Best Shots  9-28-09

By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings, readers.  Before we link back to the BSEs and BSAs of the past week, we need to make sure that we welcome another new team member: George Marston.  In addition to writing his entertaining blog,, he plays in the band Cloak and Dagger Dating Service.  Welcome, George!  That’s your long-distance dedication; on with the countdown.

This past week’s BSEs and BSAs . . .

Incredible Hercules #135

Uncanny X-Men #515

Superman: Secret Origin #1

Dark Reign: The List: X-Men #1

Plus, reviews from Blog@  . . .

Underground #1

Batman: Cacaphony

All right then . . . the rest of the week as we saw it . . .

Giant-Size Wolverine: Old Man Logan #1

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines

Coloring by Morry Hollowell

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

If there's a phrase that seems to sum up Mark Millar's recent output, it would be "deviant heroism." It's a sort of scummy, crusty feeling of wrongness that's slathered on innately charismatic characters who end up acting for the greater good. If you hate that sort of thing, Old Man Logan is not for you -- if you can stomach his sensibilities, however, the conclusion to this series is a nicely rendered, if simple and loud, finale to a future gone horribly wrong.

While Millar has been content to run around the tarnished Marvel Universe with twisted counterparts of post-apocalyptic heroes, this issue he goes back to where it all began -- Wolverine versus the Hulk family. The homage to Unforgiven is quite apparent here, as the time for talking and exposition is largely over -- instead, Logan just goes all-out in killing every gamma-powered goon he can sink his claws into.

Sometimes this works organically, such as the intro of the book -- other times, such as the end, it feels so forced that you wish Millar would have put more thought into it. But it's when he finds the leader of the Banner clan that Millar's trademark deviance comes into play, whether it's someone using a cow as a thrown weapon, or making an uncomfortable reference to the Hulk mating with his cousin. "Jenny She-Hulk was the only woman out there who could take the damn pace!" Ew.

This series could easily be accused of descending into self-parody, if not for the artwork of Steve McNiven, who plays it all straight. One image in particular -- seeing Wolverine in a trenchcoat an cowboy hat, his claws extended ominously -- looks particularly iconic, playing off the Clint Eastwood source material nicely. He moves from surprise horror to simply gory one-on-ones with equal ferocity, really picking and choosing injuries and blood to full effect.

That said, there are a few splash pages here -- namely, when Wolverine goes for a killing blow -- that don't feel as effective as they could be in terms of shadows and detail. In short, when McNiven is firing on all cylinders, he manages to temper Millar's grosser instincts -- if not, it comes off as just as unnecessary splatterhouse fare.

A question that many fans might ask about the conclusion to Old Man Logan is: was it worth the wait? The answer is no -- this is not the end-all, be-all comic, and it's a fairly straightforward, if over-the-top and gory, fight to the finish. But there are hints of greatness here -- whether it be McNiven using the blood and guts to his advantage, or Millar making a clever choice that makes even the spin-off he inspired, Fantastic Force, have a whole new resonance -- that redeem the book. This is a comic that knows what it is and unabashedly wallows in its own grime, albeit on a blockbuster scale -- and if you can accept it for what it is, then Old Man Logan is one heck of a guilty pleasure.

Superman: Secret Origin #1

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal

Published by DC Comics

Review by Robert Repici

Well, the wait is over. Superstar writer Geoff Johns and legendary artist Gary Frank have made their long-awaited and much-anticipated return to the Superman mythos. And what a glorious return it is. Following their critically acclaimed run on Action Comics that wrapped up late last year, Johns and Frank have reunited for a little something called Superman: Secret Origin, a heavily hyped six-issue miniseries that promises to spell out the definitive origin of Superman for the 21st century. Wow. Talk about a daunting task for this creative duo to undertake. After all, it's certainly no secret that Superman's origin story has been the subject of numerous comic book works over the past 70 years, such as John Byrne's The Man of Steel masterpiece and Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright saga. In addition, Superman's origin story has been told and retold in a plethora of other prominent works outside of the comic book medium as well, from Richard Donner's Superman film to the enduring Smallville television show. Above all, however, the simple fact of the matter is that countless comic book fans and pop culture enthusiasts know everything about the story of Superman's origin to the point where it just seems completely unnecessary to tell it again for the same old audience. Fortunately, however, Johns and Frank effectively begin to both revitalize and re-imagine Superman's iconic origin story for today's generation of comic book readers in the debut issue of this nostalgic miniseries. That's right. Superman: Secret Origin #1 is actually a great start to reinterpreting the Man of Steel's origin story for our modern-day comic book community.

Right off the bat, we realize that Johns has wisely decided to skip over some of the most familiar parts of Superman's origin story, such as the destruction of the doomed planet Krypton, Kal-El's rocket ship soaring to Earth and landing in rural Kansas, Jonathan and Martha Kent's fateful discovery of the infant Last Son of Krypton, and all of that other epic stuff we all know by heart at this point. And, yeah, that's actually a really good move on Johns' part. Instead, Superman: Secret Origin #1 opens in Smallville with a young Clark Kent playing a simple game of tackle football with his friends. Before we know it, however, this pastoral opening scene comes to an abrupt end when Clark accidentally injures his friend Pete Ross in one of this issue's many unforgettable moments. And that's when Johns first reminds us that this adolescent Clark Kent will one day become the Superman that we all know and love. Thus, throughout the rest of the issue, Johns takes us on an exhilarating journey that centers on Clark's boyhood struggle to come to terms with the fact that he's different from everyone else in Smallville. Indeed, over the course of the rest of the issue, we witness Clark discovering many of his special "superhero" powers in uncontrollable succession, making him feel like a social outcast who would do anything to be "normal" rather than "unique". In addition, after his heat vision power manifests, Clark's adoptive parents finally decide that the time has come to show him the rocket ship that delivered him to Earth. And, needless to say, Clark then begins to learn all about his "secret origin". And, yeah, this story just soars from there.

From a storytelling standpoint, Superman: Secret Origin #1 truly succeeds in making this story feel both familiar and classic without it ever feeling timeworn. Indeed, by deciding to start this six-issue miniseries with the fateful day when Clark first learns of his Kryptonian heritage, Johns throws us right into the emotional core of Superman's origin story as we see Clark try to cope with the startling realization that he's not of this world. Now, needless to say, the opening issue of this miniseries could have very easily come across as nothing more than a derivative and unoriginal Superman origin story, but Johns makes every effort to find a perfect balance between the fresh and the familiar in this debut issue. And, again, he succeeds on a myriad of different levels. Johns just does a remarkable job of both reinvigorating and reinventing the timeless Superman origin story for both longtime Superman fans and casual comic book readers here. In addition, throughout this opening issue, Johns also seems to go to great lengths to pay tribute to the Superman film franchise, the Smallville television show (take a good look at Pete Ross' cast, for example), and all of the Superman origin sagas that preceded this one in the comic books. And, yeah, as a faithful Superman fan, this is a move that I just simply appreciate and admire.

And what about the artwork? Well, suffice it to say that Gary Frank's visuals are as beautiful and iconic as we've come to expect, and his unique penchant for detail and design simply permeates every single page of this opening issue. Without a doubt, Superman: Secret Origin #1 reinforces the fact that this man was just born to illustrate the Superman mythos.

All in all, it truly seems that Johns and Frank are setting out to present us with the quintessential version of Superman's origin story. And, believe it or not, they actually seem to be pulling it off right now. After all, with this opening issue, Johns and Frank have proven that they definitely have what it takes to create a compelling Superman saga that works to explore both the roots and the very essence of the Man of the Steel. Thus, I truly think it's safe to say that Superman: Secret Origin could very well become a Superman story for the ages. And, hey, it might even go down in history as a timeless comic book classic.

Blackest Night: Superman #2

Written by James Robinson

Art by Eddy Barrows, Ruy Jose, and Julio Ferreira

Coloring by Rod Reis

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

It's a rumble in Smallville, as Superman and Superboy take on the zombie duo of Earth-2 Kal-L and the Psycho Pirate. But despite the hard-hitting forces at play here, is this book really resonating with readers?

Right now, it's still unclear. But after seeing this this was the second part in a three-part series, I'm feeling a little worried -- not because this comic isn't a fun popcorn fight, but because this issue didn't have a whole lot in the way of progression, and Robinson only has another 22 pages to wrap this story up and give it some real consequences. In other words -- it feels a lot like the first issue.

Not that that's a bad thing. James Robinson's smartest choice in this book was to bring back the Psycho Pirate, whose emotion-twisting powers are actually a great fit for the Blackest Night, which is founded on the emotional spectrum. The Pirate really steals the show, as he wreaks havoc on Smallville, as well as establishes a wedge between Superman and his young clone. But surprisingly, it's the subplot with Supergirl and New Krypton which really feels sharpest this issue -- perhaps because Supergirl makes a distinct choice.

Of course, Robinson's pacing is unorthodox to say the least, but Eddy Barrows actually does a decent job in making the small, cramped images work to his advantage, packing a lot of power into a limited amount of space. His bodies look fine, but sometimes his faces could use a little work -- certain images, like a tearful, angry Supergirl look fantastic, but other images, such as a resolute Superman emerging from the flames, makes him look like an old man.

But the thing that wore a little thin was the overuse of colors and the emotional spectrum in this issue -- last issue, I thought it was interesting to see how Superman was such a paragon of the human condition that he could purely exhibit multiple emotions at once. But seeing it again and again and again didn't really add anything to the story, and thus detracted from what could have been some cool-looking splash images.

With only one issue to go, James Robinson has a lot riding on the conclusion of Blackest Night: Superman. If he can manage to give this clash of the titans some meaning, this'll be a nice return to Superman's roots -- but if not, this issue will be seen as more of a light popcorn flick rather than a weighty conclusion of the drama that's been percolating underneath the Superman family since the deaths of Kal-L and Superboy in Infinite Crisis. Still, this is a good comic that knows what it did right, and continues to play it to the hilt -- if it can be just a little more ambitious and keep adding to the formula, it'll be even greater.

New Avengers #57

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

I am a huge Avengers fan.  I am a lifelong, card-carrying (literally, thanks to Wizard Magazine) fanatic.  I own, in floppies or in trade, every issue of every volume of the Avengers, even Heroes Reborn.  I love seeing the Avengers in action, especially with a line-up as strong as the one present here can be.  That said, this title has its ups and downs, and lately it hasn’t exactly been all sparkles and doughnuts. 

Picking up right where the last issue left off, we begin with some characterization of each of the New Avengers as they struggle to regain consciousness after their solid defeat at the hands of the Wrecking Crew.  With some of Bendis’s “old hat” characters such as Spider-Man, these little snippets were like bite-sized examples of Bendis’s comfortable style, snarkiness intact.  Some of them, on the other hand, felt almost like a creative writing exercise in getting into the mindset of some of the characters he’s only begun writing like the current Captain America, or as most of the team refer to him, “Bucky Cap.”  Whether these panels stand solid, or fall flat, they’re all the New Avengers we get for much of the issue.  Within the first few pages, focus switches to Norman Osborn and his Avengerbolts.  After unsuccessfully trying to arrest the outlaw Avengers in the wake of last issue’s melee, the Dark Avengers find themselves surrounded by the Hood’s former cronies, now led by Dr. Jonas Harrow.  After making a deal with Harrow and his gang, the Dark Avengers are thwarted in their attempt to apprehend the New Avengers by the timely arrival of Mockingbird.  Incidentally, I truly welcome her presence in this book, and the focus she has received over the last two issues has been one of the title’s high points.  Here we divert to the Hood, who is making his own deal with Loki to regain the power he lost in the Sorcerer Supreme arc.  After this brief interlude, we return to the New Avengers, now seeking help from the Night Nurse.  Despite his dire condition, she is unable to aid Luke Cage due to his unbreakable skin (what, no adamantium scalpel?), and Cage realizes his only hope is to surrender to Osborn.

All in all, the issue itself was not bad.  The dialogue was snappy as usual, and even though this issue was far more plodding than the last, it moved along at a fair pace.  Stuart Immonen’s art is off of like a hundred chains, and is a vast improvement over previous artist Billy Tan’s Liefeldian sense of proportion.  Still, the main problem here is a strong sense of repetition.  Haven’t we seen this Dark Avengers/New Avengers conflict over and over again recently?  It’s been the same since Tony Stark took over as Avengers Douche Supreme a couple years ago, and the shtick is getting kind of tired.  It’s starting to feel like a sitcom wherein the writer must constantly find new and more complicated ways to place his protagonists in the same wacky predicament, only to have everything back to status quo by the end of the episode.  Luke Cage’s dire straits feel like a rehash as well, reverting back to the old routine: Luke Cage is in trouble.  No one can help Luke Cage.  Luke Cage gotta man up and go surrender to Osborn to get help.  Rinse, repeat.  Advance solicits indicate it may actually end with consequence this time, but really I think I’d rather just skip the whole thing and move on to a new plot hook.  This issue is too much of an old gimmick to stand up on its own, but steller art and the sense that this is, to quote Fred Sanford, “The Big One,” at least make it tolerable enough to see through to the end of the storyline. 

Detective Comics #857

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by J. H. Williams III and Cully Hamner

Colors by Dave Stewart and Dave McCaig

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

Well the people over at 'Tec have done it again. While this arc ("Elegy") for the Batwoman ends, it raises several questions in the process, and the Question's arc continues on. This issue really defines Kate and gives her more definition rather than just a female Batman. Rucka has spun a great story here and how it ends is something I didn't see coming, though really should have since the cover is a huge hint and elbow nudge.

So basically, Alice alerts Kate that she has abducted her father and plans on releasing poisonous chemicals over Gotham. Now while the bat-eared hero versus the white-skinned villain distibuting chemicals over a major metropolitan city sounds should. However, Williams and colorist Dave Stewart turn something we've seen a myriad of times, into pages that are out of left field and very inventive. One of the main fight scenes between Batwoman and her albino adversary, resembles that of a tarot card, but it is not as confusing at all. I always find myself taking longer to read this title because I just linger at the pages making sure I catch everything, and it sometimes is a lot to take in.

Now, on to the second feature of this issue: the Question still on the trail for the slave traffickers. Now I know that Cully Hamner is not J. H. Williams, and the best part is, he's not trying to be. I have to admit though, Hamner has really stepped up his game with this issue. With only eight pages of story there's only so much one can do, but Hamner, aided by new colorist for this feature, Dave McCaig (Adam Strange, Superman: Birthright) really delivers.

This issue of Detective Comics continues the tradition of solid story-telling and creative art styles that well and translates into something wonderful and difficult to put down.

Spider-Woman #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Alex Maleev

Letters by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

This book has been in the works for sometime now and it's finally here: Spider-Woman #1. The thing is though, the issue isn't really that action-oriented or heavy on the espionage. It reads more like a character study for Jessica Drew with the Bendis standard of way too many inner dialouge caption boxes which I got burnt out on rather quickly. There's some points in the book that you don't even need to read them, because Alex Maleev's artwork captures the turmoil Jessica is feeling with his wild colors and figure composition. I mean, she compares herself to Wolverine on their levels of being screwed up and you can see the anger and frustration in the panels. It's something to behold.

So what we have in this issue, is Jessica Drew being offered a position for SWORD by Abigail Brand for hunting down the remaining Skrull from "Secret Invasion", basically giving Jessica a chance at revenge. I really love Bendis' set up here, and I have to admit, I'm intrigued by the concept and curious about the next issue. My main complaint doesn't come from Bendis or Maleev (who is the selling point, in my opinion), but to Marvel itself. An extra dollar for only six extra pages? We really couldn't get a solid eight like they've been putting in Detective Comics or Streets of Gotham? Really?

I wasn't blown away by anything here, mainly because it was set up and flashbacks, but I'm not going to hold that against Bendis since I know this team up that produced some of my favorite Daredevil stories will deliver eventually. I just wish it wasn't so wordy. 

The Incredible Hulk #602

From: Marvel

Writer: Fred Van Lente

Art: Michael Ryan

Review by Brian Andersen

Although the main punch-out story between Skaar and the ever unstoppable Juggernaut was kinda entertaining - the witty dialogue was quite fun -  I didn't feel much for the lead character/star of the book. For someone like me who hasn't read a single story starring Skaar, I was mostly confused the whole time. So he's, like, a little boy who's a Hulk? Cool idea, but I didn't get much out of who he was, or why I should care about him. I suppose I need to read his previous issues to get a real handle on him, but shouldn't I also be able to get a better sense of who he is just from this issue?

Most confusing for me was the fact that there wasn't much in the way of explanation as to Skaar's "old power".  Juggs, Banner, Skaar, seems everyone mentions it and reference it a million times but nowhere in the story does a character stop to explain just what this power is and what it exactly does. Shouldn't the writer has taken a small moment to offer some info this "old power" if it's gonna be discussed so much? Why did Skaar get all lit up with that energy field when he fought Juggs? What did the energy field do? The art, which I found stiff, wooden and emotionless, didn't make it any clearer. Maybe I needed to Wikipedia it? But, sadly, as a new reader I don't think sending me to the internet to gather information on what's happening is such a great way to tell a story. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of making comics accessible to everyone, both newbies and oldies alike? Also, is Skaar still super strong as a small little boy? That wasn't clear.

On top of this, everything about the story seemed hyper-exaggerated and kinda pointless. I get that Bruce Banner is trying to teach his Hulky son how to be a hero, how to care about people and how to fight and what not, but the story just didn't have much weight behind it. I assume this issue is a small part of a longer story arch but I can't help but feel that once the story gets collected in it's inevitable trade this issue will be completely skippable. Plus, that last page. Oh joy, it's Wolverine! Goodie, only the most over-exposed comic character in history shows up next issue. Blah.

For me the main draw for picking up Incredible Hulk is the 10 page back-up story starring the very incredible new Savage She-Hulk. It might be crazy to be willing to pay $3.99 for a 10 page back-up but when the comic is this fun, exciting, and totally awesome, it's worth it. I love seeing the all new Savage She-Hulk Rogues, female baddies based on old Hulk villains, get what's coming to them after killing her would-be boyfriend and giving She-Hulk a massive smack-down. Loved how Lyra (the Savage one herself) leapt into air to grab the evil girl's escape plane, smashing it right on top of their unsuspecting noggins. Michael Ryan's art matches the thrilling story perfectly, written deftly by the always talented Fred Van Lente, and he makes every panel full of energy. While the three villains think they have Lyra trapped in Death Valley, it's actually the other way around, as Lyra informed them by etching "dead women" on the frozen (dead?) body of one of the villains she just defeated. Scary, gripping, great! Can't wait for the next issue!

Power Girl #5

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray

Art by Amanda Conner

Colors by Paul Mounts

Letters by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald 

Earlier this week, Troy Brownfield posted a great Change of Pace article on Power Girl. Irreverent? Fun? This most recent issue is proof positive.

This issue opens with Power Girl and a friend seeing something crash into a Brooklyn park, and running up to her roof of her home to change and go check it out. Stripping off her sweater, white leotard already in place underneath, she digs through her bag only to curse herself for leaving her boots and gloves at the office. Amusingly, she comments to herself on the hypocrisy of telling Terra to always be prepared, and maintain secrecy in the Terra series. Arriving at the park, she discovers an unfamiliar ship and is blasted by its guns, frying off most of her cape. Three exotic looking women exit the ship and face off (one of them with gun drawn) with the first responding police officer, informing him that he must clear the area, as the ship is about to self destruct. Meanwhile Power Girl, is ripping apart the ship to get inside. As a bolt flies off the ship, it surprises the gun wielding woman and her gun fires-- blowing the head off a bystander.

Within the ship, Power Girl meets Brody, handsome and willing to be of service. . .  by answering her questions. Unfortunately, one of those answers includes the fact the ship is about to self destruct. PG does not make it out in time. Knocked out, but alive, she is at the bottom of a crater created as the ship destructs. But of course, being Power Girl-- she's up and around in no time and back at work as Karen Starr. 

Here's where we see some of the fun and irreverence of this series. We go from a man losing his head and an alien ship exploding. . .  to Karen and her assistant giving her cat a bath and chatting about the assistant's ex-husband, who interviewed at StarrWare recently. The three women from the ship are taking a cab around the city, and use a huge gem as payment. Then they enjoy some hot dogs. Is all this really necessary for the story? No. But is it amusing? I think so.

Flash to Coney Island, and we see another ship-- alluded to earlier in the issue as having been following the women's ship. Palmiotti and Gray throw in a little a little extra humor from a metal detector packing old curmudgeon, and the man of this ship is on his way to find the women using his tracking device. Where does the tracking device lead him? RIght outside Karen's office, of course! Cutting short an interview with a prospective new PR person, she finds her gloves and boots right where she left them, and and the issue as it began-- Power Girl rushing off to see how she can help.

I enjoy the way this series is going. Every issue leaves me wanting more, and anxiously awaiting the next issue. Gray and Palmiotti's subtle and not so subtle humor causes me to go back and re-read issues, or run over toward my roomates to make them read whatever it is that has me in giggle-fits on the sofa. Conner and Mounts art and colors mesh well, with this cover having a fresh new style from previous issues. I could go on and on about the continuity of Power Girl, and the way her character has been treated over time-- but our own Troy Brownfield covered that quite eloquently several days ago. If this is a series you've been scoffing at, read his article linked above, and then go buy an issue (or five!) of Power Girl. If you don't find yourself chuckling and enjoying it? Well, I'm sorry. You may want to trace your footsteps and see where you left your sense of humor.

Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer #2

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Kenneth Rocafort

Published by Top Cow

Review by Henry Chamberlain

ADVANCE- Out 9/30

Here’s an opportunity to take two Top Cow titles to a new level. This one brings together two generations of Top Cow readers: fans of Cyberforce, going back to the 90s, and the relatively new Hunter-Killer. It also teams up writer and Hunter-Killer co-creator Mark Waid (Amazing Spider-Man, Irredeemable) with artist Kenneth Rocafort (Astonishing Tales, Madame Mirage).

The Cyberforce gang and the Hunter-Killer gang must somehow find common ground or die trying. These two don't exactly mix; under normal circumstances, they would kill each other. But sometimes you have to pull yourself together, trust your enemies and go after the real threat. Both teams, after all, are cyborgs created by Cyberdata, a corporate force that now wishes to terminate them. The teams wise up to this turn of events, and discover they aren’t the only ones at risk.

Cyberdata itself  is on a path to control anyone who uses its products by taking what's so attractive about its "pull technology," the ability to access any data from anywhere, and simply stealing whatever it wants from its customers. And, even if you're not a customer, Cyberdata's got you covered since all it takes is a mere mention of your name from one of its customers to get you caught in its web.

How the characters from both teams come to terms with each other, or at least try, is   entertaining. Rocafort's handles the art deftly and exudes a cool detached vibe with his thin, sharp lines. However, it may not be altogether clear for a new reader trying to tell which character is which, since both teams are made up of hip young pretty things in the Top Cow style.   Then again, that does potentially allow for them to have some distinction from the villains.

The Amazing Spider-Man #606

Written by Joe Kelly

Pencils by Mike McKone

Inks by Andy Lanning

Color by Chris Chuckry

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Henry Chamberlain

Fans keep asking for more and more MJ, and she is being teased out at a sensible rate. Any MJ sighting is a good thing. The end of the Chameleon arc, #604, came to a satisfying close thanks to MJ. One recent MJ sustained note, "The Girl," from #605, gave us hope for more with a closer look at the life she left behind in LA. And now with #606, "The Girl" might have met her match as the incredibly hot Black Cat re-enters Spider-Man's life.

Joe Kelly masterfully writes all the little details, and picks up on all the right nuances, to give us a truly full-bodied issue. On the first page, we're made privy to a whole world of creepy better left for next time. Then we jump right into Peter Parker's domestic life and the complex sexual tension between him and his house mate, Michelle. This is followed by an unexpected visit by Peter's work mate, Norah, who carries her own.tension over Peter.  Predictably, things get bad . . .  and then MJ appears.

And so it goes, page after page is so full of life and authentic dialogue that really pops and elevates the story to such a level  that it will surely win over any reader who could possibly just be waiting for the next action scene. Interesting enough, when we get to the action in this issue, it's more about matters of the heart than anything else. Just as Spider-Man begins his nightly rounds, he is stopped in his tracks by a compelling force of nature that all but evaporates thoughts of MJ.

Joe Kelly's writing is honored by art that is up to the gold standard. Mike McKone, Andy Lanning and Chris Chuckry all seamlessly bring it off. Everyone rises to the challenge of presenting a worthy rival to Mary Jane, and then takes it further. Not only is Black Cat hot, but the chemistry is undeniable. With every bit of dialogue and body language, Spider-Man is admitting to having met his match.

What follows is some of the most convincing banter between two super powered beings who should get a room. It is match made in superhero heaven since together they don't miss a beat in the action scenes that follow. All the time, each one is checking out the other and accusing the other of being the one who left the relationship in the first place. This all leads us to the inevitable question: Has MJ really met her match? This issue proves that she has.

The Darkness #80

Written by Phil Hester

Art by Phil Hester

Published by Top Cow and Image Comics

Review by Henry Chamberlain

ADVANCE- Out 9/30

The Darkness #80 finds our wandering hero, Jackie Estacado, crossing paths with a Swamp Thing-like creature in Part One of, "Bog." Among Top Cow's badass dudes and babes with supernatural powers, Jackie Estacado is the bearer of The Darkness. In order to bring back the order of things, he's hired a bunch of thugs to join him in finding and destroying host bodies of the evil Sovereign.

For someone new to The Darkness, this could be more than you need to know. All you really need to know is that the story is set in some isolated little town in the Florida Everglades where all hell is going to break loose in a swamp inhabited by a monster.

Caught in the middle of this is a young woman, Miss Cypress, who represents the last patch of tribal land yet to be claimed by oil interests. It also happens to tie in with Jackie Estacado's quest. So, she must fend off his thugs as well as the oil company thugs. And all she seems to get in return is the thanks of the swamp monster, Bog.

Where is all this heading? When the oil company decides it better up its game, they send for "Scab." The casual reader will be glad he's been called in since, from the moment he crashes through a sheet of glass from an office building and clears his head with vodka, an interesting weirdo emerges we can all hook into.

Phil Hester's art is made up of bold lines and generous use of blacks. His characters look tough.  Really tough. If you're ready to go deeper into a hard-boiled fantasy, then The Darkness could be for you.

Supergirl #45

Written by Sterling Gates & Greg Rucka

Art by Jamal Igle & Jon Sibal

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"There are lives at stake here, people.  There's a whole damn planet counting on us."  -- Colonel Perseus Hazard, Squad K

See, now this particular bit of dialogue struck me as damn funny.  Not that writer Sterling Gates wrote some unintentional humor or anything, but more who it came from.  This Squad K colonel has appeared in several Superman Family books with his anti-Kryptonian crew, guns ablazin,' shoot first-ask questions never, and between the performance here in Supergirl #45 and the recent Supergirl Annual #1, I almost cringe when they arrive on the scene because they are more dangerous than anyone.  Between using red kryptonite to suss out an alien and white dwarf grenades as weapons, they are wildly reckless and I hope their disbanding is an end result whenever this whole "New Krypton" epic concludes.  

And that's an awfully big "whenever."  I know we're in this for another year, by my estimation, and it has been dragging at times.  But it's a good thing that Supergirl has been so well produced on a monthly basis since Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle have been running the show, because it can be a welcome respite when the bigger storyline starts to wear thin (that goes for Superman: World of New Krypton as well, I believe).  Supergirl currently has the most compelling supporting cast, here the character moments are executed the best, and it consistently sports the best artwork.

Here in Part 2 of "The Hunt for Reactron," the trio of Supergirl, Flamebird and Nightwing finally get a chance to catch their breath after a harrowing episode in Paris, France.  Not terribly surprising that they'd retreat to Kara's Metropolis residence where she now poses as Linda Lang, Lana's niece.  But with Lana's help they sort through the details on their current predicament, being framed for the apparent murder of Mon-El and the corruption of the Metropolis city water system.  They come to the conclusion that Reactron is mainly responsible, he probably has help, and they decide to get their own help from Lois Lane to clear their good name and taking down their shared enemy.  In the process, Flamebird's cognitive abilities allow her to detect whatever's ailing Lana, as the reader is all too aware of with her frequent bloody noses and fainting spells.

All of this, and the recharging of Reactron, who has new orders from the top to take down the "three loose ends" are skillfully rendered by Jamal Igle.  Who would've thought that Supergirl would be the most dependable Superman book when it comes to artistic consistency?  It's speaks to Igle's expressive illustrations that he can do up Reactron, a villain with a solid, stationary mask (think Willem Defoe's Green Goblin in Spider-Man), and his malevolence and bloodthirstiness seeps through the pages.  Don't let the storyline's title fool you:  the hunted is ready to be the hunter again.  And Gates is fortifying his storytelling reputation with the depth of characterization he brings to the series' leads and their deep-seated drama.  Kara and Thara are far more effective individually and collectively without their conflict holding them down.  I have the feeling that a certain resolution to this 4-parter could be what gets the two young ladies on the same page again.  I could be wrong, but I mean it as a compliment when I say that this series always keeps me guessing.  Another thing Supergirl keeps me doing is buying it too.  It's place on my pull list is secure.  

Dark X-Men: The Confession #1

Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost

Pencils by Bing Cansino

Inks by Roland Paris 

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler

Things aren't good.  Scott Summers and Emma Frost are having issues. The kind we all experience in our relationships, when one of us is the leader of a mutant super hero team, and the other is a semi-reformed villain, who is partly responsible for your girlfriend becoming a threat of intergalactic proportions, before sacrificing herself to save the galaxy. We've all been there. 

Dark X-Men: The Confession is, with brief exceptions, a heart-to-heart conversation between Cyclops and The White Queen. Every deed of the last few years, good and bad, is placed at the forefront. They don't have a choice; if their relationship, their love, is to continue, to grow, they must leave all pretence behind them. Scott and Emma must both admit their actions and accept the consequences of them, or else they will self-destruct. 

And self-destruction is precisely where the book begins.

Scott finds himself a sofa-surfer while Emma stays in their room. Hank McCoy has sworn that there will be a confrontation between all parties. X-Force is, for lack of a better term, the assassination squad that the X-Men should never be, at Scott's command. Norman Osborne's cabal includes Emma Frost. The surviving Mutants of the world are likely in more danger than before, thanks to the actions of Summers and Frost. And since neither of them will talk to each other, things are just going to get worse.

Kyle and Yost deliver a story of love, sacrifice, introspection and, yes, confession. By book's end, things look better for everyone involved. Cansino and Paris provide art worthy of the story. What could have been a slow, plodding story about two people talking is instead a wonderful dramatic book.


Written & Illustrated by Rick Geary

Published by Hill & Wang

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

A short time ago, I read Spain Rodriguez’s biography of Che Guevara, Che, and found it lacking.  While certainly well drawn, Spain’s biases concerning Guevara’s life created a book that felt more like a propaganda piece than a biography, and I found myself unable or unwilling to trust much of what Spain put forth in his work.  As I prepared to read Rick Geary’s life history of another 20th century revolutionary leader, I wondered if a slanted perspective might also affect my reading of Trotsky.

Of course, having read many of Geary’s previous works, I should’ve realized that such concerns were totally unfounded.  Rick Geary is the consummate historian of the comic book form.  As much as any man is able, he removes himself and his perspectives from Leon Trotsky’s life and relates the events as his research unearths them.  This means that Geary’s Trotsky is like many of us, filled with attributes both good and errant. Trotsky himself, we learn, was an excellent orator, a tireless writer and theorist, and (perhaps surprisingly, given his theoretical leanings) able to wage effective battles using the Russian army in the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution.

Beginning with his subject’s earliest days growing up on a farm in the modern-day Ukraine and ending with his assassination and memorial in Mexico, Geary’s book takes us through all the highlights and struggles of the revolutionary’s life with a clear line and a strong narrative voice.  Geary’s pen-and-ink style is well suited to capturing historic eras, and his eye for details grounds each scene effectively.  Whether depicting the concrete reality of the halls of the Kremlin or generating iconic imagery that fits the mood of the rising Soviet Union and themes of the book itself, Geary remains a draftsman of remarkable skill.

Although he tends to skim the political theory, which leaves certain factions within and beyond the Russian government feeling thin and vague, Geary’s Trotsky is an engaging, intelligent and well-drawn look into the life of Leon Trotsky.  Hopefully, comics will see a groundswell of true-life and historical publications, books that teach while entertaining.  Rick Geary has been doing just that for years now, and he’s one of the most consistent creators in the business, and his work is a fine standard for others to work toward.

Showcase Presents: The Warlord

Written by: Mike Grell

Art: Mike Grell

Published by: DC

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

When I started reading comics in the 1970s, I was pretty much a “Marvel Guy” exclusively.  However, one of the DC titles that I read regularly was Mike Grell’s outstanding Science Fantasy epic, The Warlord.  Unusual for the time, Grell served as both writer and artist on the series as well as the cover artist.  As a fan of Conan, Warlord was the closest thing to a Swords & Sorcery hero that DC had (Claw the Unconquered not withstanding).  But rather than a straight fantasy epic, Grell’s series was more of a lost world epic.  Grell’s work was strongly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series, borrowing the concept of a hollow Earth.

First introduced in DC’s 1st Issue Special #8 in 1975, the character got his own title in January 1976.  Lt. Travis Morgan is an Air Force Pilot flying a reconnaissance mission over Russia.  An encounter with Russian fighters damages his plane and he flees over the North Pole.  When Morgan finally ejects he finds himself in a strange new jungle world.  Morgan has entered a chasm some 800 miles below the Earth’s surface to find a hidden, savage world where Dinosaurs still exist and ruthless tyrants dominate this world known as Skartaris.  This hollow, inner world surrounds a miniature sun, making it daylight all the time and its inhabitants are unaware of the surface world.

Morgan and a native girl named Tara are captured and taken to the city of Thera.  It is here where Morgan first encounters the High Priest Deimos who will become his archenemy.  When Deimos attempts to assassinate Morgan and Tara, Morgan kills the assassins and he and Tara flee into the world of Skartaris for a life of battle and adventure, with Morgan earning the title Warlord from the free people of the land.

Grell’s series combines magic, science, and Atlantean lore.  The Warlord’s adventures range from typical swords & sorcery to strong science elements.  On one hand, Grell clearly didn’t want Warlord to just be a Conan the Barbarian copycat although there were a lot of barbarian-type stories.  In one issue Morgan even faces off against a Conan look-alike.

Grell is one of the most underrated comic talents of all-time.  He is a magnificent storyteller and a very fine artist as well.  In fact the black and white format of these Showcase editions perfectly “showcases” Grell’s fine line detail.  I’ve always thought the Grell’s style was a blend of Silver Age greats Gil Kane and John Buscema.  The 528 page book collects 1st Issue Special #8 and issues #1 – 28 of the on-going series.  If you’ve never read Warlord this is a great chance to immerse yourself into a fantastic adventure epic; it’s about time DC gave The Warlord the Showcase treatment!


Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #8 (DC Comics; review by Lan Pitts): Since the team of Art Baltazar and Franco from Tiny Titans took over the book, I find myself making sure it's in my pull box each month. In this installment, Dr. Sivana is running rampant with his own iron giant that is feeding off the life force of Tawky Tawny and Captain Marvel indirectly frees King Kull. After some creative use of the Shazam lightning power and something we learned in Third Grade about creating a magnet, Cap and Mary Marvel take down the foes and free Tawny. Now if you've been missing out of what's been going on, there is a sort of "Previously on Billy Batson" introduction, so it makes it easy to pick up because you've heard the great things about this book, but can't seem to find earlier issues. Byron Vaughns' art style works well for this kid's title, but it's almost too simple that it makes me miss Mike Kunkel's more animated style. Despite that, the book is in great hands and wonderful for any young reader.

Gotham City Sirens #2 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): Picking up where we left off, we find Selina "Catwoman" Kyle in the clutches of her roommates Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, determined to learn the true identity of The Batman from one who would know. Without giving anything away, Selina met with another who knows that Bruce is Batman, and learned a method in which even the deepest probe will result in a false story. Placated, Ivy releases Selina and Harley goes shopping, only to run into one of the more potentially tragic cases of mistaken identity in recent history. Paul Dini, a man who knows the three sirens very well, gives us a fun story that also does a good job of reintroducing a man who holds a major grudge against all three Sirens. Guillem March's art also does a good job at conveying the fun and the menace as the story delivers it. A fun book, one well worth reading, especially as the introduction has ended, and the first major storyline begins.

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