Best Shots Comic Reviews: FANTASTIC FOUR #1, LOIS LANE, Much More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Marvel’s first family is back with another new volume and with it, a new creative team and a shift in tone. After years of adventures split between FF and Fantastic Four, Marvel has cut down to just a single title, putting James Robinson at the helm with Leonard Kirk on art. For the most part, they give us a nice reintroduction but it’s one that’s predicated on knowing at least a little bit about their history to truly get a feel for.

Robinson uses Sue Storm’s letter to her daughter to frame the narrative, allowing for Robinson to tease the storylines to come without giving everything away. But the in medias res approach serves to make those future storylines somewhat more appealing than the action at hand. Sue is very torn about the state of the team and the direction they’re moving in but Robinson doesn’t treat her like a strong matriarch interested in saving her family. Instead, her distress causes her to defer to Reed, potentially setting him up to become this story’s greatest villain from an internal conflict standpoint. When Robinson checks in with the rest of the cast (Dragon Man and the kids, Ben and Johnny), we get a few short scenes that run the gamut in terms of emotion, from heart wrenching to heartwarming. But without a bit more context, these scenes might fall flat for new readers.

Leonard Kirk’s art is excellent. Kirk's renditions of the FF are instantly recognizable and despite the harshness of their new red uniforms, colorist Jesus Aburtov makes them work. And any time Fin Fang Foom shows up in a book, the artist has to have some chops to truly pull off the size of the threat. with his strong lines and concise sense of storytelling recalling Steve McNiven’s artwork, Kirk does a great job keeping the pacing at a nice clip while not sacrificing any scale. Fin Fang Foom is monstrous and even the final pages feel big and threatening. Then when bringing the book down into its smaller moments, like Ben Grimm's reunion with on-again, off-again girlfriend Alicia Masters, he’s able to communicate a lot of emotion with just a few expressions.

Fantastic Four #1 isn’t a perfect comic, but it’s a good enough relaunch for the team even if it doesn’t achieve much in the way of characterization. Robinson has a good track record with big stories and big stakes. The sci-fi tilt that the FF have always had will surely be a fit for him stylistically. Leonard Kirk is already proving himself amongst the elite of Marvel’s widescreen, action artists. As long as Robinson’s scripts keep giving him exciting new places and things to draw, we’re going to see a lot of range from him.

DC previews for February 26, 2014
DC previews for February 26, 2014
Credit: DC Comics

Superman: Lois Lane #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Meghan Hetrick, Ig Guara, Diogenes Neves, Guillermo Ortego, Hetrick, Ruy Jose, Marc Deering and Hi-Fi
Lettering by John. J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

One of the persistent accusations leveled at the New 52 since its inception, and indeed at superhero comics in general, is that the presence of strong female headliners has been less than forthcoming. The last few months have seen some conscious moves on the part of DC to make amends for this, with the introduction of the superb Harley Quinn solo title and the rise to prominence of Batman: Joker’s Daughter. Like the latter of those anti-heroes, the decidedly heroic Lois Lane gets her first solo outing in years with a title that immediately defines her by the super man in her life. However, Superman: Lois Lane is a long way from the kissing contests of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, even if doesn’t always find its own direction.

Rising star Marguerite Bennett, rapidly becoming the go-to writer for one-shot explorations of supporting characters, crafts a dual narrative in this double-sized issue that splits its time between a young Lois and her younger sister Lucy, and the women that they will eventually become. Bennett immediately positions Lois in her own spotlight, concentrating on her “own dreams and memories, for once, with [boyfriend] Jonathon off at his news conference.” Referring to recent events in Superman that left Lois in a coma, the reintroduction of an adult Lucy kicks Lois’s investigative instincts into gear and sends her off on a hunt for an abducted friend, a “drug cartel” and some mysterious monsters.

Despite the presence of grotesque mutated junkies, a militant cartel and frequent flashbacks, Superman: Lois Lane is effectively a straightforward piece of sleuthing with an anti-drug message tacked on for good measure. In this sense, it really does hark back to a bygone era of storytelling, where all manner of substances were handy stand-ins for street narcotics that respectable comics buyers should never go near. Yet the bond of sisterhood is a meme that runs healthily through the arterial vein of this book, and while Bennett reminds readers perhaps one too many times that Lois “never once caught” Lucy when she fell, it is their relationship that defines the book and not the more prominent hero whose name dominates the cover. Indeed, the Man of Steel only appears on one panel, and it is after Lois has finished her own search and rescue. It’s a firm flag planted for her character, even if it takes on enough plot threads for a mini-series to get there.

The small army that completes the art team still manages to deliver a fairly consistent look throughout the volume, even if there is a noticeable shift to soften the coloring halfway through the book. Thankfully, the frequent softer palette of the flashbacks blends the two together fairly well, ensuring that Lois gets her spotlight as an action hero by the end of the issue. That said, some of the best moments visually are the sight gags between Lois and Jimmy Olsen, as she jokingly offers a clenched fist for him to run into as ‘punishment’ for a bit of verbal sparring.

The Superman: Lois Lane one-shot may not be a quantum leap in storytelling for DC, but it is a step in the right direction for the New 52. Instead of committing to another event or full series, this offers a safe environment to try out a narrower focus for the plethora of characters yet to be reintroduced or given the light of day in the new guard. Indeed, while the story itself may not immediately set sales lists on fire, the format is a perfect package for future focal points in the DCU.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hawkeye #15
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

At this point, the Barton family crest should just be a black eye. Since the start of the Rio Bravo side arc of Hawkeye, Clint has been on a downward spiral that was set in motion by his deep need to do the right thing and for better or worse, his ne'er-do-well brother, Barney was along for the ride. But you know what they say about the road to hell, right? It seems that Clint’s life, and lives of the people in his building, is just going to go from bad to worse, as the long looming black cloud that has hung over Clint Barton finally breaks, giving us a jolting new direction for one of Marvel’s biggest hits.

Even though #15 was shuffled a bit, it still finds Clint dealing with the fallout of Grills’ funeral and Kate Bishop cutting the dead weight that is Clint Barton from her life and heading to L.A. Though the issue starts out with its usual cheeky tone and has a truly funny throughline of Barney trying to complete a crossword puzzle throughout the comic, this issue is a snark diversion in the overall tone for the series and that’s the best possible thing going for it. This isn’t to say that Hawkeye has now gone completely over to the maudlin, quite the opposite in fact. Fraction uses this issue to even further heighten the dramatic stakes of Clint’s side of the story. While Kate’s adventures are fun, breezy, and just a downright blast to read, Clint’s is falling apart at the seams and it doesn’t seem like there is much that he can do about it; not alone at least. This adds a wonderful level of dimension into the Hawkeye universe. Clint has always been his own worst enemy, whether he means it or not. This is bed that he made, now he just has to lie in it.

This is another thing that deserves a direct mention; Clint’s tendency toward self-destruction through altruistic means. Fraction clearly loves the character and he’s has tapped into a characterization that has clearly connected with a larger audience, yet he is completely unwilling to give him a pass on some of his worst tendencies. I can’t express how great it is as a comic fan to see a writer love a character so completely that they almost seem to want to make them better by calling them on their flaws directly. This is one of the main things that makes Hawkeye feel like such a complete story, this committal to character development and growth. I mean, think about it, Clint is moody, evasive, stubborn, and has little regard for the consequences of his actions. To crib Clint’s own phrase, you don’t cowboy around with the kind of people that he does without something going on underneath the surface. This issue very graphically depicts what happens to a man like this. Its a bold direction going forward and I applaud Team Hawkeye for making it. This comic has, and will probably always continue, to remind me of '50s-era pulp detective stories because in those, the hero had all the swagger, cunning, and luck that Clint Barton has but, nine times out of ten, either they or someone close to them got seriously hurt because of some direct consequence of the gumshoe’s actions, and Clint Barton is now experiencing this firsthand.

At this point, I can’t honestly do anything but sing the praises of David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. Hawkeye has the best art teams in comics right now. Both Annie Wu and David Aja are doing the work of their careers. The David Mazzucchelli-like attention to detail coupled with Aja’s unexpected panel layouts knock me flat month after month. Matt Hollingsworth brings every bit of this together with his meticulous coloring. This issue is a master class in setting and mood as it moves from scene to scene. Present here are the ever consistent purples and pale blues that are always present in Clint’s apartment, but as we move along to other scenes, such as the scenes with the Clown in his civilian attire, heavy shadows obscure the other members of the meeting, while the lighting comprised of cold silvers and blues, making it as impersonal and calculating as possible. It doesn’t end there though, in various scenes of either action or when they contain dangerous people (Black Widow in the diner and the Clown meeting with Head Dracula in a dingy back room), the room is flooded with a light red, hinting at or highlighting the violence that lies just beneath the surface of these characters. Its a lot to pour over for those inclined to look into stuff like this, but it stuff exactly like this that makes a good comic a great comic.

Clint Barton is a good man; underneath the bluster and the prickly nature of his personality he is a man that desperately wants to do good. Though that desire to set things right, though, Clint Barton has put himself and his building in grave danger. The thought of this never occurred to him and now he must face what he has coming. This kind of character development and an unending committal to the serialized structure of the series is exactly what makes Hawkeye the hit it is today. We care about these characters because the creative team cares about them, to the point that they wouldn’t dream of giving them a free pass or an easy go of them. Sometimes they don’t deserve it; Clint Barton certainly doesn’t right now. This looks bad right now, but its exactly what makes us come back for more.

DC previews for February 26, 2014
DC previews for February 26, 2014
Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #28
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons, Andrew Hennessy and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

What’s worse than fighting a long-forgotten, undead king of Atlantis? Apparently, a high school reunion. Aquaman #28 brings Aquaman and Mera back to their home after a run-in with a secret underwater installation housing a part of the Karaqan. Jeff Parker takes the opportunity to show the widespread effects of Atlantis’ attack and gives readers a chance to see how Aquaman reacts to varying types of people while exploring what makes him tick.

Parker makes a smart move to have both Triton and the high school reunion take place in the same issue, as it shows how different Aquaman and Arthur Curry can be, as well as showcasing the different attitudes humans have towards the Atlantean hero. Although governmental incompetency is widely overused, Parker uses it to his advantage when the staff of Triton fire on him as he attempts to save one of their personnel; immediately, the reader knows that these aren’t the good guys and they’re going to prove a hindrance for Aquaman in the future. He does it in a way that reader recognizes Parker’s using these tropes, but he does it well enough that they’re forgiven. It helps that Jeremy Cox and Sean Parsons are so on point with the colors and inking — the panel of Aquaman’s face covered in shadows made the frustration and anger Arthur experienced come to the surface.

The high school reunion showed the more light-hearted side of the issue as Arthur interacted with people from his past — this give Parker the opportunity to flesh out Arthur’s background prior to becoming Aquaman, which is necessary to fully understanding the character. First, it was with Mera probing Arthur exactly why he was afraid of going, which revealed the incident with the beached whale. Without being overt about it, Parker shows how Arthur conflicted between the sea and humans as he hurts Spencer — a senior at Arthur's high school — to protect a whale; it also shows that while he may be the king of the seas, Arthur still feels guilt over hurting other people and losing control, a trait that makes him relatable to the reader.

Paul Pelletier does a great job with the art during the reunion when he draws what characters are imagining as they talk. Kevin — the guy who keyed Arthur’s car — imagined Arthur as being ruthless, which gave Pelletier an opportunity to call back to Peter David’s Aquaman prior to the New 52 sans his right hand. Parker takes the opportunity to add a nice fun moment between Arthur and Mera after Arthur pretends the Atlantean gods will be merciful to Kevin. It shows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and allows himself to joke with his wife, even if the world is still tense from the Atlantean invasion.

In that same vein, Parker shows different reactions to Arthur: from Triton’s hostility, to the former swim team wanting to have him play, to the mistrusting and hostile Danny, to the grateful people Arthur saved at one point or another before being Aquaman. Bringing Arthur back to his roots showed him and the reader how people have reacted, and Parker ends with the grateful and reminds Arthur that not everyone is against him. This is so important to him as a hero, especially one that’s recently been under fire.

All of these decisions culminate in a lighthearted and enjoyable issue — one that makes you feel like you’re kicking back with Aquaman himself and getting a look into what makes him tick, but that’s really all there is to it. Besides being an enjoyable issue, Parker spends too much time setting up future conflict. He causes the reader to spend too much time questioning what happened in the past and what motivates these characters (the man observing Aquaman and the ending scene), when they should instead be questioning what’s going to happen next. There are times, as well, when Pelletier’s art feels like it’s moving too quickly, particularly in Arthur’s flashback: one second Arthur’s on one side of the whale, next second later he’s already punched Spencer, who’s flying towards the rocks. It was a noticeable hindrance, which is a shame, especially when the visuals alone are fairly well done.

Aquaman #28 may not be anything spectacular, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasant. Seeing Arthur Curry, rather than Aquaman, for a change was a welcomed experience. If nothing else, we can thank Parker and the team for putting Arthur in a suit, because he really wears it well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #28
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell, Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

“Goblin Nation” has been incredible at exactly one thing so far: drawing out the inevitable. This issue offers some chance at a solution of Otto, injects what is probably a huge red herring for Peter Parker and finally lets the characters know some of the things that the readers have known for months. It makes for a comic book that feels unnatural and forced. Thankfully, Giuseppe Camuncoli is still turning in stellar work.

I think that Slott is really losing a handle on juggling so many plots at once. The stop-and-start nature of the book is really starting to affect the entirety of it especially when most scenes aren’t really telling us anything new. We don’t need to find out any new information for a comic to be enjoyable but with a plot and disjointed and choppy as this one, it’d be nice to have a little more to sink our teeth into. Perhaps the most frustrating parts of the book are the scenes that check in with Peter Parker’s struggle to regain control of his body. As he traverses his last remaining memories and they meld with Otto’s own, there’s an attempt by Slott to explore the similarities between their upbringings. But while there are similarities, the differences are enormous. We know Peter is coming back. I don’t see why so many pages are being dedicated to those scenes while other part of the plot remain underdeveloped.

Giuseppe Camuncoli is the perfect artist for an arc that is so Goblin-centric, though. John Dell doesn’t over-accentuate the brows of Camuncoli’s characters the way that other inkers have done in the past, but they are still full of menace (no pun intended). There are many secrets between all of the main players and the deception is almost palpable on Camuncoli’s pages. He manages to be a fit for the Peter Parker memory scenes as well. As Peter tries to balance what’s his and what’s Otto’s, their memories become an unnerving amalgam. Camuncoli delivers the feeling through his art so well, that these could’ve been silent sections.

“Goblin Nation” is starting to feel sisyphean. For every few steps forward that are taken with the plot, we realize that we’re still in basically the same place we were at the start. Everything must come to a head soon considering there are only a few issues of Superior Spider-Man but knowing that Peter is coming back and knowing that this book is ending are really robbing Slott and co. of the big ending they are shooting for. Camuncoli continues to be as on point as ever, and he’s really expanded his range. It’s a shame that an arc that’s supposed to go out with a bang looks like it’s going out with a whimper.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League Dark #28
Written by J. M DeMatteis
Art by Vicente Cifuentes, Dan Jurgens and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While I was just getting used to Jeff Lemire's take on these characters, legendary scribe J. M. DeMatteis swoops down and has given readers some serious supernatural action in the past few issues, the character development took a back seat of sorts. Until now that is. Justice League Dark #28 gives us those moments that define the heroes in this part of the DCU instead of just things that happen to them.

The main DC supernatural staple has been pretty much the same since the late 90's with the warrior angel, Zauriel, being the latest addition, but up and comer Cassandra Craft has grown on me as of late and her relationship with Liam has been interesting to watch blossom. Speaking of Zauriel, ole choir boy is back, but sadly doesn't have a chance to shine here as Necro and Felix Faust do some wing clipping of their own, and that's not the worst thing to happen in this this issue.

Constantine's being the main narrator of the series is nothing new and almost seems fitting for the book as he still sees himself as an outsider to the supercapes and heroics of this world, and it comes across as "well, if nobody else is going to fight this bloody thing, I'll just do it", bringing some great character moments into the fold. This issue continues that streak, but concentrates more of the Constantine/Zatanna relationship (Constanna? Zatantine?) which has been sort of lacking, which is a tad disappointing throughout the series, they've had great chemistry. Even though we're shoulders-deep into Forever Evil, it's nice to take a breather and let these characters come alive.

There was a slight change up with Vicente Cifuentes handling the pencils and inks here instead of Mikell Janin and while you have great moments here like Constantine and Zatanna's defying standup to Necro, some of the wind was taken out by Cifuentes' art. The page long duel of Felix and Necro also suffered from just boring execution. Now, true, Dan Jurgens handled the breakdowns and they're not the strongest ever, but Cifuentes' inking just comes across as blotting and thick at times, mainly during heavy action scenes. His figure composition is a-okay, but nothing feels fresh or innovative here and comparing his stuff to Janin and asking yourself who'd you prefer, it'd be a no-brainer here. Jeromy Cox's palette suits Cifuentes' style and actually breathes life into some pages that might have otherwise been stale.

Forever Evil is near the end and things aren't really looking up for the JLD here, especially with a cameo from a certain spirit of redemption rearing his green-cowled head soon. DC has a long tradition of supernatural and arcane characters and it's great to know they have a title that is all of their own, especially for fans like myself, but the artistic direction here isn't all that magical.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Wolverine #2
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Stegman, Mark Morales and David Curiel
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

It's the equivalent of a X-Man mid-life crisis. Wolverine - once the best there was at what he does - no longer has his healing factor. He's mortal, he's killable, he's lost his mutant mojo. And while there's a lot of potential for drama in this new status quo, Paul Cornell seems determined to shed Wolverine of a more important quality: his likeability.

Back in the day, it was easy to think of Wolverine as the local loose cannon, a bloodthirsty berserker who needed Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men to hold him back. But a more resonant trope for Logan has been as a failed samurai - a man whose every impulse is to slash and kill and take the easy way out of his responsibilities, but instead struggles to be a better man. Call it honor, call it integrity, call it whatever you want - and you can't help but give Paul Cornell some credit for trying to invert that trope with this relaunch. Running with the crew of the Offer, Wolverine's shot a journalist in cold blood, and surprisingly enough, he's glad. It's a necessary evil. This is a Wolverine who isn't shackled by the doctrines of "honor" or being a man over an animal. But the result is like removing "With great power comes great responsibility" from Spider-Man - he's ultimately a much less endearing hero, one whose journey you don't particularly care to follow.

In the case of this issue, that goes double for the concept. It's a bit of an easy cash-grab to throw the Superior Spider-Man into a Marvel book, but the dynamic between Spider-Man and Wolverine has always gone in one direction - it's the older, wiser, more experienced Logan who is nagged and nudged by the younger, less cynical, more naive Spidey. So to reverse that pairing winds up resulting in a very off-putting story, as even with Otto Octavius in the driver's seat of Peter Parker's brain, it still feels like Spider-Man should be the last person Wolverine should go to for help. (Shoehorning the search for Sabretooth in with the growing Goblin Nation plot over in Superior Spider-Man doesn't help.) These two heroes wind up acting like chumps against a bunch of random street goons, with Wolverine barely getting any actual moments to show his true grit - even without a healing factor. Indeed, Cornell instead defines Wolverine by pure fear, especially with a long, drawn-out bit where he almost gets shot in the face. After a while, it's hard to root for your hero when he feels like a coward.

This is also a case of the wrong artist for the book. That's not to say that Ryan Stegman isn't talented - he certainly is. But his cartoony style only reinforces the lack of dramatic tension in this book. His Wolverine (and especially his Spider-Man) are expressive and kinetic, but sometimes it goes to the point of humor - the look on Spidey's face, for example, when a thug puts a gun to his head is just over-the-top, as are the exaggerated designs for the characters, like Sabretooth's wild mutton-chops. (I still very much dig his short, stout Wolverine, however.) Again, this review isn't particularly an indictment of Stegman's work - he's not given much to work with here beyond perfunctory fight sequences, and while his style isn't the right fit for a story like this, Stegman is the only saving grace to a decreasingly fun book.

And that's what the problem with Wolverine is right now. It's not about making him killable, or losing his healing factor - that's been done before, to greater effect than this. Cornell has a smart idea, with Wolverine casting aside his unshakeable ethical code - but he hasn't earned it yet. He hasn't played true to Wolverine being a tragic hero, but instead made him a weak second banana in his own book. There's a lot of really cool possibilities for Wolverine in his "Killable" state, but with Cornell throwing in spectacle and guest stars rather than cohesive character work, you can't help but wish this book was put out of its misery.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #28
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I've had my doubts about this particular creative team for Superman, but I have to give credit where credit is due: this is a fun comic. It's not particularly the most cohesive in terms of its narrative, but I will say this - Superman and company are looking very, very good.

Part of the reason this book sneaks up on you is because of Scott Lobdell's take on Lois Lane. Despite some puzzling choices in regards to her status quo - particularly when she fell into a coma and developed telepathic abilities - you can't help but like the way that Lobdell sees her as a character. Lois is a character that's all about toughness, so opening on her in the middle of a shootout in Suicide Slum is a great way to get the book's momentum going, as she tells the officers nearby that "I'm the least of your problems." Following that introduction, Lobdell bounces from scene to scene with a franticness that's difficult to follow, but at the very least, he injects that soapy characterization that's hard to resist. Whether it's describing Superman scanning satellites as we would a crossword puzzle, seeing that impish cluelessness from millionaire freeloader Jimmy Olsen, or watching Clark Kent answer his fans at the police station, the Man of Steel himself is surprisingly endearing.

But the best part of this book has to be the artwork by Brett Booth. This is a case of putting the right artist on the right character - his Superman is streamlined yet powerful, and he's able to balance just the right amount of grunge and cartoony clarity to make Metropolis a chaotic but not desolate place. Booth also kills when he's drawing Superman, especially a scene where he flashes his heat vision in an attempt to intimidate a prisoner, and there's a guest star at the end of the book that ends this comic on just the right note. (Andrew Dalhouse also sells these sorts of scenes as he washes panels with hard reds, purples and blues.) Occasionally, like his collaborator Lobdell, Booth can get a little over-the-top, particularly when Jimmy or Cat Grant are involved, and sometimes his anatomy can be lacking - particularly the page where Sam Lane's mistress has her head turned backwards at an unreasonable angle. That said, Booth's energetic, powerful artwork is what makes or breaks this book.

That's not to say there isn't a lot to put you on the fence here. The overall storytelling from page to page is a bit suspect, as Lobdell switches scenes faster than either Booth or the reader can keep up. It'll take a few reads to follow the narrative from Lois witnessing a shootout in Suicide Slum, to Superman finding a door in space, to Clark Kent finding Jimmy Olsen in his apartment, to seeing Sam Lane, to Clark meeting Lois at a police station. Yes, there are captions that establish these abrupt shifts in locale (although letterer Rob Leigh makes them so small they're easy to miss), but it winds up paradoxically saying too much and not enough - we rarely stay anywhere long enough to really get the gist of what Lobdell wants us to get, and yet there are so many plot points in the air that it's hard to keep track.

Yet when this comic connects, it connects well - mostly due to Brett Booth nailing the artwork, but also because of Scott Lobdell's increasingly infectious enthusiasm for the characters themselves. This comic certainly isn't for everyone - there's plenty of people who want their storytelling more deliberate, more straightforward - but if you're just itching for some soap opera fun and some pretty pictures, you could do a whole lot worse than Superman.

Credit: Image Comics

Rat Queens #5
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Roc Upchurch
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With Image's renaissance in full swing and this year is looking to bring in some of mainstream's top talent, it's easy to forget there are a plethora of great Image title's already at your disposal with some great indie talent involved. One book in particular is Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch's Rat Queens. While it's not making the sort of waves other Image books are making, it's more like the submarine you don't see under those waves - a submarine that happens to be throwing one hell of a party.

Speaking of parties, there's cause for celebration here one Queen escapes death after a grueling battle in this issue. On the plus side, we get to see Hannah the mage really unleash some of her talent on some generic cannon fodder, which makes for some great visuals. Upchurch is no slouch when it comes to strong, violent scenes as fans have began to notice, but here, it's really something to pour over since Hannah and her magical abilities give that extra oomph to certain scenes in general. The main focus once again here is female camaraderie and proving the rest of their world that they can party just as hard as the burliest of warriors, but still with their sisterhood being at the center of it all.

The party dwarven fighter Violet wants to throw is not just something light and fluffy. For non-readers, it could give them a sense of who these women are and the world around them. All four Queens are featured here and displaying a slice of their personality as the party goes on. The story itself isn't really talked about and if you're now joining the book, might be a tad difficult to follow, but you'll get the idea by the end of the book. Wiebe doesn't weigh the dialog down by heavy exposition, but still gives the girls something to talk about without anything feeling forced or trite.

As mentioned, there can't be enough praise about Upchurch here. He's not only given each Rat Queen her own distinguishing look, but also goes along well with their voice and expressions, which are on a Kevin Maguire sort of level. Betty's smirk to Dee's eyebrow raising, everyone feels real here and it's a wonder why this book doesn't have a bigger following. True, despite Upchurch's animated look to this world and characters, it's far from an all-ages title, but fantasy fans looking for something fun and different from cape escapades should hunt down Rat Queens #5. It's a perfect jumping-on point for this rowdy and surprisingly touching book.

Credit: DC Comics

All-Star Western #28
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Staz Johnson, Fabrizio Fiorentino, and Mike Atiyeh
Letters by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

What defines a man? What shows the world the true measure of a man’s worth? Is it his actions as he makes his way through said world? Is it the reputation that follows him around like a constant companion? Or, maybe, is it the way he looks? Jonah Hex has always been a man defined by a painful past and his horrific scars. Now, due to recent events, he has found some measure of peace after being flung forward in time and finding love. But, like all outlaws, this is an uneasy peace and one easily shattered.

All-Star Western has always uses the tried and true troupes of western storytelling to its great advantage and A.S.W. #28 is no exception, though it is an unexpected one. With Hex and Gina now in the present, we are presented with the classic Outlaw Life Left Behind story. Hex is not only in a strange time, but a time in which he doesn’t belong and while he is trying to make a go of his new found peaceful life, but he just can’t seem to get a firm hold on it and after a disastrous motorcycle ride, he now has everything he’s really ever wanted in the form of facial reconstruction surgery. Jonah Hex is now a complete person again, fully equipped to rejoin society and yet, he still cannot bring himself to do it. The outlaw life calls and its call is too strong for him to refuse. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the issues only real action scene. Hex, now healed and eating in the hospital cafeteria, handedly takes down a drug addled ruffian as if he was in the middle of a saloon brawl. This series has been going pretty full bore as of late, but this deliberate slowing down of the pace adds to the power of the story device and adds tremendous depth to this scene. Hex may not be the freak he once was, but he is still every bit the outlaw and that will never change no matter what time he occupies.

Gray and Palmiotti don’t stop there though. They take it yet a step further and give us something else to chew on going forward into future issues. Hex and Gina, upon abandoning the present and returning to the past, are dropped in the middle of Apache territory and though Hex was raised by the tribe, they don’t recognize him or accept his claims as truth...because he no longer bears the scars of his past. Its a very, very interesting spring board for future All-Star Western stories. Hex may look complete, but yet he is still an outcast, just in a completely different way. This completely subverts the dynamic of Jonah Hex and possibly could change the majority of his relationships with other characters in the past.

Staz Johnson, Fabrizio Fiorentino and Mike Atiyeh turn in roughly flowing pencils that further hammer home the classic weird western story script. As I read the issue I was reminded more and more of the work of R. M. Guéra in the best way possible. Despite the modern setting, their work still has a dusty looking quality that is right at home in the pages of a Jonah Hex comic. One thing that seperates this team from the hard nosed realism of Guéra is a tendency to use almost manga-like accents over either action or character realization. It gives the story a kinetic boost that only slightly feels out of place. This is a very slight touch that sets this book apart from the house style of DC in the best way possible. Its an odd book as is so why shouldn’t have little weird art touches like this? It is touches like this that DC very much needs to stand toe to toe with other painfully gorgeous and innovative books on shelves.

Jonah Hex has always been defined as an outcast and now, thanks to some out of the box thinking on Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s part, he is now an outcast in the most unexpected way possible. All-Star Western has always been a quietly weird and subversive book, but it seems that with #28, the team is fully committing to this and the book is all the better for it. This might not be the most action packed or violent issue of the series to date, but its an issue that gleefully uses the story troupes that used to define it to tell a quiet and engaging story, while setting up an interesting dynamic for future issues. Jonah Hex may be defined as one thing, but All-Star Western refuses to be defined by just one thing or conventional storytelling, and it's all the better for it.

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