worlds.  But with Wolverine playing the role of heartbroken schoolboy who’s one step away from writing bad poetry about his old friend Chuck to the Scarlet Witch’s easy manipulation and blood thirst for mutants, Remender writes a watered down version of the X-Men and the Avengers in this issue. 

One half of the story plays it painfully obvious as the Avengers clean up after a mutant attack brought down a building.  Captain America, Wolverine and Thor stand around, looking concerned and talking about human/mutant relations.  It’s Remender’s version of Bendis’s Avengers-sit-around-the-table scenes, where the writer spends more time explaining what’s happening in the grander story than actually showing it. Wolverine tells Captain America that they need to do better and Captain America says that they will do better and then Wolverine tells Captain America that he needs to do better again.  And then a man hugs Alex Summers ( a nice image), forcing Thor, Cap and Wolverine share a moment.

Moments like that are what used to make John Cassaday the superstar artist of Planetary and Astonishing X-Men.  When you look at those books and the scenes that Warren Ellis and Joss Whedon gave him, Cassaday could tell you so much about what his characters were thinking just through their expression.  The sad ways that Jakita watched at Elijah Snow in Planetary  or the flirtatious ways that Kitty Pryde would look at Colossus spoke everything about those relationships that you needed to know.  His characters in those stories interacted on an emotional level.  They’re not doing that in Uncanny Avengers.  There’s no recognizable emotional connection between his players.  They’re staged and blocked to be together without ever forming connections with each other or with the reader.

In this world of 20-page storytelling, where every panel needs to “count,” Cassaday has lost the ability to just focus on a moment where everything is communicated through the way a characters stands or carries herself in a panel.  He’s lost that ability to give the characters the space they need for an emotion or for the big dramatic beat because there’s just no room for it anymore in the comics that he draws.  The comics have become smaller and the storytelling becomes constrained by the panel borders. The age of his type of wide screen storytelling is done but he hasn’t adapted to the new age yet.

So far both issues have been split into two halves; the Captain America half and the Rogue/Scarlet Witch half.  The connection between these two is fairly clear; Rogue hates the Scarlet Witch.  Captured and trapped by the Red Skull, Remender and Cassaday get to play with their characters’ hatred in the latter part of the book.  Their work feels more sprightly here as the characters argue and fight and find the horrific tools of the Red Skull’s plot.  This half of the book embraces its roots from both franchises, building on history to create tension between the heroes and the villains.  Remender and Cassaday show the manipulation of the Scarlet Witch with a disorientating effect on the reader as we feel like we’ve been here before and we know how dangerous it is.  It works because it actually engages the readers rather than just talks at them and plays off of the combined history of the Avengers and the X-Men.

Remender established Uncanny X-Force from the beginning with a brashness of characters and of action.  The book came out and lived up to its premise of a mutant team that killed as it believed was needed and Remender spent spent the rest of the series exploring the ramifications of the actions of those first few issues.  Uncanny Avengers could use that primal drive in its storytelling.  As it trudges along toward forming a team and a cast of characters, Remender and Cassaday, Uncanny Avengers #2 teases the action that is possible in this book as it brings two great franchises together.   


Batman Incorporated #5

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn   

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Enter the city of the Mother of the Beast of Bedlam some fifteen or so years in the future. A reign of fire is consuming Gotham. Damian, who is now Batman, is fighting to his last, dutiful breath to save Gotham City. With appearances from Jackanapes, Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Alfred the cat and evil incarnated, Simon Hurt; Batman Incorporated #5 is a continuity parade of Grant Morrison proportions.

The Batman of today, Bruce Wayne, has been to the end of time, and looked back. He has seen what will happen to in this future Gotham. He has seen what will happen to Damian as Batman. And as Damian inserts himself into the current operation Kill Box, Bruce's hand is forced. He must tell Damian the truth. If Damian becomes Batman, all hell will break loose.

Our penultimate planner, Bruce Wayne, will do anything to stop it. With the power of knowing what will happen, there is powerlessness in what he thinks he must do to change the course. This allows for a rare moment of vulnerability in a story about one of pop-culture’s embodiments of machismo. This vulnerability makes Batman Incorporated #5 a real gut-puncher.

Since Batman & Son, Damian has been a difficult character to relate to. His arrogant impetuousness is hard to love. But with barely six panels dedicated to young Damian, Chris Burnham delivers the most honest incarnation of the character we have ever seen. Burnham nails it, and with fear and longing in Damian’s eyes, we see him for the child that he is. It is nothing short of a monumental moment for our definitive characters.

Beyond those six panels, Burnham graces Batman Incorporated #5 with his signature gritty fine lines that gives the chaos of a future Gotham exquisite detail. There is lightness to the stylized shapes that Burnham uses which contrasts nicely with the severity of the story. Nathan Fairbairn’s colors mesh perfectly with Burnham’s lines and the tone of the issue.

After writing a character for six years, Batman’s Morrison feels like home. He brings the kind of intentional cohesiveness that is present in the likes of long-running character sagas like Fables or Walking Dead. Only it’s even bigger than that because he is dealing in a nonlinear narrative with time travel, Omega Effects, one degree of separation, and the ultimate evils in the DC Universe. Embedded in the complexity of all of that, Morrison has made one thing repeatedly clear, never underestimate Talia al Ghul.

Batman Incorporated has been an oasis of references in the infant continuity of the DC 52. Batman Incorporated #5 is a place where Morrison continuity junkies can come to quench their thirst. This issue is an ode to Batman #666 from the cover to the chaos within. Or the continuation it was probably meant to be. However you choose to look at it, Morrison’s six-year tapestry of Batman is finally coming into focus. It is incredibly satisfying. 


Nowhere Men #1

Written Eric Stephenson

Art by Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Fotografiks

Published by Image

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Confession: I love political thrillers. Movies, books, television shows and even comics that rely on intense dialogue over action and excitement usually grip me immediately. Now, Nowhere Men is not a political thriller, but the comic is a thriller of sorts.

Eric Stephenson’s story is about super intelligent scientists and the struggle they face when profit becomes greater than discovery. The comic is dialogue heavy, but very intriguing -- until about halfway through. Then the story switches to a group of scientists aboard a super secret space station, all of whom are inflicted with some sort of disease, but these characters are nowhere near as interesting and the second half of the comic falls flat as it tries to do what Lost did so successfully: build a mystery that keeps readers engaged.

Stephenson does a lot right from the onset. The opening introduces the main characters perfectly in two pages; we know everything we need to know in order to have a full grasp of the story (cleverly delivered through an article à la an Alan Moore’s “Beneath The Hood” in Watchmen). The successive pages show just how far this group of scientists has deviated from its original morals, and for the length of the discussion, I found the sequence to be wholly engaging.

When the comic shifts to the space station, and we encounter banal characters and a cryptic sickness, the book becomes a tedious read, and all the interest garnered from the previous story is lost. I know there’s a connection between the scientists and the space station, but I have little desire to find out what it is by the end.

Nate Bellegarde’s illustrations are also stronger in the first half of the book than the second. The tight, simple shots used in the beginning help press the tension whereas the final pages lack the same punch. Characters are still illustrated with skill and style, but Jordie Bellaire’s intensity of color is replaced by a pale palette which fails to help press the urgency of the sickness, despite how crazed the characters are becoming.

Furthermore, I can see how people would find certain characters to be stereotypes of business tycoons who more about profit than people. But the conversations in first half are loaded with history and personal morals whereas we’re given no transition to the characters of the second half and while a connection between them exists, it is not overt. Nothing made me care about these people who were dying, nor about their situation.

Perhaps Eric Stephenson wanted to load the first issue with all the exposition so he can move into the action because the action moments in the books steal the show (they involve a mutated gorilla and a lot of blood), but these moments are only presented and not expanded upon. Readers are asked to put a lot of faith in the book, and while parts of it would have me coming back, the prospect of reading a book that is fifty percent interesting doesn’t make me want to spend the money.

Nowhere Men has promise; it just needs to do more than hint at it. 


Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2

Written by Brandon Graham

Art by Brandon Graham

Lettering by Brandon Graham

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If there is any one thing you need to enjoy in Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2 (and there really are many things,) you’ve got to fall in love with Brandon Graham’s line.  His free flowing line leads you through a tale of young lovers and bounty hunters.  Graham’s road stories, one of the two lovers trying to find a new life and the other about a bounty hunter trying to complete her job, have lines and drawings that want you to read them.  The beauty about Graham’s artwork is how clean and easy it is, guiding you through the story even as Graham throws in oddities that would muddy up almost any other story.

In his King City and work on Prophet, Graham has already shown the skills he has at building new worlds.  These worlds, full of whimsy and danger, are like new frontiers for the readers to discover.  Both of those books challenged the reader to keep up with Graham and his collaborators.  Multiple Warhead shares both the danger and the whimsy but it doesn’t throw up the same challenges to the reader.  Here Graham isn’t satisfied to just build worlds.  He inhabits them, filling them with characters, technology, geography and cultures that live and breath.

It’s as if Graham is acting as less than a storyteller and more of a guide in Multiple Warheads.  His story fills the pages with sights and experiences that welcome the reader into them.  Everything is new but instead of laboring to explain the world and make sense of it, Graham plows through his story like you’ve been here before and read about all of these new and wonderful things.  He doesn’t over complicate it though, throwing more ideas and concepts at you faster than you can take them in.  That’s what he’s doing on Prophet, which makes that a puzzling yet engaging book to read.  In Multiple Warheads, he eases you into every new thing.  Each corner features something new for you as well as for the characters. 

As Sexica and Nikoli travel the open road, his characters act as guides to this world.  But more than the characters, it all comes down to Graham’s drawings and his simple and flowing line.  He creates these landscapes and visions that you’ve barely ever seen before in a comic book.  With shades of Moebius and Miyazaki, Graham has gone off and created his own world with its own creatures, cities and rules that welcome the reader into them.  His line is simple and fun while he draws the roads and toll booths of this world with their swordsmen, floating corpses and dinosaur-like animals that attack the cars along the way. 

While he’s welcoming us to the world, Graham’s characters are feel so at home here that the charm of Sexica and Nikoli is just one more way that we fall in love with this story.  These are characters who have had their old city blown up so they have no home to go to.  Their road story is a story about finding a new home in a world where they’re just a little less at home in than we are.  We fall in with them because they’re travelling through Graham’s world just the same way that we are.  They’re the story we’re reading but they’re also our guides through this strange but lovely world. 

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2 shows the same creativity, the same freshness and the same world building that Graham has done in both King City and Prophet but here it is so much more warmly welcoming to the reader.  It doesn’t approach the reader as someone new to the world and therefore show off how different it is from everything else (even though it is.)  In this book, we find a world that is about love as much as it is about the weirdness of its landscapes.  Graham easily moves between a story about a bounty hunter and her odd jobs and two lovers trying to discover a new life for themselves.  For both parts of the issue, he settles into a groove that lulls the reader into it and welcomes them into Graham’s imagination.

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