Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Get ready for the Monday column, as Best Shots opens up a six-pack of reviewing goodness! So let's kick off today's column with Ed Kaye, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of Young Avengers...


Young Avengers #2

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, and Matt Wilson

Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s the morning after a miracle, but Wiccan and Hulkling come to realize that they may have made a huge mistake. When the Uncanny Avengers are slightly less than helpful, the guys find unlikely help in the form of Kid Loki... yep, they’re screwed!

The focus is very much on the Wiccan/Hulking storyline in this sophomore issue, with Hawkeye, Marvel Boy, and Ms. America being pushed to the sidelines (in fact, they don’t even appear). However, this doesn't slow things down at all, and  there is more than enough action to fill this issue to the brim.

The plot is highly intriguing, enticing the reader with its mysteries and curiosities, and then digging its teeth in and not letting up till the very last page. The characterization is top-notch, with Gillen staying true to the personalities granted these characters by previous writers, while also injecting enough of his own style to keep things fresh and new. Readers unfamiliar with these characters shouldn’t find themselves at all lost, as this serves as a perfect introduction to characters both new and old.

It’s also great to see Kid Loki taking front and center in the story—in fact, the character manages to steal the limelight in pretty much every scene he appears in. Those who have finished Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery will know that this isn’t exactly the same Loki that readers have come to love over the last couple of years, so it should be interesting to get to know this new incarnation, as well as what has motivated him to lend a helping hand. As always, whenever Loki is involved, things are never quite as they seem.

The issue finishes with quite a surprising cliffhanger, which promises all sorts of excitement for the next issue. Although, it looks very much like this will again be a Wiccan/Hulking/Loki issue, leaving the other characters sidelined again. Hopefully we get to see some sort of follow-up to the Hawkeye/Marvel Boy storyline that opened the first issue, as this was notably absent from this second issue.

The artwork on display in this second issue is nothing less than spectacular. Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton have just outdone themselves here, creating some beautifully clean and bright looking panels that suit the feel of the story down to a T. McKelvie and Norton already have quite similar styles, but they work together so well here that it almost feel like the work of one artist rather than two. The look of their elegant and refined linework is finished off by some vibrant color art from Matt Wilson that makes the panels just pop out of the page. The end result is final artwork that looks neat, uncluttered, fresh, and slightly minimalist.

This minimalist aesthetic really comes to the forefront on two of the issue’s best pages, where Wiccan and Hulkling are imprisoned in some sort of void holding cells. The pages consist of nine panels of mostly white space, but McKelvie and Norton play around with this format to make the pages look interesting and exciting, with most of the action actually taking place within the panel borders. It’s very creative, and highly visually striking.

With the pedigree involved, Young Avengers was always going to be a good book, but the creative team has really gone above and beyond the call of duty, to create something truly stunning—a gripping comic filled with fascinating characters and enticing mysteries. The team wowed audiences with the series debut, and this second issue really cements the series’ reputation as one of the best new superhero comics of 2013.


Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #4

Written by J. Michael Staczynski

Art by Adam Hughes and Laura Martin

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Call this Schrodinger's Prequel — it's neither new nor classic, but instead more of a slower, prettier retelling of everything we already knew in the original Watchmen. But that's a real shame, because Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan should be a superb read, not a book you will only remember for one quirky production choice.

You've probably heard this elsewhere, but if not, DC makes the interesting decision to actually turn the comic upside-down through a portion of this story, showing the key moment where Doctor Manhattan's biggest error in judgment turned the world upside-down. It's a cool moment, but ultimately that shouldn't be the memorable beat in this concluding issue. The problem is, most of this stuff we've already seen before, either in the original Watchmen or in Len Wein's Before Watchmen: Ozymandias. J. Michael Straczynski adds a little bit of poetic flourish to the dialogue, but it's way too little, way too late.

Adam Hughes' artwork, however, is the saving grace of this book. His characters are gorgeous, and I love the lush inking that delineates the characters from their environments. A two-page sequence filled with panels evokes Ozymandias's monitor room with aplomb, and for the most part his muscular sense of style keeps even the talkier pages from falling too flat. Colorist Laura Martin also does superb work embuing Hughes with energy and warmth, especially the touches of blue throughout the book.

But despite comics being a visual medium, people also come back for the story. And that doesn't really work here. You've seen Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan before, and nothing you'll read in these 22 pages is going to add anything to Alan Moore's original work. This definitely is a nice platform for Hughes and Martin to strut their stuff, but that's pretty much the only draw for this bloodless book.


The Legend of Luthor Strode #3

Written by Justin Jordan 

Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobriero

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Legend of Luthor Strode is the kind of book that’s fully aware of the tropes into which it plays. Writer Justin Jordan goes all out for his action sequences, but still uses the damsel-in-distress as an emotional anchor for the reader. At this point, Luthor is so feral that any sympathy we had for him is swallowed up by the chaotic violence that occurs around him.

Jordan balances his action well with a history that keeps getting richer with every issue. Where we thought the Librarian was the only other person with Luthor’s talents, we learned differently last issue. Here, we see a great knock down, drag out between Luthor and Binder with Binder filling in the gaps through dialogue, but the conversation never gets old. In fact, what Binder reveals is the most riveting information to date and when we meet his “Plan B,” readers will see just how dangerous things are going to get or both Luthor and Petra.

The comic is also packed with action, but has such a gripping story to go along with it. I honestly think I read this book in five minutes — it’s the definition of a page-turner. Jordan’s quick paced storytelling makes the comic a quick read, and every piece of action is cleverly presented so that when death and destruction occur, it feels like an organic extension of the story.

But the majority of the credit should go to Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobriero. Moore’s sleek and sharp pencil work is a thing of beauty. I love the transitions between stationary moments and character movements. The ink lines, reminiscent of Sean Murphy’s work in Punk Rock Jesus, depict movement that never clutters up the page, and they add a sense of urgency to an already speedy story. Luthor’s monstrous, terrifying demeanor make him a force of nature, and the fight between him and Binder is paced perfectly in its moment-by-moment nature.

Sobriero’s colors also bring the book to life, particularly when he gives the imagery a charcoal and paint-like finish. This occurs a few times in the book, and it’s always used for dramatic effect, but each time it appears, the visuals become a work of art and the book is the kind of comic that you’ll want to continue flipping through because of how gorgeous it is.

Justin Jordan is definitely giving his first arc a run for its money in The Legend of Luthor Strode. Where Luthor is no longer relatable, now we have Petra to be our link to the work. Plus the addition of Binder to the story means that Luthor has someone who can fight on his level, and given what we’re shown in the comic, I don’t think Binder is the only person who Luthor has to fear.

Because of this mixture of story and art, the comic offer many reasons for readers to come back every month and this makes The Legend of Luthor Strode one of the most original books on the market.


Punisher War Zone #5

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: 8 out of 10

I'll tell it like it is: Punisher War Zone is a great Avengers book. But for Frank Castle? Maybe a little bit of an anticlimax.

Call it the nature of the beast. We know the Punisher is in a new team book — Thunderbolts — so we know he won't be killed, or even incarcerated for too long. But there's something to be said for execution, and Greg Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico do deliver on that score. I would love to see Rucka tackle Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as he plays off the different personalities of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America and more in a way that just seems flawless. The fact that the reader actually finds all this exciting is another smart trick on Rucka's part, considering half the time they're getting their collective cans kicked by one dude with a gun!

Di Giandomenico's artwork also looks positively sick. I love the different uses of body language for the different characters, from Spidey swinging upside-down to Black Widow engaging in an acrobatic kick to the way Iron Man lithely flies through the air. Make no mistake, this book is Di Giandomenico's tryout for the big leagues, and I truly believe he's landed the dismount. His characters are smooth and expressive, his fight choreography is brutal, his composition always leads us to the next punch—give this man a big book, he absolutely deserves it.

The only problem with this book is, well, it feels a little anticlimactic. Do you really think that Frank is going to beat the entire Avengers lineup? And what do you think Rucka will do with the sidekick Rachel Cole, who he's been building up since his first issue? The answer — and the ending — is obvious, so it's a little disappointing as a whole. And the big problem this book has ultimately is Frank still is an absence of a character rather an a compelling lead — he may get his shots in, but this book has been all about the guest stars. Still, this series in general has been way better than it had any right to be, and I'd gladly read an Avengers reunion with this creative team any day of the week.


Courtney Crumrin #10

Written by Ted Naifeh

Art by Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

To be perfectly honest, I don't think a lot of Courtney Crumrin fans saw this one coming. After eleven years, Ted Naifeh finishes what he started with Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things and delicately puts it aside should he ever want to return. But for now, the end is here and it has a fitting end to this long journey.

The timeline is a bit askew as we don't find Courtney right after the events of the last issue, but right after her memory was wiped. The world is a bit different with the kids of no longer fearing her (though still bully her), but Courtney still tries to find solace knowing her Uncle Aloysius does not have much longer to live. Now there's something here that was hinted at a few issues back with Courtney's poetry. We finally see her power come into fruition and the effects change this world even more than I had anticipated. Naifeh leaves some bits pretty ambiguous, mainly the mysterious appearance of Courtney's now-brother, Wilberforce. The last few pages gives us scenarios being played out in this world, wrapping up characters' subplots and giving us somewhat happy endings. The soliloquy at the end is some of the deepest dialog the series has ever known and hits you hard.

With this being the finished piece to the Courtney Crumrin puzzle finally into play, I expected for Naifeh to rev the artistic engine and go for broke. Instead, we get more of the standard fair. It's not bad, per se, but coming off of some strong visuals earlier in the series, the art here just doesn't seem on par in comparison. Colorist Warren Wucinich fairs equally as well, adding light purples and deep grays giving the issue the proper mood. Near the end, it gets a bit repetitive and I would have liked to add some different shades here and there, giving the pages a bit more magic, but Wucinich still matches Naifeh's art style well.

The final pages with Courtney and the Crumrin clan leaving Hillsbourough hits all the right notes and is something you would want from a final issue of a story. The very last page especially with Aloysius' ghost looking on from his home. It's haunting, yet comforting at the same time. Should Naifeh ever want to return to this world, he could, but from the sound of things Courtney's story has been told, and what a story it was.


Seven Percent #1

Written by Jeremy Fiest

Art by Jarreau Wimberly

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Red 5 Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Released digitally by Red 5 Comics, Seven Percent is about the human potential to fully tap into the powers of the brain. The only problem is that the scientist who’s been working on this has only found a way to get people up to 93% capacity before they go nuts, hence the title of the comic.

The comic also takes place in the future, 3499 to be exact. In reading Seven Percent, you’ll think of The Matrix, Star Wars, Blade Runner and a host of other stories that take place in apocalyptic, metaphysical or futuristic or settings. Despite this, however, Seven Percent feels very original and Jeremy Fiest makes sure to populate the book with interesting characters so that the focus is not on the world, but on the people within it.

I was worried that the comic would be exposition heavy, but Fiest finds a way to catch readers up without bogging the story down. The inclusion of several likable and humanized characters makes the transition from reality to fantasy easy as well. While the story is narrated by a scientist, Fiest focuses more on a soldier named Lambert. Lambert is the archetype of the hero — rugged, confident, but also caring and grounded.  The additional side kicks add the right touches of humor to break up the seriousness.

Fiest also gives us some great action, basically dividing the comic in half so that the first part is the background and set up, and the second part is the excitement. Sparse dialogue contributes to this as well, making the comic a quick read. Jarreau Wimberly contributes to this with his detailed style which has a mixture of painted backgrounds and drawn characters. Imagine a Fiona Staples like set up, except Wimberly is less refined in his art. His style is more rough and gritty, but as equally detailed and original.

The final panel is a great cliff hanger, and I’m definitely interested to see how the story plays out. At this point, tapping into the Sci-fi genre means you’re going to weave in and out of other stories, settings and characters. Seven Percent does this, but it also leaves an original impression at its conclusion. The story is intriguing and the art is engaging. I’m interested to see what happens when the other seven percent of the brain is accessed. Hopefully, other people will be as well.

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