Marvel Comics March 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Wednesday is new comic book day, and you know what that means - new comic book reviews from the Best Shots team! I'm your host, Dazzlin' David Pepose. You'll hear more from me later, but first let me kick things over to Justin Partridge with a review of All-Star Batman #8.

Credit: DC Comics

All-Star Batman #8
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales,Dean White, and Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

All-Star Batman #8 is a comic featuring one of Batman’s most overlooked villains tearing down his psyche and almost dooming him to an eternal dissociation between the personalities of Bruce Wayne, the man and the Bat.

It's also a comic featuring Batman smashing someone in the face with a robotic flamingo.

Scott Snyder’s tight and theatrical auteur experiment continues in this eighth issue, but this time he’s brought Hellblazer and Spider-Man artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, inker Mark Morales, and colorist Dean White along with him for the trippiest issue of All-Star to date. “Ends of the Earth” now finds the Caped Crusader in the Mississippi Delta facing down Jervis Tetch, the latest suspect in Batman’s current ongoing case.

Continuing the current line’s commitment to weirdness, Batman’s latest scrap with the Mad Hatter takes him to the limit mentally while the Blackhawks keep him busy physically, all of which is supported by Snyder’s trademark narrations, given a creepy cadence thanks to letterer Steve Wands. Artist Camuncoli, along with the heavy pen of Morales, and the sickly sweet colors of White, shows a toned new side of his work — his pencils here looking like a beefy version of Chris Burnham’s Batman Inc. insanity. The main Batman books are strange beasts nowadays, but this eighth issue shows that there are none stranger or better than All-Star Batman.

After the repeated opening image of Batman emerging from the background of the panel and almost approaching the reader in a four-panel grid, Scott Snyder is working on a tight, tense schedule. Through his opening narration he presents a Chekov’s Gun of sorts with the concept of a “window moment” — Batman describes it as the “a-ha” moment that detectives have in stalled cases and now this case’s curtains have opened and all the evidence has been illuminated. Snyder then promptly starts warping Batman’s own personal cornerstone “window moment”; the moment he decided to become Batman.

Though this comic has a fantastic display of Snyder’s control of action sequences and the sudden unexpected humor he injects in them (like the aforementioned flamingo smash), his real focus in this issue is a battle of personalities. Jervis’ trap here is an ingenious one as he subverts one of the most important moments in Bruce’s history, the “Yes, Father. I shall become a Bat,” moment. Snyder keeps Batman compellingly off-balance in this issue, pitting him against his very own psyche, which is precisely the kind of weirdness I’ve loved from the current crop of Batman books. Issue #8 is also a much-needed showcase for Jervis Tetch, which continues Snyder’s streak of rogue rehab. Granted, this title started out pretty great, but “Ends of the Earth” continues to raise the bar with each passing issue.

Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales, and Dean White are the latest “directors” tasked with bringing Snyder’s script to life and through restraint in places and mind-bending displays in others, the team more than rises to the occasion. In the first half of this comic, the team delivers standard Batman action as he dismantles three attackers in free hanging panels seemingly suspended against a white void. This layout provides a nice level of focus on the panels and the finely detailed and dourly colored action found therein.

But when Batman and the Hatter face off, things take more than a few turns. Firstly, the panels are now firmly locked in their layouts, suggesting a solid reality, but what the team starts to render in these pages are anything but solid. The trio then start to warp perspective, layering in ghostly figures on top of the normal streets of Gotham, and build to a ghoulish one-page splash of a mutated Tetch feasting on the brain of Batman as he fights his way through his Rogues Gallery in the folds of his mind. Super weird, right? But Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales, and Dean White make it sing, standing toe-to-toe with the other richly produced issues previous.

It's a great time to be a Batman fan because we keep getting books like All-Star Batman #8. Capped off by another moody installment of “The Cursed Wheel” from Snyder and Francesco Francavilla, this latest issue continues the title’s offbeat hot streak and stands as a true testament to the thematic and artistic malleability of this series. If you like your Batman comics to be a little more Grant Morrison and a little less Doug Moench, then All-Star Batman #8 is the issue for you.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #25
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With the Clone Conspiracy behind us and artist Stuart Immonen joining the title, there's something refreshing about Amazing Spider-Man #25, which allows Immonen and writer Dan Slott to simply flex their comic-making muscles without the hassle of a crazy high concept. Given Peter Parker's status as a globe-trotting billionaire superhero, this comic still brings old Webhead back to basics, as goes on the prowl for his arch-nemesis Norman Osborn.

In a lot of ways, Amazing Spider-Man #25 is less like a massive, self-important story, and is instead like watching two pros at a pickup game — Slott and Immonen are both fantastic at picking up the mood and energy of their characters, and there's just an unbelievable solidness to this story. Still smarting after the end of The Clone Conspiracy, Spider-Man wants a win, and that means flushing out the fugitive Green Goblin in the underground bowels of Delvadia and the back alleys of Hong Kong. The stakes here are manageable, with Slott instead just treating readers to some brisk popcorn action, cribbing bits of James Bond as Peter leads with drones and drilling gadgetry, but ultimately wrapping up the fisticuffs with Spidey's innate resourcefulness.

And while the fights come fast and furious, Slott also takes his extra-long page count to check in with the soap opera of Peter's life. Betty Brant, for example, is traumatized following the short-lived resurgence of her cloned husband Ned Leeds, while Aunt May is determined to get back to the world following the death of her husband, Jay. Perhaps the most intriguing bit that Slott toys with is Peter's evolving relationship with Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird — as the two have had each other's backs in various S.H.I.E.L.D. activities, Slott inches closer to developing their partnership into something romantic, which could be a fun if likely short-lived wrinkle.

Meanwhile, Stuart Immonen hits the ground running with his first Spider-story — thanks to the expanded page count, we get to see Immonen really dig into the acrobatic fight choreography, with Peter often in freefall with some seriously cool poses. Teaming up with inker Wade van Grawbadger and colorist Marte Gracia, there's some nice weight to some of the nighttime sequences, giving this book an identity beyond that which was so well-established by Giuseppe Camuncoli. There's a wonderful versatility Immonen brings to his work, bouncing from over-the-top action to endearing character scenes without skipping a beat — even an invisible character winds up stealing some of the best moments of the book, including one memorably image of a Hollywood-style explosion.

If the expanded page count wasn't enough, Marvel has also included several backup stories. Artist Todd Nauck shows some surprisingly fluidity to his usually razor-sharp inks, as Christos Gage brings back the super-frenemy known as Clash with an animal-centric story. Meanwhile, Hannah Blumenreich steals the show with a MCU-influenced short featuring Spidey taking in a stray mutt, which balances the irreverence of Matt Fraction's Hawkeye with the expressive and cartoony artwork of a Mingjue Helen Chen. While some of the backups might not fit, like a Tsum Tsum tie-in or James Asmus and Tana Ford's story about the affects that Spidey's superheroism has had on his business, it's still an added value — to the point where Slott's "post-credits" story with Giuseppe Camuncoli almost feels unnecessary, even if it skillfully sets up the return of an iconic Spidey villain.

After the latest Spider-event book, Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen may be giving Peter Parker the best gift of all for this anniversary issue — just letting Spider-Man be Spider-Man, with no need for the bells and whistles outside of just super-strong execution. It's a refreshing read, and one that's easily accessible for new readers — with a creative team like this at the wheel, expect some great things to be coming from Amazing Spider-Man.

Credit: DC Comics

The Wild Storm #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Warren Ellis’ reinvention of the Wildstorm Universe has been a hit so far, but one issue does not a series make. In Issue #2, Ellis has to keep up the level of intrigue while maintaining the sense of urgency present in the first issue and open up the world even more. We’re only just getting to know these characters, but Ellis has to keep pushing the narrative forward and he’s already starting to get tripped up. While he was able to keep the cast small and focused in #1, quick expansion of the cast affects Ellis’ work with certain characters. Jon Davis-Hunt’s line art is still strong as ever, but Ivan Plascensia’s muted colors are sorely, sorely missed in this issue, replaced by Steve Buccellato’s more traditional approach.

Ellis has a lot on his plate, so it makes sense that there’s a little drop off from the debut issue. The Engineer is still at the heart of the plot – she’s what everyone is looking for since her rather explosive debut, and Ellis starts moving the chess pieces. Skywatch employs Zealot. Jacob Marlowe enlists Grifter and Savant. And IO claims they’ll put together a CAT or Covert Action Team. (Familiar fans will immediately notice that as a reference to WildCATs.) Ellis is letting the characters clue us into the mystery of The Engineer, and our knowledge of what’s going on with her stems only from what they know or think they know about her. It’s a fun way to have the mystery play out, because it makes even the IO meeting room scenes have a bit more weight to them.

But some of the work surrounding these scenes leaves something to be desired. Voodoo gets a page of non-speaking panels that exists for some Big Text Ideas from Ellis that are almost a complete non-sequitur. Michael Cray, aka Deathblow, shows up for a short scene with a Doctor Mary Cross, which feels like a reference to Sister Mary and the Order of the Cross considering Cray’s big non-reveal. It’s a clear set-up for the Deathblow series that’s coming soon, but the inclusion here doesn’t feel quite natural. Even Bendix’s introduction feels kind of forced in.

Jon Davis-Hunt was definitely the right artist to tap for this reboot. With each new character that’s brought into the plot, his clean lines and strong character concepts build a really strong foundation for Ellis’ new Wildstorm world. Davis-Hunt adheres fairly strictly to a nine-panel grid for most pages, with the only exception being the Miles Craven/IO scenes that are told with six evenly sized panels. He plays with some amount of modulation within those boundaries, opting for larger panels when he needs them, often punctuating scenes with wide panels that amount to all three panels in the bottom row of a layout. The use of such a modular layout helps convey a sense of intimacy to the proceedings. I mentioned previously that it feels more like a TV show that anything else and that remains true. Sadly, the style that came across in the debut is fumbled here. Ivan Plascensia’s coloring was just as much a part of building this world as the lineart, and Steve Buccellato just isn’t on the same level. His work is fine, but the flatter colors of Plasencia worked better than Buccellato’s lasso brush approach.

The Wild Storm #2 still has a lot going for it, but it lacks the impact of the debut. The book is so heavily decompressed that the entirety of the book feels like it might have taken place simultaneously over the course of 15 minutes. While it’s impressive that Ellis is able to make a comic like that readable, it is somewhat frustrating as a reader. It feels like the kind of book that will read great as a trade but will be a little inconsistent in floppies. Jon Davis-Hunt buoys the book, but hopefully Ivan Plascencia is back soon and for good. The Wild Storm is just getting started, but once Ellis gets all of his chess pieces in place, hopefully he’ll be able to hone in on fewer characters at a time and give us more intense examinations of them.

Credit: DC Comics

Batwoman #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV
Art by Steve Epting and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Spinning out of Detective Comics and the recent Batwoman: Rebirth one-shot, Kate Kane is back in her own solo title. Bennett and Tynion callback easily into the fallout from “Night of the Monster Men” and get right back to their thesis statement: what can Batwoman do that Batman can’t? But it’s not quite that simple. Benett and Tynion have decided to look back as they move forward and it’s something that definitely affects the momentum of the book. But where the plotting and story falter, the art is there to pick it up - as much as it can, anyway. Steve Epting’s linework is really strong for the most part, but it’s clear he’s still finding his way with these characters. This debut isn’t quite the barnburner many fans were expecting, but it sets in motion some interesting threads.

Bennett and Tynion seem determined to separate themselves from both the Greg Rucka and JH Williams III runs of yesteryear, and their approach is very similar to how Scott Snyder made Batman his own with the dawn of the “New 52.” By introducing a new mystery that calls back to a lost piece of the main protagonist’s past, the writers get to underline things they know are true about the character and explore who she is. The problem with doing that is that flashbacks don’t have very high stakes, and in this issue specifically, the mystery of Coryana doesn’t play well against the opening scene of Kate throwing down with a monster. The pacing of the issue is the problem. Obviously, the writers have a lot to set up in this debut in order to tie off those threads later on. But Kate’s such an isolated character in this issue that all the dialogue feels flat. It’s expository, but without the interplay with a variety of characters like those in Detective Comics, there’s nothing very revelatory about her conversations with Julia Pennyworth, and that’s somewhat frustrating.

Steve Epting is one of the best artists in the business, but even he struggles a little bit in this issue. The layouts are generally strong and thankfully, colorist Jeromy Cox allows Epting’s heavy inking to provide good contrast on every page. The noirish flashback sequence is a standout for being particularly aesthetically pleasing. The black, white and red color scheme calls back directly to Kate’s costume. It’s also a good visual signifier that the events on the page are happening in the past. (That might seem like unnecessary praise but many comics manage to not make the difference between the past and present stark enough.) Epting’s struggles come with consistently rendering character faces. I have to imagine that will improve as he keeps drawing the book, but for as technically solid as the issue is, it’s a little dull and utilitarian. Fans expecting the outlandish layouting and experimentation of JH Williams should temper those expectations.

At her best, Kate Kane is one of the most intriguing characters in the DCU. Unfortunately, her second solo title has debuted with a bit of a whimper. A rather amorphous mystery surrounds the proceedings and the fact is, it’s just not that entertaining. The lack of a strong supporting cast at this juncture makes Kate come off as a poor riff on Batman rather than a strong character in her own right. Epting’s artwork is good enough to keep this one from really losing it’s way but there’s not much to write home about in this one. Bennett and Tynion don’t do anything to make this story uniquely a Batwoman story. The plot feels interchangeable, like any hero could be slotted into a very similar situation. That’s disappointing for a character who was previously one of the more exciting heroes on DC’s roster.

Credit: Aspen Comics

All New Soulfire #1
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Giuseppe Cafaro and Wes Hartman
Lettering by Zen
Published by Aspen MLT
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Soulfire returns with an “All New” attached to the title. Written by J.T. Krul with artwork by Giuseppe Cafaro and Wes Hartman, All New Soulfire #1 seeks to attract new readers by presenting this world anew. However, with a complex mythology and a large supporting cast, the issue feels a bit like it’s trying to get a game of Monopoly started without going over all the rules.

J.T. Krul's script juggles too many pieces in this initial chapter. While All New Soulfire #1 has a lead in the young man, Malikai, there’s a larger cast of characters introduced around him and – along with the worldbuilding – the issue can feel expository, like it’s rushing to explain all the moving pieces to get to the story. To make things worse, a lot of this setup is done by telling rather than showing, explaining the relationships of one character to another via the conversations of yet two other characters. It would have been nice to get to know Malikai through his direct actions rather than through this distant perspective. That being said, the characters in All New Soulfire #1, while occupying certain tropes, are still engaging enough to keep the story moving and Krul creates an entertaining and aloof protagonist in Malikai.

If the narrative problems hold the issue back a bit, what will likely keep readers returning is the artwork. Giuseppe Cafaro’s lines are clean, with detailed and lithe character designs. Readers will definitely see the influences of late artist and Aspen founder Michael Turner in the artwork. Everyone here is physically beautiful, and though some of the character designs play to the male gaze, Cafaro never objectifies the characters in his framing or angles, allowing readers to engage with the characters, midriff and all.

Colorist Wes Hartman adds an extra layer to the narrative. The majority of All New Soulfire #1 takes place in an urban environment, with the grays and blues one might expect of a concrete jungle. But Hartman takes advantage of this and really makes the fantasy elements pop of the page. When Onyx first appears on the page to rescue Malikai from a pair of thugs, the sunburst color of her wings creates a sense of wonder and awe.

The artwork can’t quite overcome the feeling that All New Soulfire #1 is a bit too crowded. J.T. Krul clearly has a lot of ideas at hand, and while he’s able to execute the issue in terms of pacing between scenes, the scenes themselves are overstuffed. For a series debut, the world of All New Soulfire #1 feels like it got started without the new readers that it seems to want to draw in. The end result is an attractive looking book that may have needed a few more pages to avoid feeling bloated.

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