Best Shots Comic Reviews: ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA #1, BATMAN #36, More

Marvel previews for November 12, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! You ready for your regular dose of Best Shots? Then let's kick off today's column with Jawbreaking Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the first issue of All-New Captain America...

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Captain America #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Garcia and Eduardo Navarro
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It is a rare thing to have a comic exceed the expectations you have for it. All-New Captain America #1 is exactly that kind of comic. After what seemed like ages of build up, press releases, and blacked out teaser images, we finally get to see Sam Wilson’s first proper outing as the new Cap and, as good ol’ J.R. would say, its a slobberknocker. All-New Captain America #1 is a slick-looking bullet train of a first issue that delivers not only a tightly plotted origin/first adventure for readers that are coming fresh to this title, but All-New Captain America #1 also delivers the unrelenting dynamism that audiences and critics have pined for from this volume. This is largely thanks to some truly standout work from Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Garcia and Eduardo Navarro. While it may not be Steve wielding the shield right now, All-New Captain America #1 has everything fans could want from a Cap comic.

Just to start off with, All-New Captain America #1 looks drop-dead gorgeous. Immonen, Von Grawbadger and Garcia have been a highlight of All-New X-Men, but Immonen’s tight and kinetic style fits All-New Captain America like a glove. Remender’s script starts with a sober flashback to Sam’s childhood in Harlem, which the art team handles with the appropriate gravitas, shading it all in grayscale with just a few splashes of color, allowing the emotions of the characters shine through instead of the background. Remender’s script then promptly puts the pedal to the medal, and Immonen and his art team keep right up with him. They kick off with a soaring introduction splash page of Sam and Redwing barreling down a beautiful corridor of trees, and continue with several fantastically staged fight scenes that are flow seamlessly together. Immonen’s characters, particularly his rendering of Sam, are lithe and athletic-looking, a welcome change from the blocky, static-looking renderings of John Romita, Jr. and Nic Klein, and Garcia and Navarro’s colors give All-New Captain America a sleek new color palette that handedly outshines the drab-looking colors of previous issues. Readers have often opined for a more visually interesting take on Cap, especially after some of the less-than-stellar offerings during Remender’s run, but with All-New Captain America #1, it seems that the creative team is more than willing to give us something new and exciting to look at month after month, instead of just more of the same.

While the visuals wow consistently, Rick Remender’s script offers us more simplistic but still bombastic introduction into Sam’s tenure behind the shield. After the emotional look into Sam’s childhood during the cold open, Remender dives headlong into the action as Sam storms a hidden Hydra base deep in the jungle with the help of Nomad, Steve’s adopted son Ian from Dimension Z. Ian’s inclusion in the issue is where the real dramatic weight of this debut lies - now that Ian is grown and transplanted into this new, strange world, he naturally fosters a tiny seed of resentment toward Sam. In particular, there's a great bit where Sam has his first miss with the shield, and Ian gives him a snarky tutorial about leveraging the shield’s center of gravity. Sam almost laughs this off by saying that Ian was practically raised with the shield in his hands. Ian's reply is appropriately petulant: “Really makes you wonder why I wasn’t the one he picked.” This is a pretty meaty bit of characterization deliberately laid smack in the middle of a prolonged action sequence, right before they face off against a fantastically re-designed Batroc the Leaper (another huge check in the win column for Immonen and his team). Could there already be a bit of tension being fostered between our new Cap and this volume’s Bucky Barnes surrogate? From this scene, I would say yes, but judging by this and the whopper of a final issue cliffhanger, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Remender has planned for Sam’s time as the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan.

The Captain America title has been a great many things throughout the years. It has been a high-tech spy drama, it has been a full-tilt superhero action book, and recently it was a dystopian road movie. But now with All-New Captain America #1, Rick Remender seems to be aiming for a character driven blockbuster of a comic that blends all these genres into one singular narrative in a way that only comics can do. All-New Captain America #1 is a great many things; its visually stunning, characterized very well, and feels fresh. But the thing that makes it most exciting to me, and most likely to you as a reader, is that it's an absolute blast to read - something Cap comics haven’t been in a while. This first issue doesn’t have an agenda or a larger point to get across - it simply wants to tell you a thrilling tale starring one of Marvel’s new A-listers and it does so in grand style. I had high expectations for this comic going in, and I'm thrilled that All-New Captain America #1 exceeded them at every turn.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #36
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's not always easy being Batman.

You have one of the greatest rogues gallery and comics, yet sometimes the biggest pain in your neck is your best friend (who is the most powerful man in the world) pounding your skull in. It also doesn't help that recurring ache that you thought was gone comes back in full force. Spoiler alert: The Joker is back, and he it looks like he is ready to end things once and for all.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have already earned their star (or Bat?) in Batman's Hall of Fame, and Issue #36 is a fine example of how they've earned such a place in the first place. Endgame is looking to pull out all the stops, even if having to rely on the "possessed Superman" cliche to tell it. Superman and Batman have the strongest character parallels in DC and Snyder does a good job displaying that. "If he wants to kill you, there's likely nothing on Earth that can stop it." With lines like that, Snyder demonstrates that Superman could be our greatest fear, but with guys like Batman around, he'll always be in check.

That's one thing I have a sort of love/hate with Snyder's Batman as a character. He's tread this fine line between Morrison's demigod to Adam West's portrayal as a guy who just happens to have his Bat Shark Repellent. Though in this case it's "Kryptonite Gum." It seems like Bruce's evolution from Court of Owls to where he's probably been seen as the most vulnerable, read "human," in the modern age to the guy who is eight steps ahead. You'd think he would have figured out "Eric Border's" so-called secret. But I do like that Batman is seen as a master tactician and strategist, but sometimes only the Joker can pull the cape over his eyes. It might be his greatest flaw.

Again, going back to the Joker, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki have given us the true modern face of evil here. It's a slight redesign and more in the wheelhouse of Jokers that have come before instead of his previous look of the ripped-off face. He's stylish, lean, with a smile like a pack of knives. Miki's inks over Capullo's seem more and more like a better fit than with original inker Jonathan Glapion. It's cleaner with less mess, and with more concentration on the important things instead of superfluous details. Also, love the visual here of Joker in a black suit. It gives a stronger image of just a floating skull.

Endgame, and especially in this issue, has already thrown in other homages to Batlore and that is hardly looking to end here. Endgame also has the potential to be one of the best Batman stories with a strong start thus far. Hopefully for Team Batman, it's executed well and doesn't seem more of just a "Hush" rehash, but something original and leads us down a path of the unknown.

Credit: Image Comics

Drifter #1
Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Image Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

From almost the first page, there are conflicting thoughts about Drifter #1. Neither on the nature of a book being good or bad, but rather how someone consumes the story within. It's a little difficult to provide a proper synopsis without sounding like every other Western by way of Space comic. For at this very moment, that is exactly what Drifter looks like. A lone astronaut crashes on a forgotten human colony, barely survives, and then seeks answers in the foreign wilds of said planet. Yet there is more going on and while it's easy to wish the story would simply get on with telling its tale, Drifter is the rare book where taking the long road is a smarter call.

Ivan Brandon goes a little old school with a writing style that is almost completely narration driven. Sure, plenty of characters interact and speak with each other. But even with the dialog, the book has more in common with a classic first person detective story than a modern comic. To an extent, the style works in the comics favor. Our protagonist isn't, for now, all that sympathetic a character. Indeed, the reader could easily argue that Abram Pollux is near the villain. Still, by sliding into a first person form, Brandon puts the reading into Pollux's shoes. While that by no means absolves him of his choices in the book, it at least makes us want to know more. To be willing to continue the journey, even if we're not a big fan of our “hero”.

Which brings us to the conflicting thoughts. Drifter #1, on its surface, doesn't read as wholly original. Until you begin to take in the wonderful art by Nic Klein. His pencils have a rough quality to them that border on secondary sketches. But it is that rough edge that makes them come to life. No one in this book is perfect, so very far from it, and Klein's pencils reflect that concept perfectly. (Save on the two “aliens” presented in the book, be it intentional or not, the fact that they read as bold and fully formed is intriguing). It helps that Klein did the colors over his own lines, allowing him the opportunity to present this world exactly as both he and Brandon desire. The result is a book that might have benefited from slowing down even more. This is a setting that takes the familiar tropes we've all seen and read and turns into something quite beautiful. You can almost hear the wind as it whips around this barren town at the edge of the frontier. Better still, you can imagine the bar falling silent as Pollux stumbles into the bar.

But Drifter #1 goes beyond the basic visuals. Special care is given to the design of the book itself. Tom Muller is credited as logo and design, a task that does a great job of pulling the reader in from the moment you open the comic. It's a slight throw back to sci-fi of the 1970s, with some hints of more modern touch design. It's a subtle start to the book, but one that prepares the reader for what is to come. The lettering by Clem Robins rounds out the title in a good way. With Pollux speaking in a wholly traditional style, as those around vary their font depending on how they react with Pollux. While nothing is over the top, there is enough variation to make the work stand out.

Drifter #1 is a book that, for now, lives or dies on its visuals and setting. There is very little in terms of story a reader can cling onto. To that end, this is a title that may not be for everyone. Although the final page has a fairly strong hook for what is to come, the reader is either already one board for the story or isn't. This isn't a run and gun piece of science fiction. Drifter #1 is slow and methodical, and wholly worth your time if you're willing to give it.

Credit: DC Comics

Klarion #2
Written by Ann Nocenti
Art by Trevor McCarthy and Guy Major
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

There’s something about a sassy, magical teenager with a penchant for mischief that’s automatically interesting. Klarion’s redesign makes him out to be something like DC’s Kid Loki equivalent, all nonchalance and magic bolts amid a group of young, dramatic misfits. The first issue in his new series definitely piqued my interest because it seemed like the start of a weird, occult adventure… but the second issue has already lost me. Klarion’s charm is, sad to say, dulled by a plot that manages to come across as both incredibly confusing and very, very predictable.

Nocenti was trying for modern relevance, and I can understand that much. The idea that our society is far too dependent on technology is brought up again and again and eventually embodied in Rasp, who sacrifices his body (and some of his sanity) for access to the latest technological advances. The concept itself isn’t a bust, but everything behind it is: we only get cloudy glimpses of the organization behind Rasp’s misfortune and very few answers. Panels that should have painted the villains as creepy actually paint them as somewhat incompetent, with odd motivations that don’t read well. Something about tiny spider computers and the good of mankind? Except mankind won’t really be mankind anymore because the goal is to make everyone robots? I’m not sure what readers are supposed to get out of the shady duo wreaking chaos, or why we should feel invested enough to care.

That said, the developments between Klarion and his new love interest, Zell, are where this issue really fell apart. Klarion has known Zell for all of a day, a fact he freely admits, and Rasp has already tried to murder him out of seething jealousy. They seem to resolve things well enough, but pages later Klarion is making out with the point of conflict in plain view. The kids’ sudden interest in each other is predictable, oddly forced and a cheap way to generate tension. The fact that Rasp is released back among his peers so easily after he tried to kill one of them is also concerning, especially given that those responsible for the group seem otherwise intent on steering them on the right path. Yet no investigation is taken underway and Rasp is not offered a real examination to discover the cause of his distress.

Despite the weak plot, the book is a pleasure to look at. McCarthy captures the eerie, moody ambiance well. I’m particularly fond of the way he decorates borders and cuts up pages, often inserting spider motifs or rounding panels into creepy eye shapes. Action scenes also look great, with Major using the contrast of bright colors for magic on otherwise earthy, muted backdrops. The character designs, too, are unique and enjoyable, Klarion’s caretakers especially so. I would have preferred another page or two of banter between them than that peek into the antagonist’s lair.

Overall, Klarion’s title didn’t fare well this time around. The most exciting parts of the book are his banter with his guardians or the battle scenes, but his actual relationships with the other teens—that is, Rasp and Zell—are underwhelming and a bit boring. Readers will probably be more bewildered than fascinated by the mysteries surrounding the tech-savvy villains, too, which doesn’t bode well for engagement. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the third issue smooths out some of these issues and puts us back on the right track for adventure.

Credit: Vertigo

Wytches #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Image
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Wytches feels very close to real life for a story featuring primeval crones lurking the woods. This second issue keeps the momentum rolling and ratchets up the foreboding as we learn more about the Rooks family and the town they moved to. This creative team is deft at setting up believable characters and all the bittersweet, ordinary, and quirky things that make this family who they are. In Wytches #2, patterns, colors, details and fears are carefully layered for maximum terror.

The Rooks family has moved to a new town after their teenage daughter Sailor was traumatized by an incident in the woods with another girl. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock show us Sailor’s memory of another girl being attacked and violently absorbed by a tree, but no one in Sailor’s life believes her version of events. The new town they have moved to seems riddled with reminders of what Sailor saw in the woods. It’s clear that something or someone is not done with this family.

This is a dark story, but colorist Matt Hollingsworth concentrates bright colors here and there — a green shirt, a yellow chair, the slash of Sailor’s bright red hair across her face — with a contrasting darkness around the edges. Hollingsworth flecks more colors all across Jock’s inks, which adds to the sensation that the panels are floating up from the page with something very bad behind them. Sailor always seems to be looking out of windows and through trees at something. She moves from window to window, or sits in the school bus passing rows of trees. The silhouettes of the windows and trees sliding past each other are like dark, old-fashioned cut-paper illustrations.

Inside Hollingsworth’s pools of color and light, Snyder and Jock use faces, body language and dialogue to establish the ordinary hopes and fears of this little family. Everything menacing outside of the family is that much more terrifying because we can see how Charlie aches for his daughter’s well-being, and how much he hoped that the move to the new town would help things. We see how vulnerable Sailor’s mother Lucy looks in her wheelchair, and we watch Charlie lose it with frustration as he tries to install her stair-climbing chair in the new house. We see Sailor’s tentative smile at a friendship overture from a girl at her new school. This family has already been through the ringer, but Snyder and Jock show us how much more they have to lose, and how little they know of what’s out there in the dark.

It’s not all empathy-building, atmospherics and ominous hints in Wytches #2. Having created a backdrop of paternal love and simmering anxiety, Snyder and Jock unleash some straight-up ghastly creatures. This issue builds steadily to a triple cliffhanger, and I don’t think Sailor’s parents are going to be acting like she is imagining things for too much longer. I recommend Wytches for anyone who likes to be creeped out, but even non-horror people will appreciate this portrayal of a very loving, very stressed-out father.

Credit: MonkeyBrain

High Crimes #8
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Ibrahim Moustafa and Lesley Atlansky
Published by Monkeybrain Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"Climbing teaches you that you're all alone."

That's the lesson that Zan Jensen takes away from her years of mountain climbing and searching for dead bodies in the Himalayas; "... you're all alone." Hiking up Mount Everest, the mountain that she's spent years living in the shadow of and building it up in her mind, she may be right about it; she may be all alone. Her secrects have driven her sherpa away. The few climbing tourists who have tried to befriend her are now becoming more dead bodies in the snow. And she's no closer to finding her partner and friend Haskell, who has been kidnapped to lead mercenaries to a 20 year old dead man in the snow. In High Crimes #8, Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa are out guides up the mountain, leading us on a trek that is deadly enough without all of the espionage and guns that Zan is caught in the middle of.

You can't climb Everest in the span of two issues. Sebela and Moustafa are pacing this series like a hike up the mountain. It's slow and deliberate. It's long and frustrating and that is exactly how Zan and Haskell are experiencing this trip up the mountain. These two characters have already experienced a lot of pain and death (one of them has already lost a hand) but there's no stopping Zan as she tries to rescue Haskell. Haskell knows where a body is and Zan actually has an idea of the secrets that body holds. As the two are forced to lead a possibly government sanctioned mercenary group to it, Zan had her own demons to deal with, not the least of which is realizing that she's not all alone.

Moustafa deliciously stark artwork emphasizes just how remote Zan is in these mountains. With his thin, almost brittle lines, he puts you right beside her on the mountain, muscles aching, lungs struggling and the bitter cold seeping in underneath your layers of clothes. You're not prepared for the mountain. That's what Moustafa and Sebela make you realize. We might be right there beside Zan as she tries to beat out the shadow agents but we're just like the tourists here climbing the mountains. Everything is a new and delirious experience. Moustafa shows us just how far out of our element we really are in this story.

It's desperation that drives the story. Zan may think that she's alone but she's desperate to prove to herself that she has friends and people who care about her. As Sebela writes her, it is hard to determine if she's a strong character or a stupid and selfish character. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and that's what drives her. She's trying to atone for all of the sins and mistakes she's made in her life. This may be the one unselfish thing she's done in her adult life. Since she was a kid, she's been running away from herself and everyone who loves her. From her perspective, this climb up Everest may be equal parts redemption and suicide.

"Climbing teaches you that you're all alone," is the wrong lesson for Zan to have learned in her lifetime. She isn't alone because that's the natural state of things; she's alone because she pushes everyone away. That's her story. We continue to see it in High Crimes #8, as one of the few allies she has leaves her because she wouldn't tell him the truth about why she was climbing Everest. Sebela and Moustafa's thin-aired thriller takes us to the top of the world where we begin to see the person that Zan wants to be. She might think that climibing teaches a person to be alone but that doesn't mean that she wants to believe in that lesson.

Trade Review!

Credit: Dark Planet Comics

Silver, Vol. 1
Written and Illustrated by Stephan Franck
Published by Dark Planet Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

I’m usually apprehensive when I hear that a book has a classic like Dracula as its backdrop, for it typically portends a revisionist take on the accepted canon, and I have yet to find one that significantly improves upon the original. But just as The Walking Dead is a zombie tale only in the sense that the undead accessorize a compelling narrative about the human condition, Silver is a character-driven, pulpy adventure where vampires are the MacGuffin. As a result - and with no pun intended - this trade paperback collection of the first three issues of Silver shines.

It’s 1931, 50 years after Jonathan Harker has written his account of visiting the Romanian noble, Count Dracula. During a heist, James Finnegan — thief and con man extraordinaire — has gotten his sticky fingers on Harker’s musty journal, and it’s within those pages and passages that Harker reveals the existence of a massive treasure located in the bowels of Dracula’s castle: a pyramid of silver that was supposedly last seen in 2800 BC Mongolia. The Chinese government has a $20 million bounty on the mythical silver, and with Finnegan’s crew strapped for cash after the dogged FBI raining on their early retirement plans, Finnegan sets his sights on the castle to do what he does best. There is, of course, a catch: the only window of opportunity is a few days in May when the castle opens up to what essentially amounts to vampire homecoming. It’s daring yet suicidal, but Finnegan’s a man perpetually armed with a plan, further emboldened by the addition to his entourage of a child psychic and the katana-wielding vampire exterminator, Rosalyn Sledge, who is also the granddaughter of Abraham van Helsing.

Writer and artist Stephen Frauck comes from the feature film world where he was the supervising animator on "The Iron Giant" and the story artist on "Despicable Me," and it shows. Silver was initially born as a script, and it’s not hard to believe given how cinematically the story flows from panel to panel. Mr. Frauck is not only able to tell an intriguing story, but he populates it with characters that are defined through dialogue and appearance; the book is a terrific example of the writer’s mantra, “show, don’t tell.” It’s something of a requirement of the pulpy adventure genre that the main protagonist voice-over his innermost thoughts, but Mr. Frauck doesn’t overdo it, judiciously doling out Finnegan’s efforts to help the reader better see through his eyes. Finnegan is a likeable character, and it’s refreshing to see him a member of a thieving crew where everyone’s in it together and not out to stab one another in the back at the first opportunity. The other standout, Sledge, is tough and strong, a woman standing on her own in wiping out the vampire scourge until Finnegan drafts her into his cause. Hers will be the voice of reason for this motley crew in the coming chapters.

Where this book really impresses, though, is the artwork. Mr. Frauck acknowledges Kirby — specifically The Eternals — as a large influence on his style, but in reading this book, I was struck by notes of Mike Mignola and Tim Sale that echo across the pages. It’s exquisite in black and white, and the dotted gray scale shading lends something of a Lichtenstein feel to many panels. The behind the scenes feature affords the reader valuable commentary on how panel layouts were imagined and ultimately changed in places to accommodate better visual focus on characters or action, all efforts that let the story breathe without every feeling visually repetitive. There are several terrific full-page splashes that a reader could spend several minutes appreciating, in particular the flashback scenes beneath Finnegan’s telling of the silver’s origin.

This is a book that’s worth every penny, a great first act to a larger story.

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