Best Shots Comic Reviews: FOREVER EVIL #6, MOON KNIGHT #1, More

Marvel previews for March 5, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics

Face front, 'Rama Readers!  George Marston, here! Your regular Best Shots host David Pepose is out patrolling the spaceways, searching for uninhabited worlds to sate his master's galactic hunger, which means that Earth must suffer in my iron grip for this week's Wednesday column.  We're kicking off today's day-of reviews with a look at the ominous and eventful Forever Evil #6 from Michael Moccio. It seems he liked what he saw, so away we go!

Credit: DC Comics

Forever Evil #6
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch, Sonia Oback, and Richard Friend
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I gave Forever Evil flack last month for spending too much time on buildup; this month, they make the most of everything they’ve been working towards and give us an issue that becomes one of the most thrilling yet. Between the reveal of the masked prisoner, to Nightwing’s fate still being up in the air, to the spot on art by David Finch, this issue has so much going for it, that the small hiccups along the way become a moot point by the end. 

Johns and David Finch finally get back on track as the writing and art create a synergy that makes the most of the narrative. The panel when Batman apologizes to Dick for shutting him out—where he run his hand through the side of Dick’s hair and the look Dick gives him—Johns and Finch nail it so perfectly that it’s one of the most heart wrenching moments of the issue. Johns plays between Batman and Luthor perfectly. While Batman wants to save Dick and stop the bomb, Luthor wants to stop Dick’s heart momentarily to stop the bomb, which is why he covers Dick’s nose and mouth instead of blasting his head. The scenes between Luthor and Batman are the highlights of the issue, especially towards the end, because there is so much at stake. As Finch bounces between Alexander Luthor and Lex Luthor, we ride the edge of our seats because we want Batman to realize there’s still time to save Dick. Johns is essentially getting back to basics and making these characters drive the action, and we can’t help but become invested.

We finally get to see Luthor’s “Injustice Gang” in action, proving their mettle aagainst the Crime Syndicate. Johns’s script shines in the scene between Captain Cold and Johnny Quick, where Cold proves once and for all that he’s a step ahead of all the other ice villains. Throughout the entire narrative, Johns is able to balance the tension and pepper in humor to make the entire issue an exciting read, especially with Catwoman and Captain Cold. 

The penultimate aspect of the issue, however, remains with the revelation of the hooded prisoner: Alexander Luthor. Fans will, of course, remember him for his actions during both Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis, making his appearance rather foreboding. Johns makes an interesting choice to give Luthor the Earth-3 power of Shazam (Mazahs), but it ultimately leaves more questions than answers: would his powers really work considering he’s in a different universe than his patron Gods (assuming his powerset is similar to Shazam’s)? And if the mysterious entity destroyed Earth-3, would the Gods of Earth-3 not have been doomed as well? Regardless, those questions take a backseat once Mazahs goes into action, killing Johnny Quick and stealing his powers.

Both Johns and Finch do much to make him a powerful and menacing looking figure. Finch is on point for the entirety of the issue, particularly in his depictions of Dick Grayson, as well as varying the perspectives and panels, making an overall vibrant read. Sonia Oback on colors does extremely well in making Sinestro’s light and the lightning from Shazam and Mazahs pop —she’s able to bring these characters to life with the gradients in the coloring and makes her work stand out above the cut. Richard Friend on inks, as well, plays to Finch’s strengths by making the shadows much more dynamic and adds to the overall quality of the visuals.

Otherwise, it seems the Batman family just can’t catch a break. The New 52 marked DC’s attempt to do something new, but between the death of Damian Wayne and the uncertain fate of Dick Grayson, it seems the creative teams are more interested in tearing Batman back down to his roots than building towards a future, which is anything but new. Besides the fact that Geoff Johns and the rest of DC continually tug at our hearstrings with the relationship Batman has with his partners, the creative team of Forever Evil hit it out of the park by complementing each other’s strengths. This success sets them up with a perfect opportunity to bring the arc to an explosive and exciting end. Let’s see what they can do with it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Moon Knight has always been one of those characters that consists of a fine idea wrapped in a misguided execution.  Even when he’s got a solid creative team at his back, he somehow always feels out of place, uninspired, or simply kind of boring.   It doesn’t help that every attempt to make him work has been accompanied by a reinvention or reimagining of his core concept.  With Moon Knight’s latest relaunch, Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey are working to resolve these disparate views on Marvel’s sometimes schizophrenic, often violent vigilante.  And yes, while Moon Knight #1 constitutes yet another reinvention, it also does its best to strip back the layers of complex mischaracterization and focus on Moon Knight’s core as a vigilante and, well, kind of a nutcase.

Moon Knight #1 sees a Marc Spector who has just come through his latest psychological break – this time in the form of hallucinations representing the Avengers, a la Brian Bendis’s run from a couple years ago – and is searching for answers.  Split between the present, where Spector, calling himself “Mr. Knight,” and embodying every bit the pulp mystery man, complete with smart suit and weaponized automobile, is aiding the NYPD in the solution of a series of grisly murders, and the recent past, where he is learning the truth about his mental condition, Moon Knight #1 takes some opportunities to add depth and clarity to the long maligned character and misses others.

The “mystery man” aesthetic certainly suits Mr. Knight, and Declan Shalvey’s dichotomy of crisp linework and murky shadows, bolstered by almost painterly colors from Jordie Bellaire - which completely ignore Moon Knight himself, giving him an ethereal, ghostly feel – certainly play into Ellis’s pulp aesthetic.  It’s refreshing to see Moon Knight taken in a direction that Marvel doesn’t have, rather than one it doesn’t need, but in service of the “done-in-one” model, this issue does little more than establish the team’s vision for the character.  Setting Moon Knight against a villain just clever enough to be representative of the years of piled-on complexity and failed reboots that he has suffered works well enough, but the issue breezes through too many open doors without adding many complications or obstacles to the simple plot to feel electrifying beyond its visual energy.

Rather than setting up an ongoing mystery for “Mr. Knight” to solve, Moon Knight #1 relies on Ellis’s attempts to delve into Marc Spector’s broken psyche to hook readers for his ongoing story.  And while he doesn’t exactly undo any of Spector’s previous incarnations or remove his numerous aliases, he does tie the numerous, disparate takes on the character to the phases of the moon, and the many aspects of Spector’s divine patron, Khonshu.  It’s not completely inspired, but it does add enough of a wrinkle to Moon Knight’s story without breaking any previous version that it’s a little shocking it hasn’t been done before.  It also implies that Mr. Knight may not be the only version of Moon Knight we’ll be seeing in this series, making this issue’s brief look at him make a little more sense.

Moon Knight #1 isn’t perfect.  It sacrifices setting up a compelling plot in favor of working some triage on a character that’s been through the wringer more than a few times, and in doing so, almost forgets to add any soul to go with its mind and body.  There’s a lot to like about Ellis and Shalvey’s Moon Knight - if nothing else, it looks spectacular – but there’s a long road to walk to make Mark Spector and his cadre of aliases and costumed identities an essential part of the Marvel oeuvre.  Moon Knight #1 is a good first step.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #29
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Following last issue's big revelation that Oliver Queen's father was not only still alive, but tortured Ollie as an island castaway in order to prepare him to fight a clan of warriors known as the Outsiders, Green Arrow #29 is a bit more of a sedate piece. Subplots abound and soap operatics begin to trump the high-flying action sequences - yet at least for now, the palate cleanser works, as Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino still provide enough flair with their execution to keep readers interested.

Despite the misleading cover, the Axe Clan is not Ollie's enemy this issue, but instead Green Arrow faces the Spear Clan. Jeff Lemire has Ollie brooding more than usual, as he catches readers up to speed about how lost and confused he feels following his reunion with his father. Fathers and children is a theme that pervades Green Arrow #29, as the villainous Komodo practices his own brand of deception with his daughter, Emiko. Emiko's redemption from accomplice to heroic ward seems preordained, so while her heel turn feels a little abrupt, it still lends a human touch to a comic that otherwise could be overwhelmed by the internal squabbles of seven weapon-themed clans.

But it's artist Andrea Sorrentino that continues to make this book worth reading. Admittedly, this isn't Sorrentino's most ambitious issue, but given the slower pace following Ollie and Robert's explosive meeting on the island, that's not necessarily his fault. Sorrentino still continues to play around with layout and shapes, drawing the reader's eye in interesting ways - combined with colorist Marcelo Maiolo's judicious use of green, red and white, you almost tense up along with Ollie as he pulls a bow string - or when a trick arrow is about to explode. Close to the end of the issue, Sorrentino really opens up the throttle with a cathedral-themed series of panels that look every bit as good as something J.H. Williams III would conceive. Indeed, the double-page spread looks so good that you almost don't notice how much story Sorrentino has to cram into 11 panels.

That said, there are a few things holding Green Arrow #29 back - in particular, some readers may cool off at the slower pace of this issue. The glaring example continues to be the subplot with Diggle, Naomi and Henry chasing underworld scourge Richard Dragon - there's so much dialogue and so many narrow panels that these two pages drag down the rest of the book, feeling like Lemire is obligated to include these extraneous characters. Additionally, Sorrentino's experimentation on his fight sequences continues to be some of the more ambitious artwork in DC's entire stable, but the cost of experimentation is that not every sequence nails it - for example, a beat where a trick arrow explodes into several flaming projectiles feels a little distant, while some of his other pages (like a 10-panel sequence of Ollie entering the Outsiders' lair) feel a little small and blocky.

Ultimately, Green Arrow as a comic is somewhat of a work in progress, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - this is a comic that's constantly trying new things and constantly trying to improve itself, and that's something that should be praised, not panned. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the execution is generally solid at its worst, and some of DC's most exciting work at its best. This comic may lean on the old-school soap operatic tropes a bit more than usual, but who's to say that a time-tested balance of action and melodrama is a bad thing? If anything, despite some minor missteps, I'd say that Green Arrow #29 continues to be right on target.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Loki: Agent of Asgard #2
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodward
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Rule No. 1: Loki lies. But, what if he met someone that he couldn’t lie to? This is just one of the many exceedingly clever things to be introduced in the newest installment of Al Ewing’s charming Loki: Agent of Asgard (or AoA as its known in the Halls of Tumblr). Al Ewing takes the promise and cheek of issue one and deepens it to show the true potential of the series in this second issue. While I completely understand why some detractors would think that it may feel TOO clever for its own good, Al Ewing uses the second issue as an opportunity to show that this Agent of Asgard is far more than a one trick god.

finds Loki staking out a speeding dating event, paired with a no nonsense girl, sporting tattoos and a razor sharp attitude, named Verity who can never be lied to. Verity is our first new character injected into the series, and she more than holds her own against the golden boy of the MCU. She’s clever, has a tattoo that looks very similar to Death of the Endless, and is more than a match for the God of mischief. Al Ewing’s star is very quickly on the rise at Marvel and the exchange between Loki and Verity is all the proof one needs to see why. Ewing's dialogue crackles, and he never lets Loki keep the upper hand. Loki has always been defined by his silver tongue, and twice now, its failed him. But the difference here is that he actually benefits from it with Verity, instead of it almost getting him pummeled like last issue. Its a very natural and fun take on the romantic comedy meet-cute that feels right at home in Agent of Asgard. Also of note, this issue is very funny. Al Ewing has quickly become one of the funniest writers on the Marvel roster and Agent of Asgard #2 may be his funniest script to date. There is a sense of cheek that runs through this issue while never making it feel overtly wacky. For example, Loki has to move buildings because all of his neighbors thought he was Harry Styles of OneDirection. That's hilarious no matter who you are or what your feelings about Loki are. Its this eye for comedy that makes Al Ewing the perfect guy to take over Loki's adventures from Kieron Gillen, another writer who made the effort to inject a sense of humor into what could have been a dour world. Plus, Ewing gives us one monster of a classic Doctor Who reference and that alone gives the issue at least a 3 point boost.

However, the speed dating is not the only thing Loki is neck deep in this issue. We also have yet another mission mandated from The All-Mother and a slick heist.  While some readers might think this just a retread of the first issue, Ewing goes out of his way to present us with a larger scale heist and show Loki working counter to Lorelei and her team. This is Loki as the double agent instead of Loki the infiltration artist that we got in the first issue. Ewing also gives us a very fun version of the femme fatale in Lorelei. Her and Loki have a long and sordid history and Ewing has a ball playing with this dynamic. Loki may have changed, but Lorelei will always be a huge part of him, and Ewing makes a meal of this.

Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodward have yet to get a chance to really cut loose, but #2 gives us a small taste of what it will look like when they do and it looks gorgeous. Lee Garbett has excelled in both issues in making every character presented look as hot. His Loki is exactly the rakishly handsome scoundrel that we all want and he hits another home run with the new character Verity. Every main character is just drop dead gorgeous, but in a completely different way than say Avengers titles. This isn’t a parade of generic hunks. Every character has a lithe, David Bowie-esque sexuality to them and its a stark change from the interchangeable good looks of other comics. Nolan Woodward is the perfect guy to lend his colors to Garbett’s sexy renderings. Woodward adds explosive color to every panel that just heightens the stylish nature of the pencils to near cartoonish levels, yet it still looks and feels right. Of course Loki’s world would be insanely vibrant because Loki and the people he surrounds himself with are insanely vibrant. Garbett and Woodward give us that in spades; intensely attractive and kissable spades.

Loki lies, but now it seems that his lying in pursuit of ill deeds is over. Or is it? That will certainly be the question that each issue of Agent of Asgard will ask, and it's a question that I have yet to mind pouring over as I read the series. Al Ewing has tapped into something special here with Loki, and while it is understandably not for everyone, its definitely something that can only get better as it goes on. Often, comics and comic writers seem to fear comedy and comedic takes on characters, but Al Ewing is throwing himself into Loki’s insane world, and he isn’t afraid to let him tell a few jokes and look ridiculous. Comics can be immensely clever, and Loki: Agent of Asgard is arguably one of the most clever comics on shelves. 

Art from Veil #1
Art from Veil #1
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Veil #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Toni Fejzula
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Veil #1 by Greg Rucka and Toni Fejzula is the anti-Rucka story.  Compared to his current series at Image Lazarus with Michael Lark which is expansive, tempered and controlled, Veil #1 is an emotional beast of a comic book.  Waking up alone and naked in a subway station surrounded by rats, an amnesiac woman speaks gibberish and walks out onto a city street, exposed in many ways to a mean world.  Take out the rats and you can kind of fit Veil into a loosely defined Rucka template. Only with Fejzula’s artwork supporting him, Rucka opens the character up to the world in ways that he often doesn’t.  Instead of being our all-knowing guides into the story, Veil #1 feels like Rucka and Fejzula are on the same unknown journey with this book as the readers are.

Fejzula’s artwork, with his active watercolor-like colors, already alters the ways you experience this comic book.  Using soft, contrasting warm and cold colors, the tension is brimming on the surface of the book.  The colors develop an emotional struggle between cold and warmth that highlights the growing conflicts in this issue. On the page where Veil (the name the naked girl later gives herself in the book) emerges out of a derelict subway station into the city street, she is shaded in a cool blue against the simmering pinkish/red city streets with its neon promises of “Girls,” “Striptease,” “Sex Shop,” and “Live Exotic Show.”  This isn’t a safe environment and Fejzula immediately defines that conflict between the lighting of Veil and the city. Throughout the book, Fejzula uses these contrasting temperatures in the colors to continue to build conflict.  Veil is rescued from the street by a guy named Dante and his apartment is the same cool blues while a threatening creep named Vincent always reflects the reddish hues of the city.  

Rucka’s comic work usually has this tight feeling of control to them.  He is normally in command even as his damaged characters try to convince the world around them that they’re in control of everything.  With this girl with no memory or sense of who she is, Veil #1 is free of that pent-up tightness that generally exists in his characters.  Instead of that, there is a playful darkness to his writing that rarely shows up in his comics but you can see from time to time in his novels.  While Fejzula’s fascinating color sense creates a hazy sense of reality, Rucka opens himself up to a world that isn’t defined by hard and fast rules of plot and character but gets to be threatening simply because it’s a mean old world.  The world building of Lazarus  or Stumptown  that he does to create a sense of a real place has been cast aside to give us a fuzzy reality that makes you squirm because of what we see in it.  The sing-song quality of Veil’s dialogue illuminates the damage done to this woman while hiding some ominous secret of who and what she is. 

That fuzziness is what makes this the anti-Rucka comic.  Look at almost any comic series from Rucka and in the first few pages, you get a clear sense of time, place, character and narrative direction.  In his comics and novels, that’s how Rucka builds his story.  He does all of it so economically that you hardly notice it.  Veil #1 has all of those but Rucka’s writing here doesn’t feel as tightly clenched as it usually does.  This comic feels much more improvisational as he opens this story with a very narrow focus on these characters and gives so much freedom to Fejzula to visually tell the story with shapes and colors.  It is a different Greg Rucka that you see at work behind the story in Veil #1, a writer more willing to follow a darkly playful path than we’ve seen before.

Credit: Dark Horse

Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Rift Part One
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For anyone else who’s been less than thrilled with Avatar: The Legend of Korra, this is for you. Gene Luen Yang crafts a story that continues from the success of The Search and seems to do even better than its predecessor. By pitting the likes of Toph and Aang against one another, Yang promises to take readers and Avatar fans alike on a journey that’ll flesh out the bridge between the time of Avatar Aang and Avatar Korra.

Yang takes the extra couple of pages to clearly define why Toph is so adverse to the Air Normad rituals in the most important scene of the issue. Without that crucial backstory explaining Toph’s parents—who represented everything she disliked about her old life—Toph would have come across as simply arrogant and rude. With those couple pages, Yang clearly shows Toph’s motives so that the reader is clued in to why Toph is acting the way she is. Immediately, we know something Aang doesn’t, which makes the reader much more invested in the story. As the narrative progresses and the tension between Toph and Aang grows, we become even more invested in the story as we wonder when Aang will realize what the real problem is.

After all, it’s pretty easy to solve problems—the difficult part is identifying them. It can be hard to forget that the Team Avatar that saved the world is also the Team Avatar comprised of teenagers. Yang doesn’t forget that fact and uses it to his advantage to propel the story forward by pitting Toph and Aang against each other. Of course Aang wouldn’t realize the real problem, and of course Toph wouldn’t tell him—Aang is more focused on the traditions of the past and Toph is too proud to admit the past is getting to her. There’s already the prime difference between the elements of Earth and Air, but Toph and Aang are two very different people—add in those two different perspectives on the past, and Yang gives us a story ripe with great conflict.

Yang spares no punches as he shows us a place where harmony between nations, Aang’s dream, has been realized at the expense of his people’s land. As Toph points out, perhaps Aang’s clinging too much to the past and refuses to see the good of the present. This is the strength of most Avatar: The Last Airbender stories; on the surface, there’s a wildly enjoyable story, but once people take the appropriate time, deep thematic choices reveal themselves, making for an even more worthwhile read. At the end of the day, Avatar comics, like the show, usually have a point to them, and have meaning that makes reading the story—and rereading—valuable. 

Yang makes a smart move to plant seeds of further conflict towards at the end of the issue as well, when the manifestation of Toph’s fears and dislike appears: her father. With his presence now tangible, instead of weighing on her from Aang’s offhand comment, it appears that the tension will continue to build until an inevitable explosive conflict.

The art by Gurihiru continues to follow the precedent set by the show. These characters still look and move just as if there were on television. Even though they aren’t moving in real time, Gurihiru breaks down the art with a superb eye, making the action scenes stand out as both dynamic and immersive. Scott McCloud liked to say the gutter between panels was where the imagination filled in the gaps, and because Gurihiru sticks to the style fans have come to love, it’s not too much work for us to do that ourselves. 

Between Yang and Gurihiru, as well as the rest of the team, the world of Avatar is in good hands. They aren’t shying away from telling the big stories, or taking these characters head on by putting them in situations that’ll prove difficult to overcome. Even though they’ve gone through so much, Team Avatar still has much development to go through to become the adults we saw during the flashbacks of Korra. These stories, because they’re character driven, feel absolutely believable and a welcome addition to the mythos of Avatar; for a fan, they’re a must read, and for someone not familiar with the franchise, get on it, because this is too good to miss.

Credit: Marvel Comics

She Hulk #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettered by VC's Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Over the last few years, Marvel has taken many of their books out of Manhattan, and taken them to Brooklyn.

Sometimes that's been a literal, geographic shift, as it is in this series, where She-Hulk has just opened a law office in DUMBO, but it's been a largely thematic one, too. Books like Young Avengers, Hawkeye and FF have distinguished themselves by somehow feeling very Brooklyn, like they have some alternative quality. 

They contrast the high-octane Manhattan books - rushed, commerce-minded affairs - with quieter, quainter, more character-driven ones. It's almost like a branch of Marvel books are having some sort of Miramax revolution. They're projects that remain commercial, but forgo the kind of blockbuster directive that consumes so much of publishing, opting instead to pursue something that hints more to an indie film kind of sophistication. 

These are books that star superheroes, but are not necessarily about superheroes. They're about characters. Characters like Jen Walters, who can be enjoyed without detailed knowledge of the Banner-blood-transfusion that transformed her into the Jade Giantess, are ripe for stories that Marvel has not yet told. Tilting the focus just so, and making this a somewhat grown-up funnybook widens its range, opening the door for stories of grown-up hijinx like the irresponsibly tipsy post-drinks superhero snooping that goes on in this issue. 

Javier Pulido's instantly recognizable visual voice and Muntsa Vicente's lively candied colors are key tone-setters to the book's winking light-heartedness. Straightforward, clean and beautiful, the storytelling is completely direct. It's such a heightened look that it especially enriches the moments of humor. Although, maybe a creeper secretary's creeper monkey looking creepily would always be funny on sight. The art team seems utterly unafraid, and in this issue alone take on really ornate splashes and spreads, knocking them all out of the park.

I couldn't figure why this book had me reading Jennifer Walters with the voice of Aisha Tyler until Charles Soule tipped his hand, with She-Hulk dropping a Lana Kane-ian “Yuuuup.” Representation is always an issue in mainstream media, and superhero comics are no exception, but without pandering, this series boasts a nearly all-female cast, and doesn't even need to count the girl with the green skin to find people of color being strongly represented. 

More than anything, this story just works. Walters as a lead character is familiar, likeable, exacerbated and surrounded by impossibly colorful characters, trying her damnedest to do right in a world full of insanity. Everything feels very real, and very modern. The book compares favorably to Brooklyn neighbor Hawkeye, similarly tightening its focus on the lead character's self-determined world and thereby allowing the lead's perspective to flourish. 

Manhattan is a place to work, but Brooklyn is a place to live. Or, better yet, a place to work out of a home-office. Pulido, Soule, and Vicente's She-Hulk is funny, smart and professional. It's a book with the best kind of broad appeal. 

Credit: Image Comics

Velvet #4
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Velvet #4 has a note on foreign languages at the bottom of the title page. Velvet #4 doesn’t have a hint of a recap behind the cover. It is this kind of dedication to craft that makes Velvet the fantastic series that it is. This story was never going to be simple; it was never going to hold the reader’s hand and guide it through the narrative like a lost child. It was going to reward those who pick it up month to month, instead of just waiting for a trade. Its this commitment to the serialized nature of spy stories and a compelling lead character that makes Velvet yet another rock solid entry into Image’s second renaissance.

After the disastrous events of the last issue, we find Velvet Templeton in possession of another lead and one step closer to unraveling the mystery of X-23‘s murder. In keeping with the globe trotting nature of spy fiction, we are transported to Monaco during the decadent Parade of Fools, a masquerade ball that attracts all manner of royalty, celebrities, and spies. Brubaker has been ticking off boxes when it comes to spy novel tropes but it's never once felt hackneyed. He has shown time and time again the respect and deep knowledge that he has for certain genres and Velvet is no different. He knows the mechanics of these stories inside and out and he wields this like a weapon, giving his stories an edge of research that shines through within the script. This isn’t some run-and-gun action orgy, this is a carefully plotted and executed pot boiler of a mystery with all the twists and turns one would expect from the genre, and its been a delight to read month after month. 

Actually, let’s talk for a second on just how much more effective it is reading this month to month than it would be as a trade. There are myriad reasons that one would just wait for a trade instead of shelling out $3.50 every month for a single issue, but this isn’t one of those books that would benefit from it, in my opinion. When I talk about Velvet (and trust me, I talk about it at length a great deal. At this point I’m Velvet Templeton’s hype man around my LCS), I often compare it to watching a show like True Detective week to week, instead of waiting for it to hit DVD. Sure, if you wait, you get the instant gratification of knowing the complete narrative, but Ed Brubaker isn’t writing this with the trade in mind. He’s giving us exactly what we need to see and know month after month and then sending us back into the real world with theories and examinations of the clues presented. He wants us to try and solve the case along with Velvet. We lose much of the impact of the story if we just choose to binge read it months after the first arc ends. This is what spy fiction, and, to a larger extent, comics excel at; giving you a solid story in compelling chunks that keep you coming back month after month, and Ed Brubaker is giving us the perfect book in this regard.

Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser's art was incredible as per usual in the pages of Velvet this month, but, in #4 they give us something so rare and something almost totally unseen in comics that it deserves the lion’s share of this paragraph. There is a scene very early on of Velvet in her Monaco hotel getting dressed to attend the Parade of Fools and we see her in her underwear. Now, when I say this, I do not mean a gratuitous cheesecake like J. Scott Campbell pin up of our heroine, actually its the complete opposite and that’s what makes it so special. In issue one the same team gave us a very striking panel in this same vein with Velvet in the shower, but they chose to highlight her age and strong facial features, giving us as readers the impression of a beautiful woman of intense knowledge and wisdom. But here, coupled with Brubaker’s narration of Velvet almost berating herself that she had gotten soft, Epting and Breitweiser show us her power and sexuality, while never making it feel exploitive. She is putting on armor and the art team completely understand this. Velvet Templeton is a complete character and the team will never treat her as anything less. Itis beyond refreshing to see a woman in comics treated with the basic human respect that sometimes gets completely forgotten in genre fiction. Velvet Templeton is a capable, wildly intelligent, complex, strikingly beautiful, and deadly woman, and Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser depict her as such. Its one of the many strengths of the title. 

Like all good spy stories, every character has a secret, and Velvet is no exception. Ed Brubaker has always been a writer that takes the genre he is working within very seriously, while never sacrificing what made that genre entertaining and effective in the first place. Velvet may be his best genre work to date. He has surrounded himself with a team of professionals that understand just how to present this story and character in a way that honors every aspect of spy fiction and the character herself. While this may not be the book to wade into the middle of on a whim, it is a certainly a book that is worth your time and attention and, in time, your respect.

Art from Evil Empire
Art from Evil Empire
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Evil Empire #1
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Ransom Getty and Chris Blythe
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by Boom! Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Max Bemis is back at Boom! Studios with another new creator-owned title. Evil Empire steps away from Bemis’s struggle with bipolar disorder, fictionalized into a superhero story of epic proportions in Polarity, and instead poses the question: How do civilizaions become evil empires? In exploring the origins of a trope, Bemis uses a unique perspective, that of up and coming rapper Reese Greenwood. Guardians of the Globe penciller Ransom Getty joins Bemis in the first issue that lays out the premise but is devoid of a real hook.

Unfortunately for Bemis, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to put out a subpar political thriller. With House of Cards very fresh in everyone’s mind, the bar has been set for this kind of story. It’s unfair to directly compare them, especially considering the goals of each piece of work, but it’s almost inevitable given the genre and timing of the stories. Bemis is able to check off all the boxes in terms of necessary story devices, but they don’t gel in an interesting way. Reese is an outspoken, political rapper and woman of color. You’ll want to root for her because she’s the kind of character that we don’t see enough of in comics. But her revolutionary rhetoric falls flat. She raps “Fodder for a corrupt aspiring president/Tracks on thin skin and corporal punishment” but she also makes appearances on MTV. She’s a revolutionary the same way MIA might be and unfortunately, she comes across as just another mouthpiece propping herself up on being anti-establishment. I don’t think that’s really Bemis’s intent especially since she’s juxtaposed with Sam Duggins, the democratic candidate for President, who uses Reese as fodder for his campaign. But Reese barely reacts to her hypocrisy and allows it to happen which robs her of any sort of authenticity.

Meanwhile, the election at the center of all this has shades of Transmetropolitan written all over it. Sam Duggins bears many similarities to The Smiler and the actions of his opponent bring to mind The Beast. The difference is that Spider Jerusalem was somewhat uncompromising in his takedown of the both of them. Bemis paints Reese Greenwood as the unwitting fool and it doesn’t suit the type of character that she’s supposed to be.

Ransom Getty is a fine artist. His work recalls guys like Carey Nord and Khari Evans; distinctive character work coupled with crisp, if unspectacular, visual storytelling. There are a few panels with an odd pose or expression that can be a little distracting, but overall, it’s very solid. The highlight is definitely our first introduction to Reese, a powerful double page spread that makes you wish Getty could take those kinds of chances elsewhere in the book. But Getty’s work is brought down by an overwhelmingly dark color palette. Colorist Chris Blythe lives in a realm of blacks, grays, beiges and browns. It washes out any excitement that might be in the script and keeps anything from really standing out.

Evil Empire #1 ends with a groan-worthy revelation, and in that moment shows exactly how it’s set apart from similar stories in the genre. It’s a juvenile attempt at a political thriller that is bereft of any sophistication or nuance. It communicates in platitudes and leaves its characters flat. Getty is doing his job telling the story but its not enough to prop this one up. By the end of the book, its unclear how this issue relates to the larger concept. This is how empires are born? By rappers hanging out with politicians? Bemis has a lot of things happening to his characters but his characters are not making anything happen. When plot is moving forward for the sake of moving forward, there’s a problem, and one that an editor probably should have caught.

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