Best Shots: Batman, Punisher, Scud, She-Hulk and More

Exclusive DC Preview: Batman #682

Been a big week for comics. First off, let’s check the BSEs . . .

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1

X-Men Noir #1

Secret Invasion #8

JSA: The Kingdom #1

. . . then get going!

Batman #682

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Whether you thought it was a masterpiece or felt that it was worthy of the wastebasket, there is no question that "Batman R.I.P." was a very spicy meatball. Which is why I think Batman #682 was just the Alka Seltzer-like relief this reader needed following one of the Dark Knight's most controversial storylines. To be clear, though, this issue had me asking my peers as many questions as I had per chapter of "R.I.P.," but there was a relative clarity I felt pervaded "The Butler Did It" that made it an overall enjoyable read. The talkback feature of this week's Best Shots may be working overtime with readers discussing where this story fits in the bigger Final Crisis picture, and I'll let you know up front that I will dwell on that very little in favor of evaluating this issue on its own merits.

Not surprising that the regular Batman artist, Tony Daniel, got a brief break from the book with this two-part "Last Rites" story, and while I've been in the camp that's supported his recent work, the art we get here from Lee Garbett serves Grant Morrison's script very well. Not sure I've ever encountered Garbett's work before (any feedback on that is welcome, if you please), though he seems to provide a good visual outlet for Morrison's madcap schemes. Garbett reminded me a lot of JLA-era Howard Porter with a dash of Tom Grummett, and he ably handles the myriad of historical nuances found throughout this tale of Bruce Wayne's life seemingly flashing before his eyes.

As "The Butler Did It" begins, it's obvious that we're brought back to the evening in Bruce Wayne's life when he receives the omen that inspires him to don bat-attire for his war on crime. Accompanying this flashback is an internal conversation seemingly between Bruce and his lifelong confidant, Alfred. The more I read this story, the more it surprised me in terms of accessibility. If you had stayed away from "R.I.P" at all, I'm sure you could jump on here and feel relatively up to speed if you have a good general familiarity with the lead character. Since Morrison got the keys to this book, he's had a lot of fun digging up characters and concepts from decades past. Where #682 succeeds is integrating some dated aspects of Batman lore into his contemporary legend. We get a look at classic Bruce Wayne paramour, Julie Madison, as always depicted as the one who got away. Another love of his life is covered, Batwoman, though I have to wonder if Morrison's genuinely reintegrated her into Batman's history or if she's a figment of his imagination, never mind the fact that it begs the question "HOW does she fit in?" The main reason for posing this question is that the deeper into the story we get the more it becomes clear that Bruce's recollections are actually prompted by a malicious threat seen months ago (yeah, it's been that long) in Final Crisis.

Merely uttering the two words "Final Crisis" (It's right there on the cover, too!) may be enough to scare off some DC fans weary of the crossover madness, but I was impressed how it did not seem to drag the story into a morass of difficult-to-navigate continuity. Something else in the favor of "Last Rites" is that the conclusion of this two-parter is only another couple of weeks away, so any questions you may have on how this story fits into the big picture are likely to be answered very, very soon. Godspeed, Batman.

The Punisher X-Mas One-Shot

Writer: Jason Aaron

Artist: Roland Boschi

Colorist: Daniel Brown

Letterer: Cory Petit

Cover: Chris Bachalo

Marvel Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

Splash the walls with grey matter splatter, fa-la-la-la-la…Well, it’s the holiday season again and just as inedible fruitcake is the annual tradition, so is an over-the-top murder spree in the name of vengeance by Charles Bronson’s number one fan, Frank Castle. This time, Jason Aaron of Scalped fame is at the helm, and while it’s an adrenaline-fueled read, Mr. Aaron hews pretty close to the boilerplate formula that keeps the Punisher character trapped inside a single-dimension.

From the jump, we’re ensconced in a womb of familiarity that defines unimaginative attempts at holiday-themed crime noir: the seedy Irish bar on Christmas Eve, decorated predictably with a Santa deep into his cups and a priest about to join him, the latter raging at the death of faith at the hands of mortal weakness, a breath away from blaming MTV. (It’s a pretty standard set-up, apparently all the rage, as Gregg Hurwitz will open next week’s “Flies to a Spider” issue of Wolverine with a similar seedy bar scene, filling the seats with bikers instead.) The focus of the priest’s ire is a cabal of wiseguys taking up space in the corner, although why they’re squatting in an Irish bar instead of some place whose name ends in a syllable is the issue’s biggest mystery. After the obligatory “Say hello to my little friend!” Punisher moment, the rest of the issue is a race between Frank, goons, three goateed hitmen, and a pimp named Shepherd (get it? Shepherd. Christmas.), to kill a mobster’s about-to-be-born. Now, it wouldn’t be a Christmas issue if the plot couldn’t somehow be tied back into the spirit or origin of the season, and Mr. Aaron does this adeptly, if not forcibly fortuitous. There’s even a couple panels stolen from the movie Shoot ‘em Up for good measure.

The artwork by Roland Boschi is a form of controlled chaos, at times hinting at an emulation of John Romita, Jr., but failing when close-ups or continuity are required. I will give him this, however: the man knows how to set up panels of action that really lend a cinematic kind of quality to the work. Too often the Punisher is rendered over-the-top fantastic in his methods and maniacally kill-crazy, while under Mr. Boschi’s pencils he looks methodical and simply lethal. I think, though, that overall the issue would have been better served with someone like Paul Azaceta or Alex Maleev drawing.

It has to be tough to do thirty-four pages and try to plumb depths that haven’t been explored before, ad nauseum, for a one-trick pony like Herr Castle. Having it under the Marvel Max imprint is certainly a boon, but this issue feels like violence and profanity simply for the sake of it. One missed plot enhancer is when word hits the street that a million dollar bounty is on the mobster’s child and Shepherd our enterprising pimp sniffs opportunity. That’s on page eighteen, and certainly spice for the mix, except that our erstwhile bounty hunter quickly becomes a footnote and the reader has to wonder if he was simply a healthy dose of added melamine as a means to beef the page count and justify the cover price.

Wile the Punisher’s main title has certainly held its own under the stewardship of Garth Ennis, these holiday one-offs simply beg to have craftsmen such as Brubaker, Rucka, or Hurwitz take a shot and make them meaningful. Gregg Hurwitz did it with Wolverine last year, which I believe set the bar by which all others should be judged. This issue is twenty minutes of entertainment, sure, but certainly not worth the cover price. I give it a C.

Scud, the Disposable Assassin: The Whole Schebang

Written by Rob Schrab, Dan Harmon and Mondy Carter

Illustrated by Rob Schrab

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

I had to buy this book, yet I did so with some fear in my heart. Scud, the Disposable Assassin was, after all, teenage Mike’s favorite comic book during its original run. My Newsarama co-hort Lucas Siegel likes to call himself a non-jaded comic book fan; I consider myself fairly positive about comics, but there’s probably a little crust on my comic-loving heart. Scud was a book that obliterated the cynicism and made me love comics with fanboy glee. I haven’t re-read those issues of Scud in nearly ten years; I didn’t even read the long-promised four-issue finale that Rob Schrab authored just last year. I held out for this mammoth collected edition, and I bought it despite that little voice in the back of my head saying, how can it measure up to your memories?

It actually surpassed them.

Here’s the premise: Scuds are disposable robot assassins. Buy one, and after it assassinates the target, it self-destructs. In this story, our hero Scud (Heartbreaker series, model 1373) is sent to kill a monstrous being called Jeff. Upon discovering his rather fatal flaw, Scud opts to maim Jeff, take her to the hospital and become a freelance assassin to afford her life support bills. Along the way, he gains a girlfriend, a sidekick and finds out that Jeff is the beast of the apocalypse, sticking Scud right in the middle of Heaven and Hell’s ultimate battle.

And that’s just plot. This book is pure attitude. Everything races so far over the top that nothing seems outlandish. Schrab manages to capture the zany, kinetic, anything-goes action of a fast-paced children’s cartoon, while stuffing the story with genre-twisting ideas (Ben Franklin, resurrected as a voodoo-practicing, zombie-controlling agent of Hell!) and snotty, pop culture-infused dialogue. Impressively, ten years after their original publication, the pop culture elements don’t date very much, since Schrab frequently referenced movies or songs that were timeless rather than then-trendy. And amid all that chaos, Schrab’s ability to instill his characters with heart is remarkable. If you can get through Drywall: Unzipped and not feel your heart breaking for Drywall, Mess and Percy, you are a cold, cold person.

Though it’s sometimes muddled and hard to follow – particularly during an epic battle involving Scud, Sussudio, Voodoo Ben, Spidergod’s army and Jeff and during the following chapter, telling of Scud’s trip to a world ruled by box office revenues – most of the art is good. The layouts vary in quality, but Schrab packs tons of panels and details into each page, and he’s very capable of delivering dramatic and hilarious sequences with equal skill.

Delivered with equal parts love of its influence and irreverence for the same, Scud, the Disposable Assassin: The Whole Schebang is pure comics. Anything goes, violence and sex rule, and Scud’s persistence and loyalty make him a robot you have to admire. And if I had to wait ten years for this type of ending, then it was definitely worth the wait.

Now, Rob, Dan, if you’re out there, I still have nine issues of La Cosa Nostroid I’m waiting on a conclusion to.


She-Hulk: Cosmic Collision #1

Marvel Comics

Writer: The underrated Peter David

Artist: Muhmud A. Asrar

Commentary by the dreaded Lady-Hero-Lover: Brian Andersen

Well, thanks a whole hell a lot, people! Because of your lack of support, She-Hulk is getting canceled. Again! For the third mother-fraking time. Ugh! I get criticized a lot for writing “glowing” reviews - or just reviews in general - about all the female-driven comic books out there, but I just can’t help but love a book starring a lovely lady hero. If that’s wrong, I just don’t want to be right. I say the comic book market needs more diversity; it needs books staring not only women, but Black heroes, Asian heroes, Latino heroes, heck, maybe even one day a gay hero. But it seems every time a comic has a lead “minority” character it doesn’t get the support it deserves; it lasts only a hand full of issues and gets quickly canceled and forgotten (Blue Beetle, She-Hulk, Manhunter, Midnighter, the list is too long to count). So, why is this ok? Isn’t this a more enlightened 21st century?

So, when then I heard about this latest cancellation of She-Hulk, I just got so disappointed - not only due to its cancellation, but I got disappointed in the comic book buying population in general. Since so many men buy comics, why don’t these same guys pick up these books? It can’t be because they all suck – which seems to be the ‘go-to’ excuse in the comment section below where this review will be posted. She-Hulk has been a fantastic read month in and month out and most of those books I mentioned above were expertly written, critically praised and given ample promotion. So what’s the excuse? Sexism? Racism? Maybe. But I’m not so sure there’s a simple reason to pinpoint what causes the failure in a more racially diverse hero book.

There is, however, I believe, a simple explanation in the case why a female-driven comic fails. I have stated - in my pervious much-maligned reviews on Newsarama - that I feel strongly that most of the men buying comics still can’t get past that school-yard fear of buying a comic that is meant for “girls.” For most guys, a comic starring a female hero is a comic meant for girls and a dude doesn’t want to be seen buying a girly book at his local comic book store. Because if they did, these same “men” are afraid they would look weak, or feminine, or *gasp* gay. Which is sad and lame. Isn’t the purpose of a female-driven comic to show that women aren’t weak (just as a gay man isn’t “weak”)? A true man should be man enough to support a female hero, despite this self-imposed stigma. Can a straight man love a woman hero not only because she’s smoking hot but because she’s a great character? I have my doubts.

So, for those of you who didn’t support She-Hulk: poop on you! This issue was fantastic and it was filled to bursting with lady heroes galore fighting and winning against tough, almost impossible odds. Isn’t that what we want from a good superhero story? These lady heroes win not only due to their brawniness, but because of their brains! And yes, Virginia, women heroes do have brains beyond their enormous boobies and French-cut uniforms. If you haven’t read She-Hulk, do yourself a solid and pick up this comic. It’s a stand-alone story and it’s filled with laughs, intrigue, awesome character interaction, and plenty of drama. You know, all the things that a comic staring a white male lead has; only this character doesn’t have her genitals on the outside.


Justice Society of America #21 (DC Comics; review by O.J) Hell hath no fury like a Gog scorned. Like there was any doubt that Gog granting many blessings was going to come at a price, we find out that his simple condition in return for all of his acts is to be worshiped, umm, unconditionally. As expected by anyone with a grasp of superhero storytelling, this doesn't go over well, and the two factions of the Justice Society (one pro-Gog, the other against) come together in hopes of dispatching this godlike figure. Can anyone find credits for this issue, by the way? Good thing the cover helps, because I believe the credits box was left off the book's interior by mistake. I could swear it looks like it was supposed to be on the bottom of the book's fourth page. Not that it was difficult to recognize that the art duties in "Saints and Sinners" are split this time around by Dale Eaglesham and Jerry Ordway. The overall production looks good, and it's fairly seamless, but before it was a matter of these two talents covering distinctive storylines with "One World, Under Gog," and in this issue they're literally swapping pages, presumably because Ordway's helping pick up the slack for Eaglesham. SPOILER ALERT: It's an engaging and entertaining read, though I wonder how many readers were surprised to see Gog undo most all of his generous acts to the various JSA members. The trick, I assume, is in the conclusion coming up next month as to what sticks. Worth mentioning that even at its most predictable, writer Geoff Johns & Co. continue to produce DC's best team title.

and after his thoughts on She-Hulk, Brian's just a little anxious to talk about more...

The New Avengers #47 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Blah. That’s pretty much how I felt about this fill-in “Avengers” issue. Blah, blah, blah. Let me be clear that I do love me some Brian Michael Bendis; for me the man rarely writes something that isn’t interesting or gripping, but this issue of New Avengers is just so fill-ery that I could barely get through it. What does it have to do with the Secret Invasion besides the last three or four pages and the freak-out by Jessica Jones? Not a lot, since this exact scene was pretty much shown in full over in Secret Invasion. Blah, I say! Plus, the cover has nothing to do with the story. I know you’re busy tying up the invasion and busting out the whole Dark Reign stuff, but I think for, even for you, Mr. Bendis, this issue was below par.

X-Men Manifest Destiny #4 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): I dunno about anyone else, but I find these fun little mini-mutant stories enjoyable. I am loving the twisted romantic/lusty dance between and Iceman and Mystique in the lead story – I’m so curious to see what Iceman will become once he gets this “cure” Mystique keeps talking about. The two other back-up stories, staring X-23 and Mercury and Nightcrawler, were both deeper character-driven pieces that help to elevate the book past a random good guy vs. bad guy fight story. I wonder if the market can sustain an oncoming anthology series with a shifting focus on various under-developed Marvel characters. Oh wait, it can’t; right, Marvel Comics Present? Bummer.

Terra #3 of 4 (DC; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Possibly the best issue of this series so far, this latest starts to dive right into the back-story of who this new Terra is. It’s definitely a fresh idea; she’s an underground world denizen sent to save and protect her underworld and the world above. Not sure if this new mythology will earn her praise of raspberries, but at least she’s not a dumb clone or something. So that’s good! Also, the diamond villain guy goes all Hamlet on his diamond-headed girlfriend and finally gets a motive to be crazy and evil. Fun stuff. Of course, for art by the always enjoyable Amanda Conner, this book is worth the read alone. So pick it up! Oh wait, it stars a lady hero, so never mind. Nice knowing ya’, Terra!

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #1 (DC: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Finally, a comic where a girl superhero can be girly and cute and fun and delightful and not have to look like a street-walker. Thank goodness this comic exists outside the normal comic buying market, as it has a chance to actually be a success. It’s a super fabulous read, the art is cartoony perfection, and the first issue leaves you wanting and hoping for more. Totally recommend this. A winner.

Hulk Family (Marvel: Reviewd by Brian Andersen): The lead story by Fred Van Lente, with gorgeous art by Scott Clark, is pure comic book gold. Humorous where it needs to be, actiony where it’s supposed to be, Hulky throughout, with a deep internal-superhero-psyche-turmoily thing going on, this story is firing on all cylinders. I predict big things in the future for Mr. Van Lente; I have yet to read a bad story written by him. My only other comment: Daughter of the Hulk? Despite the great story by Paul Tobin, do we really need a Daughter of the Freakin’ Hulk? A mini-wannabe, redunkulous red-haired She-Hulk? Oh man! Please make this some crazy dream and never, never, never bring her around again? Ugh! Double ugh!!

X-Infernus #1 (Marvel: Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Yay Illyanna! Bring her back to the regular Marvel U? Please, please, pretty please with a mini-bra-bikini on top? (Seriously, did you see her under-boobs hanging out of her bandana, I mean, top? Wow, someone’s gotta tell her that just because you live in hell doesn’t mean you should wear a top that is four sizes too small for you! For reals!) Whoever’s idea it was to originally turn her back into a kid and then kill her off was a royal doofus! Although, I don’t know how Illyanna can come back now that we have the new Kitty…I mean Jubilee…uh, Pixie haunting the X-books. Pixie is basically Illyanna-lite, complete with a dark side and a soul dagger and teleportation powers. So I guess Illyanna is pretty much screwed. But hey, I guess I will enjoy having the gal back for as long as it lasts. Something is better than nothing. Right? Right!

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