Best Shots Reviews: OLD MAN LOGAN #1, JLA #7, CRY HAVOC #1, SUPERMAN #48, More

"Superman #48" cover
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Logan #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

You can't keep a good Wolverine down - especially not Old Man Logan.

Originally envisioned as a post-apocalyptic road trip saga by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, the character proved to be too lucrative to remain in the far-flung future, recently resurfacing in Brian Michael Bendis' Secret Wars miniseries before joining the newly launched Extraordinary X-Men in the mainstream Marvel Universe. But why has Wolverine come back to the past? Jeff Lemire picks up the reins with Old Man Logan #1, a book that effectively introduces the once and future X-Man to new readers, while also coming up with a new over-arching mission to define him.

Lemire has a lot of balls to juggle with this first issue, as he has to snap up not just new readers, but people who read the Secret Wars tie-in series as well as the original storyline from Wolverine. As a result, the introduction to this issue may feel a little repetitive for those already in the know, as we watch Old Man Logan stumble around through Times Square, having fallen through the multiverse during the end of Bendis' miniseries. While Lemire burns through precious pages having Wolverine struggle to acclimatize to his new surroundings and remember his bleak post-apocalyptic world, where the villains united to kill Marvel's best and brightest, with Mysterio using Wolverine himself to kill the X-Men. But it's only after Lemire gets through the necessary evils of exposition that he starts really cooking with gas.

All the way back to his work on Sweet Tooth and even with his current work on Descender, Lemire's best work has been with young protagonists, and showing flashbacks with Old Man Logan and his children makes the character far more endearing and relatable than simply throwing him into a fight with claws bared. It's during these flashbacks that Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino really excel with their worldbuilding, particularly during a scene where Wolverine and his son travel to a trader's market housed in the shell of a downed S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. But ultimately, it's Lemire fleshing out Logan's retirement - especially how the love for his children enabled him to swallow inhuman amounts of punishment and humiliation - that makes his new mission all the more understandable.

While Steve McNiven helped create Old Man Logan, it's Andrea Sorrentino who has really come to define the character's world. Photorealistic and gritty, Sorrentino does an excellent job at setting up how dangerous and unsettling New York City is - and how bleak and barren the future is ahead. He also does superb work with his page layouts, easily fitting in six-panel action sequences without skipping a beat. That said, Lemire gives Sorrentino plenty of room to stretch his muscles with two-page action sequences - even though there's a weirdly-placed homage to Frank Miller that can take readers out of the story, it's still hard to deny how great these pages look. Colorist Marcelo Maiolo also does yeoman's work in setting up the sickly atmosphere of the future, and with his trademark bursts of red and white, his coloring winds up drawing the eye as a storytelling device just as much as a tonal one.

After a bit of a shaky start, Lemire and Sorrentino have established the foundation of a solid reintroduction to Old Man Logan, giving him a quest that fits in nicely with the mainstream Marvel Universe. While it's unclear how sustainable this quest is, Lemire is playing it smart by not ignoring Wolverine's past, but embracing it - and given how the character was once defined by his amnesia, having him defined by his horrific memories is already a smart twist. Combined with Sorrentino's visceral, show-stopping style, and Old Man Logan is proof that the Ol' Canucklehead only gets better with age.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #7
Written by Bryan Hitch
Art by Bryan Hitchen, Daniel Henriques, Andrew Currie and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Bryan Hitch has thrown an impressive amount of challenges at the Justice League of America, and now he begins to reunite his divided team just before his plot crescendoes. As a result, there's a lot of setup in this dialogue-heavy installment, but Hitch continues to impress not just with his iconic artwork, but with the intelligence he brings to his narrative, as well.

Hitch, whose work has been synonymous with Warren Ellis' The Authority and Mark Millar's The Ultimates, has clearly picked up plenty of storytelling chops by working with these two modern masters, and that level of craft and thoughtfulness really shows in his work on Justice League of America. At this point of most comic book arcs, the momentum drops dramatically, as writers shove in as much exposition and setup as they need before they set off the big action fireworks to conclude their story. Preparing for the eventual trade, this is supposed to be the filler meant to bulk up the book and tie up any loose ends - but Hitch still manages to make this issue seem important.

Just consider where his A-list characters are at this issue: Batman and Cyborg plan a secret mission as they learn about how the Kryptonian god Rao has lived for millennia, while Wonder Woman and Aquaman gear up at an armory fit for the Goddess of War, and Superman engages in a battle of wits while held prisoner in Rao's fortress. There's a lot going on, and even though on paper this is just Hitch shuffling his characters so they're on the same page before they tag-team Rao, he manages to mask that by really digging in deep with each Leaguer's characterization. While there are a couple of runts of the litter - sorry, Green Lantern and Flash - Hitch nails the voices of characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, making them respectively insightful, enigmatic and wonderfully direct.

It also doesn't hurt that even though there's tons of dialogue explaining Rao's plan, Hitch makes every page look larger-than-life. Watching Superman imprisoned in Rao's Kryptonian vault is probably the coolest visual in a DC book this month, although Wonder Woman's godly arsenal might make for a close second. Hitch, having basically revolutionized "realistic" superhero costumes in The Ultimates, does wonderful work with DC's designs - in particular, I love his take on Cyborg, who not only has screws and plates for his robotic limbs, but actually looks like a young man underneath all that metal. Hitch's work on Superman also makes the character look totally engaging - I love how expressive he looks as he takes one last stab at Rao, even while he's totally enchained. Alex Sinclair's colorwork, meanwhile, varies up each scene nicely, with his contrasts of red and blue backgrounds really keeping the energy levels high.

Ultimately, it might take a read or two before you realize that very little actually takes place in this issue, other than the Leaguers preparing for battle or learning the secrets to Rao's immortality. But the fact that the plot progression is so minimal doesn't detract from Hitch's execution, which is head and shoulders above many of his Big Two cohorts. If this is a "slow" issue of Justice League of America, that can only mean great things are ahead for readers when this arc finally reaches its finale.

Credit: Image Comics

Cry Havoc #1
Written by Si Spurrier
Art by Ryan Kelly
Published by Image Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

I listed Cry Havoc #1 as my most anticipated title of 2016 on Newsarama’s 2015 wrap-up, and today’s premiere issue lived up to its hype. Si Spurrier and Ryan Kelly, backed by a trio of immensely talented colorists, have created a gorgeous world that deftly explores the gruesome nature of some of history’s nastiest mythological beasts with a modern twist.

Cry Havoc #1 is the story of one woman, Louise “Lou” Canton, who finds herself forcibly drafted into a special ops group deployed to Afghanistan after she survives an attack from a werewolf. While the opening quote from Heart of Darkness is a bit on the nose, Cry Havoc #1 doesn’t devote itself to rehashing old ground by centering lycanthropy as a metaphor for the darkness of man. The issue opens with perfectly normal people being nasty in their own right, leaving more room for Cry Havoc to explore the way turned individuals like Lou cope with the very real manifestations of darkness within them, in the face of a world filled with people who can’t lay the blame for their own much worse behavior on a bite.

Spurrier’s strong writing is elevated further by an impressive artistic team. Artist Ryan Kelly’s strong lines and keen eye for expressions make it easy to interpret what would be even subtle changes of inflection if Spurrier’s dialogue was spoken, most notably in a conversation Lou has with one of the military officers assigned to her detail in Afghanistan. Cry Havoc employs three colorists to help build the visual layers to the story even further: Nick Filardi illustrates Lou’s “life before” in London in cool blues and washed out reds while Matt Wilson evokes the gritty uncertainty of Lou’s new life in a sepia-toned Afghanistan. The team is rounded out by the immensely talented Lou Loughridge, whose pages set in what Spurrier refers to as “the Red Place” are some of the most impactful and arresting of the issue.

It’s Cry Havoc #1’s attention to the visual details that turns it into such a truly captivating experience. The blue of Lou’s hair is an easy, eye-catching marker of her “quirkiness”, but carries through to both the depictions of werewolves and of Lou’s talents as a musician and werewolf herself in a way that makes it feel like a marker of people who haven’t quite figured out the best or worst of themselves yet. Kelly’s depiction of the violent incidents in the book are graphic but never detailed or colored in a way to take focus from the story. The book makes it clear the violence exists because Cry Havoc #1 is a book about war, rather than because the comic book exists to be a book about violence.

The solicitation for Cry Havoc #1 promised that it was “not the tale of a lesbian werewolf who goes to war, except it kind of is.” So far Spurrier, Kelly, and the colorist team have delivered. Cry Havoc #1 isn’t necessarily a comic book specifically about war, or mythology, or exploring facets of identity like gender or sexuality. Instead, it manages to be a comic the way all of those things layer together to shape one life, and about the way the shape of that life ripples out to change the lives around it. Emotionally charged without being too emotionally draining, Cry Havoc #1 is an excellent read with story threads to appeal to any reader, no matter your genre of choice.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #48
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Howard Porter, Don Ho, Jerome K. Moore and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

I remember being really excited that Gene Luen Yang was going to write Superman. Finally, a creator that wasn’t entrenched in the Big Two that could bring a fresh perspective a character who sorely needs one. Unfortunately, Yang’s tenure has been uneven at best. Editorial mandates have still wormed their way into the book because of big events and other tie-ins. There’s a sense that this isn’t the purest form of Yang’s vision and that’s unfortunate. An all-star artistic collaboration with John Romita Jr. was seemingly wasted and the book has given way to Howard Porter, a talented artist in his own right but not one who does a great job selling the small stakes drama that Yang is dealing in. Superman is supposed to be a flagship title, but DC can’t get seem to get a handle on him for long enough to pump out anything nearing the consistency of vision that marks their Bat-titles.

I don’t think a lot of this is Yang’s fault. I think that having some guidelines and restrictions can actually enable artists to create better work because it talks them off the “you can do anything” ledge. But in giving Yang restrictions, DC has basically said, “We want you to write Superman except nothing about him will be recognizable as Superman.” That’s a pretty raw deal as far as I’m concerned, and one that I can’t imagine Yang is happy with. So what he has tried to do is show why Superman feels so strongly about humanity and why he is this sort of eternal beacon of Good. But there are so many Superman stories coming out right now without a definitive take (like the way that Scott Snyder's Batman sets the tone and direction for all the other Bat-books) that other writers have been able to cherry pick the best bits and turn in one or two issues at a time that really speak to the Superman mythos. Without the pressure of expectation, they’ve been set free. Meanwhile, the best that Yang is left with is taking Clark to Kryptonite chemo and talking about his feelings with Steve Trevor. There are a lot of things that make a good Superman book. Those two probably rank pretty low on my list.

And we haven’t even mentioned the Puzzler yet. DC seems invested in the idea that the "New 52" is so fresh and original that almost none of their iconic heroes should be matched up against their iconic, villainous counterparts (except Batman, because the Joker is arguably a more recognizable brand than Wonder Woman at this point). While this has led to some good creations (namely, the Court of Owls), it usually means that creators are left scraping the bottom of the barrel. Yang and Porter bring us the Puzzler, a man with the same power as the GoBot of the same name. While this is a case of creators trying to update an old character for today’s world (the original Puzzler was... really good at puzzles), it’s just doesn’t work, even with Porter’s robotic new design. You can’t manufacture stakes when the villain might as well be a cardboard cutout.

Howard Porter isn’t on top of his game for different reasons. As outsiders, we don’t always know why a book might have multiple inkers, but it’s usually not a good sign. (Don’t believe me? Check out how many inkers are on those Jim Lee Justice League issues and then tell me the art with consistently good.) Porter, Don Ho and Jerome K. Moore don’t form a cohesive unit and that leads to a lot of dissonance in the art. It’s almost page-to-page in some places where emphasis is placed on different parts of the panels (the action, the setting or the characters) in a way that doesn’t fully meshed with the script. When we get to the final splash, which is supposed to be a simultaneous kind of triumph and defeat, Porter chooses to go with the most half-hearted interpretation of the script. He turns a potentially big moment into a throwaway one.

For full issue, this one is a little light. The highlight might be he Clark/Steve Trevor soap opera dramatics, but I think that Diana would be rolling her eyes if she heard Steve’s speech. I want to say that Porter doesn’t give the script the turn that it deserves, but the script isn’t even particularly inspiring so who can blame him. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but it feels like there’s a story that Yang is trying to tell somewhere underneath all the back and forth about Superman’s powers and his identity. On some level, comic books are escapist fantasies, and the thing about Superman was that we could never be like him. He’s super. We’re not. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen these past few months, putting Clark Kent down to our level hasn’t humanize him - it’s just made him boring.

Credit: Juan Gedeon / Tamra Bonvillain (Aftershock)

Strayer #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Juan Gedeon and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by AfterShock Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Part Shadow of the Colossus, part Battle Chasers, Justin Jordan (The Luther Strode Trilogy) and Juan Gedeon (Ghost Riders) bring fans some hard-hitting fantasy action with Strayer. Taking place in a world where magical elements gave way to science and then self-destructed, resorting back to the more traditional fantasy landscape, Strayer is probably the most accessible and fun thing Jordan has ever pulled together in the line of his creator-owned works, but there's still some bumps to be smoothed out in the end.

We start off with the man called Strayer, but it's unclear if it's more or a title than an actual given name. He's a loner, strong, and is the last line of defense when giant Titans come a-knockin' on tiny hamlets. While there's a ton of action here, as Strayer puts the beatdown on a Titan, we're not given much of an idea of who these characters are outside of who they say they are and we're supposed to simply accept a few facts and carry on. It's a shame, really, as the world Jordan and Gedeon have created seems a lot more interesting than the people who inhabit it.

The problem with fantasy comic books is that there isn't much time to really get to know characters, because there's so much exposition needed to build the world at large and that's the problem with Strayer, as well. Gedeon's art is incredibly fun, with a style that mirrors of love child of Mike Mignola and Michael Avon Oeming - it possesses a slick lineweight, but with a jagged composition. The environments Gedeon puts down, while limited in number, breathe on their own. Gedeon, an unabashed fan of old school video games, gives hefty attention in the design of the characters, making them the focus so you don't get lost in the details of everything. Tamra Bonvillain's warm color scheme gives the book a sensible but fantastic look with the way she handles the landscapes and even the Titan that Strayer faces off with. It's a fantastic fight scene for sure, and if anything grips you from this, it's going to be those pages.

Jordan does play to his strengths here, concentrating on less than a handful of a cast of characters. There's the titular Strayer, and then there's Mala, the pint-sized mage who, well... we're not quite sure what she does. She name-drops a lot of few phrases, but as a reader, things get lost in translation. Some expressions don't translate so well and the exact meaning is vague. There's a phrase about the High Times (not to be confused with the publication) and the Time of Dreams. Are they the same thing? Similar? Is it a positive connotation? Those little, minute things add up to make a small list that hinders the book, which should be especially strong given it's a premiere issue.

Strayer isn't weak, per se, but lacks a certain something that makes it the best book it could have been. The presentation and the visuals are there, as well as a well-defined story, but there's one or two key elements that needed to be injected to make you actually care about the characters instead of just following along.

Credit: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic (Valiant Entertainment)

Faith #1
Written by Jody Houser
Art by Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Many years ago at a convention, there was a panel where nerds do what they do best: passionately debate about which Robin is the best Robin. And while there is no need to delve into how the panel turned out, a comment has stuck with me for years now. Many fans love Tim Drake because he's the fan-turned-superhero. The one that took the role because he studied the very thing that he loved, and then became that thing. As such, he's the Robin that many readers connect with. That comment kept popping in my head as I read Faith #1. The breakout star from the Valiant universe started receiving excited comments and plans for cosplay months before her book even debuted. For that alone, this is a book to get excited about. A title that can appeal to a whole neglected reader demographic, while hopefully avoiding an sense of pandering.

Jody Houser does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into Faith Herbert's life as a reporter for a list-generating pop culture website, while maintaining a growing role as Los Angeles' newest superhero. It's a required step as one that comes to this book with almost no previous knowledge of the character or her setting. And thankfully, Houser makes Faith wholly likable, with a strong dose of self-confidence, with just a hint of doubt as she makes her way in both the mundane and superhero world. What could have been played as cliché, and indeed taking a job as a 21st century journalist is just that, it also makes Faith #1 feel familiar, yet fresh. In the past, a hero such as Faith would be content to live within their own imagination. Only performing heroics within the safe confines of their own mind where they can be “perfect” version of themselves. Not so with this book. Faith only fantasizes of bigger and better adventures, and is only let down when she realizes that while evil is evil, it's rarely all that flashy.

While the story is on firm ground, the primary pencils by Francis Portela feel slightly lacking. There is a strong sense of proportion and proper anatomy, and yet something is still off. Each panel has a level of cleanliness that takes away any sense of depth to the title. Portela has a strong grasp on facial expressions and movement, but it's hollow. Mind you, that isn't to say Portela does bad work in this issue - far from it. His attention to background detail and setting helps bring the world of Faith #1 to life, it's when the reader gets in close on the characters that something is missing. A layer of detail that would have gone a long way in setting the book apart visually. The few pages from Marguerite Sauvage however capture a visual tone that really makes this comic pop. There is a lighter touch with her pencils that bring a true sense of life and motion to the character. It's interesting in that Sauvage's level of detail might actually be less than Portela, and yet we see more insight into Faith Herbert as pencil work evokes far more emotion. It is also helped that colorist Andrew Dalhouse lends a stronger palette choice under Sauvage than he does Portela, elevating the first, while only highlighting the flat nature of the second.

Those minor hiccups aside, this is a strong art team that should only improve as they become more comfortable with the character. Which is the main message one can take away from this title. Few things are rarely perfect, especially compared to what we build in our own minds. Freeing ourselves of such expectations are the only way we can truly fly and be the hero. For that, Faith #1 provides and strong and entertaining lesson that we should read.

Credit: Francesco Francavilla (Aftershock Comics)

Dreaming Eagles #2
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Simon Coleby and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by AfterShock Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Garth Ennis is no stranger to war. After moving away from the superhero genre, Ennis has delivered multiple stories and titles detailing the horror and heroism of war in all its forms. Thankfully Dreaming Eagles #2 from new imprint on the scene AfterShock Comics is more the latter than the former as well as a tense look at the institutionalized racism of the time. The second issue of the series finds our lead Reggie Atkinson detailing to his son Lee in the 1960s just how he came to be a pilot as well as the story of his first combat engagements. While the high-flying exploits of Reggie provide the issue with exciting mid-flight storytelling and one major action beat, wonderfully rendered by series artist Simon Coleby and colorist John Kalisz, it is the human drama at the center of Dreaming Eagles that makes it truly engaging.

Hopping between time periods, Dreaming Eagles #2 finds our lead recounting the days before he gained his wings and the struggle he went through just to earn his spot. It's no secret that the Tuskegee Airmen were faced with disrespect and outright sabotage in their training, but Garth Ennis gives us a human face to follow through the hardships in the form of Reggie and his compatriots. “They set up the hurdles and we jumped 'em,” Reggie tells his son, as he recounts how his first commanding officer was diagnosed falsely with epilepsy just to keep him on the ground or how his wing was given inferior aircraft when they had to fly twice as many combat missions as the white pilots because simply not many of his friends made it through graduation.

Though it still carries the stigma of a white man writing a story steeped in black history, Dreaming Eagles #2 and Garth Ennis himself seems uninterested in making this a wholly political work like the divisive Mark Waid and J.G. Jones work Strange Fruit, and instead just focuses on the men involved and not the politics surrounding them. Dreaming Eagles, on its surface, is a work about the deeply ingrained racism of the time periods, but just below that surface lies the real narrative; that of men who rise above in order to do the right thing. For proof of this thesis, you just need to look at the scene in which Reggie and his friend Fats discuss Reggie’s hotheaded nature. Fats describes their first eventual combat engagement as a “blow struck” as they sail through the air on a training exercise. “You take a swing at some fool for calling you a darkie, on or off the base, you are done - then what the hell you think you struck the blow for?” Fats reasons, and it's definitely food for thought. While the World War II setting provides plenty of high flying action, that bit of dialogue details the real heroism at play in Dreaming Eagles #2, that of men doing the right thing even when the world around them are actively working for them to fail.

Though Ennis’ script has its mind set on more serious subject matter, Dreaming Eagles #2 still manages to deliver some tense dog fighting scenes rendered by Royals: Masters of War artist Simon Coleby and colorist John Kalisz. Coleby, an artist steeped in realism, fills each page with details whether they take place high in the sky or on the ground on Reggie’s darkened porch. While a few scenes of exposition take place mid-flight, Dreaming Eagles #2's main action sequence caps the issue off and it is a scorcher. A routine patrol of Tunisia transforms into a fight for Reggie’s life as they are ambushed by a German bomber and its accompanying fighter squadron. Coleby, employing the same level of detail to the planes as he does their pilots, captures the chaos of war effortlessly as planes dip and dive around each other, sending flaming debris raining down to the ground when one finds their target. Colorist Kalisz also adds to the din of battle with acrylic like colors that accentuate the insanity of mid-air battles as bright yellow and orange explosions dot the pale blue sky among the shiny silver fleets. Garth Ennis is a writer known for style but with Simon Coleby and John Kalisz at the helm of Dreaming Eagles, realism and details are the order of the day.

AfterShock Comics have only been on the scene a short while but with Dreaming Eagles #2 they already seem to be committed to delivering more than just the standard comic book fare month after month. Garth Ennis, Simon Coleby, and John Kalisz don’t shy away from the hardships these men had to face in order to protect their country, but instead use it as the flaming forge that turned these men from mere citizens into heroes. Dreaming Eagles #2 isn’t a political work, but instead a heroic one; a work that the men depicted therein would be proud of.

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