Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN #27, ALL-NEW INVADERS #1, DEADLY CLASS #1, More

Batman #27
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman #27
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Sometimes, a team of comic creators doesn't need to reinvent the wheel to tell a great story. In those cases, it comes down to the execution of those already common elements. Batman #27 provides its audience with another set of examples of where the execution of both the writing and art come together to tell a familiar but compelling story. But will all readers come to this conclusion?

Capullo, Miki, and Plascencia play a dangerous game with Snyder as they collectively retell Batman's origins. One misstep, one miscalculated addition to what readers have come to know and love over the past seventy-five years, and they risk tarnishing what has been an otherwise stellar run through any attempts to deviate from the core of Batman. Issue #27 focuses on the moment when Bruce (as Batman) comes to terms with the truth of Jim Gordon's character and makes the decision to ally himself with the future police commissioner. The story behind Bruce's misunderstanding of Gordon that Snyder tells doesn't contradict past accounts, but instead, it both enriches readers' appreciation for the bespectacled cop and demonstrates that, at one time, Bruce Wayne's calculations weren't so inhumanly accurate. Readers experience much of the emotional impact of these scenes, however, due largely to Capullo's ability to capture the emotional tenor in the facial expressions of his characters and the combined efforts of Miki and Plascencia who further draw these moments out with the depths of their shadows or the simple flicker of light in a character's eyes.

This team of creators has made it clear they are not publishing their own vision of how the Batman came to be through placing it in contrast to those origins of the past. Yet their run does stand out as a unique vision of the Batman in the way each major arc provides a deeper examination of those defining elements of the Batman mythos. In the "Court of Owls," readers explored the depths of Batman's relationship to Gotham; in "Death of the Family," a similar exploratory lens is applied to the hero and his greatest adversary; likewise, we now see the discussion turn towards the origins of the hero – and his family. Issue #27 not only provides the pivotal moment between Batman and Gordon, but it also includes some insightful commentary from Alfred as he – more or less – psychoanalyzes Bruce's motivations for becoming Batman. This train of thought is powerfully cemented in the reader's mind with Capullo's homage to The Dark Knight - with his own variations to the original. There is a sort of cinematic vibe to Capullo's panels that maximizes Snyder's prose and drives home Alfred's line of inquiry regarding Bruce's motivations.

Of course, Capullo's pencils also provide ample opportunities for Miki and Plascencia to show the strengths of their inks and colors both in this scene and throughout the issue. I would even argue the panel preceding the DKR homage with Bruce's departing into the shadows and only the whites of his eyes showing through the darkness is an even more powerful image. We expect Batman to be cloaking himself in shadow, basking in the lightning, and exuding an intimidating presence. However, the all-white eyes are a characteristic of Batman –- not Bruce. Seeing this representation of the young billionaire emphatically drove home the notion that "deep down," there is only Batman. It's a chilling image and thought. And it's only one example, which reinforces the sort of intentionality behind each and every detail of this issue and the story as a whole.

If there is one criticism that has surfaced regarding the eleven-issue "Zero Year" story arc, it's the sheer magnitude of the story Snyder is telling and the difficulty some readers may find in with keeping everything straight. Comprised of three episodes – Secret City, Dark City, and Wild City – readers are exposed to a number of narrative threads that Snyder is weaving together to create the New 52's sense of Bat-continuity. The result of such a wide range of sub-plots coming together to form this yearlong origin story – an origin that has been in the making for over seventy years before the company-wide reboot - is that many of the details can be overlooked or forgotten from one month to the next. Whether this is a problem with the serialized format or the writer is subject to debate; however, I rather suspect this story will stand up strongly when collected in trade format where readers will be better able to process the entire story and better appreciate all of the details embedded throughout the arc.

This one point aside, I still think Batman is consistently DC's best foot forward when it comes to telling superhero comics today, and Issue #27 is no exception.

Credit: M

FF #16
Written by Lee Allred, Karl Kessel, and Matt Fraction
Art by Mike Allred, Laura Allred, and Joe Quinones
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Rating by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Endings are hard, and the endings of comics even more so. How does one sum up the entirety of a run and leave the reader satisfied with a sense of completion, when in just mere months the title is going to come back with a new writer and artist? When you are the creative team of FF, you do exactly what you have been doing since the first issue. You deliver an emotional and nuanced story wrapped in a pop art package, but this time, you make it a point to make good on a promise that you made from the very start. You give us the NOWiest book you can, and boy, did they ever.

I won’t lie to you, guys -- FF is a book that means a great deal to me. It was under this creative team that the book became something much, much more. It was equal parts retro comic book zany, romantic comedy, and stark family drama. It retained all the elements that I loved during Hickman’s tenure, but presented them in a wholly new, yet completely fitting way. Allred channels the magic of Jack Kirby, while Fraction gives each script the whizz bang energy that keeps the book snapping along to the beat at a full clip. When Fraction stepped away from the book, I worried that the book would lose some of its manic charm, but that worry was completely unfounded. The book was still the exact same ginchy title that I fell in love with and it never stopped charming the pants right off of me.

The finale finds our favorite gruff lovable uncle, Scott Lang, going toe-to-toe with the man responsible for his daughter’s death, Dr. Doom. The Allreds devote almost the entire issue to this fight, with great effect. We see Lang finally getting the chance to make good on his promise to end Doom and its just as heart wrenching as you would expect. After a clever bit of narrative involving the true potential of Pym Particles, Lang trounces Doom again and again, letting him know just what he thinks of the man behind the mask. This issue isn’t as near as comedy heavy as previous issues, but it never feels maudlin or heavy handed. This fits right into the tone of the entire series, serving as a logical and narratively satisfying final installment of the series. The series’ main concept has always been about the family that you create and what you are willing to do to protect your family and while Lang has very much been the protagionist of the book from the start, here we see a culmination of the effects of his new charges on his character. Yes, he is still the rough around the edges man that we met in #1, but here, he has gained a new level of compassion and understanding after taking care of the family that he didn’t want. In the battle with Doom, we see all sorts of threads coming to a head for Scott; the acceptance of his daughters death, his need for revenge, and the compassion that he has gained for his new family. We see just what kind of man Scott Lang has become as leader of the FF, and by extension just what kind of man Victor Von Doom is after a life of wrong doing, and the characters are forever enriched for it. FF #16 has long-lasting implications for both of these men going forward, forever cementing the legacy of the FF.

Mike Allred, along with his wife Laura, once again run away with this issue. Allred's pop art style was something that I would have never thought would fit into the world of the FF, but time after time, yhe Allred's handedly stole the show and #16 is no exception. Here though, Allred shows his more visceral side instead of relying on the whimsy that has shaped his entire career. The fight between Doom and Lang actually feels hard hitting, while still retaining the kinetic energy of past issues. Allred also handles the weirdo cosmic side of things with the same steady hand, along with another nifty infograph of every character effected by Pym Particles along a cool axis. Allred has always been an artist's artist and FF #16 is yet another stellar example of his prowess.

As I said before, FF meant a great deal to me as comic fan and I am beyond pleased with this finale. Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, and Lee Allred delivered a book that was quietly saying important things about family, acceptance, and relationships all while making us laugh and delivering thrills month after month. There will be a hole in my heart going forward after the ending of FF, but I know that I will always have this three ring circus of a family whenever I revisit these issues in the future. I will always love my Tong with all my heart. I will always believe in Darla Deering. I will always pitch my woo to the Jen. And most of all, I will always have a place in the Future Foundation. Don’t choke on any waffles.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #27
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jesus Merino, Vicente Cifuentes and Rod Reis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Justice League may be down... but Victor Stone is not out.

Ripped apart in the Crime Syndicate's opening salvo, Cyborg felt like an afterthought in the greater Justice League story. Indeed, for a series that had a surprising amount of problems focusing on its main characters, Victor Stone always felt like he got the short end of the stick. But here, Geoff Johns produces a quiet but altogether moving interlude, as Cyborg and his father exchange a hear-to-cybernetic-heart before the end of the world.

Well, that's half the story, at least. Johns knows that he can't just bank on weepiness and family drama -- especially not when we have seen so little of the main characters. So some of this comic is exposition, as well as laying down the seeds for reintroducing characters into the New 52. Johns opens the comic with a particularly grim attack on the Doom Patrol, those poor red-headed stepchildren of the DCU. It's been a controversial yet regular play in the Geoff Johns playbook to establish some cannon fodder to show how brutal the bad guys are, but in this case, there's a little bit more to it -- not only does Johns harken to one of the more gruesome moments of Identity Crisis, but he is also setting up the, well, doomed nature of the Doom Patrol (and Niels Caulder's resigned fate to keep rebuilding them again and again). There are other players in the DCU that he's clearly setting up, as well -- it feels like the post-Forever Evil universe will be an inspiration for more heroes to enter the fray, as it becomes clear that the Justice League cannot save the world on their own.

While there's a utilitarian purpose to Justice League #27, there's also some sweetness, as well. Even as a quadruple amputee on a hospital stretcher, Victor Stone has a fighting spirit that won't quit. "I don't need computers, Dad. I don't need a network," he says. "Just give me two arms, two legs and two big fists." The characterization isn't particularly deep, but it is sentimental and inspiring. (Especially the moment after the newly rebooted Cyborg 2.0 first stands, and takes a deep breath, enjoying the quiet that comes from being off-grid.) It's family drama wrapped around an epic superhero movie montage, and it finally gives Cyborg something to do other than to be the team's transport and resident tech guy.

The artwork is a somewhat mixed bag, given the army of talent on board -- Ivan Reis works on the breakdowns, while Joe Prado, Jesus Merino and Vicente Cifuentes finishes the pages. The first six pages, featuring Johnny Quick and Atomica destroying the Doom Patrol, are the odd ones out, reminding me a lot of Tom Grummett with his cartoony lines. It's only once we get back to Cyborg and company that this feels more like Reis's iconic style. This is widescreen storytelling all the way, even when there's little action involved -- in particular, Reis and company do great work laying out the montage where Cyborg is rebuilt, as you want to just take in all the detailed technology that goes into this new-and-improved hero.

For those who have been exasperated at the slow pacing of Forever Evil, well, you probably won't be too thrilled here -- this issue is certainly a detour, although it's one that might mean a lot for a truly underutilized hero (or several). That said, if comics like these are what we need to introduce even more of DC's properties back into the public eye, it's not a tremendous cost -- there's some humanity underneath all that event machinery, and it's nice to see Justice League #27 try to find that beating heart.

Credit: M

All-New Invaders #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Steve Pugh and Guru-eFX
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

I have a standing rule when it comes to buying comics: If it has Namor on the cover, I buy it. About 40% of my collection is dedicated to the fishy jerk. I find his character a joy to read and his team up’s even more so, mainly because he provides a tremendously fun foil to pretty much any character. One thing I’ve always wanted though was a monthly devoted to him and his brothers in arms, The Invaders’ exploits during World War II, so naturally when All-New Invaders was announced, I was beside myself with anticipation, despite its modern setting. And now, upon reading James Robinson’s #1, I can safely say that this title is not worthy of the royal presence of The Sub Mariner. In fact, I would go so far as to call it the first real misstep of All-New Marvel NOW.

All-New Invaders tells the story of a new Kree heavy named Tanalth The Pursuer as she attempts to gather all the pieces of a Asgardian machine called The God’s Whisper, which allows the holder to control the gods themselves. Its a tried and true comic book trope, which I don’t mind as much as I do the execution of the plot. The book’s main problem is that its much more concerned with telling, instead of showing, missing the whole point of the medium. James Robinson is a vastly talented writer, but here, his script comes across as antiquated and very, very stilted, especially in the dialogue department. In the book’s main plot, Jim Hammond is still struggling with who and what he is, but spends the majority of the book’s pages delivering ham handed inner monologues, while the townsfolk that surround him offer up platitudes about how good of a man Hammond is, thus sealing their fates as cannon fodder when Tanalth comes calling, providing one of two of the book’s action set pieces. There is promise enough of a good comic within these pages, I mean who can resist a super-weapon split into three parts across the globe? But as an issue one, it fails to provide the real spark needed for a reader to want to come back for more. The book’s second action set piece, a nifty two page WWII flashback is a major shot in the arm in the action department, complete with a cool extended Major Liberty cameo, but still Robinson’s script fails to deliver the characters as anything other than poor impressions of war time action heroes.

Steve Pugh, just coming off of some really solid work on DC’s Animal Man, also seems to be really struggling here. Before, Pugh’s work came across as weighty and powerful, but here, almost every character looks rounded to the point of bloated. Normally, I could get over this if it was just one or two of the characters, but its a prevalent look to every speaking character in the book, down the townspeople that Jim Hammond saves during Tanalth’s attack. The pencils here look simplistic to the point of rushed. Gone is the deliberate and lean line work of Animal Man and in its place is a poor impression of the rough and tumble art of Kirby. Its really disappointing to see an artist as talented as Pugh turn in such shoddy work, mostly because, not even a few month ago, he had turned in some truly stellar issues, but here he barely seems awake. I am hoping that in future issues that Pugh can turn it around and get back to the quality that we are used to seeing from him, but do not expect his best in the pages of this #1.

All-New Invaders is the worst kind of disappointment; one that offers the promise of something great from two talented creators, only squander that promise with less than stellar offerings. All-New Marvel NOW has given us pretty solid first issues since the start last month, so in the larger scale of things All-New Invaders isn’t that large of a blow to the creative output as a whole, but as a fan of The Invaders, a superfan of Namor, and someone who was intensely excited about this book, it certainly is a let down.

Credit: Image Comics

Deadly Class #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There are points in most comic writers careers where they come into their own, hit their stride, and really freaking nail it. It's vaguely unsettling seeing a steady flow of superb material from a single author, their audience waiting with baited breath for the moment it will all go wrong. I'd already been having a hard time holding my breath any longer, and Rick Remender's newest series Deadly Class has knocked what was left right out of me.

Picture this. It's 1987 in San Francisco and the skate/punk undercurrent is in full swing. The city is brimming with vagabond teens on the run from themselves and the crooked cops. Enter Marcus, our homeless protagonist with a tortured past. He's a relatable character, just trying to figure things out - namely himself - and seeing if there's room for him in the grand scheme of things. The comic reads like the journal Marcus is always scribbling in, complete with dates and an inner monologue that segue nicely into the dialogue panels. He's having a pretty rough time of it. That is, until being recruited for a school of assassins.

Remender's script is nothing short of great. He captures the voice of disenfranchised punk Marcus so well, the character immediately seems like someone you've known. Upon reading the (recommended) letters page, it's apparent that this work is more than a little personal. There are small truths scattered through the issue that resonate strongly with the teenage condition, doubts about oneself and future. To process Marcus's more gritty thoughts through the journal rather than interactions was brilliant. No matter how cliché or trite its contents, a journal is a sacred text. It's private, which was great for making angsty teenage thoughts seem less contrived than they would through conversation or otherwise. The added dimensions that the journal writing gave Marcus was instrumental in his character building this issue and will hopefully continue in future installments, perhaps even aiding in shaping the supporting cast.

As solid as the writing may be, this book would not be the success that it is without the combined talents of artist Wes Craig and colorist Lee Loughridge. Their panels go from hyper-detailed to sparse just as the colors go from the warm spectrum to cool, and this continual ebb and flow really aids in keeping a steady rhythm to the story. The character designs are superb, and the surroundings really capture the feeling of what it would have been like for a homeless teen in 80's San Fran. The style change from the main storyline to Marcus's traumatic childhood was a great moment in the issue, seemingly out of a Batman title, very noir with black and red ink wash. Such a mixture of techniques and palettes is a hard thing to pull off, but this creative team does it seamlessly.

First issues, much like pilot episodes, are riddled with obstacles for creative teams to overcome. Deadly Class jumps every hurdle, and clocking in at 36 pages, is a lengthy introduction to what promises to be an brilliant and engaging story.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Mighty Avengers #5
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D'Armata
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Never bet against Luke Cage. And for that matter, don't bet against Al Ewing, either.

I have the feeling that most people had never heard of Ewing before he took a swing at Marvel's latest Avengers book. Considering there were already New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers A.I., adjectiveless Avengers -- even an Avengers World book -- it wasn't surprising that a lot of readers met Marvel's marketing teasers with eye rolls and grumpy sighs. And given the plodding pace of many of those other books, I wouldn't blame them -- but surprising no one more than myself, Mighty Avengers brings the goods, with humor, characterization, and just the right amount of action.

Something that's great about Mighty Avengers is, for the most part, these characters already know each other -- and that Ewing doesn't see that as a problem. So many books these days trip all over themselves looking to overexplain each character, what their dynamics are, and to remind new readers of what their goals are. Mighty Avengers, however, knows this team is in a shared universe, and uses that to organically draw in new members of the team. (I will say that Marvel's marketing ploy was just early enough to fade from most readers' memories, making one new introduction seem particularly fun.) And speaking of leaks -- most readers know who the gruff, trenchcoat-wearing Ronin is, and Ewing's characterization of him is pitch-perfect. (You can easily imagine his lines being read by his equally gruff Hollywood alter ego.) It's these character dynamics that makes Mighty Avengers surprisingly endearing, whether its Luke Cage and Jessica Jones uniting in righteous parental fury as they cold-cock the Superior Spider-Man (because who brings dangerous robots when there are babies around?), or the budding romantic tension between teenage heroes White Tiger and Power Man.

Even the artwork by Greg Land works here. Land has plenty of detractors for his heavily photo-referenced artwork, but here it has just the right amount of solidness for this story. Mighty Avengers is not about flashiness -- it's got its feet on the streets, not its head in the clouds. (It also doesn't hurt that there are a wide variety of different designs for these characters, including the masked Spider-Man, Ronin and White Tiger, the giant Spiderbots who try to take down the Cages, not to mention the triple-headed wolf creature the team winds up fighting later.) Land really sells the fight sequences in this book, such as a shirtless Luke lifting a robot over his head, or White Tiger getting tossed by a creature twice her size.

This book does have its occasional stumbles, but admittedly the overall execution is so strong that they're easy to forgive. The Inhumanity tie-in to this plot feels a little weird, particularly with the Avengers' time-tweaking opponent Barbara McDevitt -- it's ultimately perfunctory, just a pretense for the fisticuffs. And those who dislike Greg Land's art are not going to be converted with this comic -- that's ultimately the big make-or-break element of this book. If you're looking for wild, expressive, innovative artwork, you're better off looking elsewhere. But the art is solid -- and it fits this solid team.

Full disclosure: I've been waiting for this book to slip up for awhile now. It had to happen, right? Isn't this industry saturated with Avengers books, all with A-list names? Yet Mighty Avengers doesn't need famous names or even ultra-famous characters to get reader loyalty. It takes another approach, one that isn't done enough in today's Big Two marketplace: It earns our respect. And that might make Mighty Avengers one of the best teams Marvel has to offer.

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