Best Shots Advanced: JERICHO S3, MS. MARVEL

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Jericho Season 3: Civil War #1

Written by Dan Shotz & Robert Levine

Art by Alejandro F. Giraldo

Colors by Juanmar Studios

Letters by Crank!

Published by Devil’s Due Publishing

Review by Russ Burlingame

Most of the time, if someone hands me season three of a television show and goes, “Check this out, man, you’re gonna love it,” I do one of two things: Either I ignore them, or I go back and watch the first two seasons first to give myself some grounding. With Jericho, whose third season is a comic book miniseries, I felt no such need; I had the basic concept just from reading articles and seeing ads on TV: America has undergone a massive attack which has left us crippled and at war with ourselves. The finer details sort themselves out in this issue, which does a pretty great job of setting up the characters and the conflict for those of us who’ve never seen the show, without stepping all over the plot. Hardcore fans of the show, of course, might disagree with me…but I think they’d have a hard time disagreeing too vehemently because A LOT happens in this issue, and the last couple of pages set up for a very action-packed second issue.

It’s one of those books where the space between the first and last pages, in “real” time, would only be a few seconds—so everything else that happens in the middle is imbued with a sense of real urgency while you wait for that other shoe to drop. The characters come across as fully developed, three-dimensional human beings; the only problem I have is that while the backdrop is given a pretty decent introduction, the relationship between the two main characters really isn’t and you have to realize twenty pages in that they’re both working for the same team. This might be suspenseful for new readers, and build an interest in the dynamic—and it might not even occur to fans who already know who’s supposed to be doing what—but for a casual reader who knows a little about the show I spent the whole time going, “Did I miss something?”

Giraldo’s art is clean and crisp, and he’s a lot closer to the appearance of the actual actors than you get in a lot of licensed comics. Certainly there must have been some kind of deal struck for likeness rights, because the only times I can think of seeing characters rendered so consistently close to their small-screen likenesses are Buffy and Angel—not even the whole casts of those comics, but I mean literally just the main characters. I think the fact that he gets so many of the details right will help to keep at bay any criticisms that Giraldo’s art is pretty simple and sometimes a little boring.

Possibly the best thing to see print in this issue doesn’t have anything much to do with the actual plot; at the end of the comic story, the writers, producers and the comic publisher take a page to thank the many ardent supporters of the show, who famously saved it from cancellation once and then tried to do it again with everything from letter writing to billboards. I’ve always thought that “Family Guy”’s resurrection has taken the fans who made it possible a bit for granted, choosing instead to just make jokes at what a “bad” decision Fox made to cancel it in the first place, and Jericho’s approach sits better with this fan.

Ms. Marvel #47

Written by Brian Reed

Art by Mike McKone and Rob Disalvo and Derec Donovan

Colors by Chris Sotomayor

Letters by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Andersen

Before I dig into this latest (decent-ish) issue of "Ms. Marvel" I have to say that despite my many, super vocal critiques of the book, I'm actually sad to hear that it's ending with issue 50. My problem with "Ms. Marvel" has never been with the character herself - I have always been a huge Carol Danvers fan - but rather with the execution of the comic. Somewhere along the way we lost the Ms. Marvel in "Ms. Marvel." Her book became more about the latest event as opposed to the very complex, deeply intriguing, throughly interesting woman behind the mask. What a shame and a waste.

If anything this issue kinda serves as a signal to those mouth-breathing complainers (myself being numero uno) that things were about to turn around for the better. While not a complete home run, this story is leaps and bounds more fun, more character rich, and more 'true' to the type of stories I have longed to read since, I dunno, the "Civil War" issues. It picks up a subplot dropped wayyyy back in issue 34 (uh, cheel-o, 13 issues ago! 13 issues had to come and go before this subplot was picked up? This is a prime example of all that's been wrong with the comic) when Spider-Man helped out Ms. Marvel and as a thanks she promised him a date.

So what happens on their date, you ask? Nothing all that original as the two briefly team-up in their superhero duds to put down a random supervillain, banter back and forth (mainly Spider-Man banters - very badly and cheesily I might add) and then (of course) their awkward date gets interrupted with more bad guys, trying to arrest Ms. Marvel.

Wow, what a non-shock! Villains crashing into a heroes everyday life moments? We never read storied like this (haha, bitchery is fun!) At this point this whole "let's-be-normal-and-do-normal-things-like-date-but-we-can't-because-we-get-interrupted-by-villains" type of story is so cliche that surely a modern writer would bring something new to the table. Right? Uh, nope. It's exactly how you figure a story like this would go. I feel as though I've read this comic about a million times.

Oh well, at the very least this issue is a positive attempt to delve into a more non-bitchy side of Ms. Marvel. Sure she still comes off stiff and kinda boring, but at least she saves the day, treats the poor Spider-Man/Peter Parker to a meal, and gets a rare moment to just be a regular-ish person. There's something good here, just outside our reach, and this issue is a massive step towards uncovering a little of what Carol Danvers tick.

So basically I didn't love the issue. But, hey, I didn't hate it either. It was more like an empty calorie read that didn't quite give me a superhero sugar high but wasn't bland enough to make me spit it out, er, stop reading. These are the sort of stories Ms. Marvel needed more of. Not all the time, of course, but enough of these moments to flesh out the book. To ground it and to make her relatable. A team book can get away with going from one battle into the next with minimal characters developments. But a solo book? Not so much. We readers need a reason to pick up the comic every month. We need soap opera, we need drama, we need humor, we need the human being factor before the superhero.

Too bad Ms. Marvel. If you're coming back with a surprise rebooted issue one in a few months, or if you manage to return in another 30 years or so with a solo book, I hope whomever handles your adventures does you justice. You have too much potential not be a must-read comic, once you land yourself a great creative team, that is.

Uncanny X-Men #517

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Greg Land and Jay Leisten

Colors by Justin Ponsor

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

The Uncanny X-Men. Namor, King of Atlantis. The Master of Magnetism.

Ladies and gentlemen -- this is how you stage a fight comic.

And it's no small feat: while Matt Fraction laid on the violence pretty thick in the Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men crossover Utopia, it also came at the cost of much of the characterization; this comic, on the other hand, is a very different beast. Indeed, it's a frenetic 22 pages, but the level of care and characterization Fraction puts in makes it one of the most entertaining issues of this book I've read all year.

Thinking about it after a few reads, I realized what this comic reminded me a lot of: Grant Morrison's JLA. While there isn't as many tongue-in-cheek witticisms or high science at play, Matt Fraction knows how to portray characters not just through dialogue, but through action as well -- indeed, this is a comic geek's dream, choreographing the X-Men at war, and Fraction knows how to position the characters in new and interesting ways. Namor, Magneto, Storm, and especially Rogue -- Fraction makes them all important, giving everyone their moment in the sun.

But what about Greg Land? To his credit, he really keeps up with Fraction admirably in this issue. A scene with Rogue going one-on-one with a Predator is easily the highlight of the book, but he also really stretches himself by portraying the other X-Men tussling with the beasts. With Land, it's the grittier, the better, with Wolverine and Namor especially stealing the show. Justin Ponsor really does a lot to keep this book both realistic and bright -- it's just a very strong showing by all.

Of course, there will be naysayers -- as far as Matt Fraction plots go, it isn't the deepest story he could have found. But you know something? If you're looking for a jumping-on point, maybe simple is best. Not every issue has to be groundbreaking -- and in this case, it's so entertaining that I could care less. If you want to see the expanded ranks of the Uncanny X-Men in action, look no further -- this comic is probably the most fun thing on the stands.

Invincible Iron Man #20

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larocca

Colors by Frank D'Armata

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Iron Man is dead -- long live Iron Man.

Okay, perhaps that's putting it a little too simply -- for those of you who read the conclusion to World's Most Wanted, Tony Stark has both beaten Norman Osborn... and been taken off the board himself. How does a flawed hero come back from oblivion? What is the last will and testament of Iron Man? In a lot of ways, this book comes off as both dreamlike and inspirational -- and while it could have gone with a little bit more variety, it's still a strong, cerebral introduction to the redemption -- and seeming resurrection -- of a fallen hero.

With the Dark Reign starting to flicker, and Marvel's new Heroic Age on the horizon, Matt Fraction manages to give Tony some powerful last words. "If you're watching this, I'm right, and everything's gone terribly wrong," says a ghostly vision of Stark. "But... at the same time, if you're watching this, things are about to start going horribly right again." It's a scene that does, admittedly, go too long, but the dialogue just flows. In a lot of ways, Fraction seems to evoke a lot of heavy-hitters in the sequential art crowd, whether it's the talking heads of Brian Michael Bendis, the surreal dream logic of Grant Morrison, or the heavy characterization of Ed Brubaker.

Salvador Larocca, meanwhile, keeps raising the bar for himself each and every issue. Six pages of Tony's floating head could be boring, but he manages to make our fallen hero expressive -- and some sequences in a scorching desert wouldn't look nearly as horrific or as subtly "off" in the hands of many other artists. An image near the end of the book -- of Tony standing in front of a behemoth murder machine -- is just totally awe-inspiring. Colorist Frank D'Armata, of course, continues to be this series' secret weapon, as he makes the scenes with Tony really pop out. This isn't just science, this is a metaphor for the afterlife, and D'Armata makes it all work.

That said, there's one main problem with this issue, and it's a fairly big one -- there isn't really enough variety here. Matt Fraction's best issues of Invincible Iron Man have been when he's been juggling a lot of different ideas and sequences, and after the long haul of World's Most Wanted, I would have liked to see the various characters doing a little bit more. Additionally, Pepper Potts makes a choice that seems contrary to what Fraction has been setting up for the past dozen or so issues -- I don't doubt that he has a plan, but backing up into it always feels more awkward to me than just setting it up organically. Either which way, it's a slow but satisfying jumping-on point for the Iron Man mythos -- indeed, if Fraction can get back to some of his more manic pacing, rebuilding Tony Stark may be his greatest triumph yet.

New Mutants #7

Written by Zeb Wells

Art by Diogenes Neves

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Richard Renteria

Chapter two of the New Mutants part of Necrosha begins immediately where writer Zeb Wells left off last issue, with the death of Warlock and the hands of his best friend a freshly resurrected Doug Ramsey aka Cypher. Continuing to prove his talents as a writer to watch, Wells strikes a perfect balance of action and characterization within the limited number of pages he has to move the story along. The story moves from moment to moment at a relatively brisk yet organic pace. Wells is wise to remind the reader that this story is a cross-over and manages to intersect his story with the bigger threat of the Goblin Queen and her intentions to raise a dead island.

Diogenes Neves continues to provide some compelling art that Is not only clear and easy to follow but manages to also employ a number of interesting page layouts that help to maintain the reader’s illusion of action between static images. In part, due to his stylized comic book anatomy pages never comes across as boring or wasted.  Throughout the issue, as the New Mutants try to figure out what is happening with their long dead friend, Neves manages to effectively portray the emotional upheaval the characters are going through while still managing to keep the integrity of the characters intact. Neves is a credit to all the great New Mutant artist that come before him.

As a reader of the original New Mutants series, including the original graphic novel that started it all, I can’t help but be impressed with Zeb Wells handling of the title. By embracing what has come before Wells is mining a well of ideas that we’re left behind when the New Mutants as a title was at its best. Now if Dazzler, Guido, aka Strong Guy and Lila Cheney made an appearance it would feel just like old times. The New Mutants haven’t been this enjoyable a title since the days of Claremont, Sienkiewicz, and Leiohla, in my opinion.

Days Missing #4

Written by Matz

Art by Hugo Petrus

Colors by Imaginary Friends Studios

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Archaia

Review by David Pepose

"Some discoveries have a tendency to turn into deadly, greedy conquests..." ~ The Steward

We've seen plague, we've seen science, we've seen the reversal of death itself, but this issue of Days Missing takes an altogether different turn, examining the conquest of the New World lead by Hernan Cortes. While the sort of end-of-the-world tension seen in past issues doesn't feel as present here, the high-concept and the allure of the Steward -- as well as the execution -- make this story a decent read.

Writer Matz takes a surprisingly sympathetic look at the leader of the Spanish Conquistadors, as he portrays him to be a persecuted, ambitious leader whose loftier ideals were undercut by his unwashed subordinates. Having the Steward watch -- and respond -- to this is interesting, as his flashes of emotion clash nicely with his otherwise detached manner. Yes, occasionally there is an element of "he can do no wrong" here, but ultimately, it's interesting to see the Steward actually go through a little bit of a challenge.

The art by Hugo Petrus is probably the stronger element of this book, with the shadows and mood reminding me a bit of Irredeemable's Peter Krause. There's a nice sense of mood to all this, with the Steward especially standing out with his eerie eyes and sci-fi powers. One page in particular -- the burning of Cortes's ships -- really looks great, as the color work from Imaginary Friends Studios gives this a historical, painterly look that helps establish the era nicely.

All in all, it's probably the roughest issue of Days Missing yet, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one. Four issues in, it's clear that the high concept is strong enough to push through even a story without as much weight as biological agents or resurrecting the dead. It's too bad there's only one issue left to tie all this stuff together -- with all of human history and beyond at their disposal, this is a series that Archaia should run with as an ongoing series.

Chew #6

Written and Lettering by John Layman

Art and Coloring by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Meet Tony Chu. He's got a boss who hates him, had a partner who was actually a murderer, and -- oh yeah -- he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats, whether it be soup, sandwiches, or the occasional dead dog.

It sounds like a recipe for success -- so why does the first issue of Chew's International Flavor arc feel a little... bland?

The reason why, I'm afraid, is because writer John Layman seems to shy away from his central premise -- nebbishy cop with a double-edged power stumbling through life and solving mysteries -- in order to lavish attention on Chu's new/old partner, John Colby. For regular readers of the series, you'll remember that Colby took a butcher knife to the face in the book's opening issues, and now he's back -- with a bionic stare and a hard-assed attitude. Artist Rob Guillory, of course, is still keeping the pace -- the emotions all run clear, and one not-quite-foodstuff in particular is drawn to perfection as a completely disgusting item.

The problem with all this? Whereas in previous issues Chu had to stumble through the day-to-day cases with only the occasional bit of sage advice by the dearly-missed Agent Savoy -- which really generated a lot of the humor and sympathy that made this book so fun to read -- Chu really takes a backseat in his own series to his recently-returned partner, who really does all of the heavy lifting for the plot. Additionally, while Agent Savoy had a distinct enough design that allowed Guillory to establish some shorthand characteriation, Colby is -- even with his Terminator-esque face -- a little too Everyman for that effect just yet. Of course, there are a few gags at Tony's expense -- such as Chief Applebee going out of his way to make sure Chu's new prosthetic ear doesn't even match his skin tone -- but ultimately, by sparing Chu his usual misery, it takes a lot of fun out of the book.

Now, that's not to say that this new premise doesn't have potential -- similar to the camaraderie Chu and Savoy had as fellow cibopaths, Chu and Colby have the shared experience of both being freaks, and I think that may go a long way into giving this arc its own singular voice. And of course, by the end of the issue -- which kicks off the International Flavor mystery in earnest -- I feel like Chu may have his day in the sun in future issues. Truth be told, no series can bat a thousand, and a misstep for Chew is on par to a lot of other books' regular successes. That all said and done, I understand Layman's urge to zig where he usually zags -- actually cutting Tony a break for once -- but I feel that decision robbed issue 6 of Chew of its key ingredient: comedy. 


Galactica 1980 #3 (Dynamite; review by Troy):  Ah, if only.  That is, “Ah, if only the actual TV show upon which this is based had been this gutsy and action-packed.”  Noted largely as a catastrophic jumping of the intergalactic shark, “Galactica 1980” remains one of the worst moves in television history.  However, under the hand of Marc Guggenheim, the idea takes on a much smarter, darker tone.  After open hostilities begin with the arrival of the Colonial Fleet, treachery is revealed and things get, remarkably, even deadlier.  There are elements of the story here that could logically play out into a much longer series.  I’m not sure how far Dynamite plans to go with this one, but they should continue to let Guggenheim play out the string.

Queen Sonja #2 (Dynamite; review by Troy):  Though some of his dialogue flourishes are a bit anachronistic (it’s “Red Sonja”, not “Xena”), Joshua Ortega is doing a good job of building on the sword and sorcery playbook.  He lays on a little more of the epic, and Mel Rubi realizes that vision well with some strong flashback sequences.  Sonja leading a band of female warriors makes absolute sense, and pitting her (with her history) against slavers is a sensible call.  At heart, this is an action book, and Dynamite’s fine production makes that shine especially brightly.

Buck Rogers #6 (Dynamite; review by George Marston: Issue number 6 of Buck Rogers was not a particularly good issue to climb aboard.  It's entirely possible that I absolutely had to have those previous five issues for this one to make a lick of sense, but it seems more like this comic consisted of half-idealized thoughts and random panel sequences.  The art was serviceable, nothing stand out in either direction.  It felt like, for the first half of the issue, every panel must have harkened back, in no particular order, to some past event from a previous story without even the slightest exposition given to create context.  I am all for showing rather than telling, but please at least do one or the other.  The second half took the story in its own direction, but it wasn't a very good one.  Basically, Buck takes his friend Buddy camping, and an old man gives them a tour of what used to be the USA.  This involves a nice stop in the swamp which was formerly Washington DC, where Buck goes through some uncomfortable dialogue about how he used to fight terrorists for congress, and Buddy is attacked by a space slug or something.  Buck has a very difficult time of destroying it in one shot, and our obligatory action sequence comes to an end.  A whole bunch of random dialogue, some comic book science, some indecipherable inner turmoil, Buddy and Buck(!) watch a bug zapper, roll credits.  Please skip this, forever.

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