Best Shots:STREETS OF GOTHAM, more

Best Shots 9-21-09

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Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Best Shots is about to get bigger.

How’s that, you may ask?  After all, after this intro, you’re going to find over 5,000 words worth of reviews, not to mention links to other reviews from the team from last week.  And honestly, that’s fairly typical.

Actually, the size of the Best Shots team is about to increase, as is the size of the output.  More on the output at a later date.  For now, let’s just welcome two of our new members, Amanda McDonald and Robert Repici.  You’ll find feature-sized reviews from both of them below.  In the coming weeks, you’ll be meeting more new team members, and learn how we’ll be doing things in the second half of our fifth year at Newsarama (that’s right; Best Shots is 4-1/2).  For now, enjoy the day’s reviews.

BSEs?  Right here . . .

Blackest Night #3

Batman and Robin #4

Invincible Iron Man #18

Dark Reign: The List: Dardevil

The Rest?  Read on . . .

Batman: Streets of Gotham #4

Written by Paul Dini

Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs

Co-feature written by Marc Andreyko; co-feature art by Jeremy Haun

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"It's only business, I tell myself." -- The Broker

One of the more tongue-in-cheek aspects, in a television show full of them on Batman (starring Adam West), was the variety of zany yet apropos covert headquarters utilized by the villains who squared off against the Dynamic Duo.  From the The One-Armed Bandit Novelty Company (for the Joker) to the K.G. Bird & Co. umbrella manufacturer (Penguin, naturally), Batman's wide assortment of costumed criminals always found hideouts unique to their respective modus operandi.  Leave it to one of the best Darknight Detective storytellers of the last 20 years, Paul Dini, to provide fresh insight into this concept for a contemporary audience.  

I should've known better, when I questioned the necessity of this title a couple months ago that Batman: Streets of Gotham was going to prove to be essential reading, so long as it's in the able hands of Dini and his invaluable asset, artist Dustin Nguyen.  It's worth noting that since we've now become a little more accustomed to Dick Grayson in the gray, black and pointy ears that we can now simply make with the gritty crime tales set in notoriously cruel and unforgiving Gotham City.  Doing a tremendous job delivering us one part Gotham history lesson, one part crime drama with a zesty dash of super-villainy, Batman: Streets of Gotham #4 realizes the mission statement suggested in the book's title while managing to advance the overarching narrative that you have to assume Dini & Co. has in store for the foreseeable future.

In "Business," we're given an introduction (though I understand the official first appearance may have been in another title) to one Sherman Fine, known throughout the Gotham underworld as the Broker, real estate agent to the stars, if by "stars" one considers the Riddler, Mad Hatter and Catwoman as such.  Almost a century prior, novelty manufacturers, zoos and amusement parks were the economic bedrock of Gotham City.  However due to an surge in crime when the city fell on hard times, many of these institutions closed down.  Having acquired a bevy of these "white elephants" for peanuts, Fine saw a business opportunity that catered to the cities criminal element, and so the Broker was born.  Fast-forward to the present day and the Broker is doing boffo business, especially abiding by the mantra that it can never be personal.  Enter one Victor Zsasz, and Fine may have finally found his work catching up to him.  Seems there may very well be a line that can be crossed, one that involves the shepherding of children for the most deplorably evil of intentions.  Going off the horror show depicted in Nguyen's cover, I have to assume that Dini's only just begun to address the threat of Mr. Szasz.

As inventive and insightful as Dini's narrative is in "Business," the dialogue drives it home.  Nothing is ever overwritten, and it's easy to hang on every compelling exchange between the characters.  The continuing matter of Tommy "Hush" Elliot is addressed in the first two pages and it's amusing to see how his "house arrest" posing as Bruce Wayne develops.  Batman and Robin only garner a few brief pages at issue's end, but the payoff is highlighted by the Boy Wonder's eye for real estate ("Fifteen million for three bedrooms?  That's obscene.") and the Dark Knight's talent for negotiation.  Not sure if the character study of the Broker is a one-and-done deal, but Batman: Streets of Gotham #4 portends possibly the strongest literary offering in all of the Batman books if this issue is any indication.  

In the Manhunter cofeature, writer Marc Andreyko and new artist Jeremy Haun provide another chapter Kate Spencer's eventful assimilation to Gotham City.  Jane Doe's incarcerated now, though one can't help but fear for the safety of the police department despite being detained.  An even bigger concern is who may be backing up her murderous work, none other than Kate's longtime predecessor, former D.A. Harvey Dent.  Yeah, Two-Face.  History shows that this particular job does not have an enviable tenure, so you gotta hope that Kate's open challenge to take down Two-Face is doable or not.  Either way, Manhunter is a serviceable, if not altogether appropriate supplement to the lead feature in Batman: Streets of Gotham.

Dark Wolverine #78

Written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu

Art by Stephen Segovia

Coloring by Marte Gracia

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by David Pepose

Sometimes, a comic cuts you deep, and not in a good way. Because out of everything I read this week, Dark Wolverine #78 was the book that saddened me the most.

I don't like saying that. I loved the first arc of Dark Wolverine, with its smooth characterization, smart pacing, and pitch-perfect linework. And while the departure of Giuseppe Camuncoli and Onofrio Catacchio certainly puts the brakes on this book, it's the writing that makes Dark Wolverine just not feel like its usual fantastic self.

The first few pages of the book gives new artist Stephen Segovia a chance to shine, as he gives a violent, nightmarish look at Daken saving an old woman -- and then proceeding to threaten her when she fails to flee in a timely fashion. Segovia has a more fluid, shadowy style than Camuncoli's geometric linework -- unfortunately, while Segovia starts out with some interesting panel choices, he soon just goes back to standard panelwork that doesn't have a clear purpose or voice. While he certainly has potential, Segovia doesn't have that mastery of composition or nuance that his predecessors possessed. With a lot of panels of talking, Segovia's choices don't really have a lot of unique design or emotion, which hurts what should be the main theme of this story: deceit.

Yet I have confidence that Segovia -- given the right material -- could have been pointed in the right direction. But as I said before, this book doesn't feel like Way and Liu: the formerly well paced dialogue now feels cramped and cluttered, and they've completely abandoned the innate poetry of Daken's internal monologue. At least in this issue, much of the build-up from the first arc -- pitting Norman against Bullseye, the Dark Avengers versus the Fantastic Four -- is largely forgotten, instead focusing on the subplot of Daken's filmed indiscretions. The problem is that we've already seen this story, in Dark Reign: Hawkeye, so focusing this much on Norman Osborn's plan to save face with Daken makes this book lose its charm fast.

Last issue, I said this book soared, even with only seeing Daken in a handful of twenty-two pages. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about this book. There's not enough of Daken's charisma to float the book along, and with the artwork not hooking me like it used to, I have to say this is easily the weakest issue of the four. Hopefully, with all these new characters introduced, Way and Liu will fill readers in next issue with another of Daken's ingenious plots -- but just looking at this issue, Dark Wolverine #78 is just not as strong as I know this series can be.

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #1

Written by Gregg Hurwitz

Pencils by Jerome Opeña

Colors by Dan Brown

Letters by Va Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

As a long-time Moon Knight fan, I was interested to see how this title would differ from his previous solo title. To briefly catch up, Marc Spector faked his death and "Jake Lockley" (another alternate personality) is the new Moon Knight. So where do we begin on "Vengeance"? Basically, Moon Knight wants Norman Osborn to know that he is back and coming for him. MK thwarts an armed robbery and, to everybody's surprise, he doesn't kill any of the perpetrators. However, he makes his mark while putting a Hitler-style mustache on a giant billboard of Osborn and blowing up a big apple in Times Square. All the while, numerous characters from the Marvel Universe take notice of MK's return. 

In "Fight Club" style, Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance (hence the title) shows up as a sort of Great Gazoo taunting Spector/Lockley. He eggs Moon Knight on how great killing used to make him feel and that Khonshu knows this clean-cut version is not the real him. This is tested when Moon Knight stops an attempted rape and Khonshu appears once more, reminding him that there is a killer inside of him, begging to be released. Though, in true heroic fashion, Moon Knight walks away from his urges and leaves the would-be rapist with his hair in a meat grinder. The sun rises and MK has a bit of internal monologue, wondering how long this change in him will last and if he can sustain his brutal incentives. His train of thought is interrupted by an appearance of the Sentry, who would like a moment of his time.

The first thing to compliment above all else in this book is Jerome Opeña's panels and figure composition. Now I know he's been in the game for a while, but I haven't read a book like that almost feels like a movie screenplay. The action scenes are intense and well-composed, and there's a few pages in here I wouldn't mind adding to my art collection just for the sheer awe factor that they bring to the metaphoric table. Now Moon Knight has been one of those characters that has had numerous solo titles, and a solid fan base. He may not be as popular with the kids (mainly due to his violent background, but hey, that never stopped Wolverine), but this title steers away from the intense violence and hopefully will catch on. The Batman comparisons stop at the gadgets, costume and cars with Hurwitz's dialouge making Moon Knight one of the most complex characters out there.

Two complaints, though: the new costume. I'm guessing they wanted an armored look to him so it would add a little something aesthetically, but it took a few pages out of Batman's costume a la "The Dark Knight". Another is that while there are 24 pages of actual story, I didn't think it necessary to have Moon Knight's first issue reprinted along in this one. It's a good read for any Moon Knight fan and highly recommended to see a different side of the Marc Spector character.

Batgirl #2

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Art by Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott with Sandra Hope

Colors by Guy Major

Letters by John J. Hill

Cover by Phil Noto

Review by Amanda McDonald

Let me preface this review with the fact that I am a librarian by day. Like most smart librarians, I've always wished I could be Barbara Gordon's Batgirl by night.  Never having been able to get into the Cassandra Cain run of Batgirl, I thought I'd give this newest run a try.  So far, so good.  The last issue ended with Barbara surprising Stephanie Brown with a confrontation over waffles.  The paneling and dialog structure are clear from the start-- while they converse, we are let in on Bab's inner thoughts in green text boxes, and Stephanie's in purple text boxes.  It's a heavy feature in the book and the simple paneling keeps it from looking too cluttered or overwhelming.  

Batgirl #2 consistently flashes between scenes with Barbara, and scenes with Stephanie.  As Babs communicates with the local morgue worker about a body testing positive for the drug "Thrill" (a hallucinogen that drives adrenaline to dangerously high levels), Stephanie attends the college Harvest Festival and encounters a classmate, inebriated by Thrill-spiked punch.  As the girl collapses, everyone around scatters away in fear and guilt.  Opening her school bag and pulling out the Batgirl suit, Stephanie soon hears Barbara's voice guiding her.

Needing more computing power, Barbara has contacted Alfred (in space, chauffeuring the Outsiders) to gain access to the Batcave and, more importantly, the Bat-computer.  When Stephanie joins her, they have a confrontation, resulting in both realizing that Barbara has been trying to break Stephanie's will to take over the Batgirl mantle.  The book ends by cutting to an unknown location to see a Thrill dealer being welcomed back by his boss...  Scarecrow.

Noto's cover shows a Batgirl pulling on yellow boots and wearing a yellow lined cape.  However, all through the issue, Stephanie continues to use the Cassandra Cain suit.  Perhaps a tip of the hat to Barbara's former life as Batgirl and the passing of the torch?  Nice touch, if that's the case.

The women characters' relationship transitions through the book from stand-offish, to hesitantly partnering, to a well crafted mentor/apprentice relationship.  The strength of Miller's story is found in the development of the dynamic between Barbara as Oracle and Stephanie as Batgirl.  The three artists' work blends seamlessly, with Major's colors tying everything together. Especially striking was the backdrop of a completely darkened Bat-cave, aside from the green glow of Oracle at work and silhouette of Batgirl watching.

Barbara will always be THE Batgirl in my heart.  Cassandra couldn't cut it for me, and the first issue of this run left me only mildly intrigued by Stephanie.  However, the ending editorial commentary put a fire under me to truly give this book a chance.  There's a nice (if a bit fan-servicey) breakdown of why Steph was chosen over any of the rumored choices, along with a sneak peak at the next Batgirl look -- bit more purple, new belt, and... leg pouches?  If nothing else, I'll tune in to see what purpose those serve.  Also for anyone still mourning the loss of Cassandra Cain, we learn she will be back on the pages of a DC book sometime in 2010.

If you're looking for crazy, non-stop pages of fast paced action, this isn't the issue for you.  But if you're looking for a strong story about how Batgirl and Oracle will fit into this next phase of the Bat-universe, you don't want to miss Batgirl #2.

Captain America: Reborn #3

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Robert Repici

And so the story that holds the honorable (and perhaps dubious) distinction of returning Steve Rogers to the modern-day Marvel Universe finally starts to fire on all cylinders. Without a doubt, this heavily hyped Captain America: Reborn miniseries will ultimately become one of Marvel's most significant and momentous stories of the year, but it's certainly no secret that the first two issues of this miniseries were considered to be a bit, well, boring. But, thankfully, that all starts to change with Captain America: Reborn #3. Indeed, whereas the first two issues of this miniseries were somewhat disappointing and surprisingly predictable, this third issue is both incredibly exciting and eventful from beginning to end. And, yeah, it's about time.

In this pivotal third issue, superstar writer Ed Brubaker and big-time artist Bryan Hitch take us on an epic journey through the original Captain America's legendary and larger-than-life, uh, life, as we witness some of the greatest and most significant moments from Steve Rogers' past, including one of his earliest "encounters" with Namor and his involvement in the cosmic Kree-Skrull War. But this issue is more than just a simple retelling of a few moments from Cap's storied history. On the contrary, what makes this issue so interesting is that we accompany Steve Rogers as he relives all of these epic events from his past. That's right. Steve Rogers is literally forced to relive some of the most tragic and trying experiences from his remarkable life in this story. And, needless to say, it's driving him crazy. Indeed, as this ethereal experience truly begins to take its toll on our hero, not only does he start to seriously question the concept of time in his current predicament, but he also starts to wonder why he has no choice but to relive the so-called future of his past.

Wow. Talk about tumbling through time. But, hey, it's understandable. After all, the man is actually unstuck in time in this story. And Brubaker never lets us forget it. And, believe it or not, that's actually a good thing. After all, not only does Brubaker successfully capture the sense of powerlessness that's currently plaguing Cap here, but he also uses these significant flashback sequences to effectively enhance his story while simultaneously pushing it forward into its next stage.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Brubaker really starts to complicate things for the rest of our heroes, as Namor and Reed Richards realize that there's something really shady regarding Steve Rogers' "death" and his body's current whereabouts, Sharon Carter suffers through a personal crisis of her own, the Falcon and the Black Widow attempt to save Bucky from the clutches of Norman Osborn, and the Red Skull prepares to make his menacing return to the Marvel Universe. Without a doubt, Brubaker has an extremely strong grasp on this massive cast of characters in this miniseries so far, and he actually weaves all of the above story threads together in a way that really works to supplement the essential flashback sequences in this particular issue. For example, the opening flashback sequence that showcases Namor savagely throwing the block of ice preserving, yet imprisoning Steve Rogers' body back into the sea sometime in the distant past is juxtaposed with a scene that's set in the present that features Namor and Reed Richards exhuming Steve Rogers' body from the Arctic Ocean, the place where he was laid to rest following his apparent assassination in the aftermath of Civil War. Overall, Brubaker does a tremendous job of blending the flashback sequences and the rest of his story threads together in a way that's truly starting to make this Captain America: Reborn miniseries both memorable and momentous for longtime fans of his now-classic Captain America saga.

Bryan Hitch's artwork, on the other hand, continues to come across as both erratic and inconsistent in this Captain America: Reborn miniseries. Indeed, while his renderings of the story's major flashback sequences are both stunning and beautiful to behold, his artwork is rather unremarkable and unimpressive in some of the scenes set in the present-day Marvel Universe. Now, don't get me wrong. By no means is Hitch's artwork downright dreadful in these scenes. On the contrary, his action-packed visuals are extremely engaging and tantalizing throughout this issue, but it doesn't come close to the gorgeous and unparalleled artwork we've seen from him in the past. Thus, it truly seems that Hitch's adequate, yet lackluster artwork in this miniseries is one of the main reasons why Captain America: Reborn isn't exactly living up to all the hype right now. One can only hope that he strives to use every last shred of talent in his ever-evolving artistic arsenal for the remaining two issues in this miniseries.

All in all, however, Captain America: Reborn #3 is yet another solid story in Ed Brubaker's ongoing Captain America saga. Now, needless to say, there's a lot going on in this pivotal third issue, and I'm really starting to wonder how Brubaker is going to effectively wrap up all of his dangling story threads in the final two issues of this miniseries. But, hey, in Brubaker I trust. In other words, I expect there to be even more twists and turns on the horizon for Cap and company. After all, it truly seems that the real "Reborn" story is just beginning.

28 Days Later #2

Written by Michael Alan Nelson

Art by Declan Shalvey

Coloring by Nick Filardi

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

In its sophomore issue, 28 Days Later is still a strong showing, with good character, mood, and action -- now all it needs is some bite.

Last month, I said that this book was a worthy spiritual successor to the film franchise -- and I do still believe that. Writer Michael Alan Nelson really shines with his characterization of original film survivor Selena. As a character, she's certainly a hardass, but there's also that element of dark humor that this book shares with its cinematic predecessors. When she pulls out a bottle of grain alcohol, one of the journalists asks her, "what kind of cocktail you gonna make with that?" "A molotov," she replies dryly.

Artist Declan Shalvey, meanwhile, gives this series a dark and grungy mood to it. His use of shadows works so well, and it really elevates the design of his characters -- which is admittedly a little less diverse than it could be -- to their fullest potential. Selena in particular looks great, as her goggles, facemask, and machete give her a really archetypical sort of pizzazz to the action. Colorist Nick Filardi does some great work, contrasting the faded colors with some nice use of whites to make panels pop. But despite the zombie scenes, it's Shalvey's talent with emotion that makes the quiet moments some of the strongest in the book.

So what's my problem with this book? Despite all the nice characterization, and Shalvey's gritty action shots, the horror element of this book is coming up short. The Infected have so much potential to be terrifying, but right now they aren't being utilized as well as they could be. Granted, it's still early in the series, but it's a matter of pacing and choosing the right shots to build up the Infected as a worthy threat -- and that's something both Nelson and Shelvey could work on. Indeed, it's hard to feel fear when most the characters are still relatively calm. If the creators can step up their game on that front -- if they can really set up the stakes and alienness of this threat -- this book can really soar. If not, though, 28 Days Later is a dead comic walking.

Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #1 of 4

Written by:  Warren Ellis

Pencils by:  Steve Kurth

Inks by:  Jeff Huet

Letters by:  Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

In the lee of typhoon Magneto’s doomsday event that defined Ultimatum, Stark Enterprises is in shambles, its CEO is practically a pauper with a mere hundred million dollars left in his piggy bank, and booze is a mistress that Tony courts with abandon.  He returns to the depths of his Manhattan office to retrieve his “ornament”, a mysterious something known as Remnant 242.  Two problems:  Justine Hammer’s infiltrated the subterranean base looking for a few cc’s of Tony’s nanomachine-riddled blood as a cure for what ails her, and The Ghost (looking like Iron Man’s long-lost sibling) is ready to abscond with Tony’s ornament.

I’m of mixed emotions on this book.  The artwork is certainly pretty, even if Steve Kurth is inconsistent in drawing faces, with eyes clearly his weak spot.  The fight between Iron Man and The Ghost is electric, even if perhaps two pages short.  Visually, it’s well done.

The story, however, takes too long to set up, and paints Tony as a boor.  I get that the events of Ultimatum and what Magneto forced Iron Man to do will mess with the guy’s head, but his blasé attitude when he finds Justine’s broken into what was supposed to be a secure facility, and again when The Ghost is about to DB Cooper with Remnant 242, is off-putting.  Especially the latter, where Tony doesn’t seem at all surprised or worried that someone has compromised his secrets.  Contrast that with Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man where Tony realizes the deadly implications of being a victim of corporate espionage and the urgency he attaches to getting his tech back from terrorist hands. 

What raised a caution flag straightaway on this issue is on the credits and the story-thus-far page, with the line “The world reeks with destruction and evil still lurks within its rubble.  But Tony is ready to take it all on, with a drink in one hand and an iron fist in the other.”  Right there it’s intimated that this series is going to be a sort of Nick Charles-as-Tony Stark, and as the pages flip, Justine Hammer will be his Nora in this Thin Man interpretation of Iron Man.  There is never an importance for Tony to accomplish anything in this issue, and when given a choice he quickly takes the dame over the desperado, ultimately more interested in flirting and waxing cutely with a potential conquest than in stopping an enemy.

This isn’t some of Warren Ellis’s best work and I don’t know why he’s chosen to make Tony such a dull caricature of himself.  There’s nothing about this version that a reader should want to care about, which detracts from the potential that an Armor Wars story can reach.  It’s not a bad start to a series, but it’s not great, either.  It’s a solid C effort, and we’ll need to see another issue before rendering a better overall judgment.

Beasts Of Burden

Written by:  Evan Dorkin

Art by:  Jill Thompson

Letters by:  Jason Arthur

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

Burden Hill is like Sunnydale from the Buffy-verse, a Norman Rockwell painting of picket fences and purity covering a creamy gooey center of supernatural weirdness, like this issue’s plague of raining frogs that aggregate into a giant demon toad and threaten to eat every living creature in our world.  Of course, these things need to be investigated and stopped, but instead of humans, Burden Hill’s paranormal special forces team is composed of cats and dogs.  Take Dark Horse’s BPRD make them domesticated pets, and you get the gist of the book. 

Derivative comparisons aside, this is a book that can’t figure out what it wants to be.  The characters are a pastiche of clichés:  like Pugs the pug and resident heavy who channels his Napoleon complex via James Cagney-speak; Ace, the Galahad-like heroic husky, wounded and recovering from a prior fight; and a Yoda-like sheepdog who is, naturally, known as the Wise Dog.  For the most part Beasts of Burden is too cutesy, sometimes cheesily so, as if it wants to be a kiddie book, but it adds a smattering of unnecessary rough speak from Pugs (“I’m still pissin’ icicles.”  “[It’s a] mother-humpin’, big-ass, giant frog.”), some mystical mumbo-jumbo from the elder Wise Dog, and spellcasting from Miranda the Lady Wise Dog as if it wants to bat in the adult leagues where it can be taken more seriously. 

Jill Thompson’s painted style of artwork is nice, attractive, and tells a story pretty well.  It’s challenging to draw expressions on animals without it coming off as cartoony and goofy, and for the most part she’s adept at making each look somewhat natural and individual to the animal’s established character.  Pugs is the exception, as he’s so forcefully made the book’s comic relief that every line he utters, combined with the look on his face, just screams for a concomitant playing of a sad trombone or rim shot.

It’s a straightforward story without a lot of meat in it, and maybe as the series progresses it will come into its own and become something bigger and better.  Toning down the cuddly factor would be a big help.  I recommend waiting for the trade collection.

Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True

Written and Art by: Matthew Loux

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

Available 9/30/09

Matt Loux is a busy man these days. His Salt Water Taffy series is making new fans, and launching its own website featuring weekly webstrips by both Matthew and artists who are fans of the series. However, the big news is is that after a year of waiting Loux returns with Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True.

Now, I'm all about comics getting back into kid's hands, and this book series is a perfect place to start. The Salt Water Taffy series stars two young brothers named Jack and Benny Putnam who live in the fictional town of Chowder Bay, Maine. The series is in the tradition of the Hardy Boys, but a little more extravagant, like the Scooby-Doo gang.

In The Truth About Dr. True, the boys uncover a centuries-old mystery concerning the town's founder and greatest hero and how he might not be as he appears in the history books. Along with investigating a 19th century murder, an infamous elixir, and two unusual ghosts, the boys discover that Chowder Bay not be as boring as they originally thought. It's a good read, with an easy-to-follow mystery, and my personal favorite thing about it: it's approachable for kids who are either just starting to read, or starting to read comics. It's a win-win situation for the potential parental buyer looking for a good book to give to their children.

Now another thing that grabbed my attention was the art style. It's in black and white and very simplistic. It reminds something in the cartoonish style of Dexter's Laboratory meets Tiny Titans. Though Loux's figure construction is in the more animated style, his landscapes and houses are incredible and immaculate. In addition to the fine storytelling it's the fact you get a lot of bang for your buck. Over 90 pages for under six dollars. Plus, it's in the digest form, so you or your little one could carry it around pretty easily.

Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True hits store shelves next week. I highly recommend you pick it up, you will not regret it.

The Vietnam War: A Graphic History

Written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman

Illustrated by Wayne Vansant

Published by Hill & Wang

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Boy, talk about setting yourself up for a no-win scenario.  If the U.S. weren’t currently embroiled in Iraq, you’d find few Americans who’d argue – whether they supported it or not – that the Vietnam War is the single most contentious conflict in the history of U.S. military actions.  Tackling the history of that conflict in a fair and even manner simply isn’t possible in 140 pages.

With that in mind, Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant do a pretty fair job of encapsulating the political and social factors that began and ended the war in Vietnam.  At the open, Zimmerman focuses effectively on the influence of the Cold War and Lyndon Johnson’s tenuous arrival in the Oval Office following John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  The political thorn bushes – the so-called domino theory of Communism’s global threat, the U.S. military’s inability to cross the DMZ, and the “neutrality” of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – are all laid out clearly and without overt judgement.

As the war progresses, it becomes harder to say whether slight biases creep into the narrative or if innate biases in the reader’s mind come into play.  Zimmerman gives credit to specific military operations, but also examines failures of U.S. intelligence and mentions a crime committed by U.S. troops.  Media coverage and public perception, changes in policy following Richard Nixon’s election and the evolving political realities of Southeast Asia are all given some credence for shaping the conflict’s outcome, yet it seems that – given South Vietnam’s immediate collapse in 1975 – too much credit may be given to shows of progress made by the Nixon administration in the years directly preceding America’s pull-out.

Wayne Vansant’s powerful illustrations capture the necessary likenesses of the historical figures, and his solid visual storytelling keeps all the dates, personnel, locations and technology in order.  Using maps and other visual aids, Vansant keeps readers enmeshed in the unfolding timeline, and his gritty illustrations suit the mood and struggle of the soldiers mired down in the conflict.

As stated in the opening, there’s no real way that this book can do justice to what it proclaims to be.  However, Zimmerman’s solid scripting and Vansant’s powerful illustrations keep it much closer to the bulls eye than The Vietnam War: A Graphic History had much right to be.  It’s a broad overview of a war with a million individual perspectives, and taken as such, the book works very well as a summary of the Vietnam experience.


Witchblade #130 (Top Cow, review by Lan Pitts) Well, I guess I signed Dani Baptiste's death certificate too soon. Whoops. I was so sure that she was dead by the hands of Sara Pezzini, possessed by the dark side of the Witchblade, but Ron Marz had other plans for her. Epic plans. Now, this issue was the conclusion for the "War of the Witchblades", what a grand conclusion it was. Marz set up this arc a few months back and it has been a slow burn, but this issue made it all worth while for numerous reasons. The main one being that for the first time in year, the Witchblade has been made whole and Sara has complete ownership of it, as well as regaining her therapy. Another reason is because the Angelus chose a new host (hint: it has something to do with Dani). I go backa nd forth on the whether or not I loved Stjepan Sejic's art in this issue. In some places, it is truly excellent fantasy constructs and creatures. In others, it looks unfinished a bit rough. It just seems unbalanced. Don't let that get to you though, this story has been one of the best of the Summer and I have no doubt Ron Marz has some excellent stories up his sleeve. Witchblade fans, do NOT miss out on this one.

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