Best Shots Reviews: AGE OF ULTRON, EARTH 2, HELHEIM, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, as we take a look at the week's biggest releases! So let's kick off today's column with the next big event in the Marvel Universe, as we take a look at the first issue of Age of Ultron...


Age of Ultron #1

Written by Bryan Michael Bendis

Art by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Just when you thought you'd wake up to your friendly neighborhood Marvel Universe... suddenly that universe is gone.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: What happens on the day that evil wins? We saw it in 2008 with DC's , and that's ultimately the same flavor Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch brings to their first issue of Age of Ultron. Yet as far as opening salvos go, this one hits hard, utilizing Hitch's widescreen sensibilities to really make a good first impression.

Even though Bendis is tapping into his inner Michael Bay in terms of scale, it's the art that sets this book apart from your standard event fare right now. Bryan Hitch sells this post-apocalyptic wasteland with every panel, from the downed S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier in Central Park to the techno-wreckage strewn across New York City's broken buildings to the looks of pain on a bad guy's face as he gets an arrow through the neck. The level of detail Hitch brings is pretty astonishing, and that disheveled quality is perfect for this issue's protagonist: Marvel's most disheveled, rough-and-tumble superhero, Hawkeye.

As far as pacing and scripting go, we're down in the trenches right with Clint, as we go through a story that reads pretty differently than any other Bendis book I've ever read. Yeah, there's that occasional riff of naturalistic dialogue ("The world's gone to hell and you stick with bows and arrows? This is why no one likes you!" the Owl shouts at Hawkeye), the first two-thirds of this issue are pretty action-oriented. While there will be some who want to have their explanation now, I'm kind of digging the abrupt rise in stakes and lethality going on here — anybody who thinks this book is going without a body count is going to be sorely mistaken.

With a solid cliffhanger image that makes you wonder how Marvel's best and brightest are going to assemble their way out of this one, I'm feeling hopeful about Age of Ultron. Granted, I've been burned before — started off strong, too, and then seized up and died along the finish line — and the similarities to DC's cast a bit of a shadow over whether or not Bendis and company will be able to stick the landing. But with Bryan Hitch throwing haymakers with every page, this is a first impression that really sticks with you. It may be rock bottom for Marvel's Avengers, but this is definitely a book on the rise.


Earth 2 #10

Written by James Robinson

Art by Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Dezi SIenty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

James Robinson’s Earth 2 is now delving into the more magical aspects of the DCU with his “Tower of Fate.” While still tugging at the threads of the previous arc, Robinson is laying new mysteries by introducing both Wotan and Dr. Fate into the New 52. The result is an uneven, if interesting comic that suffers from trying to do too much with its characters, story and dialogue.

While the focus is on Dr. Fate, Flash and Wotan, the comic also tries to keep Earth 2’s Green Lantern and Hawkgirl in the mix as well. These moments feel out of place with the central focus of the book, however, and they end up impeding the climax so that a moment which was meant to carry some serious weight loses its flow by the minor breaks in the main story.

The comic is also too word heavy. Excessive dialogue makes the book a laborious read, not because the information isn’t interesting, but because of how cumbersome it’s constructed. Wotan in particular suffers from this with his continuously stereotypical statements and choppy, bulleted bad guy language. He’s a bit too much of a cliche, so where he’s meant to be the arch nemesis of Dr. Fate, he comes across as a just another villain in a line of villains to be introduced in the series.

When Robinson shifts to Alan Scott, all we see is Scott on a tear trying to find out why his boyfriend Sam was killed. His search is squashed in between moments filling in the background for the Tower of Fate, and therefore feel completely out of place. Robinson attempts to create a dramatic pause with this shift, but the moment is ill timed and the quick shit to Green Lantern and Hawkgirl pulls away from Flash and Dr. Fate just when their story was getting good.

Artist Nicola Scott, however, does some of her best work yet. The interior of the Tower of Fate is intricately detailed and a showcase of her talents and abilities. The few moments we see of Khalid as Dr. Fate are great teasers for when the character makes his first full appearance. Scott’s work really comes to life with Alex Sinclair’s vibrant colors which are particularly offset by the dreariness of the sets around them. Flash and Green Lantern benefit the most from this and their colorful designs.

Robinson is aptly building his world, and clearly he’s enjoying the clean slate he was handed to introduce the wonders. So far, the villains Robinson has introduced are less than stellar, and Wotan is another paltry bad guy. But the heroes of the story are carrying it, and Earth 2 is least interesting because of them.


Helheim #1

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Joelle Jones and Nick Filardi

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What we have here are two Oni alumni teaming up and wreaking some serious havoc in all the best ways. Cullen Bunn certainly has had the rise from obscurity in the past three years to writing some of Marvel's top characters, to even headlining . Joelle Jones has some wonderful material on her resume, but something has been missing to catapult her to bigger accolades . Helheim could easily be that platform.

Set in the wintry landscape of viking warlords...and zombies, Helheim sort of plays out like a Shakespearan drama. There's supernatural elements, a pair of lovers, and takes place in the early Middle Ages where superstition and the sword ruled. Rikard is a noble viking warrior who sees a ghost before battle and lays the groundwork that this isn't a typical story you'll find in the history books. Rikard is beheaded by the demons that haunt the land, but that is not the end to his story. It is suspected that Rikard's lover, Bera, is not exactly the holiest of beings and it's proven when she brings Rikard back in true Frankenstein fashion.

Bunn has a great idea on his hands and hopefully the rest can be just as fleshed out (pardon the pun) as what we have in this first issue. It's accessible with no-nonsense dialogue that brings these characters to life and gives the world a tangible feel. Letterer Ed Brisson has a great style that allows for Jones' art to take flight and doesn't clutter the pages.

Speaking of Ms. Jones, she is truly a rockstar here. Her fluctuation between heavy and lighter brushstrokes with her inking just gives this book a visual soundtrack of Iron Maiden and Dragon Force. At times her style reminds me of a softer Jock with the jaggedness, but the action scenes are uncanny. There are pages where aren't any dialog or captions and Jones just rocks them like a Slash solo. While she handles the blood and zombie evisceration with ease, she still gives Bera her feminine allure without over-sexualizing the character. Colorist Nick Filardi also deserves great praise on coloring duties. Jones is rarely colored outside of her own doing, and Filardi found a perfect palette and tone that suits the barbaric landscape and line work.

Helheim is a fine sword and sorcery tale with a great twist at the end. Bunn and Jones have a potential hit on their hands and it's such a great read with an unlimited amount of room to grow. If you're looking to expand on something other than capes and cowls, give this book a go.


Colder #5

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Juan Ferreyra, Eduardo Ferreyra and Laura Binaghi

Lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Jose Camacho

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

While marketed as a horror comic, Colder as a series brought more than just chills to its readers. We were treated to a small but complete cast of characters, a creative storyline and a glimpse into a wondrous world.

Colder is one of those few pieces of media that fits perfectly into the dark fantasy space. While at times gory or twisted, this series introduced us to a surreal world and incredible characters. Tobin and Ferreyra managed to create a story with substance without forcing its more macabre moments. They find the right balance of gruesome but never border on tasteless. This final issue has a great example where Nimble Jack literally reaches into Declan's mind. Some readers might be uncomfortable by it but most will enjoy it as part of the series' brand of magic.

Colder #5 opens with our protagonist, Declan, being sent back into a comatose state. Tobin takes this as an opportunity to give us a bit of background into Declan and Nimble Jack's decades-old conflict. The flashback used in this issue was well-placed since there were some questions about how their cat-and-mouse game started.

While Reece's role in this issue was minor, Tobin does give her possibly the best lines of the series and makes her indispensable. Thanks to this issue, readers will see her role as more of a muse than just a simple “damsel in distress.”

One thing that I cannot say enough is that Nimble Jack is one creepy dude. His mysterious origins, eccentric vocabulary (provided by Paul Tobin) and spider-like moves (drawn by Juan Ferreyra) make him a very memorable villain. His slight resemblance (and propensity for smiling) to a certain Clown Prince of Gotham does not hurt either. This issue saw him at his most predatory, literally carrying Declan away to feast on him.

In terms of the characters, the juxtaposition between Nimble Jack and Declan is delivered superbly by both Tobin and Ferreyra. Tobin tells us that Nimble Jack was driven by hunger and Declan stopped eating decades ago. Ferreyra shows us how Nimble Jack bounces around like a gymnast using walls, roofs, doorways and realities to get around while Declan was comatose.

That bond even translated to Eduardo Ferreyra and Laura Binaghi's colors. Declan's icy blue skin was in sharp contrast to Nimble Jack's pasty pigmentation. The multi-chromatic rays that appeared when they “drained” insanity showed that they were connected. It was a creative way to show that while they were very dissimilar, they were tied to each other.

The art team did an amazing job and giving us glimpses into the “insane” world but the colors team really shone. They made both our dimension and the “insane” dimension seem a bit too similar. It helped add to the thrill and suspense of the series. In this issue, it had a dizzying effect since readers could forget whether they were in Reece's apartment, a flashback or the “insane” world.

Juan Ferreyra's art was consistent throughout the series. This issue was the cherry on top since the fight between Nimble Jack and Declan was awesome. Juan's attention to detail shone especially when it came to the action. When Declan broke a wine bottle on Nimble Jack's face, we all felt it. The trajectory of the swing and the “splash” seemed devastating. Also going back to an earlier example, when Nimble Jack reached into Delcan's face, we all cringed. Skin just does not stretch that way.

Colder #5 was the epic conclusion to a thrilling series. It packed a lot of great elements of the series: the humor, the chills, the “insane” world and the creepy dude, Nimble Jack. Fans of fantasy's more dreary side should without a doubt look into this fun series. Here's to hoping Tobin and Ferreyra bring us a second serving!


Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Lee Beremejo and Barbara Ciardo

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The pretense of Before Watchmen: Rorschach seems to be centered on what makes Walter Kovacs Rorschach, and why he puts on the mask. Clearly, Azzarello attempts to show that not anyone can go out and be a hero. To be the hero Rorschach is takes more than brute strength and lack of fear.

Yet this idea is not clearly articulated in this final issue, and a lot of what Azzarello was building to feels deflated and anti-climactic. The killer stalking the women of New York, the gangster Rawhead and Walter’s capture are all handled, but poorly. The one interesting moment is when Rawhead puts on Rorschach’s mask, and then starts to internalize his own distress, using the mask as a way to cope with his demons while not exposing his vulnerabilities.

But with this newfound sense of self, Rawhead goes out to fight looters in the New York blackout. His demise, however, is reminiscent of Boba Fett — the greatest threat in the galaxy dealt with through clumsy shifting of feet. Rawhead meets a similar fate, yet with attenuated resolution. Rorschach also deals with the man accused of murdering women, but we’ve seen this before and nothing the character does adds any depth to his established persona.

The positive is Lee Beremejo, who has some great detailed shots of the main hero. In the earlier part of the comic, some of the backgrounds feel wasted but the intense detail Beremejo puts into his character designs more than makes up for this. Close up shots are where he does his best work, and the final pages off set the darkness of the book through a brilliant mix of colors.

Before Watchmen: Rorschach started strong, but then fizzled in the end. Partially it’s the directionless story, but Rorschach was already so defined in Watchmen that Azzarello really had nothing to add to the character. I like the idea of a story of Rorschach’s early years, but this story lacks any lucid purpose. Ultimately, we’re left with a comic that looks good, but is hollow at its core.


Sex #1

Written by Joe Casey

Art by Piotr Kowalski

Published by Image Comics

Review by Forrest C. Helvie

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Sex #1 introduces readers to Simon Cooke, a recently retired superhero who attempts a return to civilian life as a captain of industry in spite of a clear lack of interest on his part to return to a “normal” lifestyle. This comic was billed as an exploration of the questions of how the superhero lifestyle would coincide with sex and sexuality. It’s an incredibly interesting conversation that needs to take place in superhero comics today; unfortunately, this first issue seems trade in a thoughtful discussion in favor of a hard-core, voyeuristic experience at the end of the issue as the reader joins Cooke in his secluded peep show while two costumed women engage one another in various sexual acts.

Now, no one should be surprised by encountering visual depictions of sex in this book given its title. But, it is context that helps readers understand whether these sexual acts serve to drive plot or simply titillate the reader. Sex #1 provides little backstory to Simon Cooke other than bits and pieces from dialogue told to the reader by various characters, but the reader sees nothing from his past—no hero in his costume, no displays of power. When readers are simply told something as opposed to seeing it, as the case in this first issue, it is a failure of the narrative given the visual nature of the comics medium.

What we do see is a disinterested owner of a vast corporate entity who we are told became a superhero and retired at the bequest of a dying friend or family member—though the nature of this relationship is not explained. First issues can be slow, but this one offers far too little insight into the psychology of the superhero. If we are to understand his sexual deviations from conventional beliefs of sex—and arguably, apply this discussion across the superhero genre as a whole—then we need to know who are heroes are before we dig into their psychosexual entanglements.

Moreover, readers need to be given an incentive to care—or at the very least, relate to—the character if they are going to continue to follow his or her story. Instead, Cooke finishes his day at the office, goes to a peep show—for no known reason—and gazes upon these women with no noticeable interest in what he is seeing, and there the story ends.

The artwork is fairly strong and consistent throughout #1. Kowalsky’s use of colors and inks are effectively used to create a brooding atmosphere and one that often conveys a sense of grit and grime. Casey does not need to tell his readers that this is a noir-esque setting, as Kowalsky’s artistic rendering of the landscape and characters show this to be the case.

And yet it's his panel composition during the peep show that prove most problematic. Are his close-ups on the various sex-hibitionists’ body parts meant to represent what Cooke is seeing? If so, that would indicate an intense interest on his part; yet, what we see of Cooke is an absolute detachment from the activity taking place in front of him. There is no look of intense interest or scrutiny; and so, it raises the issue as to whether these close-ups are meant for another viewer instead—the reader.

This again brings back the issue as to whether this comic aims to open a thought-provoking discussion about superheroes and sex or simply feed into interests of readers looking for a tamer, more Westernized version of hentai. With the lack of in-depth character development up to this point and the immediate jump into the girl-on-girl action, it seems clear this first issue is more intent on generating sensationalistic buzz than a sensational exploration of superhero psychology.

In all fairness, it is likely writer Joe Casey will expand upon Cooke’s backstory in future issues thereby helping to readers uncover what sort of possible relationship there is between his protagonist’s desire to be a superhero and sexual fulfillment he finds in this lifestyle. If that is the case, this issue may simply represent the growing pains of figuring how to tell this sort of story. And for this comic to move past being labeled pornographic, it needs to do so and do so quickly. Unfortunately, there is simply is little depth to this first issue to draw readers back in for a second issue—unless it is the promise of a comic that will provide readers with a dose of explicit content in their funny books.


Superman #17

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Blond

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

It's easy to pan a book. Seriously, anybody who's ever been on the Internet knows that snark comes cheap—and I imagine few in the comics industry know that better than Scott Lobdell, who's been a controversial writer since DC's New 52 first began.

So let's give the snark a rest and go for substance instead. Superman #17 is a tough read to get through, no question—but instead of just waxing vitriolic, the bigger question in my mind is... why?

Part of this conclusion's problem is a lack of focus. The "H'el on Earth" storyline quickly spun from a Superman-centric story to his entire family with Superboy and Supergirl, to then including the entire Justice League. Lobdell has to put his genie back in the bottle, and that unfortunately burns through precious page space, explaining why the same Justice League who helped break into the Fortress of Solitude is now collectively performing monitor duty up in space.

Unfortunately, that leaves Lobdell with not one protagonist, but four, with Superman having to share space with Wonder Woman, Superboy and Supergirl—and unfortunately, that leaves poor Clark for punching and exposition duty, while Supergirl winds up actually getting things done. Superman doesn't actually get the knockout here, and considering this arc was supposed to be about him, that's pretty disappointing.

The pacing also doesn't help, as Lobdell fakes us out with who the villain of this piece really is. The introduction of the gigantic space creature known as the Oracle winds up being as nebulous as it gets, and winds up eating five out of 20 pages—and the first five pages, at that. For those who haven't been keeping score with this title, that makes a difficult learning curve even more difficult, as not is Superman fighting for spotlight in his own book, but the main villain has to struggle to get people to remember him.

The other problem I've seen with this book is that it feels like the writing and the art are working in spite of each other, not in concert as partners. Kenneth Rocafort's characters are beautiful—and Blond's colorwork especially lends a gorgeous painterly energy to the page—but style isn't everything here. First off, the interplay with Lobdell doesn't quite work well, with pages being filled with threatening amounts of captions and balloons.

The actual layouts for this book are also pretty confusing, with Rocafort favoring panels that look like shattered glass. That's fine when the context actually suits itself with, say, a broken window, but a blood-spattered sequence of flashbacks feels pretty forced and artificial. Finally, Rocafort's big misstep is just his composition, with characters often reading so small that we can barely make out any details or memorable expressions.

Combining all this with a surprisingly complicated sci-fi plot (all of it is just geek-speak for "H'el's going to blow up the world!"), and this is definitely a tough book to make sense of, let alone a book that makes you root for Clark Kent as a hero. To be honest, even with his name on the cover, this doesn't even really feel like Superman's story. What once started as a new Bizarro story has taken on its own new identity, but Superman has become so convoluted and scatterbrained that only diehard fans of Lobdell or Rocafort's work need apply. And believe me—that's a lose-lose for everybody.

Pellet Review!


Snapshot #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There will always be something pleasing about reading the heroics of a kid who loves comics. This has been around forever, but Andy Diggle and Jock really have something special in Snapshot. Diggle is able to capture the young adult voice better than most writers attempting (and failing) this. It’s the emotionally driven, almost spastic, actions of protagonist Jake that make him so likeable in the first place. Also, the books addition of non-colored Jock art is unique. It’s always cool to pull back to curtain on an amazing talent, like Jock, and see the inks under the colors. High-octane from the start and unrelenting emotional stakes makes Snapshot #2 a must. 

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