Best Shots Reviews: GRAYSON #13, NEW AVENGERS #2, ALL-STAR SECTION 8 #5

DC Comics October 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #13
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After a brief layover in Gotham City, Grayson #13 gets back to basics. Well, as basic as a twisty-turny spy drama can be. As Dick and the Tiger mix it up in the field against Tiger Shark, Dick uses his web of allies to find out more about Agent Zero, who may be more closely entwined in the one-time Nightwing’s life as a hero than anyone could have thought. Writer Tim Seeley, aided by some slick pencils, inks, and colors from Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus and Jeromy Cox, tightens the plot of Grayson, adding some much-needed tension to Dick’s intelligence-gathering as well as making good use of Wildstorm characters like the always welcome Midnighter and the hilarious Ladytron. While Grayson found some pathos returning to the city that bore him, the thirteenth issue shows that it can still shine standing on its own feet as a solo title.

After a hilarious and beefcake filled cold open that recaps the previous issues succinctly, Grayson #13 whisks the audience away to the coast of Senegal where Agents 37 and 1 are mixing it up with Tiger Shark and his strange gang to protect a tanker full of precious artifacts. Writer Tim Seeley gets the fireworks out of the way early, frontloading Grayson #13 with an acrobatic fight scene gorgeously rendered by Janin, Petrus and Cox, which makes full use of the artist’s strobe-inspired take on Grayson’s movements. Janin takes the set piece a step further with Janin setting the bulk of the fight in a two-page splash with a long, wide-screen panel detailing Dick’s leaping and shifting into a smaller panel grid along the bottom of the page. Cox also adds flair to the proceedings with bright backgrounds that emphasize the hard hits and high leaps of Grayson and the Tiger as they dismantle Tiger Shark and his goons and look damn handsome doing it. The Grayson art team may have a bag of recognizable tricks, but each issues they use them all to great effect and #13 is just the latest example

After the punching is done, Seeley switches into full on exposition mode. While that is usually the kiss of death of death for a book’s momentum, Grayson #13 wields its narrative table setting like a weapon and makes it feel both interesting and important. Seeley instantly puts Dick on the intel gathering offensive mere moments after the battle with Tiger Shark is done, bringing in a codenamed Tim Drake to gather information on the enigmatic Agent Zero. After learning that she has been watching him throughout his entire career and nailing down a location that can give him some hard evident into Spyral’s misdeeds Dick enlists his flirty foil Midnighter in order to find an excuse to travel to Berlin to further dig up dirt. Grayson #13‘s main DNA may lie in superhero comics, but Seeley more than takes advantage of its spy novel inspiration, playing into Dick’s double-dealings and back-channeling as he enlists contacts and attempts to keep up appearances with his Spyral cohorts.

Tim Seeley has also done a terrific job with the cameo appearances in this month’s Grayson. We all know and love Midnighter at this point so you don’t need me to tell you that he’s great, but it is Ladytron, another Wildstorm free agent turned DC supporting player, that plays the scene stealer in Grayson #13. Per Dick’s plan, he enlists Midnighter and his God Garden charge to run a mission in Berlin in order to justify his being in Berlin and ducking out in order to gather more intel. Spyral, it seems, is one step ahead once again, but that is a problem for next month. This month is all about Ladytron and her wry quips and '80s synth knowledge that is substituting for geographic knowhow. We may only spend a few panels with Ladytron this month, but just those few panels are more than enough to make an impression and leave audiences wanting more, just like the Midnighter’s first jaunt in Dick’s orbit. Grayson may have started as the Dick Grayson Adventure Hour, but #13 shows that Tim Seeley has no problem making full use of a rich and diverse supporting cast in order to make Grayson feel like much more than a mere solo title.

While the headline last month was Dick Grayson’s return to Gotham, Grayson #13 shows that it doesn’t have to rely on gimmicks and crossovers to stand as a compelling monthly. Tim Seeley, Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus and Jeromy Cox take the title back to basics while enriching their own narrative direction by marrying superhero hijinks with spy drama mechanics. Grayson #13 is one of those rare issues of comics that work as a reader’s first issue and as a loyal audience’s latest installment; a feat that shouldn’t go unnoticed in this day and age of serialized storytelling. While Grayson may look like all abs and death-defying leaps on the outside, on the inside it is quickly becoming DC’s dark horse blockbuster.

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #2
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Gerardo Sandoval and Dono Sanchez Almara
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In its second outing, New Avengers seeks to entertain readers with its thrilling action and charming cast. Writer Al Ewing’s humorous character work works well with artist Gerardo Sandoval’s kinetic imagery and creates a strong piece of visual storytelling. That being said, New Avengers #2 is not without its flaws, with an emphasis on a villain that doesn’t quite help the rest of the book.

One of the detracting factors of the debut was its villain, and Al Ewing’s characterization of the Maker still reads a bit too simplistically. The Maker had become a compelling character in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s The Ultimates but Ewing hasn’t yet given him the depth that he’s had elsewhere. This issue does give him some motivation: the Maker is searching for evidence of a universe that existed prior to the current one. It’s certainly an interesting idea, especially given the potential ramifications of Secret Wars, but the Maker’s motivation for doing so never goes beyond his own curiosity. Of note, while the series debut and most of this chapter were all-ages friendly, the opening scene to New Avengers #2 is a bloody one as the Maker performs a brain transplant. The gore isn’t a knock against the issue, but it’s a marked change in content from the rest of the book.

With the villain still underdeveloped, New Avengers #2 must rely on its heroes and this is where the issue excels. Ewing has a solid grasp on the character’s voices and makes good use of the large roster to create some entertaining combinations. The cast featured groups of characters that were already familiar with one another (e.g., Wiccan and Hulkling, Power Man and White Tiger) but Ewing opts to mix them together into new units, resulting in some exciting moments like White Tiger and Squirrel Girl tearing through a trio of gamma-powered foes. While readers haven’t been privy to the formation of the team, it’s nice to still see the relationships developing.

Gerardo Sandoval’s style really sells the more bombastic moments in the story. There’s a great sense of movement and energy in Sandoval’s linework. A pair of panels featuring White Tiger and Squirrel Girl charging towards their foes possesses the momentum of a cartoon and really provides a sense of power leading into the following panel depicting their team-up. Sandoval’s layouts are both dynamic and efficient, keeping the issue moving from panel to panel while conveying enough information for the reader to follow the story. In an issue that serves as the conclusion to a two-issue story, that’s an invaluable resource.

Even in the quieter moments, Sandoval adds layers to Ewing’s narrative. Sunspot, though not active in the field, is the leader of this team, and Sandoval gives him an assured posture that speaks to his confidence as he demonstrates his team’s ability in front of Dum Dum Dugan and Hawkeye. But his brow and the way his hair falls across his face become increasingly shadowed, suggesting that not everything is right.

Dono Sanchez Almara’s colors fit Sandoval’s linework nicely, and the synergy between the two gives the book a cohesive tone. In the darker moments of the issue, Sanchez Almara’s art uses grays and blues rather than heavier blacks, which maintains a sense of consistency with the brighter palette used in the issue’s action sequences. The reds and oranges used for the background motion-lines evoke a fiery burst contributing to the sense of power in those panels. The union between Sandoval’s lines and Sanchez Almara’s colors really benefits New Avengers #2.

Ultimately, New Avengers #2 continues the successes of the series debut. Swift pacing and character-based action keep the issue flowing smoothly. The trio of Al Ewing, Gerardo Sandoval, and Dono Sanchez Almara have created an entertaining title that brings together a varied cast of characters. However, the series will need to address the motivations of its characters, especially its villains, in order to succeed.

Credit: DC Comics

All-Star Section Eight #5
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea and John Kalisz
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It’s hardly a controversial view to suggest that Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s All-Star Section Eight is one messed up book. The original Hitman series that this follows was no stranger to weird, but this mini-series has somehow taken that up (or down) a notch or two with the introduction of such bizarre creatures as Baytor, the Demon Lord of Criminal Insanity, and the giant mass of organs named Guts, who last month married the unseemly Bueno Excellente in a ceremony attended by Wonder Woman. On second thought, messed up doesn’t quite cover it all.

To date the book has been sporadically hilarious, although has relied a little too heavily on the formula of the perpetually drunk Sixpack desperately trying to recruit an eighth member to the group. This month, a street-wise Phantom Stranger takes him on a journey through limbo and reveals the fate of his fallen colleagues. It’s a welcome change of pace, making All-Star Section Eight much more of a narrative than a series of things that happen to the group. Insanity for insanity’s sake is one thing, but it threatens to become tedious after several issues. Here the book turns around and becomes something of a mystery, or at least as much of a puzzle as it wants to be for the moment.

The first half of this issue is a tough slog, primarily due to a plethora of ‘censored’ profanity that comes, funnily enough, most prominently from the Phantom Stranger. It’s not that the swearing (or lack thereof) is offensive in any way, but on a more basic level the sheer amount of censor-stars actually interrupts the flow of the read. It picks up pace in the second half of the book, when it becomes ultra self-referential, flipping a mirror back on its own ridiculousness and reminding us that it doesn’t care one iota. Grant Morrison hasn’t cornered the market on meta-textual references until he makes a request for a trade paperback of his own work in the pages of a new comic, especially when that request comes in the form of a rhyme-off between Phantom Stranger and Etrigan that name-drops Scott Nybakken, the Senior Editor of Collected Editions at DC Entertainment.

McCrea revels in the minutiae of grime, opening on the ubiquitous fluids that emanate from Sixpack’s nose. Amidst all the usual chaos of the series, some of the more interesting pieces in this issue work when he strips back the art to a minimalist mode, envisaging Limbo as nothing more than a pure white background. It gives us more of a focus on character, so that when Ennis switches gears into A Christmas Carol mode to show Sixpack in what appears to be his own naked body blackout drunk in the snow, there’s a momentary tragic beauty amidst the filth. It’s not long after that some truths about Dogwelder II are revealed, and it never seemed possible to elicit that much emotion from an expressionless mask before.

This penultimate issue brings us to an unexpected, yet welcome place in the world of Section 8. It’s hardly a case of ‘too little, too late,’ as Ennis has been delivering quality chuckles from the beginning. Yet what we see here is a book that is itself caught in a kind of limbo, wanting to be one kind of gross-out comedy that is equal parts pathos. The mix is almost there, and given the inevitable guest-star for the final issue (teased on the last page of this book), it might just be up, up and away before we say goodbye to these wholly unique characters.

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