Best Shots Review: JLA #1, OLD MAN LOGAN #2, BLACK CANARY #1, More

DC Comics June 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #1
Written by Bryan Hitch
Art by Bryan Hitch, Daniel Henriques, Wade Von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the advantages of the post-Convergence set-up is that things like continuity aren’t necessarily going to get in the way of a good story. Superman might be on a kind of depowered road trip of truth somewhere, but not here. There’s a robotic Batman with Commissioner Gordon inside it in Gotham City. There might even be a giant “Darkseid War” going on for the Justice League in another book. None of that really matters when it comes to the launch of the Justice League of America, the fourth book to bear that title.

Bryan Hitch is no stranger to flat-out action blockbusters, not least of which is Marvel’s Age of Ultron, and as writer/artist on this new flagship he wastes little time in killing Superman. Repeatedly. Clark Kent is summoned to the headquarters of the mysterious Infinity Corporation, where he is confronted with piles of his own body. Meanwhile, Aquaman tries to come to a negotiation with the United Nations, and Green Lantern, Wonder Woman,the Flash, Batman and eventually Cyborg take on Parasite. It’s a familiar battle, and that alone would make this simply more grist for the mill if that wasn’t just the tip of the iceberg.

In this month’s issue of Justice League, Geoff Johns showed what a fully functional League was capable of, working as a seamless engine towards a singular goal. Hitch takes a similar approach, showcasing the team in medias res, but having their clockwork teamwork being used against them. This is done literally in the sense that they have a villain like Parasite, who absorbs their own powers, resulting in such cool moments as the Flash dragging the power sponge along with him because he’s hooked into the Speed Force. Yet there is also an undercurrent that they are all being played from the beginning, which is the hook for the first arc of this title.

With Hitch on art duties as well, the book opens up with “epic” and stays turned up to eleven for the duration. Despite opening with the “widescreen” shot of the “end of everything,” Hitch nevertheless manages to deliver a surprise array of action bombshells. From the gracefulness of Superman flying over the city, to a gruesome sight of a pile of his bodies on a lab floor, it’s rare to turn the page (or swipe the screen) and to not find some fluid action. An aerial shot of Green Lantern in action with his power ring close to “camera” is a novel use of perspective, and the panels can barely contain the aforementioned Parasite jacked up on the Speed Force.

With a cliffhanger that reintroduces a massive figure in the Kryptonian’s mythology, Hitch has us snagged from the beginning. If it seemed unlikely that another Justice League book was needed at the moment, then this allays those fears by filling the void with pure DC comic bookery. What begins ostensibly as a Superman story about putting himself first for a change, turns into a piece that plants the seeds for a tale about what makes the Justice League special.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Logan #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

It's like a great magician once said: I've made a huge mistake.

I loved the first issue of Old Man Logan, as Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino took the Adamantium X-Man through a bleak, post-apocalyptic world. And I thought with an opening that strong, how could this series possibly let me down? Unfortunately, it seems that once you take Logan out of that setting, the whole story goes out it. It's rare to see a comic plummet this precipitously during its sophomore issue, but even Andrea Sorrentino's spectacular art can't save this weak second chapter.

Ultimately, one of the big criticisms that Brian Michael Bendis gets is the pacing and consistency of his comics - in many ways, he seems totally suited to the binge-reading, Netflix style of comic book consumption, rather than a monthly (or in this case, biweekly) series. It's because he ultimately has an uneven sense of structure to his whole narrative - one chapter can feel powerful and filled with emotion, while the next one can barely move the story a hair.

Case in point: this comic. Old Man Logan has crossed the walls of Battleworld - an unthinkable feat - but as soon as he leaves his world, all the pathos and cachet he had goes with it, as Bendis instead falls prey to the self-indulgence of having every Marvel multiverse at his fingertips. Logan is fried, bashed and thrown from a third-story window, but honestly, it's pretty threadbare window-dressing for a cameo by the Age of Apocalypse X-Men. Logan himself gets little in the way of characterization or development, instead just being the object of everyone else's actions rather than an active participant in his own story. It might be because his value as a character was that of redemption in the face of horrific conditions - but when you pit him alongside a colorful group of X-Men, he loses his luster.

And that's a shame, because artist Andrea Sorrentino often does strong work - that is, when the script allows it. His take on an alien Thor, who nigh-near incinerates Logan as he crosses the wall, is as beautiful as it is scary, with weird shapes and lightning criss-crossing the page like a cross between Jae Lee and J.H. Williams III. (His final double-page splash featuring Apocalypse is also insanely good.) That said, Sorrentino also falls into that trap that sometimes comes with superhero costumes - namely, that his real-world uniforms look so good, that crazy spandex designs wind up looking wildly out of place.

Old Man Logan is a character whose world has enthralled plenty of comic book readers over the years - Mark Millar's take on a superheroic world living on far past its expiration date hit a lot of fanboy buttons, particularly now that we live in a post-Mad Max cinemascape. Which is what makes Old Man Logan #2 such a disappointment - Bendis had the opportunity to continue exploring this insane new world, and gave up on it the first chance he got. Without that strong sense of place, Marvel's mightiest mutant has just gotten himself de-clawed.

Credit: DC Comics

Black Canary #1
Written by Brenden Fletcher
Art by Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Much in the same vein as DC’s relaunch of Batgirl, Black Canary approaches the superhero genre by putting the person before the cape. No longer a superhero before all things, Dinah is hitting the road with her new band Black Canary. With an excellent creative team Black Canary more than lives up to the hype generated by its preview and is an undeniably strong first issue.

By positioning Dinah outside of her usual environment, and having already established her as having lost everything in Batgirl, writer Brenden Fletcher is able to approach the character from the ground up. Now known only as D.D., Dinah Lance and her band Black Canary are about to set out on tour. However, Unable to stay out of trouble, Dinah seems to be carrying around the weight of the world on her shoulders as she tries to have whatever it is that passes for a normal life while juggling the responsibilities of her secret identity.

Through his work on Batgirl and Gotham Academy, Fletcher has developed a real talent for writing strong, multi-faceted women and placing them at the center of their own stories. Dinah is no longer a side-kick girlfriend, she is a woman doing what she needs to do in order to get her life back in order and with a compelling and diverse supporting cast made up of the other members of Black Canary, Lord Byron, Paloma Terrific and Ditto, and their merch guy, Heathcliff, she should have little trouble on that front.

Fletcher’s dialogue reads as authentic with the backstage exchange between Dinah and Heathcliff being particularly noticeable for the depth of emotion and character it evokes. When asked if she knows whether or not she wants this life, she responds honestly saying, "I signed a contract. I finish these dates, they pay me. I rebuild my life with the money. My dojo, my team. I know I want that." It places Dinah as sympathetic but not in need of sympathy and this is quite a refreshing stance for any female character. She may not be thrilled with her current circumstances but she is not a victim to them. The same can be said for those around her, everyone has a back story, a sense of agency, and the desire to succeed.

In what can only be regarded as a pastiche to 1970s punk zine culture, Black Canary has an undeniably "cut and paste" aesthetic. Initiated by Annie Wu’s loose, sketchy line work and supported by Lee Loughridge’s use of flat colors and half-tones, Black Canary practically oozes cool.

Wu’s updated take on the classic Black Canary uniform feels more appropriate than ever, and as such Dinah Lance looks every inch the rock star in leather and ripped fishnets. Wu’s faces are incredibly expressive and the very first page of Dinah prepping to take the stage has a quality that is intensely sobering. She looks so tired and downtrodden, that is until she walks on stage and comes alive. As a whole, the book feels quite energetic but the fight scenes in particular are wonderfully dynamic and the decision to dress the various gang members in matching outfits feels like a nod to the street gangs found in The Warriors.

Loughridge’s limited palette, applied in a manner that mimics the style found upon screen-prints, is perfectly matched to both the tone of the book and the style of Wu’s art. By cutting through the purples, blues and oranges with flashes of neon pink, and yellow, Loughridge is able to highlights key plot points without compromising the overall visual appeal of the book. The aspects of zine culture carry over to the lettering, as Steve Wands uses a typewriter-style font and irregular shaped word balloons that creates a sense of confluence amongst the entire artistic team.

Described by Fletcher as a kung-fu, rock 'n roll road trip, Black Canary #1 proves itself to be all of that and more. A fun first installment and a sound addition to the "DC You" catalogue of teen friendly books, Black Canary is the solo title that Dinah Lance deserves.

Credit: DC Comics

Robin: Son of Batman #1
Written by Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Patrick Gleason has consistently been one of the best artists in DC’s current stable of talent. By striking a balance between the dark “realism” of the Batman Universe and the more fantastical superhero elements often included by writer Peter J. Tomasi, Gleason was able to elevate Batman and Robin to a top-tier Bat-book that traded self-importance for fun and was ultimately better for it. Many hoped that Gleason would be able to continue his work with a main Bat-title of his own but instead he got the next best thing - Robin: Son of Batman, an opportunity to give the character that helped him rise to prominence the essential story that he deserves. The result is a solid foundation. Gleason’s pencil hasn’t lost a step, but his scripting will need some time to catch up. But for fans of Damian Wayne, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed.

The last time we were treated to a book with “Son of Batman” in the title, it was Andy Kubert’s unfortunate and, at times, devastatingly bad miniseries that imagined a slightly more grown-up version of Damian Wayne donning the cape and cowl. Thankfully, by sticking to the current status quo rather than skipping ahead, Gleason reminds us that Damian is a compelling character in the present. For a pre-teen, he’s experienced an extraordinary amount of death, despair and destruction in his lifetime, not to mention he’s been at the center of one of the most convoluted custody battles in superhero history. Gleason draws directly from Damian's past with the League of Shadows and his mother, Talia al Ghul, to create a narrative that begins to characterize Damian in terms of how he reconciles his past with his present instead of how he relates to Batman.

But while the big concept is on the right path, Gleason’s pacing is a bit wonky. The opening sequence is presented out of order for seemingly no reason other than to get the big “I’m the Son of Batman” splash page in a bit earlier. A new NoBody appears to be central to Damian’s quest for atonement but for new readers there’s very little context about the significance of that character. (Though, I do love the idea of NoBody being a new legacy character as her quest for revenge plays well against Damian’s mission.) Damian’s recent history is a bit complicated, and while it isn’t completely impossible to navigate, Gleason throws a lot at readers in this issue. For the initiated, these are clever callbacks and reiterations of themes that have persisted since Damian’s first appearance. But for others, it’s a deluge of images that can be somewhat overwhelming. We’re talking about a character that has changed drastically in the time that he has existed and had multiple looks into his future. He has more history than some characters that have been around for decades.

What remains incredible is Gleason’s art. Teamed with stalwart inking companion Mick Gray, Gleason’s art is a masterclass in the use of true blacks in comics. Comics are best when they are able to show great contrast. In a world of big, bright superheroes, the color palette can only be enhanced through the use of strong inking that isn’t muted by computer generated effects and light sources. Colorist John Kalisz deserves some recognition as well. He’s able to seamlessly shift the tone from scene to scene to suit the script through the use of his colors. And he opts for stark colors to offset the black inks at times when it’s needed (such as Damian returning to the vault).

Gleason has really become the quintessential artist for Damian Wayne. He’s really lived with this character and seen him through eras of great change. As such, his art is able to be informed by every other time he’s drawn him. You can see that in the carefree nature and loose body language that Damian displayed during his time with super powers versus the more rigid, cynical, questioning Damian that we see now. There’s a palpable trepidation in Damian’s bargaining with himself over whether he should open the vault. This pre-teen has a lot of weight on his shoulders, and Gleason has captured that.

Robin: Son of Batman really digs into the nuts and bolts of the boy who may someday become Batman. This is a title where he finally has the room for self-exploration that doesn’t come with the caveat of being someone’s sidekick. And if nothing else, the art is gorgeous. Gleason, Gray and Kalisz are a finely tuned machine that is adept at creating mood and tension. Gleason clearly believes in the potential that Damian Wayne has as one of the more complex members of the DC Universe, and you should, too.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #2
Written by Cavan Scott
Art by Blair Shedd and Anang Setyawan
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The original Team TARDIS is back! The Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack are stuck between a universal rock and a temporal hard place as they escape a battle between two warring races of aliens only to find themselves deep in a black market on the verge of supernova. Its just another day for our favorite Time Lord and his companions in Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #2. Writer Cavan Scott and artists Blair Shedd and Anang Setyawan deliver a rousing, if a bit rote, second issue in Titan’s fourth Doctor Who series. Let it never be said that Titan Comics isn’t taking full advantage of its new, well-loved property, but this second issue feels a bit like a perpetual second act, just marking time until the inevitable climax of this first arc. Thankfully, Shedd’s handle on the gruff Ninth incarnation of the Doctor, plus his feisty and flirty takes on Jack and Rose keep Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #2 from being a complete wash.

In true dramatic serial fashion, The Ninth Doctor #2 picks up directly after the debut issue left off, resolving the major cliffhanger of Rose trapped outside the TARDIS in the wilds of the Time Vortex, while inside the capsule, Capt. Jack and the Doctor race to save her. Writer Cavan Scott starts this second issue big and scales down from there as the issue continues as the action and tension of the initial rescue gives way to exposition. Scott’s firm handle on the characterization of the leads mines a great deal of tension from Rose’s rescue and he even employs a troupe of the classic series by dropping Rose directly in front of a strange alien, only to hard cut to something lightyears away as soon as the meeting takes place. After tracking Rose to a nearby planetoid, the Doctor and Jack find her working again as a shop girl to the surly alien that scooped her from the Time Vortex. But, this is no mere shop that she is schlepping in, as Jack informs us, its the Fluren Temporal Bizarre, a hidden black market that deals exclusively in very dangerous and very stolen weapons.

Its with the reveal of the Bizarre that The Ninth Doctor #2 starts to go a bit wibbly-wobbly. Here Scott introduces two separate plotlines that he tries valiantly to coalesce into one. As the Doctor browses the Bizarre, a piece of tech catches his eye; a piece of Time Lord tech that shouldn’t exist anymore. But it isn’t just this one piece, it is a whole booth full, which, of course, sends our gruff Ninth Doctor into a fit of rage. After tossing around the wares and generally making a fuss, he offers up the most powerful weapon available to the customers, the mind of a Time Lord.

While this thread is interesting enough on its own, Scott, still dealing with the remaining hanging thread of the war between the Lect and the Unon, shoehorns a Lect incursion into the finale of this issue, sending us out with a cliffhanger comprised of our heroes surrounded by the aliens that they just spent an issue escaping. This is where the marking time feeling of a long second act comes from. The Ninth Doctor #2 functions well enough as a second issue, but the sudden, almost random inclusion of the Lect toward the end takes away from the interesting introduction of the Bizarre as well as the ticking clock of the star above the planetoid going supernova. Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #2 has a great many plates spinning at once, but it could probably due with letting one or two of them break.

While Titan Comics has done its best to keep the scripts for its Doctor Who line different by sending each Doctor out on varying adventures, the artwork continues to look too similar to really wow anyone just yet. This isn’t to say that the pages that Blair Shedd and Anang Setyawan deliver this month are bad, they just look too similar to every other Doctor Who title to differentiate themselves. All of this said, Shedd and Setyawan’s take on Team TARDIS is a sight to behold. They don’t look quite photo-realistic, but capture the essence of each actor down to Nine’s Cheshire grin, Jack’s smolder, and Rose’s ethereal beauty. Its just a shame that the rest of the panels surround these great takes on the characters come across too flat and similar looking to the rest of the Titan line.

And so, the second installment of Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor comes to a close with another cliffhanger and a firm grip on its characters but not much else. Cavan Scott, Blair Shedd and Anang Setyawan offer up a solid Doctor Who yarn brimming with ideas and weird aliens abound, but it all ends up being forgettable as a monthly issue. Perhaps once The Ninth Doctor is all collected, this second issue will work much better than it did on its own, but as of now, issue two may only be for Who purists and completists. In the grand scheme of Doctor Who, the Ninth Doctor is always known as the most skippable Doctor, and unfortunately The Ninth Doctor #2 doesn’t do much to combat that line of thought.

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