Best Shots Comic Reviews: HARLEY QUINN #0, UNCANNY X-MEN #14, More

Harley Quinn #0 Variant
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn #0
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Amanda Conner, Becky Cloonan, Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Stephane Roux, Dan Panosian, Charlie Adlard, Adam Hughes, Art Baltazar, Walt Simonson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Bruce Timm, Tradd Moore, Dave Johnson, Jeremy Roberts, Sam Kieth, Darwyn Cooke, Chad Hardin, Paul Mounts, Tomeu Morey, John Kalisz, Lovern Kindzierski, Alex Sinclair, Lee Loughridge, Dave Stewart, Alex Sollazzo Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Harley Quinn started simply as a henchwoman and Joker's quasi-girlfriend, but has evolved into so much more in her 20 years of creation. The character was rebooted along with the rest of the DC Universe and wasn't as bubbly as before, but definitely more in tune with the gritty nature of the New 52 universe. So why a Harley Quinn series now? One could argue that DC needs an injection of fun to break away from the doom and gloom, but does Harley Quinn #0 deliver on that prospect? Absolutely.

As an art lover myself, I couldn't help but just be amazed at this line-up page after page, with Harley having a conversation with her new series creators, comics power couple Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, about trying to find an artist for the series. Pretty meta, huh? Conner and Palmiotti have a sort of Deadpool/Ambush Bug thing going on, and in this context it works. While Conner and Palmiotti interact with Harley almost like gods and explaining different artists, there's a little bit of punches and snark about the industry thrown in. Palmiotti makes fun of himself when Harley and Catwoman talk about the sales for All-Star Western and Batwing and having the same writer in charge of her. Palmiotti and Conner definitely pulling no punches here, and even get their own wedding interrupted momentarily. We're shown the fun yet homicidal side of Harley's sense of humor, and along the way we get a slew of talent before they decide on Harley's ongoing penciller: Chad Hardin (Zatanna). Hardin's style has definitely evolved since I last saw his works, and gives Harley that sultry but dangerous edge she's known for.

But deciding on Yardin was only half the fun, as Harley goes through many looks and changes with more than a dozen artists. These artists, ranging from Becky Cloonan to Adam Hughes to DC co-publisher Jim Lee (with a reprint page from Batman: Hush, in one of the book's better gags), do about a page each, and while different artists can sometimes put a level of inconsistency in the book, that's not the point here. This definitely acts as a "zero" issue, setting up the premise of the book at the very end, with Harley receiving some sort of property on Coney Island by a mysterious benefactor. Having Conner and Palmiotti bring in some of their friends is always a good thing, especially the Dan Panosian "Mad Men"-inspired page (although I'm somewhat bummed that the Dave Johnson page was considerably more tamer than what I would have expected from him).

Earlier this year, DC put out a sort of "talent search" and posted a page of the script for artists to submit a page sample with the chance of publication within this issue. While the page's contents itself were met with concern from fans, the page is intact, though the hinted nudity panel was removed (though there's hinted nudity in the Timm page, along with a joke) and artist Jeremy Roberts not only aced the page, but scored a Stormwatch gig as well. His style is in DC's art wheelhouse for sure, with Tony Daniel-esque polished lines and giving Harley a toned down allure, but still very cute nonetheless.

Speaking of cute, there are some rather surprising choices of artists in this talent pool, including Tiny Titans' own Art Baltazar. It doesn't take long for Harley to hate that sort of universe especially since there's no blood. Pair that up with Tradd Moore and Sam Kieth and it doesn't feel schizophrenic as it does just zany and colorful as Harley's brain. Things go from so-crazy-it's-hysterical to self-depreciation to pop culture references in a simple turn of the page.

Conner, Palmiotti, and Hardin have something fun planned (Harley's own words), and it will be good to see some actual fun in the DC Universe again. While Harley's habit of breaking the Fourth Wall was a one-time thing here to give the reader a feel of what the book is about, it's a near shame of the missed opportunities with the talent on board here that can't follow Harley into her ongoing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny X-Men #14
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin and Victor Olzaba
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Who would have thought the personal touch could save Uncanny X-Men>

Ever since Schism, it feels like Cyclops and company have gotten the short end of the stick, as Wolverine and the X-Men have proven to be so much more interesting than the fugitive Uncanny X-Men, with their dour outlooks, their broken powers and their meandering storylines. Yet with this done-in-one issue, Brian Michael Bendis puts a bit more of a human face on this misunderstood team, adding just a little bit of relatability to this otherwise gloomy title.

Focusing on new mutant Benjamin Deeds, Bendis impresses this week by stretching the boundaries of what mutant powers can do. In the case of Deeds, he's a metamorph - think of Meggan from Excalibur, where he transforms in reaction to those around him - but considering the militaristic nature of Scott Summer's underground school, that's not exactly a tactical benefit. Or is it? Teaming Benjamin with Emma Frost, Bendis delivers a surprisingly endearing story about an awkward kid finding his niche in the world. As Benjamin subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) transforms himself to look like those around him, Bendis coasts on actual scientific research to prove a point - even the most useless-seeming powers, when approached from the right angle, can be useful and interesting.

What's more, this premise actually gives artist Chris Bachalo a chance to flex his muscles. Bachalo's scratchy, distended, cartoony artwork doesn't always feel like a good fit for the bleak tone of Uncanny X-Men, but for this issue, it really works - for example, there's a montage of Benjamin speaking with random people and gaining their trust, and it's interesting to see him transform from panel to panel in their likeness. Sometimes, however, when Benjamin will look like two different people in two different panels, it stretches the limits of believability, but Bachalo makes up for it by really fleshing out his settings and playing up the wide-eyed emotion in Benjamin's shapeshifting face.

Topped off with a nice nod to long-time X-fans, Uncanny X-Men #14 brings a refreshing amount of light to what has been a fairly oppressive title. The fact that Bendis is able to bring some freshness to a franchise that has been strip-mined from every angle is already a win, and while the scale of the story might be small, the characterization makes this issue one of the stronger installments of Uncanny X-Men yet.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman and Two-Face #25
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's a reason why Batman has endured for as long as he has - there's something about a brooding ninja vigilante that's easy to distill, even if that same broad appeal can make his adventures so interchangeable and forgettable. That's not saying that Batman and Two-Face #25 is going to be remembered in the annals of the Bat-mythos, but I'll say this for certain - Peter Tomsai and Patrick Gleason are on a freaking tear.

On the surface, you could easily dismiss Tomasi's plot as banal, as his reimagining of Two-Face's origin feels like it's been forced in as part of the New 52 - instead of Harvey Dent being scarred by acid in a courtoom, now he was the victim of an Irish femme fatale who killed his wife and disfigured him for life. But it's not so much the plot points as it is the technique - Tomasi puts the pedal to the metal here, whipping together a ton of evocative images. His intro alone sets the action-packed tone, as acid eats through the Gotham City Police Department building, culiminating with an image of a half-melted Bat-signal. Tomasi punctuates this comic with a ton of rapid action sequences from here, including Batman narrowly saving a group of innocents as well as a jailhouse ambush featuring a welcome cameo.

Yet Tomasi's script wouldn't go anywhere without Patrick Gleason on the art. Someone's been eating their Wheaties this month, because Gleason just knocks this issue out of the park - the choreography he brings to his action sequences is superb, especially unusual beats like Batman bouncing in front of an American flag on his way towards rescuing a rooftop full of hostages, or Bruce dropping into an almost impossibly limber crouch as he dodges a prison shiv. Gleason also really relishes that iconic Bat-silhouette this issue, as you can see the wary look in Bruce's eyes as he sizes up Harvey Dent. It's energetic and in-your-face, as Gleason balances the cartoony and the ultra-violent.

That said, there are some minor hiccups giving this book some drag. In terms of the art, occasionally Gleason's faces suffer, whether it's the plastic-like look on a prisoner's face (when he has a fork in his eye, for Pete's sake) or the weird distending on Harvey Dent's face when his wife gets stabbed to death. Speaking of that plot twist, you can't help but feel like Tomasi's change-up to Two-Face's origin feels a little unnecessary - out of everyone in the New 52, Batman was doing the best, so it definitely feels like a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

While Batman and Two-Face #25 won't cause any riots in the plot department, there's something to be said for doing the simple well. Batman is a character that thrives because he's built for action - and action is what Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason deliver here. If you're looking for a gorgeously drawn, no-nonsense fix of Gotham City fisticuffs, you could do much worse than Batman and Two-Face #25.

Credit: DC Comics

Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion #2
Written by Brian Buccellato
Art by Scott Hepburn and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In every giant event, there’s always a port in the storm, a corner of the universe that makes you feel as though "your" characters are the most important players in the entire game. As Forever Evil takes the first half of its moniker incredibly literally, expanding to encompass all the dark corners of the DCU, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion finds its strength in concentrating solely on the group of villains traditionally associated with the Flash. With the absence of any heroes left in the Justice League, Brian Buccellato lets some of the bad guys step up to fill at least part of their shoes.

While this second issue touches on aspects of the other Forever Evil titles, including the backbone miniseries that sits at its heart, readers are able to jump aboard this train fairly quickly via Buccellato’s succinct set-up. Even though the Crime Syndicate has taken over the Earth, the crew of Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, Heat Wave and Trickster have drawn the line at the murder of innocents to make a point. Standing against the new status quo, the team is soon on the run with a price on their heads, facing down the likes of Parasite and a mysterious red archer. With Captain Cold knocked out of action, the team are bounced around from Metropolis to Gotham, where they will soon face someone rather unexpected.

What makes Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion so engaging is how unique a team this is within the New 52 DC universe. The Rogues are not simply a team, but a de facto family, thrown together through circumstance and accident, but held together by a hope that they can change their own fate. Their back-alley repartee when they first land in Metropolis is lighthearted and fast, but their familial squabbling is nicely contrasted with their ability to immediately pull together as a team when attacked by the aforementioned fores. Humor also emerges in various asides, including Trickster’s observations that the twitchy Power Ring (the evil Green Lantern) is “totally breaking green...”.

Scott Hepburn continues to tackle art duties this issue, and thankfully there isn’t the same abrupt change that came with the two artists present in the first outing. As much of the issue has the kind of hyperkinetic action that characterised his sequence in the first book, his art style is perfectly suited here, an almost rubbery ‘cartoon’ with a darker edge. Case in point is watching Firestorm rip the maligned genetic code from Captain Cold’s body, which is as surreal as it is edgy. Muscles pop and threaten to burst as the crew dangles from a building, while Parasite would be a hulking joke were it not for the sinister way Hepburn has captured his insatiable hunger.

While the rest of “Forever Evil” grapples with the bigger questions of the whereabouts of the Justice League, the moon being shifted out of its orbit and general villainy, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion focuses on a compelling set of characters at the heart of the maelstrom, and is all the more rewarding for it.

Credit: DC Comics

Batwoman #25
Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Trevor McCarthy, Andrea Mutti, Pat Oliffe, Jim Fern, Jay Leisten, Tom Nguyen and Guy Major
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

A new era of Batwoman begins here. After J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman left the book over editorial interference, writer Marc Andreyko and regular series artist Trevor McCarthy bring Kate Kane into the “Zero Year” fold with some almost promising results. The artwork manages to maintain some shreds of its murkiness because of Guy Major’s color work despite a multitude of other contributors. Meanwhile, Andreyko misses the mark with some of his character interactions.

Two things really stand out about Andreyko’s first issue. The first is that he begins his run with a slight homage to Williams III and Blackman’s first arc, “Hydrology.” The second is that Kate Kane’s “Zero Year” actions are eerily similar to Bruce Wayne’s in Frank Miller’s original Batman: Year One. That’s not a bad thing. Kate visits a Gotham to put “family before duty” and attend Philip Kane’s funeral. Themes of family and duty are prevalent throughout the Bat-books and each character deals with them differently depending on their own specific backgrounds and trauma. Bruce and Dick’s senses of duty exist because they lost their families and owes it to their new ones. But Kate’s military background and upbringing make her dutiful by nature. She is trained to be a hero and taught that being a hero is the most honorable thing that someone can do with their life.

The parallels to “Year One” come when Kate prepares for a night out on patrol. She prepares with make-up and dark clothing, much like Bruce in his earlier adventure. We also get a glimpse at Maggie Sawyer and Bette Kane in this issue, providing a some context for the relationships that we’ve seen unfold in previous issues.Andreyko might miss the mark with his interactions (Bruce’s “prefer the shadows” line is cringeworthy) between Kate and Bruce or Alfred but he understands the relationship that Kate and her father have at this point in their history. The final pages refer right back to the family/duty dichotomy that Andreyko sets up at the start, strengthening the theme that the Bat-books adhere to and doing more to bring Kate and her story into that metaphor. And that’s why this story works. Andreyko might go through some growing pains finding the voices of other characters but he is on point with Kate.

Trevor McCarthy is joined by a bevy of artists on this one and it takes the storytelling in a much more traditional direction. Gone are the imaginative layouts of the Williams III/Blackman era, replaced instead by standard rectangular ones. I would imagine this is not only because of the change in writer but because of the amount of artists that worked on the project. Four pencillers, two inkers and one colorist make up the art team and while Guy Major’s colors keep a common thread throughout (as well as maintain continuity from the previous run) there are inconsistencies. Odd facial expressions and head angles lead to some strange looking characters and Kate probably bears the worst of it because she shows up the most. It’s not terrible art, but going from critically-acclaimed to this is a bit of a drop-off.

Andreyko proves himself completely capable to write Batwoman. I’m more excited to see what he does outside the “Zero Year” box. I’m also hoping that the art on this one is the exception and not the rule. It’s rare for one story to bear the weight of so many artists without hurting the quality of the book. Batwoman #25 could be the start of a quality entry in the “Zero Year” saga but it definitely has its warts. Fixing those will be the difference between a memorable first arc that does Williams II/Blackman’s work some justice and a disastrous one that only justifies the comics community’s hemming and hawing over editorial interference.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Legacy #20
Written by Si Spurrier
Art by Tan Eng Haut, Craig Yeung, Ed Tadeo and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

David Haller is a broken man. Throughout the years he has built up a distrust of others that has become his natural state of being. He holds everyone at an extreme arms length and when he needs something from one of his fellow mutants, he’s not above manipulation, regardless of if they know they are being manipulated or not. But now? David Haller has faced death and it has humbled him and this is just the latest amazing bit of character development to come from Si Spurrier and his brilliantly constructed X-Men: Legacy; the best X-Men book you aren’t reading.

#20 finds David, still in S.W.O.R.D. custody and under psychic attack from what has been described to him and the reader as The Shadow Phoenix, a world razing psychic weapon that needed to be tested on David before deployed onto the Earth below to stop the gold-skinned impression of Professor Xavier that escaped from David’s mind and who is now sowing the seeds of destruction in the minds of unsuspecting humans. Its off the wall comic plotting like this that has kept Legacy so entertaining throughout Spurrier’s run, but its the all too human elements that he injects into every issue that keeps the book from falling into hysterical over plotting.

This series has been all about showing David Haller at a particular place in his life and stripping all of that away little by little, and then replacing it with something way more meaningful and powerful; a sense of belonging. Now, David has the power to accept himself for who he is, broken mind and all. He has found someone, in Blindfold, that accepts him for who he is. And most of all, he’s found a place in the world that has for so long rejected him as a freak. Spurrier has taken one of my favorite characters and turned him into a living, breathing, feeling hero instead of the standard deus ex machina or villain role that so many other writers have stuck David into. With #20, he gives us yet another huge step on David’s road to recovering, perhaps the most important one: Humility. In #20, David is quite literally facing dead and is presented with all his choices along the way and he sees precisely what distrust and putting your goals above others will get you. He sees how Pete Wisdom would think that he was making a power play for London by not being included in David’s schemes. He realizes that his team-ups could have been simply asked for instead of shuffling his teammates around like pieces on a board. And most of all, he sees how he’s taken advantage of the woman who loves him to achieve his goals. Most of this, if not all of this, would be a bit too inside for casual readers just hoping to jump in on this issue, which is where both the book’s strengths and weaknesses lie, which is why it’s not just a straight 10 out of 10. I became hooked by Spurrier’s plotting of the series, which has had a defined direction from #1 and quite frankly, surprised be with how strong of debut it was for it, but X-fans looking for a new book would find little to enjoy just reading this issue blind. Legacy is a journey meant to be taken from the beginning.

Tan Eng Haut was an artist that I had little to no exposure to before this title and now, I couldn’t imagine anyone else penciling this title. His weird, flowing panels are so exactly what I would think David’s world looks like that I couldn’t imagine it looking any other way. Haut captures the stark, mundane nature of the real world, while giving us explosions of vibrant, sometimes even off putting colors within the Quortex Complex, giving every monster personality a defined identity amid the chaos of Legion’s mind prison. His art has also been a diamond in the rough, design wise among some of the bigger X titles. No X book looks as weird or as personal as Legacy does. While All New and Uncanny rely on the highly stylized, panel dense works of Chris Bachelo and Stuart Immomen, Legacy tells an emotional, high concept story in the simplest six-panel grid format that lends a familiarity to the insanity of the script. His pencils look a bit like a fusion of standard cape comic fare with a heavy does of manga styled rough edges. His characters are hard-edged, but never rough-looking. His faces are expressive to the point of realism and he gives every character he draws a distinct body type and posture that he uses to great effect, Ruth being a terrific example of Haut nailing the characterization just in the way he draws her. Huat packs every panel to the brim, displaying a myriad of reasons month after month why he was the perfect partner for Spurrier on a book like this.

As X-Men: Legacy races toward its end, I have to savor each new issue. As I said above, its really refreshing to be exposed to a series that not only wholly surprised you as a reader, but has a defined direction from the very start of the story. Every issue has been a new puzzle piece to slot into the one that came before it, and I cannot wait to see the completed piece. We are in for something truly amazing.

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Animal Man #25
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Buddy Baker just can’t seem to catch a break, and as much as it makes me sound like a sadist, its why Animal Man has been so entertaining for the last few months. Buddy Baker has lost everything since his war with the Rot. He lost his son, which in turn made his wife leave him, taking their Red monarch in training daughter with her, leaving Buddy to stew alone in a dingy apartment. He is truly alone, with nothing but his life as a superhero and budding celebrity to keep him company, but now, Jeff Lemire has found a way to dovetail all the spinning plots that he has been throwing into the air into one pot boiler of an issue that partially resolves the main conflict of this arc and sets it up for an interesting new direction in the issues ahead.

When we last left Animal Man, he was powerless to stop the cult of Brother Blood from storming into the DC version of the Oscars and demanding that Buddy show himself to receive his punishment for squandering the gifts of the Red. Buddy was also made aware of Maxine’s disappearance, unaware that she has made her way into the Red and is now fleeing from Brother Blood himself, now backed by a rogue member of The Totems in an attempted coup. This is really heady stuff, but Lemire handles it all very well, using each page where needed, never allowing the story to feel crowded in any way. He gives the readers the bits of information that they need and then moves on, letting the issue move forward naturally and quite quickly. Lemire has also really given us a deep understanding of Buddy Baker as a man. Here we see him work tirelessly to mend his fractured family when he allows Ellen to accompany him into the fray. We also see him almost allow himself to fully give into the darkness of his own grief in the battle with Blood’s head cultist. This is very human drama that is most times ignored within DC Comics, so its very pleasant to see a writer fully embrace this aspect of the character, along with all the fantastical elements.

Rafael Albuquerque is back for another issue and he turns yet another home run. Here he is back to his monster filled American Vampire best and he handles it with the same deft hand that we fell in love with during that book. His heavy lines and stylish panel layouts are perfect for this book of men and monsters. His artwork has a real Bernie Wrightson quality to it, which is exactly what you need for Animal Man. I also particularly loved how he rendered Buddy’s powers during the fight scenes. Some times artists will muddle the actual animal that Buddy is trying to invoke and this causes the page to either look too jumbled or murky or they will just do away with this device all together and just make Buddy look like a weird mash up of man and animal, like Steve Pugh was want to do, but Albuquerque has found a stylish middle ground that gives the book the kinetic edge that its been missing for a bit. Fingers crossed that he stays on a few more issues because I would kill to see him doing more stuff like what was hinted on that last page.

Hollywood Babylon was a great, easy-to-digest arc that shows just how good Animal Man can be at its best and what is on the horizon when Jeff Lemire raises the stakes for his characters. That has always been the hallmark of Lemire’s work; he refuses to let his characters get complacent. He realizes what needs to happen to make his characters and plots interesting and he turns it up to eleven whenever possible, giving them new and interesting challenges to overcome, both in their personal lives and within the larger world around them. He is willing to show them as people first and heroes second, subverting the standard way that writers write comic book heroes. These next few months could be some very, very tough ones for Buddy Baker, but they will be nothing but great reading for us.

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