Best Shots Comic Reviews: NEW AVENGERS #13, DEAD BOY DETECTIVES #1, More

Aquaman #26
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday fixin' of reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with a handful of this week's biggest releases! So let's kick off today's column with Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at New Avengers #13...

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #13
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Simone Bianchi and Adriando Dell’Alpi
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Once upon a time (about three years ago), both Avengers and New Avengers were what you called sister titles. Brian Michael Bendis would say that you didn’t have to read them in tandem to understand the story, but if you did then you would be privy to a larger narrative unfolding in front of you. Jonathan Hickman is no stranger to this kind of narrative model, having all but perfected it with his Fantastic Four run, but when his Avengers and New Avengers #1 hit shelves, it seemed that the stories presented were so different from one another that a collaboration between the two titles seemed highly unlikely. Though, Hickman has never been interested in playing anything but the long game, and if New Avengers #13 (and Avengers #24) is any indication, both of these titles are on a collision course that just may shatter Earth’s Mightiest Heroes once and for all.

New Avengers #13 is an Inhumanity tie-in in name only - yes, Hickman reflects on the effects of global terrigenesis, but not on our Earth. Instead, we are introduced to another set of Illuminati from Earth-23099, Illuminati not unlike our own, yet wholly different. Here, Professor Charles Xavier still lives and sits in counsel with his confidant Magneto along with Captain Mar-Vell, as well as the Illuminati members that we all know and fear. On this Earth, not only has terrigenesis swept the globe, but a universe-destroying incursion is taking place at ground zero. But this incursion is unlike any other - this time, the event brings with it the seemly invincible Black Priests, a threat that has been looming over our heroes since the start. While this is happening, on our world, the Illuminati work with The Black Swan to create another tool in their war against entropy; an all-seeing window into the Multiverse, something Reed Richards called “The Bridge” back in the pages of Fantastic Four.

It's here we see all the story seeds that Jonathan Hickman has planted start to blossom into a larger narrative that spans more than a few books. Hickman is still playing his cards pretty close to the chest, but its hard not to feel the sense of dread that is closing in on these characters as you read New Avengers #13. In Avengers #24, a visitor from the future warns Tony Stark that the time of hiding is almost over, and you can feel the noose tightening as our heroes complete the Bridge only to see their doubles fail to save either world caught in the incursion, perishing at the hands of the Black Priests. Hickman also treats us to an update on the newly freed Dr. Strange, who is still delving into the forbidden magicks of the Blood Bible to save all of reality. It’s a welcome shot of dark weirdness against the backdrop of the high sci-fi concepts that make up the majority of the story.

Handling art for this post-Infinity arc, is Simone Bianchi, who is a perfect compliment to the art of Steve Epting and Mike Deodato. His heavy shading and rough-hewn depictions of the Illuminati are a welcome, yet completely familiar looking, change of pace for the title. Deodato’s pencils have always perpetrated the sense of foreboding that hangs on the script of New Avengers, but Bianchi hammers is home with vigor. The heroes even look like villains under his hand, and that makes me love the book even more. The standout scene though, is his work with Dr. Strange fighting his way through the dark dimensions of blood magic. It’s only a short two pages, but each panel look like a superhero comic depicted through frescos of Dante’s Inferno. It’s dark, condensed, and highly frightening. Another standout is the reveal of the true faces of the Black Priests. Cape comics are in desperate need of new and effective villains, and the Black Priests fit this bill in spades. Bianchi renders them eyeless fanatics adorned with arcane symbols and strange indentations on their skin that is sure to fuel many a nightmare long after the completion of this issue.

New Avengers #13, coupled with Avengers #24, serve as a pallet cleanser for the recent glut of Infinity centric tie-ins and to present the new direction for each series going forward. In Avengers #24, Captain America tells Tony Stark that he only sees black clouds and death on the horizon and Tony replies that he sees what’s coming. With New Avengers #13, we now see precisely what Tony sees; we see death in the form of the Black Priests and the black clouds of universal entropy looming overhead. Will our heroes be enough to stop the spread of universal decay? Will the Illuminati be forgiven for their clandestine crimes and machinations? Only Jonathan Hickman knows and all we can do is read and hope.

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #26
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Paul Pelletier, Netho Diaz, Sean Parsons, Ruy Jose, Wil Quintana and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Coming off the heels of Geoff Johns, it's understandable that DC would want to keep the momentum going by keeping things as consistent as possible. Yet sometimes there's too much of a good thing - while Jeff Parker's script for Aquaman #26 takes some steps towards the series finding its own identity, the artwork keeps this comic from branching out into newer, more vital territory.

At its heart, Aquaman #26's main hook is that it's kind of a clever riff on Pacific Rim - it's man versus monster, as Aquaman winds up going toe-to-toe with a gargantuan kraken-like creature. Jeff Parker comes up with some very clever action beats in that regard, including Arthur's water-manipulating wife Mera essentially sending him across the planet like an orbital rocket. In a lot of ways, this helps differentiate Aquaman from some of the other DC characters, while also providing an alternative to some of the drearier royal intrigue that has kept this book from reach its full potential. Instead of rehashing battles against Black Manta or making Aquaman a second banana to his faux Justice League team, Parker has made Aquaman a lone bastion against a force of nature, and it provides both tension and a refreshing change of pace.

That said, it does take awhile to get there. The first half of Parker's comic is still the same old, same old, in terms of checking in on the goings-on of Atlantis. There's an action sequence where Arthur and Mera rescue a bunch of hapless Atlanteans, but it feels perfunctory. (Not to mention a little awkward with some of the dialogue, particularly when the regal Mera says she doesn't want to be "that girl.") I get that Atlantean politicians don't really trust Mera (or Arthur, for that matter), but that's been par for the course for years - instead, what would be really helpful for new readers is to establish Arthur as a character. What is it like for a man of action to essentially be shoved into a bureaucratic role? Or could we see some of the heavier choices for the man who wears the crown? Instead, the surface-versus-underwater tensions feel stale, even as it's in keeping with Geoff Johns’ run on the book.

But what I think holds this book back the most is also its most consistent trait - the art. Paul Pelletier, teaming up with Netho Diaz, is clean and strong with his linework, but he doesn't really have a lot of tension or terror for a story like this. By having the fight with the Karaqan occur in broad daylight and little property damage, the potential for this battle royale feels untapped. Fight comics are just as much the artist's burden - if anything, more so - than the writer's, and the choreography doesn't quite sell this comic.

Out with the old, in with the new - with Geoff Johns off Aquaman, DC should take a bit more of a risk when it comes to Jeff Parker's tenure on the title. This is a run that deserves its own identity and its own style, but currently this comic is one step in the future and one step in the past. And that winds up being a real shame - there was a lot of good with Johns’ run, but it also ultimately had run its course. Without a new artist, this comic is going to run the risk of being trapped in a rut - which, given Parker's clear potential in this comic, feels like a wasted opportunity.

Credit: DC Comics

Dead Boy Detectives #1
Written by Toby Litt
Art by Mark Buckingham, Gary Erskine, Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Vertigo Comics has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence of late. With the critical success of The Wake and Trillium and the financial success of The Sandman: Overture, Vertigo is poised to make another stand as an imprint with something to say. One thing that has been definitely missing is fun and whimsy, yet along comes Toby Litt’s Dead Boy Detectives, straight from the pages of The Sandman, to inject a sense a much needed dark whimsy in the imprint, while upholding the high standard of creative excellence that we have come to expect from Vertigo.

The Dead Boy Detectives, straight from the pages of Sandman: Seasons of the Mist and various Vertigo annuals and limited series, are back on the scene, crossing paths with a dame only they could experience, the painfully normal daughter of a infamous artist couple, famous for stealing notable works of art and replacing them with their own “cover” versions. After a terrorist attack waylays Crystal Palace, a name so adorably fitting for the character and series, Edwin and Charles take it upon themselves to protect the girl while she decides to follow up on her prophetic visions of a school where ghosts roam the grounds and everything isn’t what it seems: St. Hilarions, the very same school that took the lives of our titular heroes. Toby Litt, from the word go, quickly establishes the sense of fun that will no doubt carry through the entire series. Both of the leads narrate the book with their own personal case notes; Edwin’s in high English pontificating and Charles’ in a faux hardcased bursts of prose. Just from reading these first bits of narration, I knew I was in for something highly entertaining. Litt also takes time to establish the origins of our three protagonists, while never making the book feel like its marking time. Charles and Edwin’s deaths are recapped and deftly dovetailed into the experiences of the newest addition to their team, Crystal. All three of them are outsiders; Crystal is estranged and forgotten by her parents, while Charles and Edwin are forgotten by the world at large in death. Litt and Buckingham also waste no time establishing the central mystery and recapturing the initial horror and creepiness we felt when we first graced the doors of St. Hilarion’s. Even the ghosts fear this building and both Crystal and the reader are itching to find out why.

Litt isn’t solely responsible for the sense of fun that crackles from the pages of Dead Boy Detectives #1. A great deal of that comes from the steady hand of Mark Buckingham and his wonderful art team. Buckingham’s flowing pencils gives each character a lean, cheeky look, while his panel layouts keep the momentum flowing from scene to scene, moving the script along at a full clip of craziness. Buckingham also uses some interesting narrative devices in his layouts that welcome comparisons to the work of Chris Burnham. Buckingham grabs the reader’s eye with a single detail and tracks the object with smaller boxes, guiding the reader through the scene at large. It’s an inventive little trick that, while done before in other comic, is still a neat little narrative device that makes the whole scene feel more complete and vivid. The issue’s main action set piece, the attempted re-stealing of a famous Van Gogh painting by helicopter is also a neat little inversion of the traditional nine-panel action scene. Here, Buckingham, takes 13 close up panels to showcase the rapport that the Boys have with each other in the field, all while a glorious set of “CHUNKA-CHUNKA” SFX line the spaces in between the panels. I could also go on to talk about the flashback comparison panels of Edwin and Charles’ experiences at St. Hilarion’s or maybe the way Buckingham never once wastes an opportunity to guide the reader’s eyes through a scene with neat visual details that inform the reader even more than just a standard walk and talk scene, but that would simply be woolgathering. Mark Buckingham pulls out all the stops in terms of visual storytelling and it’s exactly the kind of craftsmanship that we have come to expect from Vertigo Comics.

Not even a year ago, I was worried that we may see the end of Vertigo Comics, an imprint that has given us so much brilliant content over the years. But now with the strength of recent on-goings and now the stellar debut of Dead Boy Detectives, we may yet see Vertigo Comics best years ahead. Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham have taken all the best parts of previous incarnations of the Dead Boy Detectives and filtered them through a quirky, highly entertaining lens and have delivered a slam bang first issue that recaptures the inventive nature of early Vertigo efforts while making is wholly accessible to new converts and die hard Vertigo freaks alike. Plus, its nice to see a book that fully embraces the darker tone of the imprint with a cheeky sense of fun and reverence to what came before it. In short, if you are a Vertigo fan, this is a book expressly for you.

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