Best Shots Comic Reviews: SWEET TOOTH Finale, PUNISHER, More

Hello, 'Rama readers — ready for the Monday column? Best Shots has you covered! So let's get started with some sweet sorrow, as Edward Kaye takes a look at the final issue of Vertigo's Sweet Tooth...


Sweet Tooth #40

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Jeff Lemire, Jose Villarrubia

Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Has it really been 40 issues? Is this really the end? It feels like only yesterday that Jeff Lemire introduced us to the characters of Gus and Jeppard, and took us on a journey through this bleak, yet strangely enchanting post-apocalyptic landscape.

After the climactic events of issue #39, Lemire transports readers decades into the future to provide an epilogue featuring a grown-up Gus with children of his own. The epilogue itself spans decades and generations, and shows us the future of a world where mankind is a dying species and the hybrids thrive and live in harmony with the land. It’s a double-sized issue, but there is enough story here to fill another 40 issues — Lemire just tantalizes us with small glimpses and highlights of the hybrids’ future and the world they create.

Throughout its 40-issue run, Sweet Tooth has never had one bad issue, in fact there’s not one issue that this reviewer would have scored less than 9 out of 10. However, with this grand finale, Jeff Lemire has truly outdone himself, creating a magical story that spans the ages, and closes the story on a fitting note that really tugs on the heartstrings. Every scene in the issue evokes a strong emotional response from the reader, and even the toughest, most stoic of men, would be hard-pressed not to shed a tear or two while reading the last page.

Due to the nature of the story, it’s a narration-heavy issue, something that often has the potential to slow the story down and detract from the artwork, but Lemire strikes the perfect balance here, telling the tale through an ideal combination of artwork, narration and dialogue — pulling the reader into the story and carrying them effortlessly to the climax.

There’s some truly amazing character work in this issue, and it’s fascinating to see each character become an adult that is the product of all the hardships, struggles, and ordeals that they’ve endured over the years. Gus is the strong protector, Bobby is the faithful friend, and Jeppard’s son grows to be mistrusting, defiant, and hateful of the men who treated him so badly. In the end, every character’s story is taken to its ultimate conclusion, and each character is left with a satisfying and suitable ending.

It likely sounds like hyperbole, but the artwork in this final issue is some of the best that Jeff Lemire has created in his career thus far. His linework is loose and expressive, his inking is beautifully “brushy,” and his watercolors are simply enchanting. Every page of the issue is mesmerizingly sublime and it’s easy just to get lost in the alluring artwork and stare at it for minutes on end, soaking in the detail of every brushstroke.

Sweet Tooth #40 is a perfect and befitting conclusion to a simply extraordinary modern fable about the follies of mankind and the consequences of our disharmony with nature. Jeff Lemire has once again proven himself a master storyteller and one of the best comic writers of our generation. Comics just don’t get better than this.


Punisher: War Zone #3

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Frank Castle has guns. Lots of guns. He has grenades, too. Rocket launchers. Knives. Combat training. And a mind sharper than any razor, honed for years in the fires of revenge.

But can even that arsenal take on a demigod with the power of lightning and an enchanted Uru hammer? That's the matchup in Punisher: War Journal #3, and more than just sparks fly between this unlikely of pairings as Greg Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico balance character and combat with gusto.

The character of Thor in particular is always a tough one to handle, primarily because it's so easy to lapse from Shakespearean to self-parody — but Greg Rucka knows how to write the hell out an Asgardian. "I am not found of cowardice, my friend," the God of Thunder tells a guerrilla fighter. "Fortunately for you... I am a benevolent god." While Frank Castle himself is largely a silent protagonist, his character is defined by the people chasing him down, as Rucka delivers some striking insight into the Punisher's mindset by his parallels with this unparalleled superhero.

For those who missed his take on Thor in Journey Into Mystery, you've got another chance — Carmine Di Giandomenico is the epitome of grace when it comes to the Asgardian Avenger. From the leafy tropical setting to the serene stance Thor takes even in the face of gunfire, this Thunder God is sleek, streamlined and absolutely crackling with untapped power. Even the early scenes with Spider-Man and Black Widow show that Di Giandomenico absolutely has the chops to draw an Avengers book — his choreography with the combat also looks superb, such as Frank leaping from an exploding Jeep or Thor's hammer flying at us as if it had a mind of its own.

The fact that this comic is essentially done-in-one doesn't hurt, either. The only downside of Punisher: War Journal is that the heart of this book — Frank himself — is more of an absence, more of a plot device for all this otherwise excellent character work and explosions from Thor's side. Still, if you're an Avenger fan, this is a great concept, pitting Marvel's strongest against its scrappiest. Great writing and great artwork make this book a sleeper hit you should not miss.


The Walking Dead #106

Written Robert Kirkman

Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Negan hasn’t been around long, but I’m already tired of the guy. We keep hearing about how dangerous he is, and after their initial encounter, Rick’s entire group lives in a constant state of fear. But since his violent debut, Negan hasn’t done anything except swear a lot and cause Rick to be even more surly than normal.

Even though Carl sought out Negan in the previous issue, much of this issue is exposition and plotting. Kirkman shifts scenes too quickly for any real drama to be established, and even though Rick and his crew were left in dire straights last time, they resolved their seemingly impossible conflict in two pages. The same can be said for Carl’s conversation with Negan. The kid has a few good threatening lines, but because the scene lasts a total of two pages, its impact on the story feels negligible.

The most interesting dialogue is given to Jesus and it’s all expository descriptions of Negan’s fortress. We learn more about Negan in those two pages than Kirkman has given us in the previous seven issues. The conclusion is just more of a tease as nothing of Carl’s predicament comes to light save for a veiled threat, and we’re left waiting once again.

Artist Charlie Adlard, once again, saves the book from being just a mediocre entry. His zombie close-ups are disgustingly detailed, and we finally get an Adlard splash page that breaks up the monotony of the panel structure. In fact, several images in this book are some of Adlard’s best — particularly those involving shadow and point of view.

The snail’s pace of the current arc is only limiting the intensity of the action. It’s hard to care for characters when the story doesn’t make their plight urgent, and despite the general badassery of Negan, he’s only proven that his greatest asset is his ability to swear. Still, what Kirkman proves is that even a “bad” Walking Dead issue is an engaging read in both its content and its visuals.


Worlds' Finest #8

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by George Perez, CAFU, Cliff Richards, Hi-Fi and Rosemary Cheetham

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by David Pepose

'Rama Review: 7 out of 10

There's a lot to like about World's Finest. Strong, three-dimensional characters, powerful female protagonists, an accessibility that belies its cross-dimensional premise. Huntress and Power Girl are just fun characters, and if you've gotten to know them, it's hard for that enthusiasm not to be contagious. But that all said, there are some warning bells that went off as I read this book, which tarnished an otherwise breezy, action-packed read.

Almost like the Superman/Batman book pioneered by Jeph Loeb, Levitz structures this book as essentially two stories in one, one focusing on Huntress warding off a brutal ambush at one of her safehouses, and the second being Power Girl taking the fight back to the people who tried to assassinate her friend. Levitz is good at cutting to the chase quickly, establishing some character (like Huntress's love of New York pizza, or Power Girl's protectiveness over her friend) and then letting them strut their stuff in action sequences.

The art, meanwhile, looks good, although having three artists does add a bit of a hiccup to the rhythm. I love CAFU, but I think those pages would have been better utilized elsewhere, as George Perez and Cliff Richards are a great counterpoint to one another. (CAFU's pages were also the weird ones in the script, flashing back to Huntress's parents. Those definitely felt out of place.) Perez adds an old-school cartoony expressiveness to his characters, which is nice, but Richards really sold that book for me — there was a real cinematic quality to his Power Girl, almost like a smoother Paul Gulacy, making her deflecting rocket launchers and flipping tanks seem all that much more powerful.

That said, the second half of this book also raised some serious alarm bells for me. Perhaps I'm being too politically correct, but having Power Girl tear through a horde of faceless Arab terrorists made me feel more than a little uncomfortable, particularly with some wearing stereotypical robes and beards. It got worse when there were bits of banter involving Allah ("You really haven't got a prayer," PG said, to my horror), and one line about a "sandy garbage pit" that kind of made my jaw drop. There's a certain simplicity to World's Finest that makes it easy to read and endearing, but that's the kind of old-school storytelling that might better be left in the past.

With that big caveat in play, I still haven't abandoned Helena and Karen, even when their antics definitely have crossed a line. But that all said, I will take the bad with the good here — these characters still have depth, have intensity, have enthusiasm, and that counts for a lot. This book has its heart in the right place, and in all other ways actually does well, but the powers that be at DC should definitely take this book as a learning experience.


Star Wars #1

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Carlos D'Anda and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by Michael Heisler

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Review: 8 out of 10

Before The Empire Strikes Back. Before Return of the Jedi. Even before Splinter of the Mind's Eye, there is Dark Horse's Star Wars #1. Coming right off the victory of blowing up the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance is finding itself even more on the run and showing signs of instability. Brian Wood and artist Carlos D'Anada take us back to way back when Luke wasn't the coy farmboy, but not yet a Jedi Knight, and before Leia donned the slave outfit her character is now synonymous with. It all feels fresh yet familiar.

Now, mind you that while the original trilogy had Luke, Han and Leia share the spotlight three ways, here, it's hard to not keep your eyes off Leia. Leia has the most to gain from Star Wars, and Wood isn't taking any time to get that ball rolling. While Han, Chewie, Luke, even Obi-Wan in Luke's mind, and Wedge show up, it definitely feels like this is Leia's story. She's bold, daring, and deserves respect, but that last part isn't really coming along smoothly. Though see her finish off a TIE pilot point blank is a striking image you won't soon forget.

Wood injects little tidbits here and there that flesh out these decades-old characters even more and what he adds to the story is quite engaging. The whole situation with how much exactly the destruction of the Death Star set the Empire back is a nice touch. All the elements have been planted to take Star Wars almost anywhere it wants to go.

Aiding Wood on his journey into that galaxy far, far away is artist Carlos D'Anda whose art is equal parts J. Scott Campbell, Tom Hodges and Todd Nauck. While it might be in vogue to have characters drawn as realistically as possible, D'Anda's rendering is slick and stylish. He doesn't draw the characters exactly like the actors that portrayed them, but definitely has elements of them brought into his art. D'Anda doesn't just draw the Star Wars universe, but also what inspired Star Wars in the first place. His battle scenes take everything we love about the dogfights from the movies and translates them pitch-perfect on the page.

The ornate detail that D'Anda has for all the weapons, environments, and fighter ships contrasts with the detail he applies to the characters, makes them seem all the more real and tangible. Even Darth Vader seems more of a samurai wizard than he did in A New Hope. There's just an added injection of menace to Vader's silhouette. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb has his work cut out for him with battle stations, robots, humans, Wookiees, and etc, but his bright range of colors and textures sells the world all that much more. From the right balance of light off of Threepio, to Vader's matte outfit, everything just seems right and in place.

Now where the book's perfection vision starts to show signs of cracking is the panel layouts and lettering. We're dealing with outer space here and everything still fills so confined. There are a couple of few shots that show the vastness of the universe, but they're only held for Vader's scene. Whether or not it was to imply that even with his power and followers how alone he truly is, the rest of the pages seem overly chaotic at times. The dogfight scene looks marvelous on the page, but everything hits you so fast, it takes a while for it all to soak in. More would be less in those situations.

Star Wars has a lot to offer. Period. Star Wars doesn't just belong to just the Star Wars fans, it's part of Americana. Dark Horse has a long tradition publishing top-notch Star Wars-related comics and to see a sort of Year One take is a visual feast. While not everybody from the original trilogy has surfaced, I'm eager to see who pops up next.


Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1

Written Keith Giffen

Art by Scott Kolins, Andrei Bressan and David Curiel

Lettering by David Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 1 out of 10

I dropped New Guardians a while ago, but picked it back up during the “Third Army” crossover because I was curious to see how Kyle Rayner’s ability to wield all the rings of the spectrum could aid the Green Lantern Corps. I discovered that the story, while not great, had some interesting character moments and an intriguing concept.

Similarly, I picked up the annual thinking it would bring Kyle’s journey full circle as he figured out how to finally control the Star Sapphire, while at the same time introducing a new Green Lantern to the already expanding universe. New Guardians Annual #1, however, is only a teaser for writer Keith Giffen’s upcoming series Threshold.

If I had known this, I probably would not have bought the comic because New Guardians Annual #1 is an expensive, bloated mess.

Due to its interstellar setting, the story relies heavily on fictional cultures, dialogue and entertainment. Giffen, however, is not adept at clearly explaining these. There’s almost no context clear enough to establish the world into which we’re dropped. I couldn’t tell if a character was swearing or using fictional terms for earthly items (like calling someone a “chudda-bah,” which is never explained). The opening is so disjointed that I immediately flipped back to see if I missed a page, or if the inside cover gave a synopsis or history for better understanding.

Giffen also uses excessive dialogue to the point where even reading the comic because a chore. I was like a high school kid, counting the pages until the end of his reading assignment because the tediousness of the story is its biggest barrier. By the end of the comic, I couldn’t care less about Jediah Caul, or Threshold. Given the amount of space Giffen used to tell his story, I had no better understanding of the character by the end of the issue, nor am I invested in seeing his future.

The art is inconsistent as well. Character costumes change color and design without explanation. Due to the shifts in style (with two different artists), the imagery looks flat and uneven. I don’t know what part of the comic was illustrated by which artist, but both Scott Kolins and Andrei Bressan struggle with character faces, which vary from panel to panel. I’ve always seen Carol Ferris as a strong willed and heroic woman. Here, she looks defeated and shabby. In one scene, Caul looks old but clean. In a later scene, he looks like a dirtbag in bad need of a shower.

Settings, too, suffer from irregular design. Jediah Caul’s hideout, located in the ruins of a destroyed star fleet, is a chaotic mix of debris, smoke, and pink, stretchy connective stuff. As if taking in all the disorder isn’t enough, Giffen relies heavily on his words to do the work of establishing character traits so the amount of dialogue causes some word bubbles to be placed over characters faces, fill the panels and cover up the backgrounds making the worlds even more visually nebulous.

After finishing New Guardians Annual, the only thing I could think of was calling DC and asking for a refund. This comic is definitely not worth the price of admission, and doesn’t do any good for the series that it’s meant to introduce. If this is meant to get readers excited for Threshold, it does not do its job. 

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