Best Shots Comic Reviews: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #200 Perfection, DETECTIVE COMICS, More

Marvel previews for April 2, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate Spider-Man #200
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez, Sara Pichelli, David Lafuente, Mark Brooks, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

While Dan Slott and his team on Superior Spider-Man went for the gusto with a body switching comedy gone horribly wrong, Brian Michael Bendis and his team cranked out consistently thrilling adventures starring Peter’s successor, Miles Morales, only to put him through the ringer with a recent battle against Galactus, completing his transformation from mere heir to the throne to full-tilt superhero. But with this anniversary issue, Brian Michael Bendis goes back to basics, using Miles and the Ultimate Spider-Man title for such a touching eulogy for the late Peter Parker.

Featuring a group of stellar artists, #200 almost feels like equal parts series finale and pilot episode by delivering a touching, often funny conclusion to this chapter of Miles’ story, while offering tantalizing glimpses of what’s to come with the upcoming relaunch Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man. Using the the second anniversary of Peter’s death, Bendis gathers the entire cast of Ultimate Spider-Man, to honor Peter’s life. This leads to some of the trademark character work that Bendis has excelled at on the title. Characters that never met before in the title finally meet, giving both volumes of the title a sense of connectivity and closure in some cases. The cast eventually start discussing just who Peter would be if he had survived and what kind of hero would he be now.

This leads to one of Bendis’s effectively stellar artist jam sessions. Each artist takes a character’s monologue about Peter and transforms it into a gorgeous narrative driven splash page, illustrating all of the aspects of the character that we know and love. Bendis has used these jam sessions to great effect in the past on his Avengers titles and Daredevil, but Ultimate Spider-Man #200 may just take the No-Prize. Artists, new and old, from Ultimate Spider-Man tackle all sorts of incarnations of 'Ol Web Head, showing the full range of story potential that has sustained countless Spider-Man stories before it. Ultimate Spidey’s original artist, Mark Bagley, gives us Peter as the world’s greatest superhero, just like MJ and Aunt May envisioned. Mark Brooks gives us Peter as the street-level hero, tackling bullies and exposing corruption with the snap of his camera just like he and Gwen Stacy used to talk about.

David Lafuente, meanwhile, gives us a peek at what could have been between Peter and Kitty Pryde. Sara Pichelli gives us a look at the high flying day that Miles and our Peter met and saved the day, which I’m not ashamed to say, made me misty eyed. And all of these are tied to together with the slick pencils of series regular David Marquez and the glorious colors of Justin Ponsor. Justin Ponsor is quickly becoming the secret weapon of Marvel’s art department. With his work on Hickman’s Avengers as well as work on Guardians of the Galaxy and previous issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, he gives these titles as well as every artist’s sequence in #200 a lush, almost vibrating feel. These splashes are the ideal Peter Parker to these characters, and in some part, to us at the audience and each artist takes the ideal and runs with it, delivering one stunning sequence after another.

When it was announced that Peter would die in the Ultimate universe, the outcry was instant and deafening. But now that we have seen what's come after, we're left with an interesting perspective. Miles is not going anywhere. But we also love Peter Parker - just like Miles - because he makes us strive toward being the best possible person that we can be. Even as a memory, Peter Parker inspires us to be optimistic and goofy and selfless. As we wrap up 200 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel is quick to remind us just how bright Peter Parker’s life was and is, while at the same time setting Miles Morales up for him to soar to new, impossible heights. Miles and Peter represent the best of us, so Brian Michael Bendis and his talented collaborators send this volume out with the best of them both.

Detective Comics #30 variant cover by Francis Manapul
Detective Comics #30 variant cover by Francis Manapul
Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #30
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 4 out 10

Former Flash creative team Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have taken the reigns of Detective Comics, and though the opening splash page declares this "a new start," it feels like more of the same; a fresh veneer that hides a deeper core of cliche, tone-deaf scripting, and visually disjointed storytelling. The Manapul/Buccellato team has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, they have yet to capitalize on it with any character, instead falling into old tropes and tired shorthand, first with the scarlet speedster, and now the dark knight detective.

Detective Comics #30 starts out by introducing some young thugs who simultaneously deal in human trafficking, and in a new drug, called "Icarus" or "ick," hitting the streets of Gotham. Batman shows up to bust their hideout, sending Batman and the thugs headlong into a confrontation with some bikers calling themselves "The Kings of the Sun." It may sound like pretty typical Batman stuff - and that's the problem. Fictional street drugs and downright unpalatable attempts at colloquial dialogue are the oldest of old hat for the modern Batman, especially in the New 52. The whole thing is capped off with another humanitarian interest for Bruce Wayne, and another story of Gotham being a truly inspiration city under all it's grime. There are upsides to the story, like the almost clever moment when Bruce works on Damien's motorcycle after attending a motocross event, but by and large, it just feels tired, done, and way too by the numbers to make much of an impact.

Francis Manapul's art is undoubtedly the best part of Detective Comics #30. He manages to inject just the right amount of grit into his lush inkwash to truly capture the balance of darkness and excitement that Batman needs. Buccellato's colors are at once vibrant and moody, injecting a palette of blues and purples into Gotham's gray landscape, though he occasionally lets the art get too bright, taking Batman a little too far out of the shadows. Manapul's contributions are also not without their faults. While his take on Batman is pitch perfect, he foregoes the stylistic tricks and advanced layouts of his work on Flash, and his storytelling suffers for it. There are some frenetic moments, such as the chase between Batman and the Kings of the Sun, that lose their cohesion in disjointed double page spreads.

I want to believe in the team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, and they are not without their strengths. As visual artists, they are at the top of DC's current stable, but as writers, they lack a strong point of view, or a vision outside of simply presenting a typical, expected version of the characters in their care. Detective Comics #30 may have a lot of the right moves, but in the end, it's just going through the motions. There's no voice to match the book's gorgeous looks, and its script cannot match the personality of its visual identity.

Credit: Marvel Comics

She-Hulk #3
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The verdict is in - and it's a good one. Charles Soule comes back with a vengeance with his third issue of She-Hulk, scoring a knockout with artist Javier Pulido with a story that's equal parts whimsy, legalese and superhero spectacle. Even in a world where Matt Murdock exists, Soule's got the courtroom know-how to make Jennifer Walters the go-to lawyer of the Marvel Universe.

And that's a good thing. There's a down-to-earth charm that really makes She-Hulk #3 an endearing read - now that we've spent two issues watching Jen get her fledgling practice together, now we get to see her at work. Namely, trying to get asylum for Kristoff Vernard - the son and heir of Doctor Doom. It's goofy but funny the way that Soule has to compress a typically lengthy court proceeding into the span of a day (Kristoff has been hiding in the U.S. for exactly a year before he comes to Jen's doorstep), but that's okay. This comic isn't just about fisticuffs, with a trip to the courthouse being a simple Macguffin to propel the plot - we actually get to see the Jade Giantess strut her stuff in a courtroom, as well. Did you know the rules for granting asylum? Or that there's no judge in New York that will stay past 5? Indeed, this comic doesn't just make you root for its lead character (although we do), but it does something that is all too rare in modern superhero comics: it makes you learn something, too.

But let's go back to the rooting for the characters for a bit. Kristoff gives this series a real jolt in the arm, as he delicately toes that line between royal jerk and so-bad-it's-good romantic interest. ("And now that I have met you, I see that there is nothing average about you at all," Kristoff sneers. "Did you just hit on me?" Jen asks. "Eh. Probably," Kristoff shrugs.) Soule has a lot of small details for these characters that really makes them stand out, including Angie's possibly supernatural connection with her helper monkey Hei Hei, Kristoff's robot chauffeur Ernst, or the way that Jennifer can't seem to get into a courtroom with her outfits intact. It's funny yet has some substance - in other words, it's kind of humorous, human tone that Marvel has been so good at lately.

And let's not forget about the artowrk. Javier Pulido is a huge part of why this story works, particularly a late-in-the-game twist that this issue hinges upon. There's a bit of that Kirby flair when he crowds his pages with Doombots, but also that Allred smoothness to his character designs. What's great is that Pulido is far from being a pin-up artist, but instead is a bonafide visual storyteller, with his page layouts making exposition flow smooth as a lawyer's deposition. In particular, the beginning pages establishing Kristoff are great, with Pulido really capitalizing on horizontal panels to great effect.

The only issue I'd have with She-Hulk #3 is just how the comic abruptly comes to a halt - even one more page would have been plenty to control the ending and set up the continued... "negotiations" between Jennifer Walters and Victor Von Doom. But that small hiccup aside, this is Charles Soule and Javier Pulido at their finest. Mixing superpowers and super-lawyering, She-Hulk #3 sets a precedent that'll be hard to top.

Credit: DC Comics

The Movement #11
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Freddie Williams II and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Unlike the majority of its fans, The Movement had to grow on me. I dropped it after a few issues only to pick it up on a whim and voraciously read through the entire nine issues already out in one day. There’s something about Gail Simone and the creative team that begs for this book to be read and loved. It could be the sympathetic, diverse, three-dimensional characters, it could be the angle by which Simone explores a grass-roots movement, or it could be watching these kids slowly band together to form a cohesive team and reach a level of synergy the current incarnation of the Justice League isn’t able to attain. Actually, it’s probably all of these and more.

This is the kind of story that tries to be something more than just a comic book. Simone has tackled themes and ideas that resonate with the younger audiences: sexuality, finding your place in the world, trying to find a balance, and examining what it means to fight for what you believe in. Simone’s cast of characters represents all facets of society, breaking ground in the representation of minority groups. The best part of the entire thing is that it’s not noticeable; Simone doesn’t push the facts to the side, though, she weaves them seamlessly into the story so that we look at these characters as people first and foremost. It doesn’t matter what their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or physical capabilities are — Simone has done the work to make us care about these characters’ struggles. She’s shown us their virtues and vices and allows us to empathize with them.

This particular issue focuses on Burden and his family, particularly his brother Jacob. While the narrative may fall into clichés when dealing with the religious aspects of the story, it’s a strong tale that makes us feel deeply for Burden. By the end of the story, you really just want to give him a big hug and celebrate with his ultimate victory in accepting himself. Unfortunately, there are predictable points in the narrative that make for a quicker read, because you can get the gist of what’s going on without paying too much attention, as was the case with the flashback in the middle of the issue. For as much character development as Simone does for the protagonists, she shirks on Jacob. Though she takes steps to show us why he is the way he is, it feels done before and ultimately detracts from his characterization. Likewise, during the climax, things progress a little too quickly and the character development seems to take a step back as Burden and Jacob quickly accept who they really are without much resistance: Burden accepts his inner goodness and Jacob freely admits his wickedness in front of the townsfolk. If readers can suspend their disbelief and overlook that one instance where the ball was dropped with characterization, they’ll find little fault in the issue at all.

Freddie Williams II has done a remarkable job throughout the series with his dark and gritty penciling and inking style fitting the tone of the narrative perfectly. He certainly takes liberties with simplifying some aspects of the human body, but he more than makes up for it in the way these characters look overall and Burden’s demonic forms. Beyond that, the thick and liberal inking adds to that dark and gritty feel that resonates with the current state of affairs in Coral City and when Burden’s brother comes to town. Chris Sotomayor’s coloring was especially on point with the issue, particularly in the final scenes at night. His use of color to play with the flames and illuminations from the lights added another layer of complexity to the visual aspect of the story. The colors all flowed together with the visual cues from Williams’ art, making for an exceptionally easy read.

The Movement is so unique from all the other titles DC’s putting out right now, it’ll be a shame to see it go after the final issue next May. It’s stayed relatively self-contained, unlike other titles, but still manages to keep a consistent quality that resonates with the rest of the DC Universe. This is a book that’s putting in something unique, something that can’t be found in the wide array of Batman or Superman family books. Simone has done an incredible job with this series, and if this issue is any indication, then the final issue will prove to be emotional, impactful, and incredible.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Dead Letters #1
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Chris Visions and Ruth Redmond
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

If there could ever be a comic defined by ambivalence, it would be Dead Letters. That isn’t to say that Christopher Sebela and Chris Visions don’t have their talents and successes in the issue, but the narrative holds the story back from giving readers the full effect of the story, which ultimately makes the entire issue feel mediocre.

The major weakness of the story is its structure. Where we start in the narrative defines what the story will be about and sets up our expectations of the story. Throughout the issue, we’re just as lost as the main character Sam. As he travels through the city, we’re not given a clear reason as to why we should become invested in his success and get behind him as a character. While Sebela establishes high stakes and an immediacy to the story, as Sam gets pursued by unknown men with guns, we’re still left unable to find a clear reason to engage with the narrative. At least in this issue, especially throughout the entire chase scene and fighting, we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief without knowing the setting, the characters involved, or the set-up of the story and continue with the narrative. Sebela doesn’t buy our attention, which is a shame because the concept in and of itself has potential for a really engaging tale.

Though we’re given more context to the story by the end, the matter-of-fact tone as Sam’s given answers reflects an over-used trope when dealing with anything supernatural and the afterlife. It’s revealed that Sam’s in Purgatory and the woman who rescued him works under the one “commonly known as God.” This tongue-and-cheek attitude has been seen and done before, and Sebela doesn’t establish what makes his story unique and distinct from the previous material. Now that it’s been revealed that Sam’s in the afterlife, as well as the existence of Heaven and Hell, Sebela has thrust us into a world where the rules haven’t been clearly defined and we’re all going to bring our own preconceived notions about what we define these abstract concepts as. This is all because Sebela chooses to start the story at Sam’s awakening, when he’s just as confused as we are. The series is marketed as crime fiction, but with the setting and Sam’s status, it’ll be interesting to see how the creative team keeps it true to the crime genre without getting overpowered by the other elements in the story.

It’s important to note that there’s nothing “bad” about this comic either. It has a clear and linear sequence of events, and also clearly defines the conflict: Sam’s amnesiac and is being pursued by people who want to hurt him. Sebela’s able to create clear-cut antagonists to Sam’s protagonist, which is especially important as Sebela tackles the more abstract ideas in future issues. The dialogue sounds believable for the most part, and although the internal monologue gets overbearing at times, Sam has a distinct voice and style that’s enjoyable to read. The action is fast-paced and proves to be a quick and straightforward read.

The art style is erratic in quality. At times, Chris Visions does pretty straightforward and traditional breakdowns and panels, which slows down the story. Other times, he’s incredibly innovative in his visuals, using photographs as panels and overlapping images to create a more thorough and intricate illustration. His style errs more on the side of caricature, with overly expressive movements and accentuated features, but this fits the tone of the narrative, especially once the setting is revealed. Visions and colorist Ruth Redmond work well together, as Redmond’s ore painterly style adds a distinct quality to the work. She avoids working in flat colors, blending and shading to create a really nice three-dimensional effect, especially in the portrayal of lighting and in cars’ headlights.

The entire issue is fairly divided on the successes and failures of the creative team, leaving the read to feel ambivalent about the experience. Because Sebela doesn’t do enough to engage the reader in the story and places too much emphasis on the plot instead of who’s involved, we’re left with little reason to continue with the series. At the same time, it might be worth it to see how Chris Visions, a newcomer, grows throughout his time on the series, because it looks like he’ll be one to watch in the future.

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