Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. First, links to our Best Shots Extra from this week . . .
AND . . . have you been checking out the interviews from Wizard World Chicago by the Shots in the Dark crew? Yeah, that’s our boys (and girl). Lucas, Janelle, Vince, John, Eric, Steve, and Josh knocked themselves out at WWC, grabbing some terrific interviews amid the crazy logistics of the show floor. If you’ve never seen the regular show, check it out at www.shotgunreviews.com/shots.
And now, regular reviews . . .
Action Comics #867
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
Published by DC Comics
Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow
"That's not Brainiac." -- Supergirl
Not exactly a sentence you'd expect to read in a storyline whose objective is to define Brainiac for the 21 century. But put in context it ends up making all the sense in the world and it underscores a fresh new angle that Geoff Johns is working with, arguably, Superman's second most important archenemy. Johns, with the eye-popping artistic assistance of Gary Frank (so at the top of his game, it's scary) and Jon Sibal, are generating new relevance for Brainiac, and the coolest thing about it is that they're not sweeping everything from the past under the rug to move forward.
In Action Comics #867, Johns introduces readers to the novel concept that we, not to mention the Man of Steel, has never really encountered the real Brainiac, merely his probes. From the original version made famous in the Challenge of the Superfriends cartoon series, to the sideshow psychic Milton Fine, to Brainiac 13, they've all been probes that have served the evil agenda of the master Brainiac who operates in the furthest reaches of space, continuing to collect civilizations like trophies. Almost more surprising than this bit of information is who the one is delivering it. Derided monthly my Best Shots colleagues and others based off her own solo book, Kara Zor-El, Supergirl to you and me, is showing signs that she may be well on her way to an upgrade, if the news of her book soon working in better tandem with this book and Superman is accurate. Since Supergirl was actually teen-aged when Brainiac visited Krypton and made away with the city of Kandor, she is able to detail the traumatic event for Kal-El from her own personal experience. Next to the eventual destruction of their home planet, Brainiac's invasion was the worst thing to ever happen there, and it's clear that she's hardly over it.
Something else that Supergirl says to her cousin, I believe, hints at things to come for Superman and his family. I don't want to sully a review on this specific issue with extensive speculation on events issues away from happening, but a lot of hints suggest that Clark Kent is going to experience some personal tragedy very, very soon. I will say this much, what I believe is slated to happen has been done before in other Man of Steel mediums, (Smallville, Superman the Movie), so all I hope is that it's handled in a meaningful way that truly resonates for a long time to come.
As for the bigger story fueling the multi-part "Brainiac," I regret that we didn't get a little more actual Brainiac, but Part 2 here is yet another excellent issue of Action Comics. After the first contact made last issue by his computerized adversary and conferring with Supergirl at the Fortress of Solitude with his find, Superman decides that he needs to be more proactive and take the fight to Brainiac. This issue can best be described as "preparatory," as Superman discusses his agenda first with his Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha, and later back at the Daily Planet with his wife, Lois Lane. Conversation pieces kind of takes the "action" out of the book, but there's no dead time at all found here. Plus things end on a pretty gripping and compelling note. Superman flies out to deep space (Hey! What happened to the Supermobile??) and finds THE Brainiac, making his latest on the planet responsible for Ultra the Multi-Alien (nice Silver Age nod, by the way). It's a crackerjack blowout between the two characters, and Brainiac's method of dispatching our hero is stunning. And going off the last page of this issue, I guess you could say that Superman didn't find Brainiac, but the other way around. So far I would deem the revival of this character a riveting success, and I can't wait for more. Johns, Frank, and all involved are knocking it out of the park.
Captain Britain and MI:13 #3
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Leonard Kirk with Jesse Delperdang and Scott Hanna
Published by Marvel
Review by Corey Henson
Britain's war against the invading Skrulls is heating up, as the aliens continue their quest to steal all of Britain's magic from the mystic land of Avalon. It's up to Pete Wisdom,
Black Knight, and MI:13 to hold the line, though as of yet, they haven't been faring too well. Now the beleaguered nation's defenders finally have a glimmer of hope in the form of the returning Captain Britain, and Merlin, the famed wizard of Arthurian legend.
Paul Cornell's Wisdom mini-series explored British culture and nationalism, and he continues working with those themes in the Secret Invasion tie-in issues of Captain Britain. Good thing he does, because the Secret Invasion crossover has largely been a fairly generic aliens vs. superheroes storyline. It's only
in fringe tie-ins like Captain Britain and Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak's Incredible Hercules that writers have fully explored the potential of the concept. Like in Hercules, where the Prince of Power is set to do battle with the Skrull pantheon, Cornell adds a twist to Brian Michael Bendis's main plotline in Secret
Invasion to come up with a compelling story hook. Rather than having Skrulls impersonating British superheroes, a story that could appear in virtually any of Marvel's titles with a simple change in cast, Cornell focuses on the mystical side of the crossover, something that could only be done this effectively in a book starring a character that ties into the classic story of King Arthur and Excalibur.
Launching a new series with a Secret Invasion tie-in was something of a risky move for Marvel, but the uber-talented Cornell makes it work by using the crossover to his advantage by setting the tone and stage for future storylines.
Batman Confidential #19
Story by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Kevin Maguire
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
This issue is Part 3 out of this 5 issue arc. This team-up just can't be beat! Nicieza's words mesh perfectly again with Maguire's pencils. In last issue, Batgirl learns that Catwoman needed the stolen notebook to save a life. After a skirmish with a mom muscle sniper, the girls lose the notebook yet again, but one of them managed to put a tracking device on it. The girls follow the signal to a mafia hideout. We learn that the life Catwoman is trying to savee is a young girl named Elena, who is a sex slave for the Russian mob. So, the girls have to reluctantly team up to save the girl and try not to get killed...or kill eachother. I love how Nicieza gets narratives from both Batgirl and Catwoman, and you can't help but chuckle all the way through the book. You just can't put a value on how funny and excellent Maguire's expressions are. They can almost tell the story by themselves.
You're missing out if you haven't picked up these issues. In the midst of "serious" books like Final Crisis or Secret Invasion, this book shines as a book that an average comic book buyer could pick up and not worry about feeling lost or overwhelmed. I appreciate titles with little flashback titles like this one. It shows how delightful and light the way things used to be: Batgirl swinging on rooftops and Catwoman not quite the supervillain, but with an ambiguous moral code. Maguire even uses the 70's-80's costumes for both characters.
I will most definitely be picking up the remaining two issues for this arc. Especially with Batman joining in on the action in the next issue! This whole book has been hit or miss, mainly hit, but I will sadly miss the way the stories are done now. I can't wait to see what sort of team this next arc brings, but the bar has been set high, in my opinion. Reading these issues really makes me want to scream at DC for not making Barbara Gordon don the cape and cowl again already. Barbara always knew how to make being a superhero fun. Don't miss this one, readers. You'll be kicking yourself later.
Pilot Season: Urban Myths #1
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist: Jorge Molina
From: Image Comics
Reviewed by: Richard Renteria
The best thing about the Pilot Season line of titles, at least from my experience, is that the writers of the various titles really have done a good job of quickly engaging the reader. With the first issue of Urban Myths that trend continues as Jay Faerber’s tightly scripted introduction to the title character and the world he inhabits is expertly paced in a manner that efficiently engages the reader while providing some character background. Adding to the well-balanced script is Jorge Molina’s stylized pencils, which perfectly captures the tone of the story without going overboard with overly cartoonish characters.
Urban Myths is a surprisingly good read as the story could have easily been told for laughs, and still worked; it is to Faerber’s credit that he takes a more grounded approach and incorporates comedy relief sparingly. Faerber’s approach to the main character work’s well to establish the story, searching for a missing girl in Hades, but it is not until the final page that the reader makes an interesting discovery as the narration takes on a different context when it is revealed that the narrator is not really telling the story in the present tense.
The main protagonist of the story, Jack Kaklamanis, is the son of Medusa and a private investigator. His current mission has him searching for a missing teen girl which ultimately leads him to Hades. Through the course of his investigation Jack manages to save another girl from being abducted by two Cyclops’s looking for a bride by removing his mask and using his mother’s “gift”. Jack stops the abduction but makes new enemies that play nicely into the “ticking clock” final moments of Jack’s adventures in hell.
Jorge Molina’s pencils are a perfect compliment to the story. Able to effortlessly draw humanoid creatures of varying types, Molina maintains a consistent approach to his characters. No character comes across as a throw-away caricature of a mythological creature, but rather as an inhabitant of a real society with real-world norms on display. Molina effectively captures this tone in a nice three-panel two-page spread that captures real moments in the lives of these mythical creatures. There were some problems with the coloring on a few pages but the overall work is well displayed.
While the story could have gone the comedy route very easily, I give a lot of credit to Jay Faerber for employing a realistic tone to the story. Complimented by the pencils of the talented Jorge Molina, Urban Myths is a solid reading experience that will leave the reader wanting more.
Writer: Steve Pugh
Artist: Steve Pugh
Review By: Jeff Marsick
Shark-Man is going on hiatus. It’s true. Now now, dry those eyes, buckaroo. I am just as sad, but we have to cowboy up and move on with our lives with Dave Elliott’s assurance that Sharkie will be coming back to us. Someday.
Lest you think I’m being facetious, I assure I am not. I was rather luke-warm in my review of issue one…okay, actually I was outright scalding in my missive. But this series has grown on me. I still contend that ish two should have switched places with the debut for a better result, but that, as they say, is a round downrange. I especially love the artwork in all of its Alex Ross-ness, pictures that thresh off the page with vivid colors and action. The costume designs and architecture are fresh and imaginative, and I cannot wait to see what Steve Pugh will be bringing to rival Radical Comics’s Hotwire (the reason, I gather, for Shark-Man’s imposed hibernation). Even the campy writing, an homage it feels, to the Batman television show of yesteryear, is beginning to be fun and entertaining.
Issue three tries to pull out all of the stops from the first two issues, unleashing Shark-Man upon the Sea Witch and her loyal (if not half-brained) minions. Our hero doesn’t have the easiest time of it as we would expect, and he suffers some combat-induced wardrobe malfunctions of Iron Man proportions, affording us some insight into what makes this guy actually tick.
The writing team keeps from straying too far towards resolution on several plot fronts, hedging their bets should the series return either regularly or in spurts of mini-series. Killer clown Gynblaine drops a bomb and then reveals what he’s been hiding under his collar; the hottest female police commissioner since Tera Patrick played one discovers she might have made a grave error by throwing Tom into the hoosegow; and we finally discover the man behind that Jet Jaguar-looking shark mask and how in the world he gets to play with such wonderful toys.
If there is a criticism, it would be that the creative team on the next run needs to find a direction and plow full speed ahead with it. While the title is Shark-Man he seems to be more of an accessory as opposed to the main event. It would be like the Batman masthead having Joker-centric stories and every now and then having the titular hero make an appearance. For three issues now the focus has been more on the villains and the background noise like Gynblaine and Tom’s trials, and while these are obviously important features to give the main character depth, I feel as if they should be a bit more subdued. Shark-Man is clearly (as we see in this issue) not completely into his own as a hero; he’s still a little green around the gills. The next series should focus on him filling out the costume a little more. Ooh, and how rich would it be if Shark-Man found himself taking lessons from his nemesis, the Sea Witch!
So rush out and grab this final issue and hope that it isn’t truly a final issue. I will also cross-promote here and tell everyone to check out Hotwire from Radical Comics, but I will also cast a wish that Steve Pugh’s tenure on that title has a half-life and that he and the Shark-Man team will soon reconvene and bring this book back to the shelves.
Star Trek: Assignment Earth (#1-#3 of 5)
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
Review by Jamie Trecker
Let’s get this right out of the way: This witty and elegant miniseries by John Byrne is one of the best books on the rack. And yet, Star Trek fans are likely to be nonplussed: For, this is a book set in the Trek Universe that has almost nothing to do with the series.
You read that right. IDW has served up a Star Trek comic that isn’t about Star Trek. No phasers. Only a cameo of the Vulcan nerve pinch. The Enterprise and the guys in pajamas are only seen from afar. You can come to this book blissfully unaware of Kirk and Spock, and not miss a beat.
In fact, you could even skip this very little bit of backstory, which explains how a comic book that is closer in tone to Danger Man than to DS9 even exists. “Assignment Earth” was the final episode of the second season of the original series, and creator Gene Roddenberry intended it as a pilot for a proposed spin-off series. Centered around mysterious interstellar agent Gary Seven, sent to prevent Earth from nuclear holocaust, the episode is today best remembered for being one of Teri Garr’s early screen credits.
Roddenberry had hoped he could capitalize on the TV spy series craze. Unfortunately, by the time the episode aired, the vogue for cold-war era spying had almost burned out: Danger Man, the Avengers, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. all went off the air in 1968, and even the wildly profitable James Bond series was going through a rough patch.
But, Star Trek nerds (forgive me for not calling them “Trekkers,” for personal reasons that should be obvious) always have had a soft spot for Mr. Seven and his spunky secretary Roberta Lincoln, to say nothing of cat/sexpot Isis. Byrne, who has a long track record of retooling all sorts of marginal characters for the modern era, is clearly one of those faithful.
Bryne’s art is efficient, and as one would expect, his characters display depth and emotion. His writing is also true to the spirit of Roddenberry’s Trek — the old man was no prude — but Byrne is confident enough to carry his readers forward with sleek plots that feel modern.
As mentioned before, you don’t have to know a thing about Trek to enjoy the book. The first issue is a straight-up riff on sixties cold-war nuclear fears while the third book manages to tie the Kent State-era student protests into a plot involving cloned soldiers.
Trek fans will especially enjoy the second issue, which re-tells the classic episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” from the point of view of Seven and Lincoln. It’s an old trope, but Byrne makes it sing, nimbly weaving together little bits of Trek continuity without using any of the show’s main characters and wrapping it up with a little cherry that also manages to explain away a long-time Trek continuity “error.”
In lesser hands, this might have been a hammy look back at the late 60s, with funny hairdos and outfits standing in for real storytelling. Not so here. This is an affectionate and fun little series that is smart enough to play things straight. Two of the most under-regarded aspects of comic book storytelling in this era of sprawling narrative are economy and grace. Mercifully, this book has both, and it’s to your benefit.
The only question is: Why not more? At the moment, this title is a five-issue limited series. However, according to IDW’s Chris Ryall, both he and Byrne would like to see more of Mr. Seven in the future. If you all go buy it, we just might. You could sure spend your $4 in worse ways.
Writer/artist: Ross Campbell
Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco
Ross Campbell is both an obvious and an unusual choice to contribute to Minx, the one-year-old DC publishing imprint hoping to turn the mostly-female young adult market on to comics that aren’t manga.
Campbell’s previous solo works, punk rock zombipocalypse adventure The Abandoned and ongoing relationship drama Wet Moon, demonstrate a talent for rendering real characters. His young women all have different body types—some are super-skinny, others zaftig—but all look like real people, and all have individual tastes and personalities.
On the other hand, there’s a real eroticism to his work, a sexiness to every single drawing of every single character that charges his books in a way that make them seem just as likely to appeal to middle-aged men as their teenage daughters.
This helps make his new Minx graphic novel Water Baby probably the hardest-edged of the line so far (and to think last year I thought Josh Howard was a weird choice to illustrate a “girls comic”), and perhaps the one most likely to appeal to the girls who march to the beat of a different drummer. A different drummer like, say, the drummer for Belphegor.
Water Baby stars Florida surfer girl Brody, who has most of her left leg bitten off by a shark in the opening scene. As she adjusts to her new life, her friend Louisa helping around the apartment and her lazy, lothario ex-boyfriend Jake moves in as a roommate from hell. This eventually prompts a fifteen-hour road trip to deposit him in his parents’ Rochester, New York home.
The loss of Brody’s limb is oddly incidental to the story, just one more colorful aspect of her personality, along with her love of death metal, her aversion to showering or hygiene of any kind, and her shameless nose-picking. The main thing her attack adds to the story is an opportunity for Campbell to indulge in many compelling dream sequences in which Brody finds herself turning into a shark, or watching a shark man gorily devour Louisa or finding sharks pouring out of the bathroom sink or whatever.
These occasionally quite bloody dreams, and the fact that Brody and Louisa are usually never more than half-dressed, gives Water Baby the same sort of (chaste) erotic horror vibe of The Abandoned, even if the story itself is much more mundane (at least by zombie invasion standards). That coupled with the language and occasionally skeevy sexuality make it seem a little strong for a book geared toward teens—particularly compared to the previous Minx books—but then, that’s probably only an indication that teens will prefer it to the others, since its more adult in content and less transparently, cynically concocted to appeal to teens.
None of this should provide any problem for adult readers, of course. Whatever his deficiencies as a writer—and the ending is so abrupt that I suspect Campbell must have just quit drawing when he ran out of pages rather than brought the story to a conclusion on purpose—he’s a supremely gifted artist with an unusually polished skill for rendering the human body realistically…without excising the personality strong cartooning infuses the best comics with.
And even his most shallow character creations—those that are just a collection of quirks—are so well defined that it’s fun to watch them bounce off each other for 150 pages or so, wherever it is they’re ultimately going. Here, they’re going nowhere, but I suppose that could be in part because there’s an unannounced sequel planned. During the first round of Minx releases, for example, Plain Janes also ended abruptly, but it turned out that was because it was an unlabled first volume in a series.
The Lost Books of Eve Vol. 1
Writer/artist: Josh Howard
From: Viper Comics
Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco
Dead@17 creator Josh Howard has hit upon a perfect heroine for his cartoon cheesecake style with Eve. One of the most famous naked ladies in human history, she offers plenty of opportunity for Howard to draw her naked body, the nipples and genitals of which are always covered by something or other. Eventually, she adopts a costume consisting of a sexy leaf bikini when she wanders outside her home base of the Garden of Eden.
Howard’s story is actually quite ambitious, and while I think it falls a bit short of realizing all of the potential it has, Howard should certainly be lauded for that ambition, as well as having come up with a pretty great idea and some frankly rather incredible character designs.
Despite being such a well-known fictional figure, Eve is hardly ever explored in culture (pop, cult, high or otherwise), beyond her role as a mother and someone who gave into temptation.
Howard sets his tale in the middle of Adam and Eve story—after Eve was created, before she ate the fruit—using a few characters from the Apocrypha and injecting Satan/The Adversary into it as a figure distinct from the serpent.
Adam has gone missing from the Garden, and Even leaves it to find him, despite warnings from her other companions, The Creator (a human-shaped white spot with large eyes in unusual places) and the serpent, here presented as a feathered, winged dinosaur-like creature. They are both exceptional designs; you can see the snake the serpent will become when it loses its limbs, and the way its original form suggests other mythological entities as well as fossils.
Outside of Eden, things are kinda Conan-like, despite the lack of humans. The world is peopled by things that look like humans but have horns, and lowercase-g gods like Zeus. Eve finds Adam, but loses him again, but the story’s not over.
As much as I admired Howard’s story, I still wanted a little more thought put into it, and another couple coats of polish (almost everyone talks in modern action movie-isms, for example). The adventure comic aspects are honestly the silliest parts—how did naïve Eve learn to fight golems so well, anyway?—and Howard’s handling of the theological aspects are so fascinating it only proves his ability to tell a smart story. The epilogue, in which The Creator and the unnamed Satan chat about their plans and relationship, read like something a Vertigo-era Neil Gaiman might have written, for example.
Howard’s art, however, is as strong as always, and I think the book would probably be well worth checking out if only to see how he solves the problems of rendering such figures as God, Satan, the serpent, angels and other figures that can be pretty hard to get one’s imagination around.
Wonder Woman #22 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Richard): As Aaron Lopresti continues to bring his A-game on art, Gail Simone’s continues her attempt to add a new dimension to Diana as a character . Simone’s story takes a nice step forward and remains nicely balanced with action, adventure and a touch of comedy for good measure. Personally, my favorite scene had to be when the gorillas in her apartment are finally discovered to some great comedic effect. It did feel like there was some story elements missing early on, but everything is tied together nicely by the end of the issue. Lopresti should be tasked with teaching his DC counterparts the correct way to draw Wonder Girl, who I have not seen look so wondrous in quite some time. It’s nice when an artist remembers that a female hero’s power is not found in her cleavage as it allows the reader to take the character seriously. If you are a fan of the character or a fan of good storytelling, try Wonder Woman you will not be disappointed by Simone and Lopresti’s efforts on this title.
Young X-Men #4 (Marvel; review by Troy): I didn’t have great vibes about the direction of this book at the offing, partially because of what seemed to be the mischaracterization of Cyclops leaping from justifying killing in the midst of battle to outright assassination of former students. I quickly battened onto the idea that Cyke was an imposter, and that there would be a logical through-line to the plot. Here, spoilers on, that notion is justified and the previous three issues demand a re-read. I’m still not entirely hip on the art, but I like the idea that things have been turned on their head. I look forward to seeing how the confrontation (and team-up?) between the Youngsters and the original New Mutants goes. As far as the big fake-out? Well-played.
Detective Comics #846 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): After the debacle that was "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" in 2007, the idea of another inter-book crossover was anything but a guaranteed sale for me. But Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs have established a robust line of credit in their relative brief tenure on Detective Comics, so I left preconceived notions at the door. Though it's kind of odd, I suppose, the fact that "The Heart of Hush" here is somehow a "R.I.P" tie-in while being its own independent storyline. I'm not really sure how this coordinates with the goings on in Batman. Since this story takes place just before Bruce Wayne goes off the deep end thanks to "The Black Glove" in the other book, am I off base in wondering what DC editorial hopes to accomplish here? To be fair, I think Dini & Co. have a solid story to tell, if the first chapter of "The Heart of Hush" is any indication. Hinted at last issue and reaching full bloom here, Catwoman is partnered up with the Dark Knight for this adventure, and just in time as Hush (Tommy Elliot) is back and motivated to beat Black Glove to the punch in taking out the hero. I literally haven't touched a Hush story since his debut in 2002, but I didn't feel like I needed catching up, and Dini does a great job fleshing out the villain's backstory. I am intrigued as to the identity of Elliot's mysterious mentor and collaborator, and I hope there's a solid payoff with that. On it's own merits, this could be more good work like we've come to expect from this Batman book, I just hope the "R.I.P" tie-in ramifications don't act as a creative albatross.
Guardians of the Galaxy #3 (Marvel; by Troy): I’m not embarrassed to say that I love this book. I love this book. I love . . . Jesus, I sound like Renee Zellweger. Really though, what makes this book great is that it’s just pure fun. It’s space-opera writ large, with an even larger sense of humor. The smooth integration of elements from former iterations of GotG only makes it a more complete Marvel Universe experience. Another part of the appeal is that it truly is an ensemble piece (with Rocket Raccoon as the obvious break-out star). DnA are doing a terrific job, and this is some of the best art of Paul Pelletier’s career. Grade-A all around.
Booster Gold #1,000,000 (DC; review by Troy): The cruelty of losing Ted Kord again is somewhat mollified by a heartwarming surprise return and a great appearance by Batman. As the Johns/Katz writing team departs (and that’s a damn shame), they restore a character not seen in years to great effect. In terms of the Batman scene, that’s a really smart, in-character way of giving someone to share the load of Booster’s secret. Speaking of secrets, the true identity of Rip Hunter is revealed (which, in true Johns fashion, leaves only more questions). This book was been a total pleasure since it started, and I’m hoping that it sticks to the same high standard as it moves on. To this point, it’s definitely been a good ride.
Final Crisis: Requiem (DC; review by Troy): This exceptional tie-in one-shot documents the last moments of the Martian Manhunter. I thought that he got short shrift in Final Crisis #1, even if that’s the effect that Morrison wanted. As it is, this gives him a more satisfying fight-to-the-end death, but that’s not the meat of the issue. The best part would be the extended reactions of his friends, largely filtered through their telepathically enabled retelling of J’onn’s life. The art herein is incredible; it’s some of Mahnke’s best work, to be sure. The grace note has to be Batman’s final farewell, a sweet moment that recalls some of the most entertaining tales that the two shared. I normally disdain extraneous tie-ins to already large events, but this one, in retrospect, feels completely necessary.
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