Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your first column of the week? Best Shots has you covered, as Noelle Webster kicks off today's column with a review of Sandman: Overture...
Sandman: Overture #1
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams III
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by Noelle Webster
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Every review you’ll read for Sandman: Overture will talk about the original run of Sandman. It is inevitable. So often serving as people’s gateway into comics, it is one of the most loved, most personal, and most lauded comic series of all times. It seems almost unfair to compare Overture to Gaiman’s original run, but it’s evident from this first issue that Gaiman doesn’t intend for this to feel separate but instead as a part of the big picture of the Sandman universe. Sandman sweeps across lifetimes and universes, and while Overture is reacquainting readers with Sandman, it’s not reintroducing us.
It’s almost amazing how Gaiman recaptures the feel and rhythm of Sandman, 25 years after he first wrote these characters. Granted he spent a lot of time with them, but this issue feels less like a return to the series and more like just another part of the whole. Full of rigorous, poetic prose and weaving between multiple stories and worlds, Overture is reminding readers what the Sandman universe feels like. The issue doesn’t delve into any storylines completely, merely skimming across the surface and hinting at what is to come. I can’t stress enough that this is not where new readers to Sandman should start. Go get Preludes and Nocturnes, and thank me later. Overture doesn’t waste time explaining who the characters are, but instead serves as a love letter to fans of the series. And in my opinion, this is the best choice.
Sandman has always boasted great art, and Gaiman has always been adept at writing to an artist’s strengths and style. Another reason I feel this issue fits so well within the Sandman universe is that visually, J.H. Williams III really captures the aesthetic. He seamlessly switches between styles to fit each particular page, to tell each story in the issue. This issue could function as Williams’ portfolio. I never wanted to see through the Corinthian’s horrible, terrible nightmare “eyes,” but there is a double page spread of a mouth where the teeth are the panels early on that is wonderfully innovative. It only gets better from there. We see Destiny reading from his book that visually transitions into the reader’s page, shifts to a black and white gate using the empty space as panels, and eventually culminating in a gorgeous double gate fold spread. Dave Stewart’s colors are also stunning and portray the different worlds beautifully. A great example is when Dream opens up a door and we see the Dreaming through it upside-down. Dream and his London office have only touches of color, but through the door it’s colorful and brighter and it contrasts the two worlds well.
Overture is such an innovative use of the comic medium that I hope to see more creativity like this in comics to come. This comic is extremely well-written, and the art actually helps tell the story. It guides readers through the issue with grace, and demands that the reader spend time each page. This is important because Gaiman is, as always, very literary in his comic writing. What I mean by this is that the pages are packed with paragraphs of story. The issue is word-heavy, very poetic, and has a decided feel of dreaming to it. I will say that not a lot actually happens in the issue. We get the hint of a story, but really it’s the last page that starts the “story” that presumably will be the focus of issues to come.
It’s not the plot that will stick with you after reading the issue, it’s the feel. It’s knowing that we’re back with Sandman, and that we’re in good hands. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one equal parts excited and nervous for the issue. I wanted more Sandman, but I didn’t if it wasn’t going to be as good. I was nervous that Overture could end up tainting something that we all hold so dear. Again, I know it’s a personal series for many, it often being the first comic that people read. But it’s back, it’s pretty, and my fears have subsided. Let’s sit back and enjoy it.
Guardians of the Galaxy #8
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Letters by Cory Petit
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10.
Francesco Francavilla isn’t a name that you would normally associate with the space opera genre, but after one look at his gorgeous opening two page splash, I never want him to draw anything else. Bendis’ Guardians reboot has had a bevy of supremely talented artists handling pencils since it’s opening, but Francavilla’s moody renderings of the dark of space and the gloomy interiors of ships easily provide some of the best pages yet in the series and a stark contrast to the shiny work of Sara Pichelli and Steve NcNiven.
This issue finally pulls the erstwhile Guardians into the larger Infinity fold with a distress call send from The Peak Station. This sends the heroes into action, but instead of charging in guns blazing and swords swinging like previous issues, Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon elect to slip in undetected and rescue the captured Abgail Brand and turn the tide aganist Thanos’ armada. This story choice is a very, VERY strong one and instantly puts it over previous issues in the series mainly because Bendis’ is actually letting the Guardians make tactical moves going into an incursion, instead of just blindly jumping into battle. This also allows for some much needed character work going into the battle. Gamora is finally calling Peter on his secretive nature regarding his and Drax’s resurrection and return from the Cancerverse. This also allows for some room to breathe on Gamora’s characterization. As the daughter of Thanos’, she must be feeling a twisting sense of guilt about the very thing that she calls Peter on; The continued existence of Thanos. Both of them have had ample opportunity to rid the universe of one of the greatest threats that it’s ever encountered, yet both of them never acted on this impulse, though I’m not entirely sure that Peter Quill on his own would be enough to vanquish The Mad Titan on his own. Could this be a bit of projection on Gamora’s part? This is a heady bit of character work on Bendis’ part and a breath of fresh air in the pages of cape comics. Its a story seed and line of thought that could grow into some compelling reading down the line.
The infiltration of the Peak is a thrilling, intimate set of scenes that allow for some fun banter between Peter, Rocket, and Brand, which is where Bendis will either flop or fly usually, but now that he’s eight issues into the series, he has a better handle on the characters and will even call himself out on some of the more annoying things he’s made his characters say. I particularly loved the bit about Rocket’s immensely annoying “Blam. Murdered you.” catch phrase. Bendis is at his best when he’s aware of his own foibles and he seems to have been made aware of them by now, which is infinitely refreshing. Bendis has really gotten out of his comfort zone with his Marvel NOW titles and it’s amazing to see him doing new things and doing them pretty well.
There is really nothing that I can say about Francesco Francavilla that hasn’t been said by countless bloggers and critics before me. I’ve been a dyed in the wool fan of his work ever since my first exposure to his work during Scott Snyder’s genius Detective Comic run, but in this sandbox with Guardians of The Galaxy, he turns in something that I would have never thought I would see from him. His dense clustering of stars in the scenes in open space give a sense of scale that often ignored in other examples of space opera. His moody interiors of The Peak and the Guardian’s craft give a very strong Ridley Scott vibe, which is something that the title had been lacking. Yes, Pichelli has and will continue to do an amazing job on the seedier looking aspects of the space setting, but Francavilla has finally given the title a look of danger and darkness that I’ve been desperately wanting from this title and he delivers it in spades. His panel density is also one of the stronger points of this issue. Ever page is packed with story so when he deploys his two page or one page splashes, they hit you all the harder. You won’t have to look any farther than his gorgeous opening two pager that I mentioned before or his last page reveal of Angela to find the perfect examples of how to make these pages count.
All in all, if you haven’t given Guardians of the Galaxy a chance before now, these tie-in issues are the perfect places to start. #8 is an easy entry point into the world of the future movie stars, along with a fun side story to the larger Infinity epic, topped off with some gorgeous art from one of the most talented pencilers working today.
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1
Written by Mike Costa
Art by Michael Dialvnas and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Call it the Little Crossover That Could - tying together All-New X-Men, Indestructible Hulk and now Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, Marvel's surprisingly enjoyable "The Arms of the Octopus" storyline ends on a strong note. With some deft handling of these unlikely partners, this character-driven romp is an excellent showcase of writer Mike Costa's talents.
Similar to last year's "The Omega Effect" storyline with Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher, the appeal of "The Arms of the Octopus" is less the high concept and more seeing what kinds of sparks can fly when you put some unexpected characters in the same room together. Focusing on the irascible Otto Octavius in this final chapter, Costa makes some very intriguing choices, particularly when he shows a different side of Otto - the secret supervillain as teacher. The All-New X-Men are still pretty green, as they take on a gamma-powered rogue scientist and his adamantium androids, but Costa spins up some interesting action beats, including a smart bit where Otto uses his old octopus arms to save the day.
Another interesting thing about this comic is that while it's a team-up between Spidey, the X-Men and the Hulk, the Unjolly Green Giant actually doesn't get much page time here - instead, the best part of this book has to be the interplay between Hank McCoy, Bruce Banner and Hank's new love interest Molly. (Watching Bruce nonchalantly walk around sans pants after a Hulk transformation is just the right kind of goofy, and it makes the Hulk one of the most likeable characters in the entire book.) What's great about these scenes is not only do they keep this book from getting too fast and frenetic with the action sequences, but it also lends a lot of humanity to the comic - you actually can relate to these superheroes as characters, and it makes you invested in what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill fight comic.
The art, however, does take a little bit of a step back. Michael Dialvnas can't help but pale in comparison to Kris Anka and Jake Wyatt, although his scratchier lines fit more in Wyatt's wheelhouse. Dialvnas's compositions aren't quite as stellar as his predecessors, which cuts some of the momentum for the action sequences - if Dialvnas can really overhaul his page layouts, however, he'll have that same kind of cache as Steve Lieber. Still, Dialvna's quieter sequences are still quite strong, particularly the matter-of-fact way Bruce Banner struts around naked, completely unaware that he's going pants-free.
While you probably won't learn anything new about Spider-Man, the X-Men or the Hulk in "The Arms of the Octopus," I have to give Mike Costa a lot of credit for creating an entertaining story featuring this unlikeliest of team-ups. The greatest strength of the Marvel Universe is the personalities of its characters, and "The Arms of the Octopus" is proof that personality trumps concept.
Avatar: The Search, Part 3
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Amanda McDonald
Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Current Nickelodeon animated series, The Legend of Korra, takes place 70 years after the events of the original series Avatar: The Last Airbender. What has happened in those years? That's being explained via Dark Horse's comic series. While the original series wrapped a lot of the story lines well, one BIG question has remained - what exactly happened to Zuko's mom? This has been a tease in each of the subsequent trade paperback releases - but fans, Avatar: The Search, Part 3 is our payoff. Not only is it an amazing payoff for long time Avatar fans, but for those of us following Korra's adventures, it ties in seamlessly with this season's ventures into the Spirit World.
As the book opens, Zuko is facing off with his sister Azula, continuing the events of previous installments. Aang, Katara, and Sokko are helping a brother and sister to find the spirit, the Mother of Faces. We also flash back to Zuko and Azula's mother many years ago, as she reunites with her first love, Ikem... who is now Noren, thanks to an identity change from the Mother of Faces. One of the appealing factors in this series is the bulk of how much story is told in a relatively short trade paperback, checking in at a mere 70-something pages, yet thoroughly addressing several storylines and time periods. My only complaint about these books is that I want more. Not because the story isn't told and wrapped well, but because the story is just SO good that it seems a shame to blow through it as quickly as one can. Then again, the length is ideal for re-reads when those stretches between new episodes of the tv show seem so long.
Without giving away too many of the intricacies of the plot, Zuko's mom has also been to see the Mother of Faces, where she makes an agonizing choice, and then must again make a difficult decision when Zuko finds her and Ikem encourages him to reveal his identity. The art from Gurihiru complements these flashback scenes in a sepia toned style, just as the animated series delineates time periods with a variety of Asian art aesthetics. While the pages that look like they'd blend with the series are skillfully done, it's these variations of style that make the Avatar trades such a pleasurable reading experience - setting the mood visually for such different tones of the varying plot lines. There is a lot of opportunity for talking head panels in this book, but Gurihiru plays with angles and colors in a way that bring the emotional level up a notch. As the Mother of Faces' role grows, so does the reader's perspective of her and the colors grow more intense. Action sequences are infrequent, but powerful when they do occur - centered around Azula as her world falls apart, the kinetic energy of her ability to control lightning makes the pages buzz, and is aided by looser linework, right down to her hair becoming more frenzied as she furies. The emotional impact is subtly crafted, but undeniably present.
The pacing and plot of this installment is intense, and Yang delivers pages of both action and dialogue that can't be consumed quickly enough. With a background as a writer and artist, his sequencing is spot on to keep the reader moving through the story. Yes, I was anxious to find out the big reveal with Zuko's mom - but due to the pacing, was just as intrigued by the other subplots that wrapped through the book as well. However, unless you're very familiar with the series - I don't think the book would have much appeal. There is no recap, and with a long stretch between installments, I found myself looking back to the last couple of books to catch myself up. Pleasant as that may be, it doesn't offer much incentive to a casual browser, unless they're interested enough to invest in the series to this point. A recap would serve well to introduce new readers as well as reorient old Avatar fans. With such a major plot point finally surfacing, it will be interesting for fans to see where the creative team takes the story from here as they continue to bridge the gap between the two animated series, but great if they can bring in new fans with a more accessible story as well.
Rex: Zombie Killer #1
Written by Rob Anderson
Art by Dafu Yu and Juan Romera
Lettering by E.T. Dollman
Published by Big Dog Ink
Review by Jeff Marsick
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Ever wonder what happens to the animals during a zombie apocalypse? Well, this series answers that pondering. Last year, Issue #0 came out, a stand-alone story that introduced us to Rick-Grimes-as-a-golden-retriever, Rex, leading a band of animals—a pit bull, a corgi, a cat, and a bat-wielding gorilla—cross-country to the safety of his human holed up in a military bunker in Nevada. Along the way they have to avoid the “rotters,” or zombies, who in this series have a penchant for animal flesh as much a palate for the human platter.
This first chapter of a four-issue series follows upon the events of #0, specifically that in addition to getting to Nevada without turning into zombie chow, our band of li’l buddies needs to stay ahead of a rogue band of gorillas and monkeys who have escaped from a government lab and want to get even Rex’s mate, Kenji, for choosing canine loyalty over his own kind. Conflict ensues and just when it looks like things can’t get any worse for our intrepid survivors, it does. Huge.
Writer and creator Rob Anderson has a unique concept going here, with a terrific ability to humanize these animals through hubris and attitude that you would almost expect from each breed and species. I think what’s so engaging with this book is that he eschews trying to be cutesy in favor of making them real characters, infusing them with qualities that the reader can identify with. It’s no surprise that he’s writing IDW’s My Little Pony Micro-Series: Spike, as he has a great sense for it. Maybe it’s because the lead protagonist is a dog and I defy you to find a canine who doesn’t seem perpetually upbeat and happy, but Mr. Anderson doesn’t allow the story to linger in despair and gloomy doom of the world. The zombie apocalypse is just the background set, the spur to action and the motivation. It’s more The Incredible Journey than The Walking Dead, which is a breath of fresh air in the genre.
Dafu Yu’s artwork is a perfect fit for the story, just the right amount of cartoony that again thumbs the eye of typical apocalyptic fare; we get the adventure of survivors without having to be blanketed in a concomitant dour and bleak outlook. Juan Romera’s colors help lift it from the quagmire of dark and gritty, and, as a reader, it’s not hard to wonder at how great a cartoon this would be. If there’s a weakness here, it’s that Mr. Yu’s line work on people isn’t as strong as his animal work, particularly faces. I know he’s certainly capable: just take a look at Tony and Cleo from Bluewater. Still, this book isn’t about the people, it’s about the animals, and this shortcoming isn’t enough to derail enjoyment of the title.
Fans of Beasts of Burden will surely enjoy this book, perhaps even more so. Personally, I think Kenji steals the show—and what gorilla with a Louisville slugger wouldn’t?—but with zombification affecting the animal world and a big reveal near the end of the issue, every character’s going to have to pull their weight if they want to make it to Nevada not only alive, but together. Great fun and highly recommended.
Thor: Crown of Fools #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): With each new Marvel Studios film, we expect a dearth of material related to the characters in question. Thor: Crown of Fools #1 likely exists to give new readers a more familiar starting point than Infinity or God of Thunder but its good intentions are outweighed by it’s lack of quality. Mice Templar scribe Bryan J.L. Glass turns in a ho-hum tale about a magical crown that tricks Thor, Sif and the Warriors Three into giving in to their darkest fantasies. Andrea Di Vito handles the art but he isn’t given that much to draw. A few characters and an enormously empty castle don’t make for much visual stimulation. This book also features a reprint of the first appearance of Thor 2 villain, Malekith, by Walt Simonson, and that might be its biggest draw.