Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Still feeling the SDCC hangover? Best Shots has the perfect chaser for you, with this Monday's review column! So let's kick off today's column with a clash of the titans, as we take a look at the latest issue of Justice League of America...

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #6
Written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Gabe Eltaeb and Nathan Eyring
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Two Justice Leagues are at war. Superman has blood on his hands. And through it all, a mystical relic might set off shockwaves through the DC Universe.

With his second chapter of the Trinity War, Geoff Johns teams up with Jeff Lemire to show the fallout of Superman's murder of Dr. Light. Johns and Lemire don't really tease whether or not Clark might suddenly have gone evil — indeed, Superman actually gets the most heroic moment of the book, as he begs his superpowered cohorts to lock him up — but to their credit, they do a great job at taking the most powerful metahuman in the DC Universe off the board in one fell swoop. Watching Batman and Wonder Woman react to Superman's lapse of control is another great sequence in the book, as you finally get to see the kinds of powerhouses the Man of Steel can lean on in times of crisis.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, she actually winds up stealing the show in this issue, as well. Johns and Lemire continue to build up her relationship with Superman in a way that actually feels more organic the more I see it, and her interrogation of Hephaestus over Pandora's Box is a nice nod to the mythology-heavy take in Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman. That said, there are some flaws here, particularly as the Justice League Dark winds up feeling shoehorned. Additionally, the big moment that was promised in this book — namely, the Justice League squaring off against the Justice League of America — felt extremely truncated, with characters like Green Arrow and Cyborg feeling more like random placements than deliberate picks.

The army of artists in this book, for the most part, results in a satisfying read. Doug Mahnke's storytelling works out nicely, although he is hampered by the sheer number of inkers on board. Sometimes his work looks a bit like the jagged lines of Howard Porter, other times the inks just wind up feeling a bit dirtier than intended. (Particularly the opening fight, when we see Shazam's face.) Superman screaming with heat vision pouring out of his eyes is one of the highlights of the book, as is the introduction of the newly relaunched Question.

With the stakes increasing and Superman behind bars, there's a lot to like with Justice League of America #6, even if the titular team doesn't really make much of an appearance in their own book. This crossover is very much a shared platform for all three Justice Leagues, even if you can't help but feel a little disappointed that the fight between the Justice League and the Justice League of America — indeed, the fight that the JLA has been preparing for since their first issue — winds up falling a little short. Still, it could be much worse, and with this many titans coming together, the Trinity War still could heat up even further.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Deadpool #13
Written by Gerry Posehn and Brian Duggan
Art by Scott Koblish and Val Staples
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Who's a bad motherlover with a flair for the ridiculous and a hankering to join the Heroes for Hire?


Ya damn right.

In this vicious takedown of '70s blaxploitation comics, Gerry Posehn and Brian Duggan will make you laugh in spite of yourself, as Marvel's cartoony antihero takes on street crime with none other than Power Man and Iron Fist.

Obviously, with this premise in mind, you have to take this comic with a fistful of salt. Gerry Posehn and Brian Duggan swipe the same sort of stupid comedy as "Hot Shots," "Mad Magazine" or "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." The villain of the piece, for example, is a running gag that is so dumb, you can't help but giggle, as Luke and Danny talk in hushed tones over an albino pimp called the White Man.

"We've been hearing more about the White Man," Danny says. "Is this all really approved by the Comics Code?" Deadpool asks. Another beat riffing on the infamous Steranko Nick Fury sex scene — you know, the one with the gun sliding into the holster — is just laugh-out-loud funny, as Posehn, Duggan and Scott Koblish pull out every bit of phallic imagery they can think of for this lewd, crude encounter.

Speaking of Scott Koblish, he just sells this comic like hotcakes. He does such an excellent job of riffing on that classic John Byrne style, but at the same time injecting some wildly absurd slapstick (such as a beat where Aunt May pepper-sprays Deadpool in the eyes, sending him tumbling down the stairs of a subway station). Deadpool sporting bellbottoms and an afro out of his costume is just as goofy and hilarious as it gets, and just the over-the-top physical comedy in every page just evokes the kind of silly cartoons you can't help but laugh at.

That said, this book won't be for everyone. If you like your Deadpool extra-gritty, well, you're going to think this is lightweight. If you like tons of violence, well, that's also not really going to happen here. Indeed, even the laughs here aren't going to be for everyone — you could easily argue that the gags here aren't so much low-brow as they are mustache-level, and that Posehn and Duggan beat a dead horse so bad they might as well be running a glue factory. There's no accounting for taste, particularly when the comedy is as broad and as buffoonish as this.

But what can I say — this blast to the past is charming. It's silly. It's also dumb. But watching Deadpool crash the '70s heyday of Power Man and Iron Fist is the sort of self-referential nerd humor that you can't help but enjoy. Can you dig it? Because I certainly do.

Batman: The Dark Knight Vol.1 — Knight Terrors (TPB)
Written by David Finch, Paul Jenkins, Joe Harris, and Judd Winick
Art by David Finch, Richard Friend, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter, Jack Purcell, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Sal Cipriano and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Some say that the fight against evil is a never-ending one, but if the Dark Knight can’t figure out who’s behind a series of Arkham escapes, Gotham may erupt into new chaos while Batman finds a watery grave. With his allies under siege, Batman’s rogues gallery gets a venomous power-up as Bane returns, trying to see if he can get a better result this time around in a storyline that’s familiar but fun to read.

There’s really no getting around the fact that the vast majority of this trade is an abridged retelling of the Knightfall story of the early 1990s. If you are looking for originality, you’re not going to get it here. David Finch’s plot closely follows the earlier one, albeit in a far less sprawling manner. Bruce’s enemies are set against him, gauntlet-style, and in the end, it’s Batman versus Bane with the soul of Gotham on the line.

So why pick up this trade, if you’re a long-time Batman reader? Well, the difference here is that freed from Denny O’Neill’s insistence that Batman be separated as much as possible from his superhero allies, Finch (and primary co-writer Paul Jenkins) bring them into the narrative, making for a more logical storyline. We discover the Justice League can’t help Batman because they’re busy cleaning up his mess-the other escaped inmates. When they do enter the narrative, it shows Bruce isn’t alone in the world, a key point often overlooked in the name of a shaky plot.

Another thing I liked was that the main story arc gave us a light within the oppressive darkness of the DC Universe right now. That’s not to say the story is Batman ‘66: Commissioner Gordon is shown to be in hot water over Batman, Inc., Bruce has quite a bit of Paul Jenkins-induced internal angst, and there’s a definite body count. The difference is that Batman shows he can rise above it all and never give up, even when he makes careless mistakes, such as not realizing this has all happened to him before (an admittedly very big gaping plot hole) until it’s almost too late. There’s a light within the darkness, which to me is the soul of Batman as a character.

Unfortunately, part of why this lost some points with me are issues eight and nine, which I actually wish had been omitted from the collection. The former is a one-off with the Mad Hatter (by Joe Harris and Ed Benes) and smells quite a bit like an inventory story, given that Finch isn’t involved at all. Issue nine, penned by Winick, ties into Night of the Owls and focuses on a Talon instead of Batman. They weaken the overall trade.

David Finch has a very clean art style that works well for telling an epic story. He’s able to make his heroes feel larger than life but keep them looking proportional. Muscles flex, clothing rips, and scenery is destroyed with abandon, but there’s an order to the chaos that never throws me out of the story. Even Bane, whose body shape is designed to be freakish, has consistency within his appearances.

Finch also has a strong handle on the smaller details that often escape other epic-scope artists, like facial expressions which show actual concern, anger, or frenzy. He’s able to switch from Alfred with ice cream to Deathstroke nearly ensuring there are no more Wayne children with ease. Richard Friend’s inks capture the pencils well, ensuring Finch’s care is enhanced with think lines that highlight his detailing. Ed Benes evokes a similar style in his fill-in issue, though he is blockier in body shapes. Even the switching between colorists works, as the tone of the issues darken and lighten depending on the setting.

Batman The Dark Knight’s first arc is a throwback to Batman comics that were shooting for an enjoyable story, not to see how may barriers they could cross or how clever the writer can be. There’s merit to all approaches, but they aren’t for everyone. If you prefer your Dark Knight in clear cut good versus evil action, this is the trade for you.

Credit: Titan Books

Numbercruncher #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by P. J. Holden and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Simon Boland
Published by Titan Books
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It turns out that the afterlife isn’t about god and the devil, or heaven and hell, it’s all just about numbers. Reality is run by the Divine Calculator, who maintains the smooth running of a sensible and well-regulated soulpool. He is blind to human emotion and concepts like love. With his dying thought a brilliant mathematician figures all of this out and is granted an audience with his maker. All he asks is for another is another spin of the wheel, a chance to go back and be with the woman he loves again. His wish is granted, but like all good Faustian pacts, there’s more to the deal than meets the eye, and he is reborn as a child several decades after his death. By the time he meets his love again, she’s an old woman on her deathbed. However, this brilliant mathematician has figured out the formula behind it all and schemes to be endlessly reincarnated within the lifetime of the woman he loves. It’s up to Bastard Zane of the Karmic Accountancy to put an end to his plans.

Numbercruncher was originally published in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine back in 2011 and is being collected and published as a stand-alone story by Titan Books. Since its original publication writer Simon Spurrier has received much acclaim in the US for his madcap plots and riotous storylines, and this earlier story is a brilliant examples of Spurrier’s boundless creativity. The Faustian pact is an idea that has quite frankly been done to death, especially within the pages of comic books; however, Spurrier has taken this classic concept and managed to put an original spin on it that provides a fertile ground for him to tell a new and interesting story. The story is told from the point of view of Bastard Zane, who is an agent of the Karmic Accountancy, a sort of cosmic policeman responsible for maintaining law and order in the universe. He has a personal interest in shutting the mathematician down, because the payment for his deal is that he will take his place and Zane will be freed.

The story flows very smoothly, despite the fact that it was originally published as three eight-page episodes and is now collected here as one volume. It’s quite a concept-heavy story and so features a decent amount of narration to communicate ideas to the reader. The exposition isn’t over the top though and never feels like an infodump. The dialogue is top-notch and while it’s a British story set within the UK, the language is pretty universal and never feels so British that it could scare of U.S.-based readers.

P.J. Holden brings the story to life with some wonderfully rugged and sketchy looking linework that is highly intricate and detailed. His characters are all fully realized and feature great model work, incredibly expressive faces, and a huge range of realistic emotions. Holden inks the work in a similarly sketchy fashion, with lots of hatching used for shading and to introduce texture and tonal effects. As well as filling blacks he also uses ink washes throughout for shading to give the final piece a grayscale appearance.

The story was originally published in black and white, but for this reprint the team brought Jordie Bellaire on board for coloring. Interestingly, she only colors the scenes set in the “real world,” leaving those set in the afterlife in their original black and white. This works brilliantly to set the two locations apart and greatly enhances the look of the finished product.

Numbercruncher #1 is a brilliant opening shot for a fantastically inventive story that is packed full of surprises and twists to keep readers on their toes. With an intelligent script and beautiful artwork, this debut issue will keep readers gripped till the very last page.

Credit: First Comics

Written by Glenn Farrington
Art and Lettering by The Fillbach Brothers
Published by First Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's rare that I come across a pure gem of a comic book, one that tells a story so succinctly and effortlessly that I'm compelled to immediately read it a second and a third time in the same sitting. Lives debuted this past weekend at SDCC is a breath of fresh air on the comic racks.

The title is exactly what the book is about: the lives of seven people — a family of three and four individuals — and how, in the course of a particular day, each follows a path that ultimately puts them onto a collision course with each other at the office building they share. Writer Glenn Farrington takes a risk here, producing a script where the first 17 pages of the 22 page book are silent. Yup, not a word. That's a long time to be kept constrained as a voyeurs of people setting about their preparations and executions of a new work day. Credit the Fillbach Brothers whose minimalist black-and-white artwork supplies just enough visual cues for the reader to make the necessary connections and suss out the plot. Their sequential storytelling is fantastic, especially when they are able to create sixteen-panel pages that never feel cramped nor bind down the story's pacing. Ultimately, it serves to make the final splash page feel huge and wide-lensed, which imparts a greater gut-wrenching weight to the tragedy of that moment.

In all honesty, the only knock I have against the book is that it isn't silent the entire way through. I think the script and the artwork combined are strong enough to carry the main conflict at the office, that point of intersection of these disparate lives, in the established quiet of the first two-thirds of the issue. I think only the last two panels of the penultimate page should have had dialogue, which would have been a great segue to that last page.

Many readers who will find Lives personally meaningful, but I would also add it to the list of required reading for anyone interested in the craft of creating comics as an example of how to tell a story without the clutter of dialogue, of the magic inherent to "Show, Don't Tell."

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