Greetings, 'Rama readers! Experiencing the post-NYCC hangover? Best Shots sure is, but that's not stopping us from bringing to you our regular Monday column! So let's kick off with a trip to Gotham City, as Scott Cederlund takes a look at Batman #24...
Written by Scott Snyder with James Tynion
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia with Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Nick Napolitano with Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman has been all about masks. From “The Court of Owls’” creepy minimalistic avian masks to Lincoln March’s many masks and even to the Joker’s disturbing mask made of his own facial skin in “The Death of the Family,” this theme of identity and concealment has been at the heart of most of Snyder and Capullo’s stories. And each of these stories has also picked away a bit at Bruce Wayne; he didn’t know his city, he didn’t know his family and he didn’t know his friends or his villains. Snyder and Capullo have scraped away at the confidence of the character, exposing the raw nerves that are his weaknesses and doubts. Look at the cover for Batman #24 and you can see that Bruce Wayne has found his mask. “Zero Year” continues with the birth of Batman and but is Bruce Wayne Batman yet?
It feels like the past 23 issues of Batman have been leading to this, which is a neat trick in a story that is flashing back to six years ago. For the first time, we see Bruce in action as Batman. With a great retro redesign of the costume, Capullo's “Zero Year” Batman is quite different than his modern take on the character. A blending of Bob Kane, Marshall Rogers and Todd McFarlane, Capullo's embraces the cape. It's a part of the costume that has a life of its own, often concealing and making Batman look like an urban legendary blend between a bat and a human. Seeing Batman swoop down on the Red Hood Gang, in broad daylight, is a triumphant moment in “Zero Year” and in this whole series. It's the birth of the hero and reminiscent of - but different - than most retellings of Batman's origin. Snyder and Capullo's Bruce Wayne is not the dark knight we've been seeing for the past 30 years but a man with a tragic past that wants to be a hero to his city and its people.
The psychobabble question about Batman for decades is who is the mask - Batman or Bruce Wayne? As Bruce dons the cape and cowl for the first time, there's no need to look for that kind of distinction. Bruce Wayne is Batman and Batman is Bruce Wayne. And both are new at this super-heroing thing, getting small victories but making big mistakes. Snyder and Capullo make Batman a crusader in this issue, fighting against the evil pervading Gotham. He's not the hero trying to push back the evil darkness as he's been against the Court of Owls or the Joker. Here, under FCO Plascencia's orange-yellowish skies and blazing red furnaces, Bruce is fighting to keep that evil out of Gotham. Gotham hasn't been lost to the darkness, the evil or the grime yet, though it is at a tipping point.
The shift from the main story to the backup, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque and colored by Dave McCaig, shows how Gotham is pushing back against Bruce's crusade. From Plascencia's burning colors to McCaig's cool,somber and darker colors, Scott, co-writer James Tynion and Albuquerque show how the pervasive corruption of Gotham City will keep rising up to challenge the Batman. The main stories' confrontation with the Red Hood Gang is only a victory insofar as the hero walks away from it but the backup throws its next cruel challenge at Bruce, the next in its unrelenting defiance of everything that Bruce Wayne wants for his city.
Just as Snyder and Capullo have chipped away at Bruce Wayne, eroding his confidence in the role he’s chosen for himself, this issue puts all of the pieces together. For an issue that takes place six years ago, the creators keep rolling with the forward momentum as Bruce Wayne builds himself into the hero he wants to be. He may move like Batman but this story is called “Year Zero” for a reason. He’s not Batman yet. The mask he has finally found for himself just conceals his identity. He still has to figure out what it means to himself and to Gotham City. Even as the Court of Owls, Lincoln March and the Joker have spent their stories constructing their identities and defining their stories, Bruce Wayne is in the process of that. All of the pieces are there and he needs to figure out what they all mean.
Captain America #12
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Klaus Janson, Dean Wite and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
People always say that a hero is only as good as his villains, but Rick Remender disproves this in a very weird way with Captain America #12. This book comes off as a bit schizophrenic, as Remender focuses on not one, but two slightly underwhelming villains. But what could have been a completely lackluster issue is bolstered by Steve Rogers' emotional narrative, as the Star-Spangled Sentinel shows more character and likeability than he's had in years.
Part of the struggles this book has is that after Remender's insane, sci-fi-infused opening arc, the second arc can't help but feel less energetic by comparison. Remender winds up introducing not one, but two villains to the piece, and even though the bad guys wind up fulfilling the prerequisite action beats of this issue, the immense focus on these characters winds up hurting the momentum of the book. The super-soldier known as Nuke, for example, has a particularly difficult sequence to follow, as you can't tell until the end of the issue whether he is being controlled by an outside force, or if he's responding to a PA system blearing throughout an enemy camp.
That said, when Remender gets back to Cap himself, the book gets its second wind. When Steve Rogers first woke up from his icy coma into the world of the 20th century, he was a man out of time - and now that Steve has spent a decade in Dimension Z, his return to the modern-day Marvel Universe is just as alienating. Using a great action-based bit of exposition featuring the Falcon, Remender not only plays up the "soldier" element of Captain America - after all, he spent years as a guerilla warrior - but he truly hits us where it hurts when Steve breaks down over the deaths of his son and fiancee. "I'm lost here," Steve says. "I'm trying to find meaning... in a world that holds none for me."
The art in this book also happens to be hit-or-miss. Carlos Pacheco looks like a whole new artist with Klaus Janson on inks, particularly evoking that John Romita, Jr. look during the Captain America scenes. (Pacheco's composition for these pages is superb, especially the way that Cap twists and turns as he leaps across buildings with the Falcon.) That said, the scenes with the villains seem to be a bit softer with the inks, and Pacheco's fight choreography winds up suffering a bit. Between Nuke and a dragon-like creature underneath Mt. Everest, there aren't any big visual moments that hit home - which is a problem, considering how many pages Remender devotes to these two villains.
Ultimately, some of the problems with Captain America #12 are considered necessary evils, as Remender has to build up the villains he needs to challenge our war-torn hero. That said, it feels like a lot of this ground could have been covered last issue, and the lack of connection between Steve and his enemies makes this book feel a little less weighty than it should be. With some slightly underwhelming art and some unwieldy structure, Captain America needs to get back into the trenches and fight some supervillains, stat.
The Walking Dead #115
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
War is hell. The build up to war, however? Not so much.
As illustrated by The Walking Dead #115, the buildup can be slow, tedious, and provide a modest payoff - once the story gets there. This arc at least has promise, and Robert Kirkman seems like he’s ready to finally do something interesting with the character Negan. The comic, therefore, is overloaded with exposition and really lumbers towards its climax with plodding, if confident pacing.
Kirkman covers all his bases, going round robin through Rick’s camp to show the major players of “All Out War.” Much of what Kirkman covers is nothing new. Even Rick’s big “off to war” speech seems like a retread of previous speeches. I mean, how many times can you warn your people against death in a world full of it?
But what makes Kirkman’s set up a little stronger than usual is the fact that Rick is asking people to trade fighting in return for their safety at his compound, something he’s never really done before. Plus, his realism about the death that awaits them is unnerving, as he knows that there will be casualties. The theme Kirkman really goes for is the justification of war -- that sacrificing ten lives saves ten times that much back home. So even we, the readers, feel like this situation is lose/lose, and that Rick, as the leader, has to take the fall for his bad decisions.
When the group finally arrives at Negan’s compound, the story starts to get interesting. Negan is his usual foul mouthed, over confident sense, and his conversation with rick bubbles with tension, but it comes to an abrupt ending, killing any momentum that was generated. Granted, the next issue will probably be all action, but getting there is an exercise in patience rather than enjoyment.
Unlike Kirkman, Charlie Adlard provides continuous enjoyment. His splash pages are gorgeous, meticulously drawn, and impeccably detailed. No one draws wasteland like Adlard, and in these panels he finds a way to convey the desperation and desolation that Kirkman strives for, yet cannot achieve. Adlard bridges this disconnect with his art, and even after 100 plus issues, his work is top-notch.
As always, The Walking Dead has promise. The follow through, however, remains to be seen. With Image publishing the comic in bi-weekly installments starting with “All Out War,” clearly they want to keep readers engaged and they feel that Kirkman’s story will do that. As long as he can avoid an exorbitant amount of dialogue, and follow through on his premise, I think “All Out War” will deliver, and hopefully when the dust settles, Rick and his crew will be victorious, and able to spend their time fighting the undead and not each other.
Green Lantern Corps #24
Written by Van Jensen and Robert Venditti
Art by Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The last time the Green Lantern writing team really put its members into dire straits was during “Blackest Night” when the Green Lantern Corps had to battle undead enemies, as well as destroy its ring creating entity, Mogo. Geoff Johns brought the corps to its knees before returning it to glory.
Van Jensen and Robert Venditti seem intent on doing the same thing as the writers deliver a knockout blow to the Green Lantern Corps in an issue that is exciting, if overly dramatic at times.
Relic’s destruction of the central power battery on Oa in Green Lantern #24 was only the beginning of the end for the corps. Van Jensen heaps on more trouble for the Corps as we learn that the power battery was tied directly into the center of Oa, so without the battery, the planet is unstable.
Additionally, Venditti has hinted that Hal Jordan and Jon Stewart will come to blows around the direction of the Corps. Those seeds are planted here as well, if overtly. Having a character say “Why doesn’t Hal Jordan ever listen?” is a bit too much of an indicator of trouble rather than letting the story organically develop this thread. This and Relic’s ridiculously villainous dialogue are the most distracting parts of the comic. Relic is cartoonish in his wickedness, and whereas he’s supposed to be the main focus of the story, he’s more of a backdrop to the Green Lanterns in the issue.
But this is how Green Lantern Corps should be written. It’s about the heroes, and not the villain. Because as hokey as Relic is, the Corps members are twice as valiant. Jensen reminds readers that Jon Stewart is not only a Green Lantern, but a soldier as well. And Hal Jordan may be reckless, but he’s dogged and fearless. Even if their efforts fail by the end of the issue, Jensen reminds us of the characteristics of heroes, particularly those found in the Corps.
What’s most impressive, however, is Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo’s art. Other Green Lantern books tend to be overly produced, and while they look good, it’s hard to say what’s computerized and what’s created by the artists’ pens. Here, however, every image looks sharp and clean. Surprisingly, Chang’s human characters are the least interesting as they lack the dynamism found in the rest of the issue.
Because the rest of the issue is superb. Chang’s constructs are awesome, and cleanly drawn. Seeing Jon Stewart bound around Oa in a giant robot construct reminiscent of Pacific Rim is just fantastic. Plus, even amidst all the chaos, images are sharp and precise. The panel construction diverts a bit from the flow of the story, but this is only a minor hindrance. Additional props to Marcelo Maiolo’s colors as the issue is visually vibrant without being boisterous.
Green Lantern Corps brings back some of the old excitement found in Geoff Johns’ heyday as the Green Lantern scribe. Van Jensen has left the heroes in a worse position than he found them, and what lies ahead for the Corps is more uncertainty. But the writers are clearly unafraid to push their characters to the brink all while changing the status quo.
This takes guts, and clearly, their efforts are paying off as “Lights Out” is proving to be an engaging and harrowing read.
Superman/Wonder Woman #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Fears that this new title would merely paint Wonder Woman as "Superman's girlfriend" proved to be no more justified than Batman/Superman setting up Bruce as Clark's life partner. Instead, Charles Soule clearly defines this as a meeting of equals, each with something to teach the other. Carefully juxtaposing the guarded private life of Clark with Diana's open conversations with Amazonian sister Hessia, one of Soule's chief challenges will be in appeasing the twin stories of these characters as both lovers and warriors. The latter is represented in bloody and brutal fashion with the reintroduction of a Superman villain. Tony S. Daniel chisels these scenes into the page, but takes full advantage of Tomeu Morey's softer colors during a key intimate rooftop conversation out of costume. It assumes a great deal of knowledge going in, but will be ultimately rewarding if DC continues to allow Soule free reign in developing underused aspects to both their characters.
Rocket Girl #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating 7 out of 10): The creative team behind Halloween Eve is at it again this week with their newest venture, Rocket Girl. Teenage cop Dayoung Johansson is sent back in time to New York City (circa 1986) to investigate Quintum Mechanics for committing "crimes against time." That is the plot set-up by writer Brandon Montclare, but after the introduction it is basically ignored. What's left doesn't really drive the story forward, making the book feel a bit disjointed. But the art! Reeder's wide-eyed characters are designed impeccably, most notably Dayoung's flight suit. A good read, hopefully made better in future issues with a more cohesive narrative.
Batgirl #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Gail Simone's almost flawless run on this title was torturously interrupted by Villain's Month, so we mercifully pick up with the bloody cliffhanger she left us on two months ago. Barbara Gordon's double life has come to a head, and Simone keeps this issue moving at a rapid pace, but never neglecting the complicated father-daughter relationship that Babs has with the Commissioner. Fernando Pasarin's pencils keep things dark and edgy, showcasing a temporary 'ninja style' costume for the fugitive Batgirl. A stormy confrontation with Detective McKenna is neatly contrasted with the brightness of the "sunshine after the storm" sequences, a visual cue that a second tempest is brewing. A book that continually demands our attention each month, the only frustration is that the final panel flags next month for a "Zero Year" tie-in (from Marguerite Bennett, no less), meaning yet another interruption to what has otherwise been a continuous operatic narrative.
Forever Evil: Arkham War #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Villain's Month might be over, but there's still a world of Forever Evil tie-ins to be explored. Peter J. Tomasi kicks off what is essentially a continuation of his Batman #23.4 - Bane issue last month. As Bane reaches a Gotham overrun by directionless villains, he immediately asserts his authority over all and sundry. Tomasi tries to pack a lot into this first issue, occasionally overwhelming with the machinations of the various pieces on the board. At its heart, it's another story about Bane seizing control of Gotham, but Penguin and Scarecrow are not going down without a fight. Scot Eaton mostly makes sense of the madness, depicting a world where the lunatics are running the asylum. He even gets to have a bit of fun with Professor Pyg, who gets far too much time on panel, attaching someone's foot to their arm. A welcome change from a Villain's Month that told us very little about a post-hero world, this series has the potential to create a major power shift in Gotham or simply be a curious distraction.
Suicide Squad #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Suicide Squads square off as Amanda Waller finds she may have been too clever by half in a story spinning out of Forever Evil. Writer Matt Kindt doesn't disappoint here. Full of action from start to finish, the real Waller races to get her villains in place while one of the Society manipulates heroes into trying to stop them. It's a great twist on the premise of the series and Patrick Zircher rises to the challenge of the fast-moving script, showing the chaos at Belle Reve and introducing the teams we'll see in this story arc with equal ease-and a good share of blood. He gives each a nice half-splash without harming the flow of the narrative. This one hooked me in a hurry.
Constantine #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The Cold Flame takes everything from Constantine including the promising start of this series as this issue by Ray Fawkes and Szymon Kudrankski lacks fire. Constantine's appeal is that no matter how bad things get, he always finds a way to win. The trick is making his losses interesting, but Fawkes fails to do that by making it an ordinary theft/revenge plot. The story isn't helped by Kudrankski's art, which overdoes the shadows and provides almost no emotion, despite all the deaths and magic involved. His linework is thin and brittle, providing no spark to the lifeless plot. Combined with villains returning before the series is even a year old, I left this one bored and wishing for the promise of Lemire-written issues.
Red Sonja #4 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Sonja might need to file a trademark suit if she can fight her way back against plague and familiar mercenaries in another amazing part of Gail Simone and Walter Geovani's opening arc. This issue is Simone in a nutshell, featuring unfettered cruelty, heroic action and ribald drunken singing. Meanwhile, Geovani flips effortlessly from showing the past (the "My name is Red Sonja!" moment defines her character visually and verbally) to present, making the sick Sonja unsteady to highlight her condition. The creatures in the story are varied, yet share the same ability to emote without speaking as his human figures. Between Geovani's panel work and Simone's script, this action-packed story is building to a fight to the death and I couldn't be happier about that.
Coffin Hill #1 (Published by Vertigo/DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Eve Coffin tries to escape the curse of her family and her own past, but finds it impossible as this new series gets off to an interesting start. There's a lot going on in Caitlin Kittredge's script, as she flashes from tragic events in Eve's past and present while co-creator Inaki Miranda does his best to keep things creepy. Miranda has the old money Gothic part down, but he poses just about every character to look straight at the reader, which kept me from connecting fully with the story. It's well-drawn otherwise, in a very realistic style. The script is tight (if vague) and as the issue closes I'm still a bit lost, but there's enough in this set-up issue to bring me back for more.
Kevin Keller #11; Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): How much mileage can you get out of a fight between two teenagers over whether the school fundraiser should be a carnival or a ballroom dance? In the case of Kevin and Veronica, a good bit. The series of barbs that unfold in this issue are fun, and writer Paul Kupperberg's portrayal of Veronica as an easily baited princess is thoroughly enjoyable. In a book aimed at a young audience, it's also good to see a message about kids with special learning needs - an unexpected touch. While I was hoping Devon would drop some jealous boyfriend snark on Paul, who might still have a crush on Kevin, it was not to be. Kevin Keller #11 isn't among the series' most memorable issues, but it hits some entertaining notes.
Katana #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The life of Katana grows ever-stranger. With great artwork from Cliff Richards, her fate in this series plays out according to a tattooed woman, but makes almost no sense whatsoever. Ann Nocenti seems bent on making her parts of the New 52 as strange as possible, which makes this hard to follow. Katana fights for her place in the Outsiders organization, sometimes called the Sword Clan, while ghosts start inhabiting bodies and causing havoc. There's no chaos in the solid art of Richards, who mixes up the panels and keeps the action flowing. He's not unlike Brian Bolland in his extremely fine details and artistic choices, making this confusing, going nowhere story just barely worth putting up with this week.
Chew #37 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): I am not sure which is better, Lying Cat on Olive's shirt, Rob Guillory's brilliant psychic splash-page, Mason Savoy articulating through a Hannibal mask or the well-timed notes of humor and emotion that John Layman hits throughout the issue. There is a lot to love as mysteries unfold and new mysteries arise in this Chu-family-centric second installment of the Family Recipes arc. While Chew typically errs on the side of consistent quality, for a single issue to pack such a wallop of character, story and heart in the middle of an arc is a testament to the momentum and clever creative cohesion that Layman and Guillory continue to dish out. There's no filler here. Chew #37 is well worth your time and money.
Afterlife With Archie #1; Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Visually stunning and paced to thrill, Afterlife With Archie #1might be this week's most surprising book. Granted, Archie Comics has been in the middle of a renaissance for a while. But this absorbing new series, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, is unlike anything else in the publisher's wheelhouse. In this exquisitely dark vision of Riverdale, a misguided act of kindness triggers a slow-building horror that seeps onto every page. Francavilla reinvents the cast members without making them unrecognizable, and they inhabit a world of deep gray, crimson and purple. Even the daytime looks ominous, which is perfect for a story containing these words of wisdom: "Sometimes dead is better." Not a fan of Archie or zombies? Pick it up anyway.
Eternal Warrior #2 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Facing an angry cult isn't the best time for a father-daughter chat, but that's how the Eternal Warrior rolls in an issue that's fast moving and fun. Writer Greg Pak gives us a serious plot about the nature of life and death as determined by the gods and peppers it with irreverent dialogue. Three artists flip between present-day Africa and the American West during the Indian Wars as we learn more of the Warrior's origin story. The scenes are depicted in contrasting styles, with the present in thin lines and the past given digital effects to look like an old Remington painting. The Warrior's daughter might be unhinged, but her father is crazy, and seeing how Pak resolves this is going to be fun.
Pulp #1 (Self-Published; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Pulp #1 is a name-your-price one-shot from indie creators, Jeremy Holt and Christopher Peterson, that tells a story styled after the film noir genre. The story focuses on the compulsion driving one particular writer, and like any noir-esque story, readers can expect a less-than-happy ending. Artistically, the book struck me as something in the vein of Darwyn Cooke's Parker series with a strong design element throughout. Although I didn't' find the pieces fell into place at the end of my first reading, the connection between dual storylines became clearer with a second review. It's a well-paced story whose cool and simple style work together to make for an interesting comic.
Archer and Armstrong #14 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Breakup Sects is the worst kind to have, as Archer (minus Armstrong) runs headlong into a fight for power as this series moves as close to a serious story as it can. Archer makes a deal with the guys behind Bloodshot to take on the rest of the various cabals Van Lente has written into the series. It's fun to see the One Percent and the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness back, and new artist Khari Evans picks up where Pere Perez left off. He gives even the sternest characters rubber faces to match Van Lente's dialogue, starting with Akhenaten and rolling right up to the climax. His linework keeps the art style consistent as this new arc of my favorite Valiant series kicks off.