Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDEY #2, DETECTIVE COMICS #23, Much More

Marvel Comics'  Previews for August 7, 2013
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots sure is, as we take a look at the week's biggest releases! So let's start off today with Rob McMonigal, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man...

Credit: Marvel

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #2
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The new Sinister Six (minus one) can’t even rob a restaurant without getting punished as they wait for the big score. Boomerang’s superior jam gets a little worse as this series follows up its first issue with more off-beat humor and capering.

This has got to be one of the strangest books Marvel has ever published, and that’s a good thing. The creative team of Spencer, Lieber and Rosenberg are being given a lot of latitude to tell the story of a dysfunctional group of B-list (and lower) villains, showing them at their quirkiest worst. What makes it work, though, is that despite this being a new spin on portraying them, they remain pretty solidly in character. Fred Myers (Boomerang) first got himself in trouble by going for the big score, and now that trend has him playing a deadly game with not only the Chameleon, but his teammates as well, a plot point that gets ramped up this issue. Speed Demon acts like a jerk you can’t trust, traits we’ve seen back when he was a New Thunderbolt. The Shocker has always been a loser, so his cowardice makes sense.

By taking these character trends and amplifying them, Spencer and Lieber can milk them for as much comedy as possible. While Boomerang plays straight man, his team banter and bicker over everything from whether the bathroom is unisex to re-naming themselves the Sinister Syndicate (“The Sinister Syndicate were losers,” spouts drunken Speed Demon without irony, a verbal Easter Egg for long-time Spider-Man readers.) to whether or not hijacked servers deserve a tip. Lieber pitches in with thought balloons ranging from telling us what the smartphone-obsessed Beetle is doing on her device (this month it was Plants versus Zombies, a personal favorite of mine) to Boomerang’s desire to kill his lawyer.

These touches would be enough for me to recommend the comic to anyone, but Spencer’s underlying plot is also very solid, and gives the jokes ground upon which to stand, something lighthearted stories forget is necessary. Boomerang’s scheming, which was convoluted enough to begin with, but now the complications are piling up, especially the last-page reveal of a unique parole officer that’s bound to have a few things to say about at least one of Fred’s current “friends.” Spencer is wasting no time working the threads of the story together, which is not only refreshing but leaves me wanting to find out what happens next.

A story like the one in Superior Foes needs just the right artist to make it work. You have to have a person who can provide visuals that assist in the comedic tone but also can draw the heck out of a splash page and any fight scenes you want to include.

Steve Lieber is exactly the right person for the job. Working again with Rochelle Rosenberg, Liber’s art is equally at home making a slimy lawyer mug for the reader as he is showing the Punisher firing away. (A special shout out here to Rosenberg, who has the tips of Frank Castle’s guns tinged orange-hot, a detail that adds contrast to the stark and heavy blacks she uses for his outfit and the shadowy features drawn by Lieber.)

As with his work on Alabaster: Wolves, Lieber’s line work adds so much to the story. His panel construction is spectacular here, finding just the right angle to show the characters despite using more medium shots than I’d usually be comfortable with from a visual perspective. Whether it’s letting us know the new Beatle has class because she can properly hold a wine glass or Speed Demon’s constant gesturing, Lieber’s work supports and builds the story, showing his amazing ability to work with his writer to make a creative whole, whether it’s Jeff Parker, Caitlin Kiernan or Spencer.

In the world of superhero comics, there’s a tendency to make the villains darker and more “evil” by ramping up their body count. Superior Foes of Spider-Man takes the opposite tack, showing that while they may be criminals, we know these characters because they act and think like we do, right down to making some terrible personal fashion choices. As Spider-Man becomes harder-edged and less the everyman under the control of Doctor Octopus, this series turns his foes into everyday Joes, making it a perfect companion to the overall Spider-Man universe and a highly recommended comic.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #23
Written by John Layman
Art by Jason Fabok and Blond
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's no such thing as bad characters - only bad writing. So while I had my fair share of skepticism about the return of the "anti-Batman" known as the Wrath, I should have known that John Layman would be there to save the day. Lending menace and intrigue to Batman's opposite number, Detective Comics #23 is another superb installment in Layman's already impressive run.

One of the best things about Layman's take on Batman is his attention to detail - not only does Batman's obsessiveness allow Layman to smoothly set up exposition, but to also do it in a very personal way. For example, when introducing the Wrath's sidekick Scorn, we don't just see the troubled youth's criminal past, but we see that Batman remembers everyone he takes off the streets, almost like a vigilante Santa Claus. The Wrath is no dummy, either, as watching him size up Batman based on his "lightweight trans-polymer boron carbide composite" armor is a nice touch.

Yet even as Layman sets up the Wrath's game plan against both Wayne Enterprises and the Gotham City Police Department, he also knows how to play to his fans' baser instincts. There's a surprising amount of action in this comic, particularly as Batman goes one-on-one against the Wrath in both his costumed persona as well as his all-too-human alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Layman's pacing is economical yet extremely effective, as Batman goes from deflecting bullets off his gauntlets to breaking a gun with his bare hands, all after being tased with 60,000 watts.

The artwork here looks superb, as well. Jason Fabok just delivers some ultra-clean artwork to go along with this streamlined story, giving Gotham a nice sense of detail without overwhelming the eye. (His take on Batman and Wrath's armors also look great, with lots of small seams that don't distract, but instead show how much power each of them are bringing to the fight.) Fabok's fight choreography is easy to follow and really packs a punch, particularly the splash page of the Wrath shocking Batman within an inch of his life. Occasionally, however, Layman can add a little too much script for Fabok to handle, with the last page feeling a little jammed up with the layouts.

Add that with a heart-breaking story about Kirk and Francine Langstrom - aka Man-Bat and Lady Man-Bat - and you not only have a fantastic comic, but you have two amazing stories for the price of one. Pound-for-pound, Detective Comics has become DC's best comic in terms of consistency and quality, and even with a concept as overdone as an "anti-Batman," John Layman proves that execution is far more important than high concept. A great job by all involved.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Kick-Ass 3 #2
Written by Mark Millar
Art by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer and Dean White
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel/ICON
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In its second issue, Kick-Ass 3 is still on the right track with the solid character and story development that it showcased in the previous installment. Reading this comic has suddenly become a question of when the gratuitous violence will occur, rather than just expecting it for half of the pages in any given book. While this change of pace is definitely appreciated, gore is what the series was built on, and this week's issue delivers what we had previously been missing.

Dave Lizewski is still an idiot. Without Hit-Girl his now incredibly feeble heroic efforts incite an ire that smolders hotter and hotter as the series continues. Did he seriously just plan to incorporate a scene from Batman: Year One into a Justice Forever plan? I guess taking Bruce Wayne-styled photos at his parents graves wasn't quite good enough. All that aside, this issue isn't really about Kick-Ass. It centers mostly around Angela Genovese and her son (Red Mist), who are experiencing the unfortunate repercussions of his actions. Enter also to the stage Rocco Genovese, the new villainous forerunner recently brought back to the U.S. from Sicily. With a nickname like Ice Man that stems from the use of an ice pick, Rocco paints the terrifying visage of a seasoned killer waiting in the wings.

Mark Millar is doing a solid job this time around with the scripting. The break-neck pace that was employed in a lot of previous issues has gone out the window and been replaced with a steady rhythm of plot advancement and evolving characters. Dave continues to become more and more loathsome, Chris gains some depth, and with two more Genovese's at the forefront, the narrative is definitely taking a big step ahead. Also evolving is the use of bloodshed. Where once there were rivers of blood and severed appendages, we now have violence being used as a vehicle for the story rather than for shock value. No longer just a bloody fun romp with clubs and swords, the script is clearly maturing as is heads towards its conclusion.

The art team is as cohesive as ever, with John Romita, Jr. laying down the pencils that make this book so eye-catching. He continues to show the ravages of time and puberty on the cast in small increments each issue, most notably here in a haggard Angela Genovese as she reaches her wits end. Chris too, looks quite the worse for wear in his hospital bed. Tom Palmer does a knock-up job on the inks and washes, filling out the pencil work with apparent ease. Dean White's colors are beautiful, deep and saturated, though they sometimes make a scene seem more ominous than it need be.

Kick-Ass might only be kicking butt right now, but it's on its way to a well-rounded conclusion. With Millar and the art department putting their backs into propelling the story forward, I think we can expect some thrilling issues leading up to the final conclusion of this epic comic series.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil: Dark Nights #3
Written by Lee Weeks
Art by Lee Weeks, Sergio Cariello, Tom Palmer and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's something to be said for a comic that doesn't change the status quo, but instead just strives to be the best damn comic is can be. Lee Weeks knows what I'm talking about. You can tell, just by reading Daredevil: Dark Nights. This out-of-continuity story is the work of an auteur, as Weeks creates both visual and literary poetry featuring the Man Without Fear.

Weeks' concept, in many ways, is as low-key as it gets - Daredevil is braving the elements, battling through a snowstorm to get a little girl her heart transplant. Yet Weeks uses this as an opportunity to sum up exactly what makes Daredevil tick. Even if you've never read an issue of Matt Murdock's adventures before, Lee tells us about Matt's upbringing with his boxer dad, his journey through law school, his close encounter with radioactive chemicals... and the sheer grit that keeps him from giving up, even when he's blind, hypothermic and juggling not one, but two civilians in peril.

That said, if there's one thing that mildly trips up this issue, it's that Weeks winds up including a few extra characters that muddy up the waters a bit, making what is otherwise a fairly self-contained conclusion a little harder to follow. Still, Weeks could also argue that the ends justify the means, as the inclusion of some other interested parties means that Daredevil isn't just stumbling through the snow - there's also some action involved, even if that action fades so abruptly you almost get whiplash.

But Weeks' artwork. Wow. If you weren't convinced by Weeks' talent as a writer, well, he also is a phenomenal artist. You can see the same sort of John Romita Jr. expressiveness to his stiff lines, which are inked admirably by Weeks, Sergio Cariello and Tom Palmer. There's a lot of drama to every page, particularly when Daredevil sits in a hospital basement, waiting frantically to hear if he's managed to save the day. Weeks' panel-to-panel storytelling is just immaculate, and it makes for such a solid, fun reading experience.

If you haven't heard of Lee Weeks before this, you might want to keep your eyes peeled - if Daredevil: Dark Nights isn't a star-making turn for this artist-turned-writer, don't know what is. Soulful writing and moody artwork combined with a no-strings lack of continuity makes this series a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Man Without Fear.

Credit: DC Comics

Dial H #15
Written by China Miéville
Art by Alberto Ponticelli, Dan Green, Richard Horie, and Tanya Horie
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Dial D for "done".

The recent reboot of DC's classic Dial H for Hero, simply called Dial H took the mythos of the hero dials and expanded it further with D-Dials (which would summon a doomsday), and S-Dials (which would be joined to a near-by H-Dial and transform the wielder to a sidekick). Writer China Miéville crafted a year and a half's worth of stories that went uninterrupted and with issue #15 being the final issue, it certainly doesn't mean the end of the cast of characters.

Miéville here gives readers one hell of a final confrontation between Nelse and Roxie with their ragtag team of heroes against the mysterious O and the Centipede. Recently, the issue were so fast-paced with constant changes and using of the dials, it was difficult at times to catch up and this battle is no different, but Miéville does his best to give a solid ending, wrapping up the title with more super science and borderline insane characters (this time with mashups of previous incarnations with Pelican Bluff being a personal favorite).

Alberto Ponticelli took a few issues to warm up to and while his style is inconsistent at times as it appeared he couldn't decide how old Roxie appeared to be throughout his issues, he does a good job here of conveying the nonstop action and tries to make sense of what's all going on. While I do think fill-in artist David Lapham would have done a more comprehensive job here with his more classic style, Ponticelli definitely made this book his own. Dan Green's inks were just as solid, too and this time not as heavy as they have been in previous issues. They're crisper and cleaner than usual. I just wish the action had hit you so hard and fast as it's hard to focus and untangle some of what's going on.

The duo of Richard and Tanya Horie finish what they started with the same ole moody and dark color scheme that's been in the whole series. I think something a tad brighter might have worked here to alleviate some of the chaos during the battle. The whole series felt like you were wearing sunglasses and with Green's heavy inks early on, something brighter might have worked better.

As strong finales go, Dial H is given a proper send off and a vague conclusion that could lead to something later down the line with these characters. It's been an insane ride and definitely something different from the usual DC fanfare, if this was just a sample of what Miéville has to offer for his Justice League issues, I could easily be down for that. True, this isn't the best issue to start with (what last issue really is?) but if you're looking for something bizarre, sci-fi heavy with a slice of super-heroics mixed in for good measure, go find the trades when they come out and hopefully you'll find the end just as satisfying.

Kevin Keller #10
Kevin Keller #10
Credit: Archie

Kevin Keller #10
Written by Dan Parent
Art by Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli and Digikore Studios
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Archie Comics isn’t done with history-making moments. Kevin Keller #10 provides another milestone in the publisher’s history by showing the first kiss between two gay characters, Kevin Keller and his boyfriend, Devon. It’s an utterly chaste display of affection in a town where adolescent romance is practically in the oxygen. However, the two find themselves in the middle of the culture wars when an Outraged Citizen complains about their “unacceptable” behavior … in front of children!

In a show of support that backfires, Kevin’s clingy best friend, Veronica, posts the confrontation on YouTube to protest the homophobic outburst. Soon, reporters are everywhere and the perpetually offended members of 12 Million Moms are on the attack. Writer/penciller Dan Parent makes a clever, pointed dig at the real-life One Million Moms organization, which threatened Toys 'R Us with a boycott for selling Life With Archie #16, in which an adult version of Kevin married his boyfriend. The issue sold out.

Kevin Keller #10succeeds in making the point that the kiss itself isn’t a big deal, while also addressing homophobia. The media frenzy is particularly difficult for Devon, whose dad remains uncomfortable with his son’s sexual orientation. Devon’s been living with Veronica since coming out.

Parent takes on bigotry in a couple of unexpected ways, and he doesn't hold back. Who knew that Mr. Weatherbee, Ms. Grundy and Pop Tate were all about equal rights? A surprise visit from one of Archie's flames also provides an opportunity to talk about the history of prejudice where love is concerned.

As always, Parent’s instantly recognizable illustrations are always a pleasure. Digikore Studios’ bright, optimistic colors, boldly inked by Rich Koslowski, make the characters jump off the page.

Fun yet serious in all the right places, this issue ranks as one of the most entertaining and satisfying entries in Kevin Keller’s run.

Pellet Reviews!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hunger #2 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): So it came to pass that Galactus entered the Ultimate Marvel Universe, bringing with him the kind of rumbly tumbly that could devour whole imprints. The Ultimate version of Rick Jones teams up with his version of the Silver Surfer, discovering that Age of Ultron’s rift in time and space swings both ways. Joshua Hale Fialkov is now halfway through a series that is still managing to keep us surprised, although Marvel’s recent track record gives us an inkling that this is leading into something else. Leonard Kirk’s cosmic universe is simply gorgeous, certainly leaving us hungry for more. Could this all spell the end for the Ultimate Universe, or the dawn of a mutual gateway?

Credit: DC Comics

Trillium #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): While Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth was a kind of sci-fi, his latest effort plunges straight into the genre, but retains the notions of loss and humanity that characterized the sublime Essex County and The Underwater Welder. This first issue challenges the idea of what a comic can be with its flip-book approach, allowing the reader to find their own path into the narrative. Also handling art duties, Lemire links his two interconnected tales via a common color palette, watercoloring the future sequences and allowing José Villarrubia to digitally handle the past. A captivating and ambitious debut issue that envelops completely while asking all the right questions.

Credit: DC Comics

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Some will pick up this issue for the links to the current “Trinity War” arc, but all should be transfixed by the way J.M. DeMatteis views the afterlife. Searching for answers about the death of Dr. Light in what is effectively "heaven," Batman and Katana create their own paradises. What’s more interesting is how each of the characters deals with suddenly having everything their heart desires, along with how they handle having it taken awake. Case in point is Batman, who may never have been so gleefully written. Fernando Blanco gets to show off some versatility in this issue, especially in the creation of a world composed entirely of light.

Trade Review!

Thor by Walter Simonson Vol. 1 TPB
Written by Walter Simonson
Art by Walter Simonson, Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, and Steve Oliffe
Lettering by John Workman, Jr.
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Appearances can be deceiving! As the Mighty Thor roars across various parts of the Nine Worlds with new allies to stop the menaces he can see, multiple plots and deceptions are afoot that threaten not only Thor’s friends but all of existence. Arguably the greatest Thor epic ever written begins here, as Marvel reprints the first section of this classic run in anticipation of a movie that appears to draw strongly from it for source material.

While I am not the biggest fan of Thor, I love Norse mythology, so I always try different versions of Marvel’s Thunder God to see how they’re handling the character. Simonson’s Thor is the one I return to over and over again, having first read this in single issues that had been cover stripped and re-sold in a discount grocery store as a child. I didn’t understand it all, but I quickly grasped the scale of the action and was impressed with the big and bold visuals.

While I can understand the subtle touches better as an adult (like the nose-tweaking of Clark Kent or torture Balder feels as Loki manipulates him into near-insanity), the original appeal of these issues hasn’t changed for me, which is why I think this story has seen so many reprinting efforts. This is Simonson working the long game, building a massive story piece by piece but avoiding the pitfall many current creators fall into by ensuring that each individual issue also has action and importance. He’s also not afraid to push the main character to the sidelines, telling supporting stories along the way, such as the introduction of cult-favorite Beta Ray Bill or an ordinary man with a part to play. (Brian Azzarello is taking a similar approach on Wonder Woman right now, where it is also working quite well.) The result is a storyline that’s sprawling without feeling like it drags on endlessly.

Armed with a plan from the beginning to build on the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and integrate even more of the Norse Mythology they’d absorbed into the Marvel Universe, Simonson wastes no time getting to the action. We begin with the unthinkable (at the time): Donald Blake loses the power of Thor! It’s a bold step that sets the tone, as Simonson works to make Thor his own character even as he takes advantage of the larger Marvel world (Nick Fury guests in the early issues).

Soon the Thunder God and Asgard are swept up in battles that Simonson draws in his distinctive style, starting with Thor’s battles against-and then with-Beta Ray Bill and ending here with a pyrrhic victory against Malekith that brings forth Surtur, setting up the next part of the overarching arc. Along the way are stories that show just how much treachery is afoot, as Simsonson nails Loki’s malevolent mirth and use the theme of disguise to show the many ways humanity hides its true nature. In its way, this Thor returns the gods to their roots, playing out humanity’s foibles on a grand scale.

Simonson’s gifts extend beyond the script however, as these issues are some of the iconic creator’s best works, showing off his ability to craft destructive battles, otherworldly realms, or little facial details, as needed. Every time Surtur appears, he looms over the story like the doom his mythology represents, at first hidden in a shadow of Kirby Krackle and action lines, allowing his forge to take center stage until just the right moment to explode in a full-page splash. He’s equally at home ensuring Lorelei’s eyes show menace that Thor cannot see or the desperation Sif feels at fighting demons seemingly without end. It’s a range that few artists can match.

Perhaps the best parts of Simonson’s art, though, are his battle scenes. His work is heavily influenced by the 1960s Marvel Bullpen, using Kirby close-ups and a constantly flowing page to great effect, while the thinner and angular nature of his pencils have the feel of the Buscemas. The kinetic energy of the panels explodes in the reader’s eyes as you read. Simonson selects the most dramatic point of the attack and shows it, whether that’s a kick, a punch or the arc of a hammer throw, or even a look.

If this volume of Thor has an issue, it’s that the storyline does require a background in Norse mythology to understand fully and appreciate its nuances. However, in all other areas this story shines as an accessible entry point to Thor comics, making it great preparation reading for the upcoming movie and a highly recommended trade.

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