Best Shots Reviews: AGENT CARTER #1, ROBIN SON OF BATMAN #4, COGNETIC #1 (Advance), More

"Captain America: White #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Agent Carter: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1
Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by Rich Ellis and Rachel Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis climb aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mighty vessel for Agent Carter: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1, a high-spirited one-shot starring two unlikely partners set in the swingin' sixties. Although Immonen's retro-styled script tells an enjoyable tale, penciller Ellis' artwork and Rachel Rosenberg's coloring are both a little harsh on the eye.

In 1966, Agent Peggy Carter is tasked with putting a potential new recruit through the wringer in order to assess her suitability at S.H.I.E.L.D., only to find that this particular recruit is of Asgardian heritage. Rich Ellis' Sif cuts a strong, Jack Kirby-esque figure across Immonen's comedic script. Immonen clearly had fun here, diving head-long into her best Silver Age imitation with an evocative first panel block of description and exposition. Although Immonen strikes a lighter tone for most of the issue, comedy gives way to espionage's darker inclinations by the issue's finale. The Marvel universe has a somewhat uneasy history with S.H.I.E.L.D., and its less than ethical practices are brought to light here through deceit and trickery.

There's a refreshing lack of violence in Immonen's script, instead relying on Indiana Jones-esque environmental hazards to provide the threat. Immonen's script hinges on Carter and Sif's sudden call to arms, and their initial interaction and willingness to work together carries this otherwise inconsequential one-shot through to the bitter end. Immonen has a firm grasp on Asgardian patter, making the most of the classic “fish out of water” trope that Marvel has wrung so much laughter out of already. Despite her solid grip on character, Immonen is not a fan of brevity. Entire panels are overwhelmed by thick blocks of dialogue that tend to disrupt the issue's otherwise steady pace. Despite that, there's nothing like a good ol' fashioned Marvel Team-Up, and the union of Sif and Carter proves that there's still a few fitting duos to be matched up yet

Penciller Rich Ellis has produced page after page of solid work here, but without ever reaching towards greatness. Action is not always conveyed clearly, with a sequence of Sif accidentally striking down Dum Dum Dugan being especially difficult to parse on the first read. Contrastingly, Ellis' sound effects are sublime, integrated into the panel itself instead of overlain after the fact. Sure, he's robbed letterer Joe Sabino of a job, but Ellis' knack for incorporating Immonen's onomatopoeia in his artwork is delightfully old-school in execution, providing both aesthetic and narrative assistance.

Colorist Rachel Rosenberg isn't afraid of a primary palette, daubing Ellis' illustrations in bold red and aqua blue. She unintentionally echoes the dodgy paint jobs of the 80's, as new and exciting color possibilities suddenly became viable in print. Rosenberg's impossibly pink skin tones and bright and bold surroundings are more than enough to make your eyes truly sore.

Agent Carter : S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1 is a solid addition to Marvel's celebration of a half-decade of espionage and intrigue for the spies in blue and white. Kathryn Immonen's script is refreshingly free of violence, somewhat let down by Rich Ellis' artwork. Ellis' occasionally confusing action and Rachel Rosenberg's questionable color palette leaves Agent Carter: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1 often unappealing to the eye, but there's a warmth that shines through to make it worth a read.

Credit: DC Comics

Robin, Son of Batman #4
Written by Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In certain ways, Damian Wayne and Patrick Gleason are a match made in heaven. They're both brash, talented and full of attitude, and it's these qualities that best define Robin, Son of Batman #4, as the Boy Wonder takes on the assassin-for-hire known as Deathstroke the Terminator. Much like Damian himself, you might be concerned that Gleason could be out of his element, expanding his purview as both a writer and artist, but like his protagonist, Gleason rises to the occasion with style.

Typically, these sorts of guest stars are the most artificial types of inflation for fledgling comic books, back to the halcyon days of the '90s when Spider-Man and Wolverine were guest-starring in what seemed to be half the Marvel Comics on the stands. But somehow, in Gleason's hands, the appearance of Deathstroke the Terminator actually feels like an organic fit for this book, as DC's most cocky teen hero actually goes head-to-head with someone who could actually give him a run for his money.

In Gleason's hands, Deathstroke and Damian are cut from the same cloth, dealing with opponents quickly and decisively, but never without some requisite amount of savagery. Whether its Deathstroke tossing a paint grenade into Nobody's shocked hands, or Damian twisting in the air to lock his opponent into a devastating suplex, it's hugely dynamic work. Gleason very clearly is enthusiastic about this extended fight sequence, and small details like Damian blocking a knife with a rotting corpse's skull or the seamless panel-to-panel transitions make this book one of the best on DC's roster.

That said, while Gleason and company get by on sheer stylishness, there are still a few moments where you remember that Gleason is a journeyman writer. He's got the action sequences down pat, but occasionally Deathstroke's dialogue is a little overdone, with Hulk Hogan-esque lines like "the pain train is pulling into the station, and I'm going to punch all of your tickets." Additionally, Damian's solution to his Deathstroke problem feels a little too easy, making the conflict between the two feel temporary rather than additive to either of the characters' histories.

While the storytelling of this book might not be revolutionary, Patrick Gleason doesn't seem to mind - he's having the time of his life, right where he is, and that enthusiasm makes Robin, Son of Batman such a unique book. There might be random weirdness like a giant red monster bat or Damian's oddball training at the hands of the League of Assassins - but thanks to Gleason's beautiful artwork, these details feel like extra color rather than distracting eccentricities. Gleason is a creator who not only is talented, but knows it - and revels in it. It's a sense of confidence that he continues to earn with each issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America: White #1
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale and Dave Stewart
Letters by Richard Starkings
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Captain America: White #1 is less a story about Cap and more a story about his legendary partnership with Bucky. Sharing the same familial dynamic of their now-classic Batman: Dark Victory, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, along with colorist Dave Stewart, transport readers back the height of World War II when Cap and Bucky were taking the fight to the Axis powers as a star-spangled duo. Framed by his awakening in the modern world, Captain America: White #1 is an emotional throwback to the vibrant Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics of old, coupled with a deep understanding of Steve Rogers not only as a soldier, but as a man. Captain America: White #1 may have been a long time coming, but it is well worth the wait.

Right from the jump, Captain America: White #1 proves itself to be a beautiful comic book. Opening with two evocative splash pages from Tim Sale and colorist Dave Stewart, Captain America: White #1 starts off gorgeous and doesn’t stop until the very last page. Harkening back to the lantern-jawed Kirby design, Sale’s Cap looks powerful and all-American, but never over-drawn. We open on a image of Cap laying out on a hospital, eerily reminiscent of one of the most powerful images from The Death of Captain America. Before long, however, Cap is up and running, as he attempts to rescue his young ward, still thinking that it's 1945. This second splash page is the first example we see of Sale’s firm handle on Steve Rogers’ super athleticism as he leaps from the table, flanked by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in their classic costumes.

Sale packs a ton of energy into this single splash page, aided by Dave Stewart’s rich colors. Later on in this debut, Sale and Stewart deploy yet another gorgeous splash of Cap and Bucky in the thick of it during a rescue mission. White #1 is dedicated to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and this wartime splash page would have done them proud. Cap is leaping from his motorcycle in a typical Kirby pose, smashing a Nazi soldier in the face with his iconic shield while Bucky quips and kicks his way through enemy lines. Captain America: White #1 is beautiful throughout, but these splash pages show that this art team is dedicated to delivering yet another special feeling book in their Color canon.

While the art team leans heavily on the classic look and feel of Captain America comic books, Jeph Loeb’s script is a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on Steve Rogers. Loeb, taking a break from his extensive Marvel TV work goes back to basics with White #1, casting Steve as his on narrator as he ruminates on his partnership with Bucky and the morality of sending a child into battle. But it isn’t all meditations on wartime morality, Loeb also finds ample opportunity for humor, casting a young Nick Fury as Steve’s gruff foil as well as giving us an awkwardly aloof Steve Rogers. Loeb’s take on Steve is recognizable to fans who may have only been exposed to Cap in the MCU, but also takes the time to show Steve as the man outside of the costume. Captain America: White #1 strikes a nice balance of Steve Rogers as an icon and as a human being, and that proves to be one of its strongest selling points.

Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Dave Stewart tapped into something special with their Color series, and Captain America: White #1 starts their latest entry off on a great note. Though the issue’s cliffhanger rings false since we all know the fate of Bucky Barnes, it doesn’t make this debut any less thrilling or emotionally engaging. Few writers have struck that balance between hero and man with Captain America, but Captain America: White makes it look easy, jettisoning the tired “man out of time” troupe and simply writing Steve as a man above all. Captain America: White #1 may be a throwback to vintage Marvel Comics, but it shows that throwbacks can still be relevant in today’s comic landscape, thanks to some fantastic artwork and a character-first approach to storytelling.

Credit: Image Comics

The Fade Out #9
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Published by Image Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips take their story of a Hollywood murder into its third act in The Fade Out #9. Even as the plot around the murder of starlet Val Sommers takes hold of the series, this issue never loses sight of the fact that characters are often what make a story worth reading. Flashbacks and present day interactions collide for some entertaining results as Charlie finds himself with an ally.

The issue begins as Charlie breaks into his ex-wife’s house to retrieve a gun from his old Army gear. Charlie’s past has been mentioned in passing before, and writer Ed Brubaker pays off those hints with the development here. The Fade Out #9 makes use of several flashbacks to tell its story, beginning here, as Charlie remembers the time Rebecca, his ex-wife, visited him while he was in the hospital. Colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser does a great job taking on this scene. Charlie is washed out, almost appearing like a ghost, while Rebecca appears in a comparatively vibrant top and her skin appears more natural. This contrast serves not only to emphasize Charlie’s mental state after combat, but it also demonstrates the split between the two characters. The fact that Rebecca is brightly colored compared to everyone else around her also draws the reader in on her, allowing the audience to empathize with her for the little time she appears in the issue.

The real focus on the issue, however, is the relationship between Charlie and his writing partner Gil. Previous chapters suggested that Gil knew more about Val’s murder than he was letting Charlie in on, and those developments play out here as Gil stumbles in on Charlie in their office. Their relationship throughout the series has always been a little on edge, but the reasons for it come out as Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips explore their relationship.

Phillips has always displayed a brilliant ability to capture the wide range of emotions displayed by his characters, and that skill is used extensively in The Fade Out #9. The story calls for a series of progressive flashbacks highlighting several key moments in the friendship between Charlie and Gil. While some artists may have been content capturing the larger emotional beats of that narrative, Phillips makes sure the undercurrent of tension doesn’t get lost. When Gil congratulates Charlie for his Oscar nomination, it’s with an exuberant smile, so large that it took some effort to get over a nagging feeling of jealousy. And when it is revealed why their relationship is so tense, one can see the trepidation and confusion in the faces of both men. It’s this character work that makes the story so engaging.

With The Fade Out #9 signaling the beginning of the third act of the story, this isn’t meant to be a chapter that is friendly to new readers, a fact which Brubaker addresses in his column at the back of the issue. And frankly, a new reader should start at the beginning of this series. However, if one were to pick this issue up, not knowing anything, the issue’s focus on character and the high quality of the work means there’s still some enjoyment to be had.

By focusing on the relationship between Charlie and Gil, The Fade Out #9 is able to propel the plot forward without miring itself in exposition. These two characters have been through a lot, and Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser give their history the weight it deserves. The characters are what makes this series emotionally satisfying, and it certainly appears it will stay that way as The Fade Out makes its way toward its conclusion.

Credit: Image Comics

The Beauty #2
Written by Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley
Art by Jeremy Haun and John Rauch
Lettering by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The The Beauty #2 was four years in the making. The 2011 Top Cow Pilot Season winner was repackaged for ongoing release last month, and with this issue Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley finally make good on the cliffhanger that no doubt contributed to their victory. A world where sexually transmitted diseases make people beautiful, and are therefore highly sought after rather than shunned, is an intriguing concept by itself. Yet as we finally move forward, the writing team takes this into a new and welcome direction of governmental conspiracy.

The cliffhanger, that Detective Foster has contracted the disease without knowledge, is dealt with completely pragmatically, at least at first. His colleagues can’t look at him, as though his newfound objective perfection is revolting. What it does manage to do is raise the stakes for both of the lead detectives. For he and his partner Vaughn are beginning to investigate the mysterious deaths of people with The Beauty, as spontaneous combustion happens around the world without warning. More disturbing is that is seems to be part of a massive institutional cover-up, requiring the detectives to step up to the big leagues.

The shift from the ‘outbreak’ genre to the conspiracy one gives The Beauty an unexpected lease on life. The ground shifts out from under the “comfortingly familiar” feel that we described in the first issue, leaving us on less certain but nevertheless conventional territory. Foster wants to scream to the world about the cover-up, but forces quickly move in to ensure that he doesn’t. It’s just like The X-Files in some ways, but only if Scully and Mulder both wanted to believe from the first episode.

Haun and Rauch continue their minimalist and cold view of “perfection,” often leaving the leads against plain or simply dressed backgrounds. This is particularly effective in the opening scenes, where the repetition of the framing of two news anchors has an explosive conclusion. Similarly, the sudden splash of color across said scenes is all the more impactful because of it.

Some of the more interesting aspects of this issue are only played upon briefly, such as the violent reaction Foster had to his ‘change.’ It all happens off-panel, and as pragmatic as the opening pages might have been, we see the physical effects of his reaction and that alone opens up a world of character notes that Haun and Hurley have only just started to play with, particularly Foster’s relationship with his wife. The issue ends with an action cliffhanger this time, but one of the exciting things about this series is going to be the discovery of who these characters are. The conspiracy might be a grand one, but these leads are a mystery worth pursuing all by themselves.

Advance Review!

Cognetic #1
Cognetic #1
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Cognetic #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eryk Donovan
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating:8 out of 10

The concept of a hivemind gone wrong, the heart of next month’s Cognetic #1 from BOOM!, isn’t new to James Tynion IV. Memetic, Cognetic’s spirtual predecessor, saw all of humanity driven to madness by a single image as it spreads like wildfire through the internet. Both are compelling sci-fi tales, but if Memetic is a horrifying twist on Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, representing the hivemind as humanity’s inevitable ascension to something ‘greater,’ then Cognetic #1 gives it a compelling spy thriller twist, with order vs. chaos played out across history and thousands of minds simultaneously.

Cognetic #1 introduces the stories of a superorganism capable of linking all sentient life into a vast hivemind, and Annie, a harried F.B.I. administrative assistant who may be the only one to truly grasp what’s unfolding over the course of Cognetic’s first issue. In this first of three installments, we follow the journey of the book’s unnamed antagonist as he leaps from the mind of a dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico to the minds of every human in the Empire State Building. Along the way, his motivations are revealed in dense dialogue that feels familiar to genre readers - humanity

Annie’s tale unfolds for us in an interesting contrast: as the hivemind describes in detail the need for smaller beings to have a more powerful guiding force pushing it to collective glory, a text exchange between Annie and her wife reveals that Annie has spent her professional life gently guiding her boss and coworkers to success behind the scenes, without overt influence. This appears to be the conflict at the heart of Tynion’s latest apocalyptic outing: can humanity achieve more on its own, or would we be at our most glorious when subsumed into the will of a higher power?

Tynion is an impeccable storyteller, with an incredible sense of rhythm and pacing that’s on display for every page of Cognetic #1. Some of the expository dialogue is dense and will likely feel familiar to avid consumers of sci-fi -- there are perhaps only so many ways to describe humanity as primed and ready for takeover by an intimidating foe -- but regardless, Tynion’s narrative skill and the cinematic style Eryk Donovan brings to the artwork will keep you reading Cognetic #1 through the final page.

Tynion has described Cognetic as a “psychic Die Hard,” and it shows through in the first issue. He’s made Annie into a relatable hero, from the warmth and affection she shows for her wife and daughter to the skill and patience with which she does a job for which she is clearly too talented. Annie is not the kind of protagonist we often see in action thrillers, but Tynion does an excellent job of making Annie’s relationship with her family central to her motivations without making her orientation the focal point of who she is as a character. Like John McClane, Annie is an everyperson with a tough job that keeps her away from a wife and child she clearly loves and becomes more desperate to keep safe as the story unfolds. Donovan’s artwork looks as if it could be a very detailed storyboard for a movie that’s ready to film today; the drama of his close-ups and wider shots like the hivemind victims parting for Annie would translate well to the screen. A scene where the hivemind sends a man to his death from the top of the Empire State Building is particularly haunting, from the vertigo-inducing angle of his fall to the eerie smile on his face as the hivemind uses him to make contact with Annie for the first time in the story.

Fans of Memetic will undoubtedly find Cognetic #1 a compelling follow up installment in Tynion’s exploration of the apocalypse, but Cognetic is an excellent read for any fans of the sci-fi genre at large. There’s no prior knowledge of Tynion’s previous work necessary. Cognetic stands alone, giving familiar sci-fi and horror themes a fresh Mission Impossible twist with a fascinating arc and eerie illustrations.

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