Best Shots 10-19-09

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Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Welcome back!  Let’s kick it off with last week’s BSEs, BSAs, and Blog@ reviews, all rounded up by David Pepose . . .

BSE: House of Mystery Hallowween Annual (Vertigo) by Troy Brownfield

BSE: Adventure Comics #3 (DC Comics) by Troy

BSE: Deadpool #900 (Marvel Comics) by David Pepose

BLOG@: Witchblade #131 (Top Cow) by Lan Pitts

BLOG@ - It Came From the NYPL: The Iron Wagon (Fantagraphics) by Michael Lorah

BLOG@: House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1 (Vertigo) and Perhapanauts Halloween Spooktacular (Image), by J. Caleb Mozzocco

BLOG@: Things Undone (NBM) by Mike

BLOG@: The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My (Drawn & Quarterly) by Mike

BLOG@: The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick Press) by Caleb

BLOG@: A Family Secret (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Caleb

BLOG@: Absolute Death (Vertigo) by Sarah Jaffe

BLOG@: The Anchor (BOOM! Studios) by Caleb

BLOG@: Dungeon: The Early Years vol. 2: Innocence Lost (NBM) by Mike


Batman #691

Written by Judd Winick; Art by Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter


Blackest Night: Batman #3

Written by Peter Tomasi; Art by Adrian Syaf & Vincente Cifuentes

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Since the stories didn't directly tie into each other, one can only chalk it up to coincidence that these two books arrived on the same week and they both address Dick Grayson and what provided the catalyst for his career as a crimefighter, the murder of his parents, John and Mary Grayson, also known as the Flying Graysons.  In Blackest Night: Batman #3, it's to no one's surprise that his long-deceased parents are used against him, much as dead loved ones have haunted all the heroes of the DC Universe since this epic crossover began.  The Graysons, to a lesser extent, get coverage in Batman #691 as a new mystery that Batman actually stumbles upon by accident has him questioning his old mentor's motives.

For all of the drama they've created since their black rings reanimated the dead, who knew that the Black Lanterns had such a flair for the theatrical?  The previous issue left off things with the Dark Knight, teamed with not one but TWO Robins and the father/daughter duo of Commissioner Gordon and Barbara, crashing down hard on a Gotham City cemetery after escaping the chaotic dead supervillain assault at the downtown police department.  The intention was to take this fight away from innocent bystanders, so perhaps a cemetery wasn't the wisest decision.  Actually Dick did have a good reason, a escape route to protect the civilians, and he comes up with the idea of reinforcements, someone who can help them take the fight to the next level.  As I mentioned the theatrical, the big surprise of this third and final chapter, "Who Burns Who," is the lengths the Black Lanterns nearest and dearest to Dick and Tim "Red Robin" Drake go to instill some intense emotions in them in order to add them to their ranks.  Writer Peter Tomasi takes these two former apprentices of Bruce Wayne to the razor-thin edge from which they almost don't recover.  It's not horribly surprising to see Tim fall under the spell of his "resurrected" father, seeing as he's been an army of one in trying to rescue Bruce Wayne, someone everyone else has discounted as deceased.  But Dick is a whole other story.  Tomasi shows that Dick has a ways to go as a Batman who is the gold standard for self control.  Between his parents, John and Mary, and the mobster responsible for their death Boss Zucco, all the right buttons are pushed.  It stands to reason that Blackest Night: Batman was going to be lacking a truly satisfying resolution since the main series is barely halfway complete, but it makes up for it with an exciting, well-paced script, powerful art by Adrian Syaf and Victor Cifuentes, and I was impressed in how they managed to essentially avoid the idea that Bruce may or may not be really dead, what with a certain pointy-eared cowl being Black Hand's favorite accessory right now.  I have to imagine that that particular plot point may be a story for another day...  I mean NIGHT!

As for Batman #691, it wasn't bad by any means, but when the main story, "The Long Shadows," reached it's conclusion, it felt inconsequential.  I'm going to hit on a SPOILER, so you've been warned, but it seemed like a bit of a bait and switch in that Two-Face did not truly opt to go with a twisted version of the Batman costume, it was merely a drug-induced illusion.  As quickly as the look was introduced (and it's getting an action figure in 2010 by DC Direct, by the way!), it faded away.  Fortunately the fight between Dick Grayson and Harvey Dent, in the closed confines of the Batcave under Wayne Manor, was exciting, and while you had to assume the new Batman was going to come out on top, the journey to that result was inventive.  Writer Judd Winick has done some of his slickest work for DC covering the Dark Knight, and it's too bad that he along with artist Mark Bagley (who, unfortunately, rarely made Batman look like a figure who could truly terrorize criminals like his mentor), are already moving elsewhere to other projects and making way for Tony Daniel, who's handling both scripting and illustrating duties starting with issue #692.  Which also begs the question why Winick's stint on this new era wrapped on a new mystery that he may not have any more say in.  Maybe he will, I don't know.  What I do know is that Dick has a lot of headaches in store for him, summed up in two words:  Black.  Mask.  Stay vigilant, former Boy Wonder.

Marvel Preview: UNCANNY X-MEN #516
Marvel Preview: UNCANNY X-MEN #516
Uncanny X-Men #516

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Greg Land and Jay Feister

Coloring by Justin Ponsor

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Asteroid M has returned from the depths -- and only hours into Cyclops' reign, the first shots have been fired. And despite a somewhat slow lead-up, Matt Fraction gives this book a militaristic, muscular tone that really opens Nation X off with style.

But to start off with, the introduction of this issue has me torn -- on the one hand, because the characterization doesn't grab me, the scene drags. But in Fraction's defense, he already gives the slow intro a good payoff by the end of the book. The real curveball, just based on the cover, is the return of the Master of Magnetism himself -- yet Fraction takes a page from Chris Claremont's playbook, and focuses more on allegiances than fisticuffs. How does Magneto fit in with this brave new world? It's this question that Fraction answers with intelligence.

That said, considering last issue was largely setup, it would be disappointing if this issue didn't have some of the action and tactics that has made Uncanny a fun book to follow. That slow introduction I mentioned happens to crackle with tension, as Cyclops handles the first invasion of Utopia with a general's eye. Without giving too much away, Nightcrawler fans should be happy, as he gets some love from Fraction as a real asset to the team.

The other question is the artwork of Greg Land -- while in the Sisterhood arc, I argued that he wasn't keeping up with Fraction's crazy ideas, in this case, his art style works. His Magneto especially looks great, as does the fury on Charles Xavier's face when his one-time friend comes a-callin'. The only problem that Land has is some of the acting from Fraction's script: for example, when Cyclops tells one of the team to step down, it looks as though Cyke is shouting at someone, rather than simply being firm and forceful.

It's the ending of this book -- with Nightcrawler shouting "Shoot it down! Shoot it down right now!" -- that is some really gripping stuff. In this case, the writer and artist are simpatico again, and it makes this work definitely hit home. The Uncanny X-Men are at battle stations, and I definitely want to see how Utopia survives its first unwelcome visitors.

Double-Shot: Adventure Comics #3

Written by Geoff Johns; Co-feature written by Geoff Johns and Michael Shoemaker

Art by Francis Manapul; Co-feature art by Clayton Henry

Published by DC Comics

Review by Robert Repici

Wow. Now this is what I call a compelling, character-driven superhero comic book. That's right, fellow fans. Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul have done it again. Without a doubt, Adventure Comics #3 is a wonderful single-issue superhero story. And, yes, as countless Conner Kent and Legion fans have come to expect, this issue fires on all cylinders and hits all the right notes, as both Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes continue to soar to new heights in this new Adventure Comics series. In other words, this is just one hell of a comic book.

Adventure Comics #3 continues Conner Kent's remarkably intriguing (and perhaps quintessential) quest to come to terms with his conflicting genetic heritage as the so-called "balance" between Superman and Lex Luthor. Needless to say, this is an incredibly simple premise for a new ongoing series, but it's a premise that has definitely worked wonders in this book so far. As he continues to strive and struggle to follow in the footsteps of his two "fathers" in this issue, the newly returned Boy of Steel decides that the time has finally come to set out on a journey to hunt down Lex Luthor in order to find out whether or not the nefarious mastermind has any redeeming qualities.

Believe it or not, however, Conner can't seem to find Luthor on his own, so he tracks down and enlists the help of his best friend Tim Drake, the former Robin who's now traveling around the world under the alias of Red Robin. Now, needless to say, the bulk of this issue revolves around the boys' much-anticipated reunion and their first conversation since Conner died in the pages of "Infinite Crisis" over three years ago, but Geoff Johns does a tremendous job of delving into the hearts and minds of both heroes here as their seemingly straightforward conversation turns into a profound and poignant discussion about their personal quests and current state of affairs. Thus, it truly seems that Johns uses this long-awaited reunion to craft two compelling and intimate character studies that really work to examine and explore the reasoning behind Conner and Tim's respective missions in the modern-day DC Universe. Indeed, even though Johns spends a significant amount of time fleshing out the motivations behind Conner's quest to find Lex Luthor in this issue, he also sheds some much-needed light on the main reasons why Tim has decided to take up the mantle of Red Robin on his globe-trotting search for Bruce Wayne, who everyone else believes is dead after the events of "Final Crisis". And, needless to say, that's certainly a lot for a writer to effectively explore in a single issue, even for someone of Johns' caliber. But, hey, the man succeeds here on every level.

Even though the bulk of this issue focuses on Conner and Tim's captivating reunion, however, the most charming scene in Adventure Comics #3 actually centers on Krypto, Superboy's super-powered canine companion. In an attempt to please and score points with Conner, Krypto takes the time to round up his master's old rogue's gallery and then presents them to him out cold with a lovable and loyal look in his eyes and a big, friendly puppy smile on his face. Talk about an awesome dog! Without a doubt, Johns' take on DC's famous Kryptonian canine is quickly becoming the stuff of legend, and I really hope that Krypto gets an opportunity to take center stage in this series sometime down the road.

Needless to say, Francis Manapul's artwork in this latest issue of Adventure Comics is as beautiful and stunning as we've come to expect in this series, as he continues to use a unique painted style to deliver some gorgeous and tantalizing visuals that really work to pull the reader into the story. And, yeah, Manapul's depiction of Krypto in the aforementioned scene makes me want to drop everything I'm doing just to go play with my loyal and fun-loving beagle for a few carefree hours.

And then there's the Legion of Super-Heroes co-feature. This month's short story revolves around the two Legionnaires known as Sun Boy and Polar Boy as they team up to track down a super-villain called Cryo-King on Polar Boy's home planet of Tharr. Johns and co-writer Michael Shoemaker tell a pretty exciting and entertaining story here, and Clayton Henry's clean and crisp artwork effectively captures the essence of this action-packed tale. And, of course, the cliffhanger in this month's co-feature definitely makes me even more anxious to find out what the missing members of the Legion are up to in the 21st century.

All in all, Adventure Comics #3 is another fantastic issue in this new ongoing series, and it's definitely one of the best character-driven comic books I've read this year. And even though we all know that both Johns and Manapul are prematurely leaving this title after the series' sixth issue hits the stands sometime next year, it's practically impossible not to appreciate and admire the time and effort the two of them have put into this book for the past few months. After all, not only have they successfully resurrected and revitalized a classic DC comic book, but they have also successfully made this series into one of the most enjoyable and entertaining superhero titles on the stands today. And, yeah, that's definitely a major accomplishment.

Double-Shot: Adventure Comics #3

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul

Coloring by Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Forget the morality tale: this issue Adventure Comics is a story about friendship. And that's where this book not only works -- it downright shines.

Indeed, it's a been a long time since glory days of the Teen Titans, helmed by none other than Geoff Johns -- with Superboy and Kid Flash having spent much of last year on ice, we've seen Tim Drake slowly but surely start to lose it, adopting colder methods and the identity of Red Robin. It takes a little while to bring Tim back to this issue, but once Johns does, it rocks.

In that way, this issue is about as cathartic for readers as it is for Tim -- in many ways, Geoff Johns articulates Tim's motivations and guilt even better than the Bat-books have lately. By showing Tim's world through the prism of friendship he has with Superboy, Johns does what he does best: making us root for our heroes, no matter how screwed up they might be. Indeed, the last page of Connor and Tim's heart-to-heart is just such powerful writing that you may get a little lump in your throat.

Artwise, Francis Manapul is in an interesting situation -- the past two issues, he's had the secret weapon of colorist Brian Buccellato cranking his pencils to the max with beautiful sunsets and gorgeous Smallville skies. With the story being mostly set in the nightlife of Paris, Buccellato gives Manapul the clarity to knock this story out of the park. It isn't set pieces and iconic images anymore: Manapul really delivers the emotional goods, whether it's Superboy's look of concern, or the look on Red Robin's face when -- for the first time in years -- someone finally understands him. I'd also be remiss if I didn't say that Manapul walks the line in making Tim look his age, while still making the Red Robin suit make sense. Seriously, this guy is good.

While I'm still not totally convinced about the good versus evil, genes versus environment debate that Geoff Johns has explored through Superboy, seeing the World's Finest Teens reunite is well worth the price of admission. It's been so satisfying seeing Superboy tie up loose ends, and it's only fitting that Geoff Johns -- the heart and soul of the Teen Titans franchise -- use his heartfelt characterization to make things right again. And that's the best Adventure of all.

Incredible Hercules #136

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Reilly Brown and Nelson DeCastro

Coloring by Guillem Mari, Ulises Areola, and Sotocolor's A. Street

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

After months of build-up, it's finally here: Hercuthor versus Thorcules! It's Grecian style versus Asgardian style, with the fate of the world in the balance. So how does it stack up? While I feel that the heroic elements of this arc were a little downplayed, the comedic talents of Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Reilly Brown let the conclusion of this battle royale go out not with a bang -- but with a god-sized purple nurp.

Of course, the first third of the book runs a little slow, mainly because Pak and Van Lente have to fill in readers about Hercules' latest misadventure -- namely, masquerading as Thor, accidentally marrying an Dark Elven Princess and perhaps maybe setting off an invasion on Earth. If you haven't been reading this series in awhile, its a little heavy on the mythological and continuity aspects.

But things pick up when Thorcules -- the real Thor, just in a skirt -- arrives on the scene, and of course, when the punches fly, so too does the story. This series' patented sound effects truly steal the show, ranging from "GOTCHAGAAAIN" to "BACKATCHA" being only the tip of the iceberg. The conclusion of this fight is especially hilarious, and lets Herc win in pretty much the only way he could -- by taking everyone down to his level.

Now, two issues back I ragged on Reilly Brown a little bit about his characters' facial expressions. I'm happy to eat my words in this issue, as Hercules and Thor just look hilarious. Considering Pak and Van Lente's humor skews a little towards the juvenile in this script, Brown takes this ball and runs with it, whether its Herc's look of "oh no he diun't" when Thor suggests he throw the fight, or Thor's look of pain when he is tweaked in the most unseemly of fashions. While his brief moments of heroism look sharp, it's the comedy that really stands out.

If I had any sort of issue with this book, it's the fact that the comedy very much overshadows the heroism that this series has hit in previous arcs. The best issues of Incredible Hercules -- like last issue's triumph of Amadeus Cho -- really hit the balance between laugh-out-loud debauchery and some fist-pumping moments of awesome. But it is what it is, and Incredible Hercules #136 doesn't apologize for it: this is the Hercules vs. Thor battle you never thought you'd ever get to see, which makes a well-drawn exercise of just how funny a guy in a skirt could be.

The Anchor #1

Written by Phil Hester

Art by Brian Churilla

Colors by Matthew Wilson

Letters by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Lan Pitts

Now this is a dynamite premiere issue. I'm rarely disappointed with a Phil Hester story, and The Anchor is no exception to that rule. The story is pretty simple, yet layered in a supernatural tone that I am usually drawn to. The Anchor tells the tale of a colossal outcast who wanted refuge in the ruins of an ancient monastery and offered in return the one thing he had to give: his fists. Soon, he was transformed into an immortal warrior monk who stands gates of Hell itself to keep our world free from its invading armies. Later, he is mysteriously tricked into centuries of deep sleep, but is awoken to fight the creatures that escaped Hell while he slept.

Now the imagery is widely compared to The Goon or Hellboy, but I think Churilla has his own sort of style. He's more cartoonish than Mignola or Powell and it does a balancing act between cartoon so you can laugh at the funny moments, but doesn't take you out of the more serious, intense or violent ones. It's beautifully drawn and colored and strong composition.

I love how he is introduced to humanity, but he's so mysterious, I can't wait to read what happens next. Anchor or Clem has he is soon nicknamed (after St. Clement, whose symbol is, you guessed it: an anchor). Like I mentioned previously, some comparisons will be made between this and Hellboy. Well, let me put this way: Hellboy works for the United States government, while Clem here, answers to only God. Also, any human characteristics that HB has such as doubt, Anchor seems to be void of. He is a Divine punching machine and does a damn good job of it.

So, bottom line, give this a try. If you're into the more supernatural titles out there, this is definitely for you. It's a strong debut that doesn't let up and is a perfect addition to BOOM!'s already impressive character roster. It's poetic, intense and just fun. The Anchor has found a place in my pull box.

The Unwritten #6

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross

Colors by Chris Chuckry & Jeanne McGee

Letters by Todd Klein

Cover by Yuko Shimizu

Review by Amanda McDonald

After the last issue strayed from the Tom Taylor story line, this issue gets us back on track. Entitled "Inside Man, Part One," this issue weaves together time periods and mediums. Staying true to this series' penchant for literary allusions, Carey integrates the oldest surviving major work of French literature The Song of Roland into the story of Tom Taylor's extradition to France to stand trial for the murders at Villa Diodati. 

The "Inside Man" from the title essentially narrates the story, mysteriously having knowledge of everything Tom Taylor is experiencing and posting about it online. Even the Inside Man takes part in The Unwritten's pattern of literary allusions, posting reference to the classic Robert Browning Poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This in turn, of course makes this literature nerd think of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and of course, its protagonist-- Roland, the last of the knightly order of gunslingers. There are however, a few aspects of the story the Inside Man does not seem to have knowledge of. Lizzie Hexam is hard at work, trying to figure out a way to get Tom out of this. Her source of information? Classic French tales, with paragraphs distinctly in English speaking directly to her. The prison governor's home life-- after admitting Tom Taylor to the prison, he goes home and reads his children their favorite book, part of the Tommy Taylor series. And lastly, when Tom wakes up in the middle of the night, his tattoo that seems to appear and disappear, searing into him and leading him to the prison chapel-- where he finds a rather surprising visitor.

Gross' art talent stands out, varying from illustrating the old French tale, to Tom Taylor's world, to the high tech setting of blogs, news articles, and online forums blowing up on the internet over this whole Villa Diodati situation. Each of his settings have a distinct art style, further enhanced by Chuckry and McGee's variations on coloring styles for each. This truly is a book I look forward to each month. I remember picking up the first issue while browsing at my LCS, and upon flipping through was confused. I thought the art direction was all over the place, and I set the book back down. But my curiousity was piqued. I went back a couple days later and bought issue one. The Unwritten is a carefully crafted work, full of complex plot and literary allusions enough to keep this recovering English major want to keep reading.


The Shield #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but I think there's something special about The Shield. In a lot of ways, it has to do with writer Eric Trautmann's look at superheroism for Uncle Sam -- on the one hand, we have the bloodthirsty Magog, and on the other, we have the Shield, whose primary concern isn't surviving against the enemy, but toning down his billion-dollar warsuit to not injure anyone too much. While seeing the Shield's telepathic defenses was interesting, however, I wish I could have seen a little bit more of his characterization, other than his saintly consideration for others. Artwise, Marco Rudy seems straightforward, but it's the little details that really rock: whether it's the beautiful striped smoke he leaves in his wake or the computerized outlines of certain panels, I wish Rudy would use those sorts of quirks more often -- this is the man's voice. All in all, while I don't know if I'm convinced about the villain behind the scenes, Trautmann is to be commended for the Shield's courage under fire -- now I just want to see more of the man behind the mask.

Batgirl #3 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald): Batgirl fans have been anxiously awaiting this issue-- finally, the debut of Stephanie Brown's own Batgirl costume. We don't get it right away by any means, we get plenty of Steph in the old Cassandra Cain suit fighting off hoodlums high on Thrill and having a very trippy showdown with Scarecrow. Over the course of that showdown, as Steph tries to fight off not only the Scarecrow, but also the effect of Thrill on herself, we get insight into her psyche and self doubts. But by the end, she triumphantly declares that she is indeed Batgirl, greatly pleasing Barbara who is watching from in the Bat-cave. Something happened to me while reading this issue that I'm not sure has happened before. I teared up. Yeah, I know-- what kind of wimp gets teary over an issue of Batgirl? But trust me-- read the scene in which Babs explains when Bruce and Dick made a promise to each other, and then makes the same promise to Stephanie and gives her the new Batgirl suit. You may not tear up (I admittedly do have a tendency to do that over silly things), but I hope it will instill the same sense of excitement at where this series has the potential to go that it instilled in me.

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