Best Shots Comic Reviews: YOUNG AVENGERS, TALON, More

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Best Shots has your Monday covered with this week's column! So let's kick off today's edition with a look at the third issue of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers… 


Talon #6

Written by James Tynion IV

Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Scott Snyder set the bar pretty high with his “Court of Owls” story arc. James Tynion, however, has found a way to make Talon its own book with its own mystery and mythos, and one that can stand on its own without the help of a book like Batman.

Granted, Snyder is co-plotter on this book, but the story is written by Tynion. In his hands, Calvin Rose is daring and powerful, while his supporting cast is persistent and clever. Casey Washington, in particular, is finally given room to show her intelligence and quick wit, the result of which adds another layer of depth to an already deep story.

Also, most of the comic is action and Calvin Rose is shown to be as resourceful as Batman. His escape from the other talons is well done, and the final pages of the comic bounce nicely between Calvin’s story and the reveal of a secret that’s been building since the first issue. Plus, the big brutish villain known as Felix Harmon keeps getting more and more interesting. Harmon has very few pages in the comic, but they are some of the best and he proves himself as a man willing to cross a lot of lines in order to get what he wants.

Plus Guillem March’s art is as sharp as ever. His ink lines are so faint that the characters never look blocky or uneven. In fact, because of the lack of inks, the imagery is cleaner than usual, and clearer than ever. Casey, in particular, looks heroic and powerful in every scene, and she has definitely moved beyond being a bit player.

I was unsure of how long Snyder and Tynion could keep Talon going before it started to lose its allure, but given the mystery revealed in this issue, it’s clear that they both have a lot of story to tell. The expanding cast of characters only adds to the depth of the tale, and the sordid history of certain characters is sure to be explored in later issues, particularly the mysterious Sebastian Clark. With Tynion and Snyder at the helm, I don’t think Talon can go wrong.


East of West #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

Lettering by Rus Wooten

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What can only be described as a supernatural, dystopian Western, East of West is a far cry from the usual comic book flair. At first glance, it seems that there's a lot to soak up - especially with the first few pages trying to set the stage, but it all comes across muddled. After that, it's a high-concept issue that has a solid story, but unlike Image's other big-name sci-fi book, Saga which simplified its world-building, East of West takes off like a wild stallion.

Here we have an alternative history of the United States, starting from the Civil War leading up to the year 2064. One of Hickman's strong points as a creator is building these complicated worlds, but it all feels like one massive information dump. The opening where we see the Three Horsemen (Conquest/War, Pestilence, and Famine) being reborn is cool enough. The part in which he starts setting the stage for this timeline just didn't work for me.

After that, the book pounds the gas pedal and doesn't let up. Hickman gives us an imaginative world and to simply say this is just about the Apocalypse, that would be missing the point. Hickman takes Biblical characters and gives them unique voices and attitudes we really haven't seen. Death's dialog is part Jules Winnfield, part Man With No Name, and all business.

The first thing you'll notice off the bat is the incredible art by Hickman's former FF accomplice, Nick Dragotta. There's a clashing of styles with the Old West with an almost "Blade Runner" type of visuals. Think 80's cartoon "Bravestarr", but on high-octane rocket fuel. There are still six-shooters and bayonets, but also mechanical horse-like contraptions, hovercrafts, and sleek architectural designs. Add in Frank Martin's limited, but rich color scheme, each page has a certain pop to it. You can hear the whiz and the roar of each machine as well as winds blowing in the desert.

With the backstory out of the way, it'll be fascinating to see where Hickman and Dragotta go from here. There were hints of things to come and what Death and his cronies want, but nothing more about them. Hickman has made Death a character the sort of mythical badass we all thought he was and then some. And while Hickman may have a few missteps, Dragotta just slays the art. It's the end of the world as they know it, and I'm feeling fine about where this book could be headed.


Mark Waid’s The Green Hornet #1

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Daniel Indro and Marcio Menyz

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

A pulp classic gets a reflective revamp in the hands of Mark Waid as this series that rests heavily on the writer’s reputation gets off to a bit of a troubling start.

It’s clear that Waid has a vision for this series, showing a reflective Britt Reid in his later years, thinking over what went wrong as the Green Hornet. The problem is that from the very start, I’m already questioning the timeline. Reid talks of smart phones, which indicates he is talking to us from 2013, but that would mean he’s somewhere in his nineties (assuming he is 20 at the time the action takes place), and the dialogue doesn’t match that of a man at death’s door.

I also found the narration intrusive, as Waid via Reid takes a reader through the background of the Green Hornet. The plotting style reminded me unfavorably of a Silver Age comic, with a lot of the narrative boxes explaining things that artist Daniel Indro shows just fine. I really wish Waid had let the art speak for itself, adding commentary only as needed. When he does this, the story really sings, such as when the Hornet is “participating” in criminal activity or in the scene where Reid in his role as newspaper publisher takes on the Governor. There are some great character moments (a criminal is obsessed with keeping his mahogany table clean) and other touches that are vintage Waid, but unfortunately, it’s buried in too much narration to be placed with his best work, such as Irredeemable.

This issue gets a big boost by the strong artwork of Indro and Marcio Menyz. From the introduction of the characters to the actions on the waterfront, the pair draw anything asked of them by Waid, using great visual tricks to keep the reader interested, even when the story runs heavy on exposition. The panels are full of dynamic vanishing points that draw the reader’s eyes, and Indro effortlessly slips between newspaper picture-like scenes and those designed to provide full-on action.

I really like how the art team provides a strong sense of place in this comic. The opening page walks us back in time, picking visuals that perfectly complement Waid’s reflection, and when we hit the 1940s, I am immediately immersed in the world. The clothing feels right out of a Hollywood set, and the locations look like they were researched rather than drawn without a guide. The coloring choices by Menyz do a lot to drive the story, whether it’s contrasting Reid’s bright green hornet costume with the darkened shadows of his world or providing a warm lighting for a restaurant scene.

The best parts of the art, though, are the action scenes. Dynamite seems to be hiring artists who understand that action should feel fluid and dynamic, something that can be an issue with other publishers on roughly the same level. When Kato destroys a table, we see the pieces flying back at the reader, with Kato’s foot square in the center of the shot. In another instance, Indro picks just the right moment to show the Hornet kicking a villain off the pier. The choices made by the artist can really change the feel of a story, and so far, this series has an artistic pair firing on all cylinders.

Waid’s stories work best when read with the long-game in mind. He’s definitely setting up an intricate plot that’s going to bring Britt Reid down to earth, but at the moment I have a lot of questions. I can’t tell if this is in continuity with the other Green Hornet comic, whether it’s in-universe or not (there are references to the Shadow and Lone Ranger), and how the timeline fits if Reid is in fact talking to us from today. There’s a lot of ground to be covered, but if you are a fan of Mark Waid, this is worth taking a look at. Just be prepared for a story whose payoff isn’t there yet.


Rachel Rising #15

Story and Art by Terry Moore

Published by Abstract Studio

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

How do you continuously make a series a perfect mix of intrigue and aesthetics? Ask Terry Moore. He’s been doing it for fifteen issues now.

Rachel Rising continues to find a way to balance horror and mysticism without losing the interest of its reader. Moore bridges the gap between his characters and his horror in this issue, moving from Jet to Rachel to a plague of rats clawing their way out of every faucet and spigot in town. The seamless transition between moments makes for a smooth read from the first page to the last.

Moore also works best in his character interactions. Jet has to deal with some pretty disgusting stuff happening to her body, but the humor of the moment also breaks up the darkness and tension. Additionally, the lead character (Rachel) is shown in some sad and desperate moments, particularly when she draws upon her mother’s body decomposed body for answers to her own predicament. If they haven’t already sympathized with her, Rachel is even more humanized and vulnerable by the end, and her predicament all the more intriguing.

And because Moore is also in charge of the art, he knows how to use his plain, unadorned style for effect in his storytelling. Moore strips away the dialogue in several panels, focusing all his attention on the visuals. These moments help keep the emotion of the scene as well as build tension, particularly when the rats start appearing. Moore’s smooth character designs and plain black and white style make the comic a visual joy, and the sharpness of the imagery never impedes the storytelling.

For all its simplicity (and perhaps because of it), Rachel Rising is one of the best books on the market. Terry Moore’s style, coupled with his strong story telling, makes the comic a continuously engaging read. I know that each page will be a visual treat, and the strength and originality of the story only make the comic all the more interesting. Whereas some other books would not be able to keep up the mystery this long, Rachel Rising succeeds because not only does it have a strong story, but it also has strong visuals as well. The mixture of both is what makes the comic a pleasure to come back to each month.


American Vampire, Vol. 5

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dustin Nguyen

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Forrest C. Helvie

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Unlike the majority of American Vampire readers, I follow the series in trade paperback edition. There are certain series that I generally find have a narrative scope which is greater than a traditional 24-page comic book can hold. Books like this aim to immerse the reader in a multi-faceted world whose characters continue to exist and interact long after the reader closes the book, and Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire is one such title. Since finishing the fourth volume, things continued happening with Pearl and Henry in their pursuit of peace and quiet while the VMS began chasing what is arguably the biggest fish in a sea of blood.

Imagine, then, the difficulty of not breaking down and buying the individual issues while encountering the hype surrounding the final monthly issues before the series was placed on a temporary hiatus while its creators began working on other projects. A major change was advertised and it seemingly left readers reeling. The image of Pearl sobbing on her knees listening to the record player confirmed the online chatter, and it did not bode well for Henry given where the series left off in the fourth volume.

However, it is likely many readers purchasing the trade paperback edition will not have read the individual issues, so I won’t spoil what happens in this final volume. But as Snyder emphasized in a previous interview with Newsarama, this will not be the last we see of Skinner, Pearl, the VMS, or the rest of the cast from American Vampire. There is some small comfort we can take in that. But for long-time readers of the series—in either format—this next installment makes it clear there will be a new dynamic between the different characters.

The teaser story at the end of the collection (from Issue #34) provides some indication as to where the series will pick up with a newly emerging threat which promises to be even more ominous than the one the VMS tackles in this story arc. Otherwise, Snyder provides resolution to a number of questions that had gathered over the past 32 issues while still leaving himself more than enough room to explore other twists in the relationships between the American Vampires and their family, friends, associates, and enemies.

With regards to the art, Albuquerque and Nguyen provide readers with the type of visual experience one expects from Vertigo: rough and gritty, dark and visceral, haunting and evocative. These are the vampires who haunted your nightmares with their leering eyes and animalistic savagery unlike the popularly portrayed vapid characterizations of undead teen angst. The scene in the underbelly of the boat with Agent Hobbes are absolutely chilling; yet, Pearl’s nostalgic walk through the photo album of the life she and Henry had together evokes a completely different emotional experience. While many vampire romances portrayed in popular culture today often fail to demonstrate any substantive motivation and development of the relationship between one person to the next, the Snyder’s story and Albuquerque and Nguyen’s artistic rendering of this story provide a much-needed breath of fresh undead air into a very tired genre.

Perhaps my one criticism of the series is one that Albuquerque himself made, and that being his need to carry more of the artistic workload (as mentioned in the above-referenced interview). It is not at all a criticism against Nguyen, whose art is superb; instead, this is simply due to the importance of maintaining consistency in both the writing and the art in a story, especially when there is such synergy between two creators such as Albuquerque and Snyder. But fans of the series up through the first four volumes will no doubt find that this fifth entry provides a satisfying reading experience that will terrify and tug at the heartstrings. 

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