Best Shots Reviews: GUARDIANS' Angela Debut, THE WAKE #3, More

Guardians of the Galaxy #5
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy #5
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In the aftermath of the Age of Ultron, the very fabric of space and time in the Marvel Universe has been ruptured - and standing on the front lines is none other than Brian Michael Bendis's ragtag space team, the Guardians of the Galaxy. And perhaps that's fitting, as the schism between realities also reflects the wildly oscillating levels of quality this book represents.

It's funny, because this book definitely starts off wobbly. Perhaps I'm being a prude, but having Tony Stark knock boots with Gamora as a one-off joke wasn't such a big deal - devoting four pages to discussing her daddy issues ad nauseum, however, winds up feeling a bit juvenile. Who cares if Tony had a Star Trek-induced green girl fetish? It doesn't exactly endear him as a character, nor does it really make Gamora seem anything more than a sex object. Combined with a needless two-page spread introducing Angela, the huntress of Heaven, and the beginning of this book feels like needless filler.

Of course, when this book is on, it is on - namely, the second half. Once the tie-ins to the rest of the Marvel Universe are established, this book quickly picks up speed. Watching Starlord panic about his close encounter with a time rift suddenly gives the Guardians a reason for being - namely, the rest of the universe is going to find out about humanity's meddling in time, and when they do, it's the Guardians of the Galaxy who are going to have to step into the crossfire. Once that knowledge kicks off, the book suddenly cranks into high gear, particularly with a striking fight sequence between Gamora and Angela, as well as some fun interplay between Rocket Raccoon and Iron Man (at least when they're not talking about green space girls).

The artwork by Sara Pichelli has its highlights, although the flatness of her inks reminds me a little bit of a more expressive, yet less layout-intensive Mike McKone. While Pichelli's take on Mantis seems a little too similar to Gamora (aside from the antennae), her characters are all pretty expressive, and gives some humanity to the otherwise puerile Tony-Gamora dynamic. While she starts off on a wobbly note with the double-page spread - indeed, even Angela doesn't seem to know what she's doing, as she tries to stretch herself over two pages - when she gets to the fight sequence with Gamora, it injects a ton of energy to the script. Additionally, the way that she and Bendis play off one another - particularly with the inclusion of solid black panels to confuse the reader - winds up adding a bit of tension to the mix.

Given the increased focus on the timestream throughout Marvel's catalog, this is a good spot to jump on board with Guardians of the Galaxy. While occasionally Bendis's team dynamics can wind up being abrasive, it's clear from this issue that the team has definitely justified their place in the Marvel Universe as a whole. With the boundaries of reality starting to collapse all around them, this all-too-human group of aliens has a ton of potential.

The Wake #3
?Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Jared Fletcher?Published by Vertigo Comics
?Review by Forrest C. Helvie
?'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The first word that came to mind after finishing Issue #3 of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake was “Wow.” The story, the art, the delivery – it all comes together to bring readers face to face with a horrifying monster in a seemingly inescapable situation. Although the series has touched upon a variety of different points in time, this issues squarely focuses on Dr. Lee Archer and her involvement with the government’s secret underwater operations in the present moment. And it’s not a place anyone of them want to be.

Before diving into the present day storyline, however, Snyder offers readers a glimpse even further into the planet’s past with a two-page sequence documenting the planet’s collision with a meteor of astronomical size billions of years ago. Given what readers learn about the call of the “52 Hertz Whale” from the present, I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection between the impact of this meteor and the call Archer discusses with her fellow team members. Only issue #4 and beyond will tell.

Meanwhile, with the merman on the loose, the question becomes whether the team can recapture or contain the monster. By the issue’s conclusion, however, it becomes more of a question as to whether or not the individual members will be able to escape from it. We learn more about this ancient species and its abilities, and Snyder’s fictional creature is both exciting and disturbing to think about. Moreover, the ability it possesses to ensnare its victims – as seen in the previous issue – provides a unique take on the deadly nature of the mermaids of legend and myth. I particularly liked the way in which Snyder uses this trait to allow the reader a glimpse into the anxieties and desires of his characters. It also provides him with a useful device for blurring the reader’s perception of what is real and unreal in the story. The episode between Bob and Lee is an example of this blurring, and I found I had to reread it twice to realize what was actually taking place. And I couldn’t help but smile at Snyder’s nod to Ahab as well with Meeks’ encounter with the merman.

Then there’s the art. I really can’t say enough about the strength of this creative team. While Sean Murphy’s pencils are as visually engaging as ever, it’s his inking I think is the absolute standout from this issue. I can’t help but geek out a bit when an artist is able to build tension in his or her audience through blocking out the reader’s vision in just the right places. It allows readers to see just enough of the setting or events to make us wonder what’s hiding in the darkness. Given the way this issue ends, it’s not looking good even if the art does. Of course, Matt Hollingsworth keeps pace and provides colors that further accentuate the tone and atmosphere of The Wake. Just as Murphy works so well in darkness, so too does Hollingsworth’s careful use of light and color help each panel stand out. I’m a fan of colorists who use a more limited palette in each panel as a means of cueing readers into a particular setting or mood, and this is something he does well both in the series as a whole and this issue in particular.

Here's something that really struck me while reading The Wake #3.  Too often, I read comic reviews where the writer says something to the effect of "this book is good enough for television or film" and means it as a compliment.  I'm sure I've done this as well plenty of times (having compared it to Lost in my first review.  But honestly, Issue #3 a great example of why this story is meant for the comics medium.  The missing info taking place between each panel - the gutters - adds to the mystery and accentuates the feeling of suspense.  This would be lost in a different medium.  Sure, Snyder could no doubt option The Wake to become a movie or a tv mini-series, and I’m sure it’d be equally successful. But it's meant for comics. Part of what makes it work so well is that the content is geared to the form in which this story is told. So if you want some classic suspense, this is the comic book for you.  

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2
Credit: DC Comics

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2
Written by Ray Fawkes
Art by Daniel Sampere, Vincente Cifuentes
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

One thing you have to give DC Comics credit for is that that they don’t do things in half measures. When the character of Pandora was first introduced at the end of Flashpoint, it foreshadowed her next 52 appearances, when the entire line was rebooted as the New 52. Each new title featured the then-mysterious Woman in Red in a small cameo, although now that the Trinity War is upon us, she finally gets her own spotlight, in an ongoing series no less. However, despite the war that wages between the various Justice Leagues in the pages of other books, Pandora’s focus doesn’t appear to be as concerned with this bigger picture.

Pursued by a cut-rate Mulder and Scully, investigating the big hole she left in the ground when first confronting Superman, Pandora seeks somebody who is completely pure or completely evil of heart to open her eponymous box, so that she might but the seven sinful genies back in their proverbial bottle. She thinks she has found the darker side of the equation when she once again encounters Vandal Savage, an immortal whose pursuit of wickedness would appear to make him the ideal candidate for the job. Previously a supporting player in Demon Knights, the character is reintroduced with a brand new version of the Secret Society, complete with an attack from fifty feet of a flame-headed Giganta, and an ill-defined “Signalman”, who appears to sport the power of exposition.

For a comic that is only on its sophomore issue, Trinity of Sin: Pandora comes burdened with back-story. On the second page alone, there are no less than four editorial boxes explaining events or concepts from previous issues, making this a tough piece to penetrate for the uninitiated. The story itself is fairly straightforward, following a familiar pattern of sterile crime scene investigation and office meetings that dragged Justice League of America down in its first few issues. When Pandora does confront the Society, we are rewarded with a wonderful action sequence, albeit one that does little to further the wider “Trinity War” story.

The previous issue had divided art duties between Daniel Sampere and Patrick Zircher, and here Sampere flies solo. Particular hightlights include the redesign of Giganta, although “Signalman” is mostly the same ridiculous outfit he always wore. The Giganta costume is an amalgam of her original cheetah print two-piece and the 2005 spandex redesign, although her basic function remains the same. Her fight with Pandora is one of the more memorable in an otherwise forgettable book.

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2, despite the “Trinity War” tie-in banners, is scarcely essential reading for current DC fans. The marriage of crime scene drama and supernatural showdowns is not a comfortable one here, and there is nowhere near enough to keep readers hooked.

Detective Comics Annual #2
Written by John Layman and Joshua Williamson
Art by Scot Eaton, Jaime Mendoza, Jeromy Cox, Szymon Kudranski, Derlis Santacruz, Rob Hunter, Brett Smith
Lettering by Steve Wands, Dezi Sienty, Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Richard Gray
‘Rama Rating: 5/10

For the second Detective Comics Annual, John Layman and Joshua Williamson present a trio of interconnected stories that reintroduce the character of Jane Doe. First introduced in the pages of the Dan Slott mini-series Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, her story here is a tragic one, a person so empty in their own personality that she is forced to take on the personas of other people. At least, the story would have a degree of pathos if it wasn’t structured in such a cramped and unwieldy fashion.

The division of the story into three parts aims at giving multiple perspectives on the same ‘reality’, perhaps a commentary on the fractured nature of Doe’s own identity crisis. However, it is hard to shake the feeling that this would have had even more impact if the narrative had been a little more straightforward. After pursuing Jane Doe following a thwarted bank robbery, Batman attempts to track down a suspect with no identity and no discernible markings. Introduced to the new department psychologist, all roads of suspicion lead directly to her - but that would be too easy, wouldn‘t it?

Indeed, this is where Layman and Williamson begin to trip up with their sleuthing. After being presented with some evidence, Batman spends no more than a page of investigation (in a book called Detective Comics) before he comes crashing through a warehouse window with an answer, with all the skill and finesse of a deus ex machina dressed up in a cape and cowl. It’s a shame, for the foe is a compelling one, as the two other stories indicate. These are actually much stronger than the principal tale, exploring Doe’s literal inner dialogue and Harvey Bullock’s own anxieties in ways that expand the possibilities of both characters. Doe’s lack of identity leads her carers to puzzle whether she is laughing or crying, while Bullock believes that mimic Doe gave his life more meaning than the detective was able to achieve on his own.

Art varies wildly between stories, the most interesting pages coming from the striking work provided by Szymon Kudranski on the “Contained Multitudes” storyline. Framing Bullock in a Gothic panel from the start, he fills the rest of the pages with an unearthly glow that leads us to doubt the reality of what we are seeing. Scot Eaton’s work on the lead story is far more traditional, but is amplified by Jeremy Cox’s use of colour, whether it is lighting up the alleys of Gotham at night, or bathing a field in the orange glow of a dawn sunlight. It’s only Derlis Santacruz’s final pages that don’t quite match the rest of the book stylistically, and perhaps aren’t appropriate for the grittier story about Bullock.

This Detective Comics Annual tangentially references some of the events around the Batman universe at the moment, but is a mostly skippable event on the Bat-calendar. The character of Jane Doe is hinted at reappearing at a later date, and unless there is the off chance she becomes the next big villain for Batman, this is hardly a must-read.

Optic Nerve #13 Cover
Optic Nerve #13 Cover
Credit: Drawn + Quarterly

Optic Nerve #13
Written by Adrian Tomine
Art by Adrian Tomine
Lettering by Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn + Quarterly
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It's been almost two years since Adrian Tomine's last installment of Optic Nerve hit the shelves in September of 2011. This week, we get to experience the magic of this more than twenty year-old comic series again with the long-awaited release of #13. Indie readers rejoice! This is our week!

Within the pages of this issue lie three separate story lines. The first is an auto-biographical piece (a staple in this series) titled "Winter, 2012," where we find Tomine lamenting the fallible tools of his craft and wonders again if he must "evolve or die." This draws a parallel to the previous issue, where he bemoaned the "floppy" format of his comics, and considered changing it to stay current within the industry. The second story, "Go Owls," is a darker piece which involves a 12-step program, drug dealing, baseball, and an abusive relationship. Finally, "Translated, from the Japanese," is an abstracted piece from the diary of a woman moving to a new country with her child while contemplating divorce. The three shorts follow a gradated trajectory, starting off light with the auto-bio comic, and then heading in a darker direction before finally ending with a glimmer of hope on the last page.

Adrian Tomine has been in the comic game a long time. He's been crafting Optic Nerve since 1991, publishing it himself until it was picked up in 1995 by its current publisher Drawn + Quarterly. He's also released numerous larger format books, and keeps busy with editorial work for clients like The New Yorker, which perhaps explains the lull in between issues of this signature series. His writing in this issue is as strong as it's ever been, mixing modern cultural themes with his own creative imaginings. Reading a Tomine story is akin to stepping into some long-forgotten memory. It starts out ambiguous, and the edges are a bit hazy, but the farther you get into it, the clearer it becomes. By the end, it's been comfortably assimilated into your mind, as if it had never been lost at all.

While Tomine's writing is stellar, it's his art that brings the most to the table. Beautifully designed characters composed of crisp lines and wonderful flat color, detailed backgrounds, and thoughtful panel composition make his work stand out as something special. In this issue of Optic Nerve we see a steady transition from his sketchy, black and white auto-bio style, to a cleaner style composed of grey tones, to a pristine page of crisp lines and full color. It's nuances like this that make reading Tomine comics such an enjoyable and unique experience, in addition to his uncanny ability to seamlessly blend cartoon and realism.

Optic Nerve #13 is as solid a comic as they come, rich with various themes, compelling writing, and excellent design. Its self-contained stories lend themselves to an enjoyable experience for anyone, with no worries about continuity. A definite must for comic appreciators who crave character-driven books that also happen to be lovely to look at.

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