Best Shots Comic Reviews: ANGELA #1, DETECTIVE COMICS #37, More

Marvel previews for December 3, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your daily dose of Best Shots? Your favorite team of crackshot comics critics are at it again with some of the best and brightest of the week! So let's kick off today's column with Boisterous Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Detective Comics...

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #37
Written by Brian Buccellato and Fancis Manapul
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Detective Comics #37 takes place on Christmas Eve, but there’s nothing jolly about it. In fact, Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul return to Detective Comics with a dark story, even for Batman. The story is tragic and dismal, the characters defeated and pessimistic, and the tone depressing and dour. But the comic is haunting and engaging, and even the weight of its somber content cannot dissuade readers from coming back for more next month.

While Anarky is the main villain of the arc, Buccellato and Manapul split the comic between Batman’s battle with Mad Hatter, and a murder involving a Wayne Enterprises employee. The fight with Mad Hatter ends on an extremely dark note as a gruesome discovery sets the tone for the rest of the issue. While Bruce investigates Hatter’s twisted series of murders, GCPD Detectives Harvey Bullock and Nancy Yip are called to the scene of a charred body tossed out a window at Wayne Tower.

The conversation between Bullock and Yip is the backbone of the issue, and gives lucid insight into what it’s like to live in a place like Gotham, a city devoid of humanity and always on the brink of chaos. They talk about the futility of their jobs, and the feeling that the end of a year is both a closure on the number of murders, yet a reminder of the number of unsolved cases. But they’re also damn good detectives, and Buccellato and Manapul give palpable depth to these characters, so much so that you’re okay following their story instead of following Batman’s, and the comic reads like the Bullock and Yip show, particularly when Bruce shows up to help investigate.

The end of the issue is swift, and my only complaint is that it feels a bit rushed. While Buccellato and Manapul had been using a slow burn to tell their story, they cram in a tense and brisk action sequence that gives a solid cliffhanger, but which feels out of character for the rest of the issue. It’s like the story was good enough, yet the writers were urged to give the comic a little action.

And the art definitely captures the sobering tone of the comic. The composition of the action sequences is sharp and clear. There’s a fluidity to the opening scene that immediately draws you in, and the pacing is cinematic and smooth. Furthermore, the dull tones -- grays, greens, and blues and yellows -- all aid to the overwhelming emptiness of the story. Little touches, like the constant swirling snow and the shadows of the blinds, all give a tangible sadness to the comic, one that is hard to ignore long after you close the book.

Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul definitely show that they are a fantastic team. While Detective Comics is overwhelming with the dreariness of its story, it’s also a well written comic that aids its story with even better visuals. At one point in the comic, Bullock says, “Something big is about to happen. I can feel it.” When you read Detective Comics, you get the same feeling. Something large is at play, and while Scott Snyder has the other half of the Batman world covered, it’s nice to know that a reader can pick up any Batman comic and be truly satisfied by the level of storytelling and art.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett and Kieron Gillen
Art by Stephanie Hans, Phil Jimenez, Tom Palmer, and Romulo Fajardo
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After months of guest appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and an Original Sin tie-in specifically tailored to explain her sudden inclusion into the Marvel universe proper, Angela is finally on her own. Thankfully, because of the tons of backstory that we have already received in other titles, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 wastes little time dwelling on the past. Instead, this debut issue presents us an Angela that is forging her own path through little seen corners of the Marvel Universe like a sort of angelic Red Sonja, which sounds just as great on paper as it does in execution. Writers Marguerite Bennett and Kieron Gillen present Angela not as some wandering hero or aimless warrior, but as a fierce, nomadic woman bound by a code that she has begun to question, which as far as first issues go, leaves us the audience and the character with plenty of interesting places to go.

As Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 begins, Angela is trudging through the space between the spaces with a mysterious bundle in her arms while lamenting in an inner monologue about her upbringing and the lessons she was taught therein. You see, Angela was raised on the principles of payment for deeds. As she states in the issue’s opening there is no such thing as “nothing for nothing” and “everything has its price." Before now Angela has been little more than a utility player in team books, with The Tenth Realm being the closest she had come to a starring role - until now.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin offers her her first real starring role since her days at Image comics, and already Bennett and Gillen have presented an interesting hook for a character that most readers know little about, beyond the red hair, ribbons, and swords. The writers present Angela has a woman without a country and struggling against her upbringing as she tries to forge her own place in the universe. The Red Sonja comparison that I made before may be apt in certain ways, but while Sonja quests for riches and bed mates, Angela quests to not only understand herself beyond the black and white concept of debts and repayments, but the world around her. A crisis of self isn’t exactly something that is new to the pages of the superhero comics, but this definitely adds a new depth to the character that goes beyond her prowess with a blade.

Handling the art duties on Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 is the fantastic one-punch of Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans, supplemented by inker Tom Palmer and colorist Romulo Fajardo. While Jimenez’s expressive character renderings and unorthodox panel layouts make up the lion’s share of the book, it is Stephanie Hans’ hazy flashback that provides the emotional backbone to the issue’s artwork. Jimenez and Hans are two artists that I never thought I would get to see working in tandem, but if this first issue is any indication, then we are in for some fantastic-looking pages from this book in the future. Both artists' styles mesh together in a way that I would have never expected. Jimenez’s loose paneling gives the issue a wild energy, especially in the fight scenes where Angela seems to leap headlong from one panel to the next, but it this energy is quickly cooled by Hans’ fresco-like grid panels that heavily mute Fajardo’s color palette into neutral blues and dulled golds along with heavy shading. It is very rare to see a book with two artists that compliment themselves well, if even at all, but the team on Angela: Asgard’s Assassin makes the gimmick work not only ascetically, but in service to the story as well. No small feat, but Jimenez and Hans made it look easy.

Much like the character herself, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 has no time for what came before. Angela has been knocking around in the Marvel Universe with criminals and her own kind for a bit now but never really achieved the standout position that we all hoped she would. Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 changes that for the better. Now, unfettered by team books and guest appearances, audiences can finally see what exactly she can bring to the 616 while still offering new bits of characterization for her fans from the Image days.

Credit: DC Comics

Secret Six #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ken Lashley, Drew Geraci and Jason Wright
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Of all the things that made Secret Six work — twisted humor, sharp dialogue and endlessly macabre plot developments come to mind — the book’s real genius lay in its core antihero characters, their individual demons and their relationships. Writer Gail Simone gave every member of DC’s best team title a unique, memorable voice, which contributed to the series’ status as DC Comics’ best team title during its original run.

Though Secret Six #1 represents a brand-new start with mostly new faces, the book’s scruffy spirit is very much intact. The story plops readers into the middle of a wretched hive of scum and villainy where Thomas Blake (aka Catman) is holding court in a dive bar. A handful of so-called federal agents and state troopers come for Thomas with handcuffs and absolutely no explanation, and it isn’t giving away a whole lot to say that he resists arrest … with flair.

Before long, he finds himself in close, locked confines with the other Secret Sixers, and we learn just enough about them and their particular talents to be intrigued. Though these characters aren’t remotely a formal team at this point, Simone has put them in such a seemingly hopeless situation that they’ll have to work together to survive the day. The only clue that they have been brought together for a reason is the presence of six masks.

Simone’s trademark wit comes through in some brief but notable character moments, which give Issue #1 much of its appeal. Damon Wells, a voice-of-reason P.I. who claims he has no powers to speak of eventually admits, “I swell up a little, sometimes. It’s not dirty.” Strix, with her mummified, glowering face has an amusing three-word mission statement that she scrawls on a piece of paper. We also get a glimpse of one familiar and frighteningly powerful character’s vulnerability. The obvious scene-stealer is Shauna Belzer, the repulsively refined Ventriloquist, whose nether regions give even seen-it-all Catman a scare.

Penciller Ken Lashley has a rough, heavy-handed style that works well in the beginning, but the quality becomes wildly inconsistent with characters appearing to have been drawn by an entirely different artist in some panels. Though most of the story takes place within a tightly confined space, that sense of claustrophobia never comes through. The characters could be in a generic, windowless conference room. Paired with a drab, monotonous color palette, the visuals are a disappointment.

However, this issue succeeds overall in re-establishing the Secret Six brand and generating interest in a new team. It’s accessible for new readers and maintains the delightfully dark characteristics that charmed loyal Secret Six fans for years.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Legendary Star-Lord #6
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Despite its usual domination of comic book shelf space, this past week was a surprising one for Marvel, in that it seemed to publish only a fraction of its usual output. But a slow week means there's room for some unexpected successes - and no comic this week represents that more than Legendary Star-Lord. For those who haven't been checking in, now's a great time to do so, as Sam Humphries and Paco Medina spin together a funny, relatable story about a date gone wrong. Of course, when it comes to Peter Quill, that date may or may not include a cadre of bloodthirsty mercenaries.

Piggybacking off the Kitty Pryde/Peter Quill romance that Brian Michael Bendis cobbled together in All-New X-Men, Humphries focuses on the human charm to Star-Lord, and this book is all the better for it. Even if Peter wasn't being pursued by the gang known as the Slaughter Squad, the story would still hit home - we all know what it's like to have a bad date. Especially when you actually like the other person. But even with holographic technology enabling his interstellar courtship of Kitty Pryde, Peter's just nervous. Humphries doesn't take the tension to supremely awkward levels, but you can relate to the bad jokes or essentially losing control of the volume of your voice because you want things to work out so bad.

With that kind of a set-up in mind, adding in a group of bad guys out for Quill's head is just icing on the cake. Humphries still doesn't quite nail the voice of Chris Pratt for Star-Lord, but he does channel some of his roguishness and good nature - we're not sitting on the edge of our seats, thinking Quill is going to die, but we are enjoying him shooting bad guys with his element gun, all while trying to keep his date with Kitty running smooth. Peter's always quick with a quip - and by the end of the issue, a super-smooth goodbye line - and that makes for some light, endearing entertainment.

The artwork, by Paco Medina, emphasizes storytelling over panache, but with a story like this, I think it'd be easy to overwhelm it with a too-strong style. While there are some occasional detail hiccups between Medina and inker Juan Vlasco - things like Quill's sideburn stubble seems to fade in and out on random panels - but while his character designs are a little run-of-the-mill, he's got some great page layouts, particularly a bit where the archer Delphina tries to shoot him from the stage of a super-boring space opera. (Not that kind of space opera. Fat lady singing kind of opera.) From the reveal of Mister Knife to Peter and Kitty sharing a tender moment, Medina knows how to sell the major storytelling points, and that winds up being more important than flash.

I wasn't a tremendous fan of the first issue of Legendary Star-Lord, enough that I largely overlooked the book from then on. Thank goodness Marvel was short on content last week, forcing me to give this book another look. It's funny, it's sweet, it's action-packed, and it's probably one of the most fun comics I read last week. It might have been the date from hell for Peter Quill, but this issue shows me that this creative team is a match made in heaven.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern #37
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Francis Portela, Scott McDaniel and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Robert Venditti has a difficult task in Green Lantern #37. He has to wrap up the climax of Sinestro #7 as well as continue his own set of conflicts, particularly Hal’s issue with Black Hand and the ever present threat of the New Gods. The end result is an uneven comic, but one that smartly builds its threat, but doesn’t advance the story much.

I was excited to see how Black Hand played into “Godhead” because, as Green Lantern fans know, William Hand has had major roles in the universe since Geoff Johns took over writing duties in 2004. But Venditti’s Black Hand is… odd. He’s not the dark, sinister character we came to know in “Blackest Night.” He’s almost silly, and he comes across as more comic relief than a serious player in the issue. And while it seems that Black Hand has a larger role in the story, the goofy way he carries himself detracts from what appears to be a breakthrough in how the Lanterns can defeat the New Gods.

Francis Portela does a fine job on the art, though, and the comic has great visual pacing. The action sequence at the end, in particular, is energetic, and the character movements are smooth from panel to panel. Brad Anderson also aids the scenes with Black Hand by using colors with sickly hues. The images don’t pop off the page, but they work well enough to aid the tone.

If Venditti had more space to write his own story, maybe the finale would stick its landing better. Hand’s final statement, as he stares in amazement at the source wall, is doesn’t give the comic the cliffhanger its looking for, so there’s no pressing desire to see how things turn out. The New Gods, Orion specifically, once again have Hal Jordan cornered. And once again, Hal Jordan is outnumbered.

The problem is, we’ve seen this before. Almost every issue of “Godhead” has Lanterns outnumbered by forces from New Genesis, and these New Gods are always angry, and always trying to kill the lanterns (or steal their rings). But I’d like to see something new, and I think Venditti is getting to that; he just runs out of space.

I like the “Godhead” arc so far, plus I have no idea how the Lanterns will defeat Highfather, who now has the life equation in his hands. This issue is just a bit underwhelming considering what we’ve read so far. Venditti isn’t totally at fault, though, because he is splitting the story duties between three other series. Hopefully, the end result will be a series as epic as teased in the earlier issues.

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