DC Comics January 2015 soliciations
Credit: DC Comics

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your post-weekend reviews? Best Shots has your back, with this week's installment. So let's kick off today's column with Vivacious Vanessa Gabriel, as she takes a look at the latest issue of Daredevil...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #12
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Daredevil #12 is a straight-shooting conclusion to the current Stunt-Master arc with just the right mix of cheeky fun and satisfying resolution. The issue opens with immediate suspense as Daredevil plays tightrope riding a motorcycle atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Even with his super-senses impaired by a cacophony of sound and vibration, Matt Murdock still fires on all cylinders while in hot pursuit of Stunt-Master.

Mark Waid's characterization of Daredevil is bloody impeccable, and I suppose after four years with the character, it should be. But he swiftly captures Daredevil’s fallibility and at the same time just how remarkably capable he is... on the first page. No matter how many times or ways you convey that, it’s the thing that makes Daredevil an undeniably charming character, and to do it with such grace and ease is a great way to start an issue.

Part and parcel with Waid’s pitch-perfect story-telling is Chris Samnee’s indelible lines and layout, and in this issue the art boasts action, suspense, swagger and romance. As the story hits its climax, Samnee’s angular panel layout leads the eye seamlessly and kinetically charges the story beats. Then the movement is appropriately paused for a stunning, clean splash as Daredevil commandeers a sweet 1970s Camaro (because of course he did), only to pick right back up again.

Boss moves aside, the authenticity of language and movement rings through the entire issue, particularly as it winds down. Waid and Samnee punctuate Daredevil #12 with emotional expressiveness. From the obsessive look in Stunt-Master’s eye as he is interrogated to the surprise on Murdock’s face at his own Freudian slip, it brings the issue to a classic close set in a classic city.

While Waid and Samnee most certainly make beautiful music together, as always, I’d be remiss not to mention the vibrant colors of Matthew Wilson. Who else could make red and magenta look so good together, or the shadows in an interrogation room so stark? This book has a wonderfully cohesive trio at its helm.

For all of this issue’s creative virtues, the one that shines the brightest is how delightfully self-contained it is. Whether you’ve been riding along for Waid and Samnee’s entire run, just since the start of this volume or you decided to grab Daredevil #12 on a whim, it would be equally enjoyable. That’s a remarkable feat for a long-established creative team on a continuing title, particularly at the close of an arc.

Daredevil #12 plays like a vintage “good guy gets that bad guy and the girl” kind of story. Yet, Waid and Samnee turn typical into exciting, and having this much fun with a tried-and-true story feels kind of perfect.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #6
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The sixth issue of Grayson, Tim Seeley and Tom King’s trippy riff on the spy comics of the 1960s, finds Agent 37 infiltrating a former super prison only to find heaps of death and weirdness in search of the fabled Paragon’s Brain. Yet nothing is as simple as it seems when the Midnighter shows up, hot on the trail of the brain and having more than a few scores to settle with our beloved Richard. Combine all that with hypnotic visions, interstellar doorways and a killer whale that walks on land, and things get bizarre this month. Grayson #6 isn’t without its problems, but as a whole adds up to a propulsive and surprisingly flirty chapter of this series.

From page one, the writers and artist Mikel Janin establish a blockbuster tone for Grayson #6; starting with a lush sweeping shot of an island in the Yellow Sea and steadily building to the issue’s first set piece. Janin, an artist who has never really struck me with his work, absolutely nails this opening with alternating wide and tight shots of Helena and Dick as they scramble up the slopes to avoid the jaws of a strange orca/crab hybrid that guards their objective. Here, Janin switches to long vertical panels showcasing the character action with reaction shots and tighter focuses inserted as smaller panels through the pages. It is pretty bold stuff to open a comic with but Janin handles it all with ease all while making Dick and Helena look beyond fabulous. Who doesn’t want their superheroes to look runway-ready while engaging in some insane black ops?

Yet Janin isn’t content with just making his characters beautiful - he also has a crazy steak, which he explores with Grayson’s supporting cast. While Dick is shanghaied by a ticked-off Midnighter, Janin and Jeremy Cox completely lean into the psychedelic tropes of ‘60s spy comics as we watch Helena delve into the mind of a prisoner, while Mr. Minos takes a meeting with the mysterious entity known as Spyder. Cox bathes Helena’s interrogation in the light of a dorm blacklight, while Minos’s office is transformed into a blood-red spiral. It is all so terribly odd visually, but Seeley and King ground it all by giving his characters fleeting vulnerability and powerful human moments. Minos, for example, declines Spyder’s offer to wipe his memories, stating “I have given up my name. I have given up my face. all I have left of who I was… is my pain.” Even in the DC universe, the spy game has a heavy cost.

But the second half of Grayson #6 doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of this insane introduction. Seeley, King and the art team make good on the cover’s promise of a Grayson vs. Midnighter showdown, and while the fight contains a few great moments, this is where issue starts to go off the rails. Right from the start, however, Seeley and King nail the sardonic tone of Midnighter, a character who has been shoddily handled a few times since his New 52 debut. Seeley plants Midnighter into the story early, but waits to fully play out his appearance until the resolution of the issue and uses their fight to hurriedly set up the story’s ending.

While Mikel Janin gives us some really impressive pages toward the end of this issue, the script starts to read like a rushed outline as new plot points are hastily introduced throughout each new page. As Dick and Midnighter trade blows, the writers start to ramp up Helena’s interrogation, which reveals the deadly intent the Fist of Cain have for Paragon’s Brain, as well as laying out Midnighter’s plans for all of the Paragon organs. Oh, and Dick is in space, hanging out with an old woman who claims that the Paragon organs where created to destroy her. If that last bit caused you a bit of a double take, imagine reading it. While each plot point makes sense for the future of the title, as an ending to this issue, they feel like a neglected narrative checklist.

Despite the problems with the ending, Grayson #6 is still a solid read, filled with exciting visuals and an unexpected care toward its characters. Tim Seeley, Tom King, Mikel Janin, and Jeromy Cox deliver a sleek, fast paced adventure story that lights a bright fuse for the rest of the arc. One thing that has sustained Grayson so far is how absolutely weird it is willing to be. Reading Grayson is like getting the star high school quarterback into The Invisibles. It is so much fun to see good looking people engaged in surreal things or talking about the arcane details of some fringe idea. That is Grayson’s niche; it is for people who like seeing hot people taking on weird enemies with even stranger bosses.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Marvel, Jason Aaron and John Cassaday want you to think it's 1977 all over again. Luke Skywalker has just blown up the Death Star, and the future of the rebels and the Empire is wide open. Aaron and Cassaday have the keys to the nerd kingdom’s ultimate hot rod, but instead of opening up the throttle and rocketing off into hyperspace, they quickly set out to create a “Greatest Hits” story, hitting all of high points of the storied movie franchise without adding anything new to it. What’s left out of that repackaging of old material is the excitement that George Lucas created about a galaxy far, far away where anything could happen and anyone could be a hero.

Aaron and Cassaday follow the template that was first created almost 40 years ago. It's the Rebellion versus the Empire, with Luke Skywalker as the hero. Opening up Marvel's latest Star Wars series, Aaron and Cassaday don't waste anytime introducing us to these characters. Aaron has always been excellent at revealing character through action, and he shines at that here. The glib smuggler, the cautious princess and the naive hero take center stage as Aaron bypasses exposition for narrative. That’s where Aaron’s adherence to what has been done in the movies works with his gifts as a writer. He uses the story to reveal these characters. The three main characters, and even the supporting heroes like Chewbacca and R2-D2, have their moments in the story to show us who they are. Whether it's a book like Wolverine and the X-Men, Southern Bastards or now Star Wars, Aaron crafts his stories around his characters, using plot to create character driven tales.

While Cassaday is incredibly faithful to the look of the Star Wars movies, his faithfulness to the design is so overwhelming it actually weighs down the story. The level of detail he shows, down to the TIE fighter wing panel assembly line, serves to constantly remind us of the far-away universe we're momentarily living in, but it rarely matches that visual delights that were constantly part of the movies. Lucas worked in those first movies to show us things that we had never seen before or to show us things in a completely different way. That was the thrill of A New Hope. Cassaday works so hard to mimic the visual style and cues that he rarely surprises us and is stuck showing us only what we've seen before. The one wonderful image he draws is Chewbacca leaping away from a sniper's nest. In the whole comic, that was the only moment that felt completely unique. It played within the world that Lucas set up, adding to the Star Wars story in ways that the rest of the issue fails to.

Like the art, Aaron knows how everyone should sound and act. While he’s crafting his story around these characters, it feels like all of the characters have moments that need to be notched off of a checklist. Han makes a wisecrack? Check. The heroes need to be disguised to infiltrate the enemy stronghold? Check. C-3PO needs to be a worrywart? Check and double-check! For all of the bluster (and 70+ variant covers at the very least equals bluster) of a new Marvel Star Wars, nothing in the writing or the art feels particularly new or even fresh. It’s a story made up of used parts.

For many, Star Wars #1 will meets their goals. It’s a Star Wars comic. It looks and feels like Star Wars. But underneath this overwhelming devotion to the George Lucas aesthetics, this comic fails to generate the excitement that the first movie did. Aaron and Cassaday easily capture the feel of the original movie but never quite connect with the tone or excitement of it. Cassaday’s artwork never becomes alive and vibrant, while Aaron cannot quite overcome the legends of these characters. Despite one or two bright spots, such as Chewbacca as a sniper and C-3PO possibly forced to use a blaster, this comic lacks the anything-is-possible feeling that existed in 1977.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman/Wonder Woman #15
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Ed Benes, Doug Mahnke, Jamie Mendoza, Mark Irwin, Don Ho, Tomeu Morey, Marcelo Maiolo and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 3 out of 10

What’s most difficult about reading a book like Superman/Wonder Woman is that you know the creative talent has proven itself. Peter J. Tomasi is one of DC’s most beloved writers. Ed Benes and Doug Mahnke have and continue to produce great art. The pieces of this comic, separately, have all made noteworthy contributions to the world of comic books.

But sometimes they stumble, and Superman/Wonder Woman #15 is evidence of that.

The artistic inconsistencies make the book a visual headache. The shift between Benes and Mahnke is often jarring due to major changes in character design. While both artists illustrate great characters on their own, they have two clashing styles when shared in the same book. And it’s not like Benes is the first half and Mahnke is the second; the art changes from page to page. Magog is most prominently altered between the two artists, sometimes looking like a completely different person from panel to panel.

The uneven art can be traced back to the parade of inkers and colorists employed to contribute on the comic. Without any real consistency, the book is a mash-up of visuals that never coalesce into one digestible tone. A few of the quieter shots - full-page illustrations or tight shots on characters - display what the comic could have been, but the rest of the art is so erratic that reading the comic is a struggle.

The story, too, is out of character for the characters. Clark is his usual altruistic self, and the idea of Magog as a villain for Superman is good. Magic is a weakness for Clark, so having Diana around to help him would make for a nice team (which is what the book started out as). But Tomasi alters the characters. Wonder Woman cares nothing for innocent lives. She says she does, but she soars right past two passenger cars Magog tosses off a bridge. Her reasoning is that she trusted Clark to be there to catch the vehicles, but that’s a pretty big risk - especially when her boyfriend was just speared in the chest and thrown into a harbor.

The pacing doesn’t contribute anything as well. Dialogue is broken by shifts between characters, but not neatly. The tension Tomasi tries to build at the end is counteracted by Diana’s actions. I don’t think Wonder Woman would leave the lives of hundreds of people up to chance only for the opportunity to flex her muscles as the Goddess of War.

The changes in character may be part of a long term goal for Peter J. Tomasi, but the series has yet to find its footing. The final page climax has potential, especially given the direness of the situation, but the action that precedes it fails to give a new villain’s entrance the shock it aims for. Instead I’m left questioning the decisions made by the editorial staff. Superman/Wonder Woman has so much promise. DC needs to keep it simple if they want the series to succeed.

In Case You Missed It!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #12
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10

What’s most clear about reading Amazing Spider-Man #12 is that Dan Slott is having a lot fun right now. And so are we.

"Spider-Verse" has been a speeding bullet, and Slott shows no sign of slowing down. Where last issue left the conglomeration of Spider-people without a safe world, this issue sees their numbers dwindling even more. As an enemy, Morlun’s family continuously posing a frustrating problem and their god-like abilities have only added to the urgency of Peter’s quest to defeat them. This issue is more of the same, but that’s not a complaint.

Slott’s pacing is stellar. He mixes action with story, and seamlessly bounces between worlds and characters. While the book makes heavy reference to events found in other books in "Spider-Verse," they’re not necessities to understanding the basic story (though Slott does a great job of selling their importance.) Finding a way to fit every Spider-Person into the story is definitely an admirable feat, especially considering that each one contributes in some way. What Slott has done best, though, is to maintain the trademark sense of humor. Spider-Man is known by many as a hero who slings jokes in addition to webs, and Slott finds a way to inject humor into a very dark and violent story.

By the end of the issue, things are looking a little brighter for the troupe of web slingers and the final page is a fantastic cliffhanger, one that really gets at the heart of why Spider-Man became Spider-Man. Slott has already shown that he knows how to lay on the emotion when he needs to, so I’m sure that the totem of the newest world in which the heroes find themselves is going to reinvigorate the character, but maybe at a cost.

Giuseppe Camuncoli has also been churning out excellent work. His characters are a bit cleaner than usual, their rough edges softened and a bit more visually pleasing. He should also be celebrated for his shifting art styling as he captures not only a bevy of comic book created Spider-People, but also includes style specific to animated and cartoonish characters. Credit also goes to Cam Smith for his solid inks, particularly in action sequences, and to Justin Ponsor, whose gorgeous, vibrant colors make looking at the book as fun as it is to read it.

"Spider-Verse" may be one of the most entertaining Spider-Man stories I’ve ever read. Dan Slott has given individuality to a series of characters who are basic copies of each other, and he’s done so by putting them on an heroic journey that redefines what makes Spider-Man one of the world’s most beloved heroes.

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