Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots sure is, as our team of crackshot critics grows by one with the inclusion of comic reviewer extraordinarie Noelle Webster! So let's give her a warm Internet welcome as we kick off today's column, with Vanessa Gabriel taking a look at the latest issue of Captain America...
Captain America #11
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Klaus Janson and Dean White
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
"Life is too short to allow yourself to become trapped in one chapter. You learn what you can, you stand up and you move forward."
Save yourself some money and skip therapy this month, the wisdom of Captain America #11 will get you by. Through flashbacks, thoughtful stares and a healthy dose of honesty, Rick Remender and company remind us of what's important in life and how good superhero comics can be.
Captain America has just returned from Dimension Z where he has been for twelve years, but it's only been a moment in this dimension. Talk about a trigger, our darling patriot is as out of water as he was when he first woke from the frozen North Atlantic. Maybe even more so. Despondent and devastated from his time there, his only constant is his one-time nemesis: Jet Black.
Being the daughter of Arnim Zola, Nick Fury is aggressively skeptical about her. Channeling the spirit of Samuel L. Jackson, his interrogation of her proves to be just as aggressive. "I can make [your world] a dark place full of missed opportunity and grave remorse." Then, in a panel that can only be described as priceless, Jet turns Fury’s authority on its head and Remender instantly endears her to the reader.
Cap and Jet both suffered in Dimension Z and they have returned to this Earth together. Their shared pain has empathically bonded them, and it is their moments of sublime communication that Remender introduces an evolution to the character of Captain America in one issue that would typically take several. Yet, none of it feels forced. It all moves forward seamlessly.
This forward motion is juxtaposed against a flashback to Steve's childhood when he learned that is mother was terminally ill. In a moment that could resonate with almost anyone, that moment when your parent says the thing to you that forever changes who you are; Steve's mother imparts what could very well be her final words to her son. Colored with the reverence that so many immigrants have when coming to America - the belief that this is a better place, full of opportunity where you can define yourself - she tells him that he must move beyond his grief because he has a strong heart and he is a good man.
This issue strikes at the core of who this character is, was and will be. It is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. The dialogue between mother and son subtly deflates the jingoism inherent to the character's history lending some earnest integrity to Captain America. Remender's ability to define characters is remarkable.
With all the classic proportions of the superhero, Carlos Pacheco's art isn't particularly innovative. But combined with Klaus Janson's inks, it is beautifully detailed, consistent through all of the panels and certainly conveys the deep, yet subtle, emotion of the issue. Pacheco and Janson created a lovely template for Dean White to work his color magic. Few colorists can imbue a comic with as much intensity and contrast as White. Who would have guessed that shadows on a pale blue and a faded yellow back-drop would convey the sadness of a young Steve being told his mother didn't have long to live? Then, moving into the present with magenta, red and teal illuminates Remender's story-telling.
There is so much story packed into these 20 pages and they are executed exquisitely. If you have never read an issue of Captain America or you've been enjoying Remender's run all along, you'll be fully engaged. Captain America #11 is a pivotal issue and powerful jumping on point.
Batman #23.2: Riddler
Written by Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder
Art by Jeremy Haun and John Rauch
Lettering by Taylor Esposito Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Out of fairness, I think it's important I state up front I'm not a fan of crossovers, and as such, I'm not following the events behind DC's Forever Evil company-wide story arc. Still, it seems that if DC is using this month's offerings as an opportunity to introduce readers new and old to the many villains in their catalog. Since I am a regular reader of Snyder and Capullo's Batman series, I figured I would give this a try to see more of the "New 52" Riddler. Although the series is Snyder's "sandbox," it is newcomer, Ray Fawkes, who carries the bulk of the writer's load in this issue. Although I have some criticisms of this issue, Batman #23.2 is a solid comic that Batman and "Zero Year" fans are likely to appreciate.
The biggest criticism I have is one that I am confident was out of both Fawkes and Snyder's hands: The crossover tie-in. The core story Fawkes tells his readers is a solid one about a criminal who, in spite of his hatred of being physically touched by others, cannot escape his warped desire to leave his mark upon the people of Gotham. Unfortunately, the initial context for this issue lies in the conflict taking place throughout the world now that Batman and the rest of the superheroes have gone missing. It is just assumed we understand this is taking place and little context is provided for the events unfolding in front of Gotham Bank that allow for the Riddler to strike. None of this is needed, however, for the Riddler's plan to take place as it could have happened just as easily on a quiet summer afternoon. But I understand writers only have so much control over what goes into their stories, and sometimes, they have to incorporate outside elements into their narrative to appease more than just their readers.
Artistically, the work Jeremy Haun turns in is good, however, there was one piece I found distracting. This will no doubt come off as nit-picking – I admit it – but I couldn't help but feel distracted with how wrinkled and messy the Riddler's suit was in the opening splash page. Throughout the issue, he looks sharp and crisp in his emerald suit. This makes sense given Nygma's polished, fool-proof plan to exact revenge on the offending guard. He has dressed himself to kill in costume and schemes. So it seems that given the importance of the splash page in any comic, a little less line work would have better suited the message behind the image.
Where Haun's abilities really shine are in his ability to work the different camera angles on each page to help keep the story moving at a solid pace. Not once did I feel like I was getting caught up in reading page after page of grids; instead, there are a dynamic nature to his adaptation of Fawkes' script that works well throughout this issue. I also though his character design was a smart one as we do see an earlier depiction of the Riddler with the standard outfit covered in question marks; this Riddler, however, does not seem one who would play into such excessively kitsch-y trappings.
As I alluded to before, the story's greatest strength lies in the way in which Fawkes adds something new to the Riddler, which hadn't previously been examined before – the Riddler's conflicting fear over being touched by others while demonstrating no compunction over physically assaulting them. One element of the story that worked quite nicely to convey this notion is the method of integrating the different riddles into the issue – a way of including the reader in on the game but from a distance. Ultimately, Fawkes and Snyder seem to be getting at the notion of how there seems to be little purpose for one the greatest villains in the rogues gallery apart from his caped adversary. While I have no idea where Batman is at this time (do you?), I get the impression that the Riddler is going nowhere until his adversary arrives to finish the game. And that's a great note to end the issue on.
Overall, it's too bad Fawkes and Snyder couldn't have been free to tell this story as a complete stand-alone without any references to the Forever Evil story, as I suspect the additional page of space might have been put to better use given the overall quality of what we see in this issue. But, in the same way this creative team had to work within the constraints given to them, so must this reviewer. If you enjoyed Edward Nygma's previous appearances in the "Zero Year" story arcs, this issue will certainly provide keen snippet into the predatory nature of a villain whom many readers overlook in light of his more prominent intellect.
Mighty Avengers #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Frank D’Armata
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Noelle Webster
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Mighty Avengers #1 sees Luke Cage’s Heroes for Hire trying to get back into action. Mighty Avengers #1 might not be the comic choice to give your buddy just starting to read comics, because what we’ve got here are the heroes who typically get Cap’s coffee and answer Iron Man’s fanmail. For readers waiting for some of their lesser-known beloveds to get some action, this is a great choice.
First issues are always difficult because there’s a lot to establish in a short amount of time. Mighty Avengers #1 succeeds in giving glimpses of who’s who, and what they’re up to. Luke Cage is adjusting to being a father as well as a hero, Captain Marv—sorry, Spectrum—is trying on her new persona, and Doc Ock is having a grand time as ever as the Superior Spider-Man.
Greg Land succeeds in making the issue feel fast-paced, seeing Superior Spider-Man swinging and the Blue Streak rollerblading through panels. I also appreciate that bright colors with black backgrounds are used for the scenes in space, contrasting with the neutral browns used for New York City. You can almost sense how dull the Heroes For Hire feel about their current situation. The action scenes could have used more style though, and I hope to see the excitement a little more in the upcoming issues. A bigger problem is the characters’ faces, however, because there seems to be a lack of facial emotions on the characters. The issue really focuses on the characters’ inner struggles and I think more expressive faces would have benefited the issue greatly.
This issue, at its core, is really about new identities. We see Phot—oh hell, let’s just call her Monica—trying on her new Spectrum suit. White Tiger is unsure if Heroes For Hire is really doing the work she should be doing. We have a mystery man join the team, unwilling to be known just yet. But the highlight here is the time spent with Luke Cage. Cage wants to provide, both financially and emotionally, for his family but doesn’t want to give up being a hero. He can’t walk away from it, and he’s trying to find that balance. He struggles to explain this to Power Man, Victor Alvarez, who is younger and sees the world in less-complicated terms than Cage. To Victor, they’re heroes and therefore should go out and be heroic. It’s that simple. Cage has a lot more to think about though, from picking up baby wipes to dwelling on his previous choice to leave the Avengers.
But the issue isn’t all inner turmoil and self reflection, Ewing is clearly having fun with the Mighty Avengers. Doc Ock as the Superior Spider-Man continues his streak of being an all around jerk, and his interactions with the Heroes For Hire are a real treat. Another great example comes from the issue’s second spidey imposter, a mystery man going by The Splendiferous Spider Hero (no hyphen). I can’t tell if The Splendiferous Spider Hero is the first name Ewing came up with, or if he spent hours deciding on a hilarious name, but either way it is a perfect choice. With great banter, funny villains, and a green and purple spidey with nunchuks, Mighty Avengers is looking like it could be great fun.
Are these the Avengers we normally look for and see? Not so much, but they’re the ones we’ve got. Not without its flaws, MA#1 succeeds in laying the groundwork for the characters, and just plain ol’ having some fun.
Action Comics #23.2 Zod
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Ken Lashley
Letters by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Noelle Webster
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Greg Pak’s Zod story is unique because we get a look at the villain pre-Phantom Zone. As part of DC Comics’ Villains Month, Zod is one of the villains to get the special treatment of his own issue—Superman isn’t present, we only get a glimpse of him to serve as a clever reminder to where this story is ultimately headed. Seeing young Zod and watching him turn into the villain we know makes for an engaging read, though ultimately the issue feels rushed due to how much story there is to cover.
While I appreciate the fresh story, I think the execution could have been improved. The issue spans several years, but often feels like there’s so much more to tell while at the same time not having quite enough to say. It feels like a lot mostly due to the 18 year span in 23 pages. Due to that constraint alone, oftentimes Pak has to resort to flat out telling the reader what is going on, instead of the dialogue feeling natural and the story unraveling more organically. The reader is bounced around to several different time periods throughout the issue, and the transitions felt awkward and rushed. However, I still occasionally got the impression that there wasn’t all that much to say due to several pages focused on monster carnage with minimal words. Obviously it’s not necessary to always be dialogue heavy, but it felt out of place in a story heavy issue.
Pak’s exploration of Zod’s past and his motives is a strength in this issue. Zod is told early on by his father that “We are scientists. There’s no room for sentiment here,” and that’s really something that Zod embraced, almost HAD to embrace considering events in this story, going forward. Zod is one of those great villains who doesn’t consider himself a villain, he genuinely thinks that what he is doing is for the greater good. Pak really captures this, Zod’s anger and frustration with a complacent society are apparent and even understandable on some levels. When a guard who fell asleep on his watch meets his karmic end, Zod can’t help but enjoy it. It’s that exact complacency that Zod thinks will be the end of them all, and it illustrates why Zod feels justified in his actions.
That being said, Ken Lashley’s monsters are just as important, and boy these monsters sure do look pretty. Zod repeatedly states that he has “always loved monsters” in the issue, and if you share this particular love with our villain then you’re in for a treat. Lashley’s monsters are intricate, scary things and it’s fun to see them stampeding, fighting, and blowing up. You can understand why a young Zod feels the monster he’s raised is beautiful, because Lashley’s monsters very much are. Lashley’s art really makes the issue work and the vivid monsters are truly a highlight to the issue.
The cruelest moment of the issue, however, doesn’t come from the literal monsters but from a young Zod. When the reader finds out exactly how Zod managed to escape the monster and survive all those years ago, it is brutal and shocking. There’s a fair amount of fighting and violence in the issue, but none are portrayed as explicitly brutal as this moment. The explicitness of it and the contrast with the other depictions of violence in the issue is powerful and well executed. Zod has always loved monsters, and now we see exactly how he became one. There’s no room for sentiment here.
There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the issue, but much of it just didn’t quite come together for me. It’s nice to see a fresh story, and Pak and Lashley have created some great (literal and figurative) monsters together. I just would have liked to see more of the story, and wish it didn’t feel so rushed.
Written by Martin Powell
Art by Thomas Boatwright
Lettering by Tom Loyd Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Halloween Legion is an original graphic novel that tells the story of a supernatural superhero team written for an all ages audience that is hitting shelves just in time for Halloween. Billed as "a mysterious group of extraordinary guardians," this group of misfit heroes "comes from a place of eternal October, where orange, gold, and crimson leaves float after you in the autumn breeze, where magic and monsters are real, and where pumpkins are more than they seem!" It's a strange mix of supernatural ghost stories, 1950s alien cinematics, and a dash of superheroes that will no doubt appeal to a wide variety of readers.
"The Great Goblin Invasion" is the main story Powell tells, and it is a fun one as he introduces readers to his motley crew of do-gooding misfits: Molly, the fire-throwing teen in a devil's costume; Freddy, the third-grade ghost with extraordinary abilities; Miss Grimalkin, the supernaturally gifted witch; Autumn, the clairvoyant black cat; and finally, the group's strong man and de facto leader, the Skeleton. And this eerie group of heroes, protectors of a quiet, rural town, is the only thing standing in the way of an alien invasion. Given this book is about monsters and aliens, it might not be the best match for truly younger readers; however, it's certainly an exciting story for older children while still providing enough character development and light-heartedness older readers will enjoy as well.
Although there are two stories in Halloween Legion, the bulk of the graphic novel takes place in "The Great Goblin Invasion" written by Mike Powell and all artistic duties handled by Thomas Boatwright. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I was drawn to this book strictly out of interest in seeing Boatwright's contributions to this story after having experienced his moving collaboration with Paul Allor in the Orc Girl collection of short stories. Boatwright's artwork is well suited to bringing Powell's prose stories to life. His line work creates shadows for his inks to fill in all of which help convey the scary tone of his characters and locations. And it could just be me, but I couldn't help but detect the faintest influence of Bill Watterson in his lines as well. Additionally, the sort of scratchy edge to his lines provide a good fit given the Halloween atmosphere being played upon in this story. Boatwright's colors are also particularly strong with his depictions of the aliens as he creates the eerie glowing yellows and greens one would expect … if an alien abduction was to actually take place. Although Halloween Legionis a work of a very different sort from my past experiences with Boatwright's work, I was hardly disappointed.
There is a short story at the end, "Once Upon a Halloween," by Martin Powell with art by Diana Leto, however, it has nothing to do with main The Halloween Legion characters or story. Instead, it is meant to be an autobiographical story about Powell's first experience trick-or-treating. While "The Great Goblin Invasion" provides a fun and exciting story for readers, I'm not really sure why this short was included since it has more of the feel one might expect to hear briefly in casual conversation with one's friends. It hints at the possibility of a supernatural experience, but it fails to provide the type of follow up to the much more dynamic story preceding it. Artistically, it's also a departure from the previous one hundred pages, and while Leto's artwork is fine, it contributes to a somewhat jarring experience at the very end of the book. Instead, the short story seems as though it might have found a better home in an anthology of short stories versus being tacked on at the end of this otherwise complete narrative.
Overall, The Halloween Legion is an unexpectedly fun graphic novel that will remind its readers about why we love the spooky characters we dress up as for Halloween. Well worth checking out.