Best Shots Reviews: GRAYSON #10, WOLF #1, More

DC Comics July 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a six-pack of reviews for your reading pleasure. So let's kick off today's column with Regal Richard Gray, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Kanan the Last Padawan...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Kanan the Last Padawan #4
Written by Greg Weisman
Art by Pepe Laraz and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Continuity can be a mixed blessing, as the major events at the two major publishers has proven this last year. With multiple Star Wars titles taking a stricter attitude towards the overall mythology, Kanan the Last Padawan emerges out of a need to fill in the gaps between the Clone Wars and the current television series Rebels. In this narrow window of reflection, the exiled padawan Kanan, formerly known as Caleb Dune, gets something of an origin story. Yet in this penultimate chapter of his standalone mini-series, one can’t help but wonder how much of that story needed to be told.

There’s certainly an element of water treading in this fourth issue, picking up as it does from a cliffhanger of betrayal. It is mere panels before he is rescued by partner and would-be turncoat Kasmir, and a montage of their life of crime begins. It completely undercuts the drama of the previous issue’s cliffhanger, not to mention the imprisonment at the start of this one, but it certainly keeps the book moving along at a cracking pace. At the same time, however, that cracking pace doesn’t necessarily go anywhere, at least not to a point one would expect from the next-to-last issue of a mini-series.

To be fair to writer Greg Weisman, he has the difficult task of fitting in an all-ages story into this slender window of Star Wars history, and on this level he achieves that swimmingly. Kanan has the same distractions and boredoms as most teenagers, even amidst the intergalactic piracy, a related element that can’t be underestimated in the often emaciated all-ages market. Yet at the same time, Weisman balances that out with some deeply contemplative moments about the nature of a padawan without a master, and what happens when old foes have a new enemy in common. It hints at the complexity of the ‘inter-trilogy’ universe, but probably not with anywhere near enough depth to satiate the more invested Star Wars fanbase.

Pepe Laraz also manages to find the middle ground between the stylized look of the contemporary Marvel Star Wars books, and the animated series that inspires this book. Elements - including ships, troopers, and buildings - are wholly familiar, but in other areas Laraz has carte blanche to cut loose on jungle settings. Laraz and color artist David Curiel have a standout moment as Kanan/Caleb attempts to stealthily escape underwater, swimming through a volcanic eruption of marine life and vibrant colors.

With the comics of Star Wars, Darth Vader, and the other related mini-series currently being exemplars of how to do a licensed tie-in, Kanan the Last Padawan struggles to meets this quality, being left as it is to beat its own drum. Leaving us on a cliffhanger for the final chapter, there’s more than enough here to keep fans of Rebels hooked for more, even if it feels like a lengthy one-shot stretched out a bit too thin.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #10
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As the one-time Boy Wonder has reinvented himself as a dashing super-spy, Grayson stands as a welcome departure from the usual scenarios faced by members of the Bat-family. Rather than being pitted again super villains, Dick is having to navigate a duplicitous agency as well as his own doubts as to his involvement in the murders of his colleagues. With an intriguing narrative and beautiful artwork, Grayson is an engaging and enjoyable change of pace for one of DC’s most popular characters.

While the first few pages function almost as a recap they do not read as heavy with exposition, nor does the reader feel bombarded with information. The dialogue is kept relatively light considering the increasing dark tone of the book and Dick is almost always on hand with a witty comeback or one liner. In fact his very first line is a quip as he interjects with the police’s attempts to identify him, reminding them not to forget his smile. This is not the only instance of characters being unable to remember Dick’s face and thanks to his Spyral implants, his butt is once again his main identifying feature.

The exchange between Dick and Lex Luthor is a definite highlight. Luthor comes off as particularly villainous and more than a little smug as he flaunts just how much he knows about Spyral while simultaneously trying to exploit what he perceives to be Dick’s weakness. Dick however is as likable as ever, cocky and self-assured even as it becomes increasing clear that he is no longer able to trust those around him.

Mikel Janin’s inks are stunning. Dynamic and elegant, every panel is suffused with naturalistic looking movement. Janin’s attention to detail can been seen in the highly rendered cliff faces and masonry and his dedication to creating a three-dimensional world for the characters to interact within is evident by the inclusion of set pieces such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace which can be seen in the background of a panel set within the Prado Museum.

The way Janin draws Dick, and to a lesser extent, Agent 1, is far more in keeping with what could be considered a female sexual fantasy than the male power fantasies that readers will usually associate with superheroes. Dick maintains the body type of a gymnast rather than that of a body builder, and while this may not be a revolutionary artistic decision it speaks volumes to the changing market of mainstream comics. Jeromy Cox uses a subtle colour palette that works to emphasize Janin’s inks, imbuing the backgrounds with a softness that places a sharper focus on the characters in the foreground. By changing the tonality of the palette, Cox is able to show subtle differences with regards to natural and artificial light sources and their effects on color.

As we move into the second arc, or series as it has been dubbed, Grayson continues to live up to the hype that surrounds it. By maintaining an exceptionally high standard with regards to both the writing and the artwork Grayson sets itself apart from what could be considered its competitors.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Future Imperfect #3
Written by Peter David
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Nolan Woodard
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

One of the many Secret Wars tie-ins, Future Imperfect has struggled a bit in standing out from the crowd. This third issue does little to change that prospect. While still fun, Peter David and Greg Land haven’t provided the depth this series needs to entertain its audience beyond the first reading. It’s unfortunate, because the series seems to be squandering its potential with repetitive storytelling.

The primary problem with Future Imperfect #3 is that the story here is a bit redundant. The previous issue ended with Maestro revealing to Ross that he wanted to kill God Doom and take his place as ruler of Battleworld. In addition, a soldier in Maestro’s army, Layla Miller, revealed to Ruby and her team that they wanted to remove Maestro from Dystopia. This chapter opens in the aftermath of those reveals, as Layla leads Ruby and her squad into Maestro’s palace. There’s some nice banter and seeing writer Peter David return to characters like Janis and Skooter is a bit of nostalgic fun for readers of the original Future Imperfect. But when the inevitable happens and they are captured, the book ends on the same beats as the previous issue. Maestro reveals to his team that he wants to kill Doom and take his place. It truthfully feels like the issue could have started at the end and worked in the banter as the plot progressed to the next development.

At the heart of this problem is Maestro himself. Like the original, Future Imperfect #3 is at its best with Maestro on the page. His villainous demeanor and his high intelligence makes him a fun character to root against, and while it’s entertaining to see the cast plot against him, it would have been nice to see more of his interaction with Ross, especially in light of the issue’s end. In many ways, Future Imperfect has been reminiscent of 2014’s Godzilla. It’s not bad, but thus far, readers have just been waiting to see the big green monster.

For his part, Greg Land, acquits himself well. His character work on this title has been some of his best; his Maestro is absolutely sinister and it’s a shame that readers don’t get to see more of him. The action sequence in the center of the issue is a blast and the reveal of a character named Jamie is the highlight of the issue. Inker Jay Leisten does a fantastic job bringing out the details in Land’s illustrations, and the clean breaks between the shadows in the architecture lends a futuristic feel to Maestro’s palace. Nolan Woodard’s colors are equally outstanding; visually, there’s a striking moment where Ruby faces her attackers and the contrast between the greens of the machinery behind her and her own skin tones makes for a beautiful image.

Ultimately, Future Imperfect #3 is a fun, albeit predictable, outing. Peter David injects enough character in his script to prevent the issue from feeling mundane, and Greg Land’s action here is fun. The issue does have some flaws; the ending doesn’t quite pack the punch it could have if the previous issue had not used the plot here for a twist. Future Imperfect #3 will not do much to draw in readers who had dismissed it in favor of other Secret Wars tie-ins. But for fans of David’s Hulk run, especially the original Future Imperfect, this is a fun return to Maestro and his devious plans.

Credit: Image Comics

Wolf #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Wolf #1 is the real deal. Billed as some sort of unholy union of True Detective and The Sandman, this debut issue delivers a whopping fifty-eight page yarn that holds you at arms length, but is sure to hook you deep. Developed by a crack team of rising comic book talent, Wolf introduces us to the world underneath the world of L.A.; a strange land populated by clairvoyant private detectives, literal and metaphorical vampires, the One Percent, and a young woman who may usher in the Biblical apocalypse. Ales Kot, Matt Taylor, Lee Loughridge, and letterer Clayton Cowles earn the lofty comparisons to HBO dramas and vintage Vertigo Comics because Wolf #1 slots itself confidently among them. Wolf #1 is the comic that you use an example when someone says comics don’t have enough voice or atmosphere because it has loads to spare.

Divided into a proto three act structure, Wolf #1 introduces us to Antoine Wolfe, a cooler than cool immortal who works as sort of supernatural private eye; one foot in the world of humans and the other firmly planted in the world of myth. Writer Ales Kot, taking a page from hazy L.A. noir like The Long Goodbye, slowly layers Wolfe as a lead, keeping the reader from fully engaging with him as a lead character but lapping up the few choice bits of information he does give out. Kot’s first introduction for the character is him engulfed in flames and screaming the lyrics to a Robert Johnson tune and it just gets weirder after that.

While Wolf's main hook consists of its supernatural elements, Ales Kot does us one better by making this a pretty damn compelling mystery story as well. After we get fleeting glimpses of Wolfe in the wilds of L.A. busting lowlife street magician hoods and getting shaken down by an open minded local cop, he is hired by Sterling Gibson, a big wig of immeasurable wealth, who needs to use Wolfe’s immortality to grow his own myth. It’s classic film noir but with an Image Comics twist and Ales Kot scripts it beautifully and populates it with compelling characters to the very last page. While the John Constantine comparisons are certainly there, Wolf #1 distances itself from the psychedelia of Hellblazer by committing to its sunbaked setting, much like Hellblazer commits to the foggy streets of London. Antonie Wolfe is also considerably less of a personality than John Constantine. While Constantine lives and dies on his swagger, Wolfe fits more of the “reluctant gifted” archetype. Wolfe was forced into this world, while Constantine seeks it out, which makes him all the more a noir lead.

While Wolf #1's is displayed by Kot’s genre bending and fun characters, its atmosphere is firmly in the hands of artist Matt Taylor, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Clayton Cowles who all come together to render this debut like a nightmarish version of To Live and Die in L.A.. Matt Taylor keeps the artwork grounded but with many fleeting glimpses to the dark world hiding just beneath the surface. After the heated opening, which finds Taylor and Loughridge posing the torch of Wolfe against and inky black sky and the lights of the city in the horizon, Taylor and Loughridge deliver page after page of meticulously blocked, rendered, and colored scenes rich with prophesy and character. While Ales Kot has a handle how neo-noir should read, Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge prove throughout fifty-eight pages that they damn well know how it should look. Letterer supreme Clayton Clowes even does the art team one better by rendering in the dialogue of early Character of the Year contender Freddy Chtonic, a good-natured Eldrich slacker, with the tried and true Sandman dialogue bubbles showing that Wolf #1 may be all-new, but its got the good sense to respect the books that made it possible.

Ales Kot, Matt Taylor, Lee Loughridge and Clayton Cowles have delivered a debut that is absolutely steeped in the influences of comics and genres past, but makes them all feel brand new again. Brian De Palma once said that noir feels like some sort of recurring dream and that’s the perfect way to describe Wolf; a hazy dream that refuses to let you go even in the cold light of day. The archetypes and the conventions are all there, but they are presented in such a way that you don’t recognize them and you don’t want the story to end. That’s the best kind of debut; the real deal from a team and imprint stocked with real talent.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Logan #3
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

What fans originally hoped was a return to Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's dystopian epic has quickly devolved into a shallow road trip across the realms of Battleworld. As an unofficial flagship title to the Secret Wars summer event, Old Man Logan barely even comes together as a story, as Brian Michael Bendis' script is devoid of any themes, direction or stakes to make us care about Logan's journey. While artist Andrea Sorrentino continues to dominate with his visceral layouts, he deserves a better comic to work his magic.

I feel like I've had a real love-hate relationship with Brian Michael Bendis' work, and books like Old Man Logan feel so frustrating to me only because I know Bendis is capable of much better work. This third issue feels almost beat-for-beat the same as the last issue - Old Man Logan is confused as he stumbles into yet another borough of Battleworld, gets the tar kicked out of him, and winds up landing in another realm before the final page cliffhanger. It's zero-calorie storytelling, to the point where you can barely remember where Logan is going, let alone what he wants or what his motivations are. As a result, the conflict in this story feels completely meaningless, because Bendis is focused too much on the ever-shifting scenary rather than any of the characters inhabiting them.

To make matters worse, you could argue that this road trip through the Marvel multiverse could make for an interesting spiritual successor to Millar and McNiven's seminal work - if Logan's future looked this bad in the future, how do you think the rest of these parallel worlds might fare? But this comic never elevates itself beyond the level of cheap cameos - if you're going to bring in the Age of Apocalypse characters, for example, it's a disservice to both readers and the comic itself if they're only going to appear for three panels. If you're jumping to James Robinson's Technopolis from Armor Wars, give us a good reason why this realm as opposed to any others - because as it stands in this comic, it's completely arbitrary and interchangeable. I read a book like this, which almost immediately gives up its core conceit - a post-apocalyptic western Wolverine - and then completely belittles all other possibilities, as well. You have the entire Marvel multiverse at your fingertips, and this is all you can come up with?

And that's a huge tragedy here, not the least because it's a waste of artist Andrea Sorrentino's talents. At least you can tell Sorrentino is stretching himself here, with some particularly evocative layouts like the double-page "X" spread featuring Baron Apocalypse, or a brutal looking battle between Logan and an alien Thor. Occasionally, Sorrentino's compositions do suffer a bit - there are plenty of panels that feel crunched together, as he struggles to accommodate a cast and setting as expansive as the ones Bendis is writing. Colorist Marcelo Maiolo gives much of the visceral energy to this book's pages, especially with some potent uses of orange and red, although occasionally some of the backgrounds feel a little bit monotonous thanks to the ever-present use of glare and fog effects.

Comics like Old Man Logan #3 make me really upset, not because of any particular axes to grind - because as I've said, this team has done some amazing stuff - but out of a desire to see better comics. Comics shouldn't have to be disposable or pandering to the lowest common denominator. We should be ahead of the curve in terms of production values and storytelling technique. But instead, this is a comic that doesn't just fail to live up to the original, but it feels like it's not even trying to. Unfortunately, the saying is true - people vote with their wallets, and make no mistake, Old Man Logan will sell, regardless of quality or content, just based on the names of the creators and characters involved. Maybe that's the future we should be fearing - it's not just about the deaths of the superheroes. It's that we're the ones who are helping doing them in.

Credit: DC Comics

Cyborg #1
Written by David Walker
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

As one of DC Comics' leading characters of color, Victor Stone has gotten quite the promotion since the launch of the New 52. No longer a Teen Titan, Vic has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the heavyweights of the Justice League, and now headlines his own long-overdue solo series. And you can't say that DC isn't committed - not when they're putting A-list artist Ivan Reis on this project. Writer David Walker has some big plans for Vic, and while there's still a few bugs in final product, you can't deny that this is the beginning of a much-needed upgrade for this classic character.

If there's one thing that I'd argue holds Cyborg back, is that Walker hasn't quite nailed the pacing between his all-too-human hero and the extraterrestrial threat he will soon have to face. This first issue is largely just exposition, as Walker lays out Victor's characterization - and to be fair, this is a highlight of the book, even if Cyborg isn't out punching or blasting anyone yet. Despite being able to bench-press a car or to project his consciousness via the World Wide Web, Victor Stone is a guy who just wants to be accepted by his father. He doesn't want to be seen as a freak or a hero or a science project - and indeed, Walker portrays Vic with a surprising down-to-earth quality, given the circumstances - he just wants to be seen as a person.

With that goal in mind, Walker takes some important steps towards really drawing out the man behind the machine. Vic's relationship with Sarah Chalke is a real highlight, and it shows the gentle soul underneath all that circuitry - when she gets angry on his behalf, there's a wonderful moment where Vic just smiles and tells her it's okay. It's a subtle but powerful moment, one that can't help but make Cyborg feel like an endearing character, despite the exposition and aliens lurking around the corner. Combine that with some new wrinkles in Vic's operating systems and a new friend to confide in, and you've got the potential for some magic.

Unfortunately, like many television pilots, Walker falls into the trap of trying to cram in too much into this comic, resulting in some occasionally awkward sequences. For example, when Vic explains to his father how he died and then essentially "rebooted," the momentum of the script stops dead, as it's just recitation from the previews DC sent out weeks ago. In addition, the aliens in this comic feel completely disjointed from the main story that Walker is writing - not only do the Technosapiens and Tekbreakers feel pretty generic, but these pages eat up nearly a third of the script with no payoff.

But even that can't stop Ivan Reis, who adds such a cachet to this book. His characters look strong but never over-the-top, and his expressiveness lends a real likability to everyone involved. Unfortunately, this issue doesn't quite give him a lot to do in terms of visual storytelling - aside from the alien action sequences and a beautiful double-page spread featuring Vic's history, it's largely Reis trying to add some dynamic images to some lengthy exposition. Colorist Adriano Lucas might be to blame for the holographic flashbacks, as Reis's lines come off so washed out that it's easy to gloss over them. Still, on the whole, Reis has such a clean, classic style that it immediately gives some heft to what could have been a struggling comic.

While it's not without its glitches, Cyborg #1 is a step in the right direction - I'd rather Walker focus on establishing Vic as a character, with friends and family and a perspective, rather than just drop him into combat with the next villain of the week. It's unclear whether or not Cyborg will necessarily tap into all that deep potential, but for now, this first issue could mark the beginning of something special.

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