Best Shots Comic Reviews: INJUSTICE, CHEW, HACKTIVIST, More

DC Comics' January 2014 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Enjoy the holiday weekend? Best Shots is back and ready to help you tackle the work week, as we take a look at last week's big releases, as well as some advance reviews coming out for Wednesday! And what's more Best Shots continues to expand, as we welcome Michael Moccio to our midst! So let's let Michael kick things off, as he takes a look at the newly returned Injustice: Gods Among Us...

Credit: DC Comics

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Bruno Redondo, Julien Hugonnard-Bert and David Lopez Lettering by Wes Abbot
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Tom Taylor starts off Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two by stepping back from the overall story and zooming in on Black Canary and getting into the nitty gritty aftermath of Green Arrow’s death by showing a memory between the Hard Travelin’ Heroes, in which Taylor plays on the fun dynamic between Dinah and Ollie and highlight’s Hal’s growing disappointment in being a third wheel. This shows the reader that Hal already felt separate from the two lovers, and adds to his reasons in sticking with Superman in the future. Taylor really takes the time to flesh out these characters and show the readers their motivations behind their actions, which makes him one of the best writers in the genres today.

One of the common criticisms concerning both the game and the comics is that it relies too much on shock value. Although there are times this is true — the revelation of Nightwing’s true identity in the game and also the original’s death—overall, Taylor has crafted a story that relies on the people experiencing it more than the events themselves.

Like in this issue, Taylor zooms in from the grand story—the corruption of Superman—and hones in on this tiny microcosm between the two characters to add emotional relevance to the story. By upping the tension between Black Canary and Superman, Taylor really sets up further tension for the story itself—each side is now in remission, building up power, and the reader understands that it will all eventually come to a head in a clash between Batman and Superman once again.

Although this issue was, overall, a strong one, Kyle Rayner gets the proverbial short end of the stick. As soon as he enters into the narrative, Sinestro—seemingly too easily—kills him and removes him from the playing board. On the one hand, this does add dramatic tension to the story, as the reader now knows that Raynar’s dead, while the heroes on Earth do not; on the other hand, this adds more questions open than answered: how will the Guardians react? Will they and the Corps decide to stand against Superman? And this only serves to make the reader want to continue on to the next issue.

In many ways, this is one of the cheapest deaths in the entire series and one example of some of Taylor more implausible actions. If it had been so easy to kill Rayner, why had it never happened before in regular continuity? Even the initial concept of Superman becoming a dictator seems farfetched; however, Taylor progresses the story in such a way that it makes sense for these character to do these things. Superman starts on his path because he unintentionally murder Lois and his unborn child; Sinestro kills Kyle Rayner to allow the situation to play itself out without interference. There’s method behind Taylor’s story-telling, and it makes the reader eager to find out what happens next.

The artwork, too, stands out above the normal quality of work. Bruno Redondo is on as the penciler and manages to balance and blend between traditional comic book styles and making the characters seem realistic. Their movements across the page remain fluid and dynamic, with the characters never feeling static, especially in combat. David Lopez, the colorer, does a magnificent job in making each scene feel distinctly different from one another: from the different times of day—late morning, early afternoon for Green Arrow’s funeral to night at Gotham City—to balancing the ethereal colors of the sun in the backdrop of outer space, the art team has managed to reflect the gravity and drama of the story in its visuals.

One of the most stand-out coloring aspects of the issue is the contrast between the opening memory and the burial. Looking at Black Canary in the memory, we see vibrant colors that match her light-hearted demeanor, and, at the funeral, the colors on her face are muted. Along with the dead trees in the backdrop of the scene, these all factor into reflecting Black Canary’s mood. These are things subconsciously picked up on the first read through, but really add to the story and become seen upon a close second-read. Overall, there are definitely some hiccups in Year Two, but it remains as a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously and still tries to deliver a great character-driven story. Between Taylor’s writing and the art team’s visuals, it appears that Year Two will continue on its predecessor’s success and remain as one of the most enjoyable titles published by DC Comics.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #16
Written by Matt Fraction and Karl Kesel
Art by Raffaele Ienco, Paul Mounts, Joe Quinones, Michael Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

There's a moment that really stands out to me in Matt Fraction's final issue of Fantastic Four. We see not one, but two iterations of Marvel's original superhero team, fighting an amalgamation of three of their world's most dangerous foes - Doom the Annihilating Conqueror. And as the heroes are being cast aside effortlessly by this cosmic-powered titan, Doom shouts: "But I am capable of so much more!"

That might be the takeaway from Fantastic Four #16. Indeed, it might be the takeaway from this run as a whole. Hampered by bland artwork and even blander characterization, you can't help but get the sense that this wasn't what Matt Fraction really wanted to do. He's gotten his quirky kicks out with books like Hawkeye or even Fantastic Four's sister title, the amazingly goofy and heartfelt FF. But the actual Fantastic Four themselves wind up feeling like the least interesting thing in their own book. Even parallel realities and goofy villains can't give this book tension, innovation, or a pulse.

Since Matt Fraction's run on the book began, the Fantastic Four have been on a ticking clock. Their powers have literally been killing them, sending Reed on an interdimensional trip to try to save his family from themselves. But having yet another iteration of Doctor Doom to fight doesn't really make the premise of this book stand out - indeed, it makes it feel like no matter what universe the Fantastic Four go into, everything remains the same. Case in point: The other big draw to the "Doomed Universe" is an alt-universe version of the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, the characterization is so shallow - Reed comes up with a plan, Ben shouts that it's clobberin' time - that the characters are all interchangeable. Combine that with some barely-there fight choreography, and it winds up being a chore to read.

It doesn't help that the artwork doesn't feel like blockbuster fare, either. Raffael Ienco is not a bad artist by any stretch of the imagination - he's also just not ready for a book like this. That's been a problem since Fantastic Four relaunched, as Mark Bagley's artwork was also way too low-key for a team that soars the spaceways and explores the weird, beatiful unknown just beyond our universe. Ienco's composition is particularly ineffective, as he's forced to pack in way too much content per page - seeing two Sue Storms or two Ben Grimms attack Doom is about as forgettable as it gets, because the characters are all so small. Combined with some weird expressions, like Johnny and Reed just gaping randomly, and the art just doesn't do this book justice.

The other big problem with this book is the plotting. Considering the alleged overarching storyline for this series, the structure of this story feels sloppy at best - hinging the fate of the universe on the Four "combining" their powers feels stale even before it begins, and the actual execution is pretty forgettable, as well. The various Human Torches get a great moment near the end of this book, but because the rest of the pacing feels so choppy, it winds up flat-tiring a poignant emotional beat. And there's one cliffhanger near the end that is so ridiculous and so cheap that it winds up bringing the entire rest of the book down by comparison - let's just say it makes the death of Thor in Fear Itself look earned.

Ironically, this book picks up when Fraction and company aren't focusing on the Fantastic Four. When he ties together the reunion with the FF, suddenly this feels like a whole new comic book - watching the Fantastic Four and the FF reconnect over a barbeque is a wonderful experience, particularly when the weird, Allred-esque lines of Joe Quinones. Once Fraction got the half-hearted space drama out of the way, suddenly the family aspect feels that much more satisfying - we see She-Hulk and Ben Grimm, Reed Richards and the Watcher, and Sue and the Ulana the She-Watcher.

It's a shame that it's too little, way too late. Matt Fraction has been making a shift towards his creator-owned work lately, and Fantastic Four #16 makes a good case for that trend. Fraction's other work crackles with energy and humor and intelligence - this book, however, feels like a retread from page one. Maybe he needs to recharge his creative batteries - maybe he needs to find a project that suits his passions more. But it feels like Marvel has been trying for years to revitalize the Fantastic Four - but if you can't get a writer to imbue this series with enthusiasm and vitality, there's no chance a reader is going to follow suit.

Credit: DC Comics

Worlds’ Finest #19
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by R.B. Silva, Joe Weems and Jason Wright
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

This month’s issue of Worlds’ Finest acts as the prelude to the arc “First Contact” and draws the reader into the confrontation and revelation we’ve been waiting for since The New 52’s Power Girl and Huntress emerged onto the scene. Although the cover—which features Huntress and Batman fighting one another—might suggest their first meeting would follow the usual trope of fighting first, working together, it appears that writer Paul Levitz has other ideas in mind.

The beginning stands as the weakest part of the issue. Even though the title has been going on for 19 issues, the reader still hasn’t become completely invested in Power Girl or Huntress—we’re still getting to know these characters and what exactly makes them tick. Which is why, when Levitz opens with Power Girl collecting diamonds and complaining about a giant squid invading her personal space, we’re less than enthused.

Regardless, Levitz utilizes this arc’s opportunity to continue developing Power Girl and Huntress while also reaffirming some character traits already established. When Karen endangers Helena by carrying her into the air with uncontrollable powers pushes both of them to seek help from Batman and Superman respectively, which solidifies the reader’s expectations that they’re both motivated and care deeply about the other.

On the development side, Levitz shines in the middle of the text by allowing the reader to follow Helena and Karen as they come to the decision to go to Superman and Batman individually. Helena, specifically, gets more of this reader’s attention by showing off her own uniqueness as the daughter of Catwoman and Batman. It was nice to see both her parents’ proclivities at the café scene where Helena stopped a potential robbery—very characteristic of Batman—by surreptitiously throwing a fork into the arm of the would-be robber—more characteristic of Catwoman, in the nature of handling criminals with a little more finesse and violence.

It isn’t until Helena watches an interaction between a father and child she decided to go to Batman. This was a great moment as Levitz draws us into Helena’s character: we see that she still feels that loss; Karen, likewise, has a similar moment when she says, “If [Superman] is anything like the real thing back home.” It’s clear that they’re both dealing with their losses in Both her and Karen show they’re still feeling those losses as they both come to terms with the fact they need to see the Superman and Batman counterparts to figure out exactly what’s going on.

The artwork, however, was one of the weaker parts of the issue. R.B. Silva takes a different approach in drawing the issue, creating the character with a more angular look than usual. Although this fits with Power Girl’s and Huntress’ direct personalities, it’s not the most pleasing to look at. Upon closer inspection, the inking style done by Joe Weems utilizes thick lines and seemingly superfluous strokes. One example is the three close up panels of Karen’s face during the meeting prior to her loss of control: the inking around her eyes and mouth make her look oddly strange.

Although much of the characterization and character development in this issue was both needed and welcome, the pacing and overall punch are the main problems with this issue. Scott McDaniel is on breakdowns for this issue and gives the script simply too much room to breathe, sacrificing the drama and tension of the story. Simply not enough happens, and the story functions exactly as a prologue. And, like a prologue, it’s not necessary—many teachers of writing suggest skipping the prologue and starting exactly where the story should: chapter one.

The reader is left with wanting something more. It might have just been because of the expectations surrounding Huntress finally meeting Batman and Power Girl finally meeting Superman. Instead of crafting a story that powers into an explosive and emotional meeting between these two parties, Worlds' Finest #19 stands as a lackluster and disappointing first start to the arc. The first half of the issue could have been condensed to several pages less, leaving for more to happen at the end and really give readers a reason to stick with the remainder of the arc.

Instead of crafting a story that powers into an explosive and emotional meeting between these two parties, Worlds' Finest #19 stands as a lackluster and disappointing opening to the arc. Hopefully, the remainder of “First Contact” will deliver on the expectations we’ve come to anticipate between the meeting of Power Girl, Huntress, Superman and Batman.

Advance Reviews!

Credit: Image Comics

Chew #39
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You can't have meat without potatoes. You can't order Chinese without rice. You can't make your Thanksgiving turkey without cranberry sauce on the side.

In other words, what I'm saying is, no matter how strong the main course is, you can't call it a satisfying meal without the dishes on the side. Or in the case of Chew, Tony Chu's strong supporting cast. Focusing less on our cibopathic cop hero and instead taking a detour with his food critic girlfriend and his powerful foodie daughter, John Layman and Rob Guillory whip up a story that is a refreshing change of pace.

Ever since the death of his twin sister, Toni, Tony Chu has been in a rut. And what better way to get out of a rut than with a little help from your friends? But that heartfelt premise aside, John Layman smartly bridges the logistical gaps in his narrative, as when one character can't move any further, another character is able to take the baton and move the storyline forward. Structurally, this script is a little top-heavy in terms of the exposition - Layman has to introduce Tony's girlfriend Amelia, his daughter Olive, not to mention the mysterious, vision-imbuing fruit known as the Gallsa-Berry. But once that's all said and done, Layman's brisk pacing and quirky action continues to charm. Olive and Amelia are a fun duo to move the action along, with Amelia being the brains and Olive being the teenage-anger-hormone-fueled brawn.

The artwork by Rob Guillory is also in rare form this issue. Guillory gets to stretch his muscles a bit with a sci-fi sequence fueled by the power of the Gallsa-Berry, as he riffs off his standard designs of Tony and company but blends them together with electrifying pinks, reds, purples and blues. But something else that Guillory does well in this issue is he makes the actual exposition go down smoother - while Layman's script doesn't give him as many opportunities to go over-the-top with his comedy, his characters remain expressive, remain real, whether it's Amelia patting Tony on the head as he grumbles on his couch, or Olive holding her head after she tries a bite of the all-mighty Gallsa. And there is an action sequence that is quick but kinetic, as Olive leaps from panel to panel as a chocolate-wielding death machine.

What's great about Chew #39 is not just that John Layman is combining the different pieces of this universe's mythology to move the story forward, but he's also being very generous with the spotlight. No story can be propelled by just one character - nor should it. But by allowing the reader to root for more than one protagonist, it winds up being easier for the audience and makes the series as a whole stronger. Even without Tony Chu, Chew #39 proves that his friends and family are more than enough to tide you over.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Hacktivist #1
Written by Alyssa Milano, Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly
Art by Marcus To and Ian Herring
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by Archaia Entertainment
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The idea of Alyssa Milano creating a comic book seemed downright strange when Hacktivist was announced. Would the Charmed alumnus, philanthropist, and animal-rights spokeswoman be able to add graphic novelist under her belt? Judging by Hacktivist #1, it seems like there’s hope for her future in the industry. Her involvement in the series is evident from the get-go: from the kick-ass female character leading the narrative, to the quick-quip personalities of the main characters, and all the action in between, the book really feels like something of her creation.

In the months before the release, Milano had gone on interviews, talking about all the research she and the writing team did prior to the actual production of the book; she knew that authorial credibility would be an issue when delving into subjects like hacking, where it’s incredibly easy to sound knowledgeable and, in fact, misuse the terminology completely. Between the onion routing, the “hat” terminology, and the actual script written on the computer screens within the first few pages, Milano, Lanzing, and Kelly all let us know from the get-go that they’re well-versed in the lingo their story will inevitably use. The book does a great job with balance: between the Tunisian and American settings, between the fictional world they’ve created and the real world the reader is familiar with, and between the whole range of characters they’ve developed.

Although the story starts in Tunisia and doesn’t reappear after the first few pages, its presence is still heavily felt. The two American main character Nate Graff and Edwin (Ed) Hiccox both refer to the country and their actions several times throughout the narrative, letting the reader know that what they did is both integral to the plot at that specific moment and will become even more important later on. Their personalities balance each other out as well: Nathan is the more extroverted of the two while Ed takes a less-public approach. Their interesting dynamic as foils to each other allow the reader to dive right into their relationship.

The narrative goes beyond other comics by incorporating real-world references in both language and appearance. Using phrases like “I don’t mean to creep on you” in context of social media and using #somethingreckless in a Reddit format lets the reader know that the authors of the book have taken that real-world aspect into account. By using language and appearances that readily remind us of the internet world, they writers are calling out to us. They’ve modeled this world they’ve created on the one we know and make the story, on one hand, believable.

Marcus To and Ian Herring continue their relationship as penciler and colorist, fresh off their Archaia book Cyborg 009. To, unlike other comic book artists, doesn’t shy away at all from the setting. He embraces all the different places these characters are in and gives the reader angles and vantage points that play into the dynamic landscape. A great example is the scene in Hiccox’s office. Although we’re only given glimpses of parts of the office including the entrance and the window, the reader is still able to imagine the office in its entirety; the dynamics of To’s character art also makes it seem like these characters are reacting to each other in real time. He has that perfect balance of cartoon and realistic styles and holds immense skill in making the characters breathe. Herring continues to bring his own brand of excellence to the coloring, making everything seem that much more real, balancing the vibrant colors of the lit buildings as night to the contrast during the keynote speech.

The only shortcoming of this issue is that Lanzing and Kelly didn’t do enough to make the book about the characters in it rather than what events transpired. Although the hacking element of the plot is interesting—and sometimes confusing, in so far as we don’t know Nate and Ed’s full capabilities, it also feels like it’s taken too much of the limelight from the characters. In the end, more excitement comes from the mysterious Sirine, the hacking “algorithm” mentioned by Nate, and this grassroots movement in Tunisia than the characters of the story.

Regardless, the book draws readers into the narrative with their stunning visuals, fleshed out, dynamic characters, and interesting premise. The creators at Archaia have caught our attention; let’s see what they can do with it.

Similar content
Twitter activity