Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has your back, as we've expanded our crackshot review team with Opulent Oscar Maltby, hailing from Word of the Nerd! So without further adieu, let's kick off today's column with Boisterous Brian Bannen, as he takes a crack at the latest issue of Gotham By Midnight...
Gotham by Midnight #3
Written by Ray Fawkes
Art by Ben Templesmith
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10
Gotham by Midnight has the feel of a show like The X-Files or Fringe, a story of seemingly unconnected events that slowly is revealed to be part of a larger mystery. But it’s more than that -- it’s a walk through a dark alley on a rainy night; it’s a creaky house shrouded in shadows; it’s a comic that makes you shiver and check under the bed before going to sleep.
Gotham by Midnight is the stuff of nightmares, and worth every cold sweat it creates.
Ray Fawkes structures Gotham by Midnight #3 around a formula that it follows closely. It reveals the history of one of its major characters while at the same time telling a supernatural yarn about a shadow figure that can infect and kill people just by passing over them. Given the dark nature of the comic, Fawkes still finds a way to inject humor using Dr. Tarr who keeps the demon at bay by simply talking to it.
The humorous beats help offset the tension and also help flesh out a character who has spent the majority of the last three issues in a lab. Seeing Dr. Tarr at work shows readers that Fawkes has more in store than just creepy monsters, possessed priests, and shadow demons -- though these are all very cool things to see in a comic associated with Gotham City.
Fawkes also reveals a bit more about Detective Lisa Drake, the Scully to Jim Corrigan’s Mulder, and her own history is cloaked in as much mystery as the comic. What we get, though, is a bit more humanity to the characters, and the interplay that occurs between them builds their relatability and likeability. They’re starting to coalesce as a team, and Fawkes is starting to show the strengths of each character -- and what we get is a clearer understanding as to why these people in particular make up the errant corps of precinct thirteen.
But where Gotham by Midnight scores its best marks is in Ben Templesmith’s murky atmosphere. Even looking at the comic elicits the imagined sounds of howling winds, crackling thunder, and the rustle of dead leaves. Templesmith is no stranger to horror with books like Fell, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and the seminal 30 Days of Night to his credit, and he uses his ability to craft sinewy beasts and gothic settings as a way to make Gotham by Midnight a creepy exploration of the other-wordly.
Using a reduced palette of muted and sickly hues, Templesmith gives eerie life to his creation. The smaller array of colors allows for Templesmith to make his action sequences pop by throwing in a vibrant red for emphasis. Fawkes clearly relies on Templesmith to help tell the story and the two work well together. The comic succeeds because of its mix of good story and quality visuals.
Gotham by Midnight is the weird sibling in the world of Bat-comics, but it has definitely carving out its own niche. Despite its connection to Gotham, it feels wholly original and in a universe of its own. Three issues in, and Ray Fawkes has shown that he has a lot of story to tell while Ben Templesmith’s art has made the comic gloomy, creepy, and spooky.
Some say that nothing good ever happens after midnight; but Fawkes and Templesmith show that doesn’t mean it can’t be a hell of a lot of fun.
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by John Timms, Roberto Poggi and David Curiel
Lettering by Albert Deschesne
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There's nothing like a late ‘80s to early ‘90s villain. Whether it’s the flamboyant Mister Sinister or the even more xxxxxtreme! Ghost Rider known as Vengeance, what's more enjoyable than an embarrassing figure of pubescent hyper-masculinity in a ridiculous costume, imbued with more attitude than a truck-load full of Poochies? Carnage is one of the most ridiculous examples of this, as the dark reflection of Venom's dark reflection of Spider-Man. And with Nova #26, that epitome of '90s extreme meets a throwback to '60s Spidey, and yes, that's as fun as it sounds.
What's interesting about Nova #24 in particular is its hero's old-school status quo. Still reeling from the events of Axis (“Does that whole fiasco have a name?” quips Sam in particularly amusing moment. “Secret... Inversion?”), and suffering from a nasty concussion at the big grey hands of the Hulk, Sam Alexander has tried to slip out of the Nova uniform and focus on being a teenager. It's interesting to see such a human malady in a cosmic superhero, especially one as relevant as post-concussion syndrome. Anyone who has even casually followed a contact sport knows of the grave consequences of what was only seen until recently as a light injury. After struggling with hisdiagnosis in #25, and the associated minor sight, memory and speech problems, Nova's had an uncomfortable brush with his own fragile mortality. Such an ailment evokes the best of silver-age Spider-Man, when no villain was more dangerous than the ever-constant threat of making Aunt May worry. Writer Gerry Duggan understands the importance of grounding a hero with a relatable quandary, especially one so prone to cosmic troubles as Nova.
While the characterization is right on track, John Timms' artwork can be a little shaky. Whilst his work is solid when depicting the colorful denizens of the stars, Timms' human faces do not always hit the mark. His expressions are solid but his facial composition is lacking at times. Still, when Nova dons the helmet and Carnage is in full beast-mode, there's nothing to complain about here. Timms is more than confident when it comes to everyone's favorite crimson killer, pencilling the villain like a man stripped of flesh, a delightfully disgusting bundle of tendons and sinew. Colorist David Curiel renders helmets and tendrils with the kind of other-worldly sheen you'd expect from materiel from beyond the stars. His blue skies and cleanly tarmacked roads add to the silver-age Spidey tone of the issue, making the whole thing look at times like a still from Saved by the Bell. As is customary when symbiotes are involved, Gerry Duggan has called for a fantastically stodgy set of sound effects to better conjure the sounds of a symbiote infecting a human body (GLLORMPH being possibly my favorite).
Roberto Poggi inks with an incredibly thick line, which adds a tremendous sense of weight to the light-hearted script and exaggerated artwork. It might not sound like much, but strong inking can really sell the reader's belief that two super-powered beings could throw each other through a building or two. A thinly inked line can make a character look fragile, and a little extra thickness really helps when it comes to combat. On the cover, Timms has rendered a fantastic image of Nova crusading through the stars whilst Carnage lunges towards him with his jaw unhinged. This cover Carnage seems created from the universe itself, his tendrils reaching from beyond the furthest reaches of space.
All in all, Nova #26 is a fun and heady throwback to a simpler time, before Marvel's heroes battled with bi-yearly crossovers and mourned cruel deaths. Sam Alexander is still finding his heroic feet, and it's fulfilling and refreshing to grow with him as the issues fly by. Although John Timms' artwork doesn't always hit its mark, he renders action scenes with aplomb. Gerry Duggan's script is punchy and memorable, which makes for an accessible issue that throws two colorful characters together and begins a promising arc for the young Human Rocket.
Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
“Fear can cause a man to forget everything he knows.”
Where the previous issue concluded with the younger Rasputin receiving his gift of knowledge, Rasputin #4 opens with the older Rasputin momentarily abandoning what he knows of his death as we see him give in to fear for the first time under his assailants. Meanwhile, the younger Rasputin has finally arrived at the destination we’ve been anticipating as he reaches the beginnings of his infamous history with the imperial family. And as the older Rasputin briefly loses hold of the cognizance and composure he had gracefully maintained in the preceding installments, the younger Rasputin begins his descent towards losing himself and becoming Russia’s Mad Monk.
Alex Grecian continues to seamlessly weave past and present by drawing parallels like this with each issue, in addition to using the younger Rasputin’s journey to introduce the figures that will be a part of his death as we witness it in present time, this time using it to connect Rasputin to the Winter Palace where he at last meets Tsarina Alexandra to heal Alexei of his hemophilia. But first, the Tsarina requires that Rasputin demonstrate his abilities on the family’s dying dog. As we learned in Rasputin #3, his powers don’t come without consequences, and that revelation sets the trajectory for this issue and this series. Knowing now what we do regarding the nature of his abilities, we can see all the pieces of who Rasputin has healed that are shaping him into who he is becoming, and his reservations for using his powers in this issue are not unfounded as he spirals deeper towards the Mad Monk we recognize from history.
Rasputin #4 effectually solidifies Rasputin’s transformation from the sympathetic boy we met in #1 into the man who will become a target for assassination, as he begins to struggle between all the acquired facets of his identity. Barking like a dog one moment and expressing genuine compassion for Alexei the next, Rasputin’s bizarre impression is to everyone’s chagrin—save for the Tsarina, who is damn pleased with his presence.
Riley Rossmo continues to display his storytelling prowess through his nuanced facial expressions in silent pages, flawlessly capturing each character’s reactions to Rasputin in their own individual ways—from the Tsarina’s poise and authority, to Anastasia’s inquisitive scrutiny, and Antoine’s concern for his new friend. Through this issue’s progression, Rasputin bounces through various changes in his demeanor as Rossmo smoothly transitions between expressing fear, concern, ferocity, and tranquility. Ivan Plascencia’s colors illuminate the depth of this issue, casting warmth over trusted characters and shadows over those who are less pleased with “Brother Grigori,” and setting bright red blood over the gray, icy wind in the opening pages.
As the events of Rasputin’s murder accelerate, the open and close of this issue frenetically quicken their pace and panic while the younger Rasputin’s journey slows down, as Grecian brings the story into the thick of Rasputin’s legend. Methodically transitioning this series from steady openings and swift middles to devoting its energy in intricately defining what makes Rasputin who he will become, Rasputin #4 marks the junction of Rasputin’s historical notoriety and Grecian’s reimagining, connecting fantasy with history as the gaps Grecian has filled come to fruition. Rasputin consistently hits the mark and has yet to falter, carefully building its momentum as it quietly creeps through its narrative while expertly balancing Rasputin’s fraught and reinvented history with the final contemplative moments of his life.
Spider-Man and the X-Men #2
Written by Elliot Kalan
Art by Marco Failla and Ian Herring
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 7 out of 10
The words “silly” and “goofy” have been tossed around a lot when referring to Spider-Man and the X-Men, but I wouldn’t see these as insults. The comic is light-hearted to point of foolishness, yet with an increasing amount of dour comics hitting the shelves each month, it’s good to have a break from all the seriousness. Spider-Man and the X-Men #2, while not a must-read in the traditional sense of the term, is chock full of jokes that land solidly and make reading the comic a lot of fun.
Where last issue left Spider-Man and his class of X-Men in the traitorous grip of Shark Girl, this month sees the teacher showing his students the ropes, particularly when it comes to fighting humanoid villains. The plot is paper-thin, and the story wraps up a little too neatly, but it’s clear that Elliot Kalan is not interested in giving readers an inside look into teaching, or mutants, or being Spider-Man, but instead he uses the majority of the book to write some clever banter and copious amounts of Staten Island jokes (which, as a former New Yorker, never get old).
Kalan does tie into some of the deeper themes associated with heroes, but more specifically team work. “I’ve got to stop treating you like suspects and more like students. Teammates,” Spider-Man tells his incarcerated group of mutants and readers get to see how Spidey assess the strengths of his crew in order to help them defeat the villains. Kalan’s story is really about the old adage that there’s no “I” in “team,” and how for heroes to succeed, they must work together -- which is also what usually offsets the good guys from the bad. Good guys aren’t afraid to ask for help; the bad guys use it to their own advantage -- and eventual downfall.
The comic does close with an interesting cliffhanger, something better than the usual “mole in the team” trope, and we’re shown a glimpse of the grander scale that Kalan has in mind for Spider-Man and the X-Men, and I have to say that it’s not at all what I expected.
Marco Failla’s work is pretty solid as well. The action sequence which covers the splash page is pretty dynamic and cleverly illustrated (props to Clayton Cowles for his word placements as they help guide the eyes seamlessly across the page). Failla’s tight shots of characters are lushly inked, creating a smooth finish on the page, and when the humor relies on the art, Failla complies with aplomb -- like when he gives Sauron a pair of lips in order to kiss Shark Girl, an image that made me laugh out loud (and one I won’t soon forget either).
Occasionally, Failla will eschew detail in distance shots, something which is pretty noticeable in how much it alters face and body designs. This is most prevalent in some of the illustrations towards the end of the comic, like when Sauron and Stegron battle it out in a lab, or when Sam Wilson shows up. Failla’s point of view determines where the detail goes, and when it’s pertinent to the imagery, its absence is definitely noticeable.
But these critiques aside, Spider-Man and the X-Men #2 is a book that aims to and succeeds at delivering laughs. Kalan is definitely more interested in humor than plot, but that might be changing as evinced by the ending of the comic. I’d like to see some of the characters get more than a one-dimension fly over, but there is only so much space in a team book, especially one with a big presence like Spider-Man.
Still, the book is fun to read and definitely offers another side to the world of superheroes, so while the book may not shed new light on its characters, it at least offers the readers a welcome opportunity to laugh a lot.
Harley Quinn #14
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
From her wonderful first appearance in the seminal Batman: The Animated Series all the way up to her starring role in the wildly successful Arkham series of video-games, the antagonistic adventures of Ms. Harleen Quinzel have fostered a rabid fan base that almost exceeds the Crown Prince of Crime himself. But while she's been indisputably a longtime fan-favorite, Harley's solo New 52 incarnation is the definition of polarizing. As a character, she seems tailor-made to an in-built demographic of meme-lovin' and cosplayin' college-aged readers, and while it's refreshing to see a book that reaches further than the stubby arms of the local comic shop, it can be grating.
This issue sees a leak spring in Harley's Coney Island apartment building. Fellow resident Mason Macabre knows a guy, on the condition that Harley take him out for a date later that night. As is usually the case with this Looney Tune-alike, her job and roller-derby responsibilities get in the way, causing her to cancel on her crush. And as is always the case at the mid-point of a romantic comedy, Mason catches her in town, having shrugged him off for the bigger picture. As a self-contained one-shot, it's fairly well-paced, but it's a script that'll live or die by the reader's sense of humor.
Unfortunately, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti wind up achieving the latter a bit more than the former. From the fourth wall-breaking set-dressing (Harley has G.I Zombie on her pull-list, clearly) to a string of wacky made-up words ("Harmonificate," anybody?), each panel attempts a joke that sadly falls flat. It's not that elements like that don't have the ability to elicit a laugh, it's just that every single utensil in the kitchen sink of comedy has been used and abused. An elderly woman gets punched in the face! Harley binds and gags an inmate with a predilection for S&M! Also, he's elderly as well! There's so much monkey-cheese, it strangles the few moments of genuine amusement.
While Conner and Palmiotti are more than comfortable with the book's comedic tone, they seem less happy with Harley's dark origins and tend towards overcompensation for her violent tendencies. The sleepy psychopath who lazily brushes her teeth as a petty criminal pleads to be set free whilst hanging from her bedroom wall seems at odds with the character who holds a bawling elderly lady on one page, and selflessly saves a dying woman on another. Harley isn't exactly good but she isn't bad either, and it's frustrating to read Conner and Palmiotti's lack of commitment to one or the other.
On a more positive note, Chad Hardin's linework is impressive. His sense of perspective is dynamic, his facial expressions are impressively emotive and his backgrounds immerse you in their details. However, there's a particular sequence when Harley chases after a motorbike gang where everything seems a little too static. It's nothing a few more motion lines wouldn't have fixed, but it's noticeable regardless. Alex Sinclair's colors highlight the odd-ball and cartoon-like tone of the script, whilst John J. Hill's letters are professional and unobtrusive. Both make for an excellent supporting team to Hardin's excellent artwork. Although I absolutely detest cheesecake,
Still, pretty art can't save a comedy fallen flat. Whilst Harley Quinn #14 is undoubtedly catnip for the initiated, if it isn't tailor-made to your sense of humor, it's a disappointing read. Although this one-shot is a fairly accessible jumping-on point for new readers, it's still a straightforward story with little to offer outside of (in this case, missed) comedic value. A cringeworthy sitcom in comic-book form, Harley Quinn #14 is a wildly inconsistent representation of a character that writers still struggle to define.
New Avengers #29
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Kev Walker, Scott Hanna and Frank Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
A certain level of tension-building is appreciated in a book like New Avengers, especially when the entire book has been predicated on a ticking clock counting down toward multiversal doom. However, that tension has to be tempered with some sort of forward motion, and unfortunately New Avengers seems to have stalled. Jonathan Hickman’s run with the Illuminati has always taken time to deliver these table-setting issues in order to further inform readers and hook them deeper into this world of lies and machinations, but before, these issues were merely placeholders amid the actual action of the series. Now it seems that the remaining issues of the series are content to be just that, barring few surprises. Now, with New Avengers #29, the momentum of last month’s tense and loss-filled issue is brought to a thudding halt as the creative team slows way down to deliver yet another issue filled to bursting with exposition.
New Avengers #29 starts off with the Illuminati, back to their original base in the Wakandan Necropolis, only to find Tony Stark’s cell destroyed and the Iron Avenger nowhere to be found. This Lost-like way of storytelling is one of the more frustrating things about this issue, and the lead up to the finale. We are 29 issues into this series so far, a series that for the most part I’ve been enjoying, but we still don’t know much beyond what Hickman has shown us in panel, and even then, that can change at the drop of a hat. Tony Stark was one of the main characters of this series from the start, but now he’s nowhere to be found. While solicits show that Tony is due back next issue, for now, it is frustrating not knowing everything this close to the final issue.
Another frustrating element of this issue is how the main action of the book is overshadowed by the flashbacks contained within. As I mentioned before, New Avengers #29 functions mainly as pure exposition, framed as Reed detailing the current state of rapid multiversal decay to Cap and the finally reunited Avengers Machine team, but as Reed drones on about how many universes are left in total and their failed attempts to curb the decay, Hickman gives us teasing flashes of these attempts and each one is more interesting than anything that is happening on panel in the present. These include some sort of last stand for Captain Britain, along with multiple copies or alternate versions of him, an ill-fated meeting with the Celestials, and the all-powerful Franklin Richards entering the fray.
Reed even glumly states that their “costs were much greater,” but we don’t see any of this. We are merely told that they happened and shown one to two panels in detail; not nearly enough to sustain any sort of importance on the actual narrative. It seems the only characters actually doing anything in New Avengers #29 are Dr. Doom and the Molecule Man, who have broken the very veil of reality and built a doorway into the space where the Black Swans and Mapmakers travel. Just typing that is a thousand times more interesting than anything that happens with the main heroes in this issue and that is disappointing. The issue finally finds a bit of energy in the final pages as the universe starts to give its last gasp in the form of a returning Hank Pym, a character who apparently was thrown into the Multiverse with news about the fabled Ivory Kings - otherwise known as the Beyonders. But of course, the issue ends on their arrival, cutting off any hope for momentum from New Avengers #29 before it could even start.
It isn’t all gloom and boring doom, however, for New Avengers #29 thanks to the confident pencils of Kev Walker and the lush colors of Frank Martin. Walker’s style is a style that has really grown on me since his first issue of New Avengers and this issue gives me a bit more to try other than the endless amount of talking heads found in this story. The sequence of Doom and the Molecule Man piercing reality is a trippy bit of business that reminded me of a Shade, the Changing Man set piece. Walker lets the white negative space dominate the first few panels, allowing Doom and the Molecule Man to listlessly float amid the nothingness then moving into psychedelia as the panels fan out on themselves like a deck of cards as Doom and the Molecule Man descend further into nothingness.
The odd flashbacks are also an injection of visual energy into the story due to Frank Martin’s heightened sepia toned color scheme for each of them. Each scene looks like a grainy, yet vibrant photograph set aganist the normally colored and rendered talking heads of the main action. Walker’s character designs, with their heroic chins and broader body types also impress, in particular his rendition of Carol Danvers, who looks a lot like a Super Saiyan and that is more than okay with me. It just would have been a lot more interesting to see these great character designs do more than just stand around laying out the plot for the audience.
In four months, time runs out but New Avengers #29 seems more concerned with theorizing about what that means instead of showing our heroes dealing with it. Like I had said before, this could all be untrue by the time the next issue of the series rolls around, but for a series with this great of a hook and a wealth of interesting characters, I don’t understand how it could be so boring. Jonathan Hickman has been a writer that has delivered thrilling and thought provoking comics time and time again, and you would think that a series like New Avengers would be his superhero swan song, but #29 finds him still hobbling along aided by jargon instead of throwing our heroes into action. The table is set and it has been for a while now; how long until the guests grow tired of waiting for the goods, and get up to find a more satisfying meal?
Written by Sam Read
Art by Alex Cormack
Lettering by Tyler James
Published by ComixTribe
Review by Jeff Marsick
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
I love all-ages comics with a young protagonist at the center, but while there are many good titles out there, I am often left disappointed at the abandonment of wonder that is typical of each plot. There’s always an inherent foregone conclusion that upon a young person’s discovering an avenue for achieving their dreams of becoming a superhero, instead of being amazed at their find or incredulous at what possibilities now suddenly lay before them, they immediately – and sometimes urgently – take to the task as if they have been preparing for this moment all of their lives. I think this is what makes ComixTribe’s Find a breath of fresh air in the young adult market because it doesn’t follow that traditional format and instead allows the main character, Teddy Chance, to feel more real, more a representation of how each of us would react if we were in his spot.
Teddy is a boy whose bedroom is his universe, where his comics and his books and his imagination are his closest friends. But never in all of his wildest daydreams did he ever consider that he might one night encounter a being from elsewhere who crash-lands here. The alien doesn’t come bearing ill will with a singular “Kill all earthlings” mindset, but instead seems to be playful and inquisitive, and it quickly becomes a window of sorts for Teddy to see what it would be like to be a hero. Evocative of Hogarth and his robot from The Iron Giant, Teddy and the alien bond over the superhuman exploits of Captain Splendid, the titular character of a comic Teddy happens to have with him. Super-strength, flight, the alien is a mimic and Teddy is like a kid at Christmas who’s unwrapped the coolest toy in the world. “Think of all the things we can do!” he exclaims after the alien’s put his newfound abilities to use in the performance of a good deed.
Again, just when it seems like this story is going to go in a stereotypical direction – boy plus alien go fight a villain and succeed against all odds – Find zigs against the tide and allows a harsh reality to intrude, one that rings of familiarity given events in Ferguson last year. It’s a terrific moment of having something so potentially incredible be irrevocably ruined by a brash act spurred by fear. And that’s it. That’s all Teddy gets. Probably an hour, maybe two, of feeling what it’s like to be super, and then it’s gone, reduced to a secret he keeps for the rest of his life, but one that inspires him to be more than he was before he met the alien. The last page is a poignant bookend to the first, and my only complaint is that one issue is all we get. I want more.
Calling it a simple script gives the wrong connotation, even though that’s what it is. It’s straightforward, unencumbered with the weight of plot twists and switchbacks that would only unnecessarily complicate the story. It’s got some comfortable flavors of E.T. and Starman without ever feeling like a swipe, and I applaud writer Sam Read for keeping the dialogue to a minimum and allowing the artwork to tell the story. Artist Alex Cormack draws with a scratchy style I take to intimate the unpolished life that Teddy lives, a stark contrast to the cleaner lines that are drawn in Teddy’s daydream where he’s heralded by Captain Splendid. The latter is the brightly hued idyllic existence that quickly dissipates to dark and maudlin when Teddy has to snap out of his reverie and return to the former. Despite this, though, Teddy is never drawn as succumbing to his existence, and instead remains excited and hopeful, qualities that come out in the character’s depiction and without need of a voice over or monologue to help sell it to the reader.
This is ComixTribe’s first foray into the all-ages market, a book that is very different from their gonzo property of Oxymoron and the dark horror-mystery of And Then Emily Was Gone. It shouldn’t be overlooked, though, and I highly recommend it as one of the best books of the year so far.