Best Shots 11-30-09

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Greetings, campers.  As you know, you can find the previous reviews and columns from this past week at the Best Shots Topics page, linked HERE for your convenience.  Also, please visit Blog@Newsarama for even more reviews from our friends and associates.  

Blackest Night #5

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis with Oclair Albert & Joe Prado

Colors by Alex Sinclair

Letters by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"We don't have a Flash Corps to back us up, Barry, but we've got plenty of friends." -- The Flash (Wally West)

For a seminal issue of a majorly epic company crossover, Blackest Night #5 is one hell of a poster book.  This is meant in no way as a slight, quite the contrary.  Of course Geoff Johns is delivering a riveting tale with an all-star cast of allies and adversaries.  And Johns is doing a bang-up job keeping the readers guessing as to where things are going, also maintaining some levity in key instances so that the bleaker material doesn't collapse under its own weight.  But if Ivan Reis is illustrating comic books 30 years from now, he's going to be hard-pressed to come up with another stretch of work that's going to surpass what he's doing right now in this series.  It's like Reis was born to draw born Blackest Night, and there's not a wasted page or panel from cover to cover.  Sometimes full-page or dual-page spreads can fell like filler or padding for a weak script.  That is so not the case here.  DC should consider bigger pages in one of the collected editions they inevitably release.  

Things in this issue pick up immediately where Green Lantern #48 leaves off, with Hal Jordan and his "rainbow rodeo" assembled and ready to face THE Black Lantern responsible for the universe-sweeping threat that's been leaving death in its wake.  It is only the first four pages where things are more conversational, otherwise it's action in every breathtaking page.  Without giving too much away, it's almost an unwritten rule that when a plan to stop is big bad is overtly developed over more than a couple issues, chances are good that it won't quite work out as expected once put into action.  Such is the case here when Green Lantern and the assemblage of ringbearers set off to Earth to combine their colors in hopes of undoing the havoc being wreaked in Hal Jordan's backyard of Coast City.  Speaking of the character allegedly responsible for all of this carnage, I wish I could say that Nekron made a big impression on me in this issue.  Bad enough that I had to do a Wikipedia search on the character when this issue's cover went public a couple months ago since I wasn't reading much "Green Lantern" in the early 1980s.  Geoff Johns has had an absolute gift for creating compelling villains when he's not breathing new life into long-established ones.  Please let's not see that winning streak snapped in the biggest project of his young but distinguished career.  One hopes that this puppet-master is set for bigger things deeper into the series, because it was the puppets making a lot more noise here, including Black Hand, Jean Loring, Scar and...  Batman?

Yes, it was only a matter of time before a certain Dark Knight made a significant impact on the story, and boy did he ever in this fifth chapter.  And despite a considerable pallor in Bruce Wayne, even for him, Ivan Reis (supported splendidly throughout the whole book by inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado) absolutely rocks the character and I sincerely hope the artist gets a chance to do something with Batman later down the road in his own titles.  But it stood to reason that Black Hand wasn't simply sporting Bruce Wayne's skull all this time as a status symbol.  No, Black Hand finally played his ace in the hole in "Bruce Wayne of Earth," and all of the sudden the deck favors Nekron big time.  The common denominator found in all the heroes and villains who have wielded the Black Lantern rings has been that they're very much dead.  As evidenced by book's end, that's no longer a necessary job requirement.  

Always a good sign of a quality story for me can be found in how disappointed I am when I get to the end and realize that I have to wait a few weeks for more.  Pretty much two-thirds in Blackest Night now, I can't for the life of me imagine how Geoff Johns and Co. can let us down.  Five issues out of eight in the books, this is not losing steam in any way.  After decades of being underwhelmed by the crossovers that I've chosen to commit to (not all of them, mind you) and getting burned by ones I foolishly stuck out until the bitter end, someone finally got it right, and I mean really right.

Giant Size Thor Finale

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Marko Djurdjevic    

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Giant-Size Thor Finale: William The Warrior is not as apt a title for this special as perhaps "Regular Size Just Another Issue Of Thor: Plus A Reprint."  This was a fine issue of Thor, but it was hardly a worthy send off to JMS's excellent run with the title Aesir, nor was it the finale to anything except maybe the career of William the Warrior.  Marko Djurdjevic steps up his game a little bit this issue, though I truly miss the outstanding work of Olivier Coipel, who is assumedly already hard at work on "Siege."  There are enough plot developments in the 22 pages of new content (innapropriately titled "Full Circle") to feel that if JMS was given an actual giant sized finale to his run, he could wrap things up nicely.  As it stands, Kieron Gillen is about to inherit the reins of an unresolved and unsatisfyingly lingering plot.  

We begin with a speedy resolution to last issue's cliffhanger, as Balder interrupts and dispatches the flunkies sent to kill William, who informs Asgard's new ruler of Loki and Doom's machinations.  Both Balder and William's lover Kelda go looking for blood, and the latter finds it in a place she probably didn't expect.  Meanwhile, Doom has sent an army of Doombots to kill Don Blake, who fortunately has powerful friends in the form of Sif and the Warriors Three.  Blake survives, though not without injury, and Volstagg elimates the robots, losing his clothes in the process.  Some pretty funny moments result, as judging by his exchange with Sif, Volstagg has something to be proud of underneath the parachute he has fashioned into a tunic.  The issue ends with an inordinate amount of cliffhangers for a "finale," and an odd return to status quo for Dr. Donald Blake. 

The additional content consists of a reprint of "Journey Into Mystery #83," the first appearance of Thor.  The story is a classic, and for fans of Marvel's heyday, a must read.  Though not the best work of the Kirby/Lee team, it is a fun story.  My only caveat is the new coloring job given presumably by Christina Strain.  While she is an able colorist, and her work is relatively subdued, it feels out of place atop Kirby's linework, and often serves only to highlight the shortcuts that Kirby often took to facilitate his legendarily prolific output each month.  A single reprint of a well known story hardly feels like enough to justify the "Giant Size" tag on the cover, but fortunately, and against Marvel's usual bent, the issue retains it's standard $3.99 pricetag. 

Overall, this would rank as a fine issue of a notable run on a great title, even one with a change of creative hands in store, but the overblown "finale" pitch this was given leaves an unsatisfying and bitter taste once the last page is turned.  The fact that not one of the threads drawn out by Straczynski is given even a nominal wrap up is an additional blow.  Djurdjevic's pecils are the strongest of his work on this title, but Coipel's absence is still felt.  I have little excitement for the passing of the creative torch on this title, as Straczynski will leave very large shoes to fill, and Kieron Gillen's work is unfamiliar to me.  Gillen brings with him Billy Tan, whose substandard work on "New Avengers" bodes ill for Thor, but perhaps the title will suit his talents better.  Either way, their entrance would be far more welcome had any resolution been given to the previous several years of work, and a clean slate left for their stories.  Dear Marvel comics; if the final page of a story reads "Continued in Thor #604," it is not the finale of anything.

Green Lantern #48

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke

Inks by Christian Alamy, Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen

Colors by Randy Mayor with Gabe Eltaeb

Letters by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"We will find it, Green Lantern. And we will give everything we have to destroy it." -- Ganthet

Note: The events in this issue, occur before Blackest Night #5?

Since most of the action has been diverted to the plot in "Blackest Night", this issue is more of a set up and character establishing if anything else. Not to say it's boring or anything near that, just sort of takes a breather. Green Lantern #48 focuses on the poster boys/girls of each Corps: Hal Jordan (Green), Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire), Saint-Walker (Blue), Sinestro (Yellow), Larfleeze (Orange), Indigo-1 (Indigo...duh), and Atrocitus (Red). I love how each of these characters have their own distinct voice and really get a chance to be showcased. There is a hint of Atrocitus' background, and we realize just how of a tortured soul he is.

Also, I'm finding myself liking Larfleeze more and more. He blurs the line between amusing and horrifying quite well. You have to admit, it's just perfect for him to ask for his Corps' own Guardian. Like I mentioned, there is really great character development going on here.

Of course the inevitable happened and the Corps leaders forge an uneasy alliance for the time being to destroy the Black Lanterns and their source. Johns has really given us a fantastic story thus far regarding anything Green Lantern, and I'm sure the finale of this crossover will not disappoint. Doug Mahnke's art is a perfect match for this sort of story. It's dynamic and an excellent mix of superhero imagery to the subtle things like Sinesto's smug face. He's accompanied by two other inkers, and of course himself on inking duties as well, and you can see minor details to each character and how they differentiate.

You have to admire Johns for basically doing a balancing act between to huge stories. One, being the dead rising all over in the DC Universe and becoming Black Lanterns, and the other is the beginning to the War of Light. If you've been reading just "Blackest Night", I think you might want to pick this one for a better understanding as it provides a level of background going into Blackest Night #5 that I'm sure would help you enjoy the full scope of things.

Incredible Hercules #138

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art By Rodney Buchemi

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Incredible Hercules #138 was one of my favorite books this week (not that that's out of the ordinary for this title).  Picking up where the Assault on New Olympus one-shot left off, Hercules and at least two crews of Avengers pop in to pay Hera and her co-workers a nice visit.  The culmination of numerous plot threads from the past couple years of this title into the current storyline snuck up on me in the best way, the way a great comic should.  Every arc, beginning with the post-World War Hulk atmosphere that began this series, has played nicely into the "Assault On New Olympus," and the callbacks make perfect sense while never dominating the forward momentum of the story, and never requiring "y'get it?!?" style elbow nugdes to catch.  I get the feeling that this is exactly what Bendis hoped to accomplish in "Secret Invasion;" making the reader want to revisit previous issues of the title to catch the bits that they are referencing, and realizing how much sense it all makes.  Fortunately, Pak and Van Lente have triumphed where Bendis failed in a similar endeavor, and the story rarely feels like a series of coincidences that the writers realized might be cobbled into a passable story.  Instead it feels like taking a step back from a gracefully painted work of impressionism.  As beautiful as the brush strokes are up close, they are only rendered fully when viewed as a whole.

This issue sees the reunion of Hercules and his erstwhile sidekick, Amadeus Cho, after spending several months trading off the focus of the title, While their relationship has never been logical, it has always been entertaining, and this arc confirms that it has always been a match made in Heav- err... Olympus.  The tension between the two really mounts here, as Cho coyly tries to dodge the fate that Athena has promised him and his big buddy, Herc. While the moment to moment suspense might become tiresome, there is plenty of comic relief to see the reader through.  Pak and Van Lente are masters of characterization, and present choice bits from nearly every character present in the sprawling guest cast, particularly USAgent and Zeus.  Hera also shines as a villain, and manages to mount a credible threat in the face of so many powerful foes.  Plenty of fast paced action rounds out a nicely composed issue of intrigue, suspense, and comedy.  Incredible Hercules often runs the gamut of what a great, fun superhero comic can provide, and does so deftly in this issue.

The back-up feature starring the Agents of Atlas ties in nicely with the current events in Incredible Hercules, and while I have never followed these characters, I am intrigued by their story.  Gabriel Hardiman's art on the feature is moody and detailed, playing nicely off of Rodney Buchemi's art in the main story.  Jeff Parker does a fine job of drawing the reader in, providing enough background that I didn't feel lost reading the story.  I can't comment on how this measures up to other appearances from the Agents of Atlas, but I enjoyed it.

Pak and Van Lente are on the top of their game in this series, and to see their run reaching its apex is exciting.  Rodney Buchemi provides ample support for their script.  His art straddles the lines between drama, action, and comedy with ease.  I look forward to seeing how the tapestry that the creative team has woven unfolds, and provided it continues at this level of quality, it will have truly lived up to its mythological origins.

Detective Comics #859

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by J.H. Williams and Cully Hamner

Colors by Dave Stewart and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

No lies. No future. No purpose. And no holding back.

If only all comics were like Detective Comics #859 -- this is a visually masterful, character-rich story that isn't afraid to take a stand. Don't sympathize with gay rights? That's regrettable for a lot of reasons -- least of which being that you will not like this story. Because despite only having the cape and cowl in a handful of pages, this is a compelling book you do not want to miss.

While he's always been known as a progressive writer, Greg Rucka -- aided by gay activist and former serviceman Lt. Daniel Choi, who gets a special thanks in this issue's credits -- makes this issue one of the most vocal stands on gay rights in mainstream comics since Judd Winick. In past issues, Kate Kane's sexuality hasn't been treated much differently than any other character's. Yet in this chapter, Rucka really tackles the elephant in the room, and shows that in Kate's military past, being true to yourself can have its own devastating costs. His pacing is also fantastic -- his transition to the present day is seamless, and it's so interesting to see Kate, a character with a personality very distinct from the Batman, seem so unsettlingly like Bruce Wayne in her terseness. Considering all this is just 20 pages as opposed to the standard 22, it's even more impressive.

It doesn't hurt that Rucka knows how to give the best platform to his top-tier art talent. J.H. Williams III makes the subtle into the sublime with his pencils. Still largely riffing off of David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, Williams lets the characters speak volumes through their expressions. Of course, his ability to transition between and at other times combine wildly differing art styles -- which culminates in the most gorgeous final three pages I've seen in a long time -- is spectacular as always, but the fact that he's a team player doesn't hurt either. He makes Rucka's pacing work -- especially with the ending of the introduction, making the smallest panel on the page produce the hardest impact. Colorist Dave Stewart also knocks this book out of the park -- Kate's red hair really pops off the page, and really draws the eye to our protagonist.

The second feature, drawn by Cully Hamner, is probably the best installment of the Question back-up yet. It's still 10 pages, but as Rucka establishes the reach of Renee's foes, it feels longer -- and that's a good thing. Hamner's most impressive quality is the sense of fluidity and movement that Renee exhibits; a scene where she stretches out the kinks on a lighthouse guardrail is such a nice touch, both playful and powerful. What also stands out is Hamner's take on another Gotham guest star, which I'm sure will have some people talking. Colorist Dave McCaig, similar to his earlier work in Ghost Rider earlier this year, breaks down scenes in particular color schemes to great effect.

Five issues into the creative team's run, and it's clear that Detective Comics is synonymous with comic book quality. With Greg Rucka laying down a rock-solid foundation of character for Williams and company to build upon, this book doesn't rest on the violence or sex appeal of its heroine -- instead, it takes a very human look at living your life when being different derails all your plans, set against some very bold artistic choices. With such a dream team running the book, I can't recommend Detective Comics #859 enough -- buy it.

Superman: Secret Origin #3

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal

Colors by Brad Anderson

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Move over, Woodward and Bernstein -- because here comes Lois and Clark!

Of course, I'm paraphrasing a line from Geoff Johns in Superman: Secret Origin #3, but in a lot of ways, that is the strength of this issue. While I've felt that the first few issues of this series have been fairly inorganic with its pacing, with Clark Kent's entertaining first steps into the big city, this series is starting to finally find its voice.

What really stands out about this particular issue isn't so much any steps in characterization on Clark Kent's part -- indeed, Johns has already proven that he has the perfect voice for him -- but fleshing out Metropolis as a living entity. It's not the shining city of yesteryear: it isn't Gotham, but it's got the sort of urban decay of a New York or Los Angeles. Yet it's the now-ailing Daily Planet, with Lois and Jimmy and other colorful characters, that really stand out. Lois in particular has a little bit of crazy (okay, maybe a lot of crazy), but a whole lot of heart as well -- the scenes with her are definitely my favorite, and it gives Clark a real emotional anchor in his life.

Meanwhile, the extended 30-page story really helps Gary Frank deliver some emotive characters. Lois obviously is the standout here -- with her actions, she could come off as a bit cold or manipulative, but Frank makes her sympathetic, pretty, and above all, human. She's no supermodel, but she's cute, and she seems like the type of go-getter that the low-key Clark would be into. Speaking of our hero: just like John's characterization of the Man of Steel needed no changing, Frank's Clark still channels the spirit of Christopher Reeve, with panels such as Clark good-naturedly waving at his new colleagues or unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the classic costume really looking stellar. Colorist Brad Anderson deserves some kudos as well, as the colors really help energize the work.

That said, there are a few other things that didn't ring as true for me. The first problem is a bit of a personal bias -- as someone who's no stranger to a newsroom, I felt Perry White actually berating Lois for being a compulsive investigator pulled me out of the story. But that personal problem aside, the thing that disappointed me a little bit was the ending -- while Johns really seemed to be stretching himself with the introduction to Lois and the Daily Planet, the last few pages feel like a recitation of John Byrne's Man of Steel with the original Donner Superman film, without adding much to the mix. And while both the writer and the artist are top-tier talent, sometimes they clash -- there are a few pages where Johns just goes crazy with the dialogue and story, and that can leave Frank's work cramped. With 30 pages at their disposal, that shouldn't happen.

In a lot of ways, this is definitely the most entertaining chapter of Superman's Secret Origin yet -- that said, I do feel like a certain something is missing. While obviously everything can't be revealed this early in the game, making the overall theme at work here a bit more clear -- whether it's Hal Jordan overcoming fear and anger in Green Lantern: Secret Origin, or in the case of the earlier origin tale Superman: Birthright, Clark Kent reaching the pinnacle of self-actualization through his Superman persona -- would really help give this origin a clear-cut meaning. Still, with the Lois and Clark relationship, Johns is giving us something really entertaining to latch onto, and I'm hoping he can keep building on it in future issues.

Dark Avengers: Ares #2

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Manuel Garcia and Stefano Gaudiano

Colors by Jose Villarrubia

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

The God of War still hits hard -- but is a strong first strike enough to win over the readers? Either which way, whereas Kieron Gillen overplayed his hand -- as well as his artist's -- with the first issue of Dark Avengers: Ares, this series' sophomore chapter starts off with a great introduction, even if it sputters a bit in the second half.

Looking at this series as an ultraviolent, darkly comic war epic, Gillen writes one hell of a great introduction -- it smoothly sets up the exposition of Ares's plight in just one panel: "There is no great tale. I entrusted my son Alexander to a mortal teacher. My mother swore he was hurt. Nicholas Fury has been carelss. All those who stand beside him will play." Of course, Gillen's crazier side also works great in the book's first pages, as Ares' entrance is just fantastic.

But the art -- the art -- well, it isn't as fiercesome as its protagonist. Manuel Garcia's scratchy lines look great for Ares himself -- that splash page of the God of War rocketing down to Earth is great, as does a look of him with an axe in one hand and a gun in the other, telling his troops to fall back -- but the rest of the characters and action feels cramped. The Mares of Diomedes in particular don't look great, and it really hurts the suspense of the sequence. Additionally, colorist Jose Villarrubia doesn't have his trademark pop -- it looks kind of garish.

Ultimately, if the second half of the book was as fun and fitting as the first half, I think I'd be able to look over the so-so art. Unfortunately, Gillen's action sequence feels too clever by half -- while the Ray Harryhausen comment will (sadly) sail over a lot of readers' heads, the conceit of the Hydra's teeth, or the jokey explanation of how a god can have horses as children, it doesn't quite have the moments of characterization to make the sequence sing. And considering this series only has one issue left, it's kind of a shame -- while there are certainly some strong moments with Dark Avengers: Ares, I'm concerned that unless Gillen pulls out more of his trademark craziness for the finale, this is a book that isn't going to be hitting at its weight class.

The Devil’s Handshake One-Shot

Writers:  Larry Hama, Ryan Schifrin

Artists:  Adam Archer, Lizzy John

Archaia Entertainment

Review By:  Jeff Marsick

Veteran comc scribe Larry Hama and Abominable writer and director, Ryan Schifrin, team up to create this pulpy buddy adventure yarn about a pair of roguish treasure hunters.  Working for an enigmatic boss known only as “The Collector”, Alaric Moebius and Basil Fox chase an artifact from the jungles of New Guinea to the desert of Libya, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of undead competitors who want them dead and a beautiful Mossad agent they both want to bed. 

Take a pair of perpetually wisecracking movie buddies like Gordon and West, or Starsky and Hutch, or even Hammond and Cates, force them into an Indiana Jones type of serial, subtract out the plot, and you’ve got this book.  What’s the artifact and what’s it do?  Don’t know, exactly.  And Mssrs. Hama and Schifrin either don’t know or really don’t care enough to give a viable explanation for the whys and whats of its existence.  Instead of ensuring a story with a proper beginning, middle, and end, they chose to focus of their efforts instead on the oft-inane dialogue between the protagonists.  If you’re one who finds Spider-Man’s banter in recent issues perpetually banal, the incessant sophomoric back-and-forth between Moebius and Fox will be enough to make your head go all Scanners.

The action sequences are just this side of an Abbott and Costello feature, and the eleven-page opening scene in New Guinea is not only eleven pages too long but rife with antics and escapes that make Wild Wild West look like a work of staggering genius.  The characters are flat and uninteresting with Moebius a walking cliché of dashing leading man and Fox as the stereotypical lovable loser sidekick .  Even Sophi Weidl, the Mossad agent, is a striking figure of unoriginality, a Xerox of Christmas Jones.

The book also wins my vote for Year’s Most Misleading Back Cover.  The synopsis written there sounds twice as good as the actual execution inside.  First of all, there is no blackmail by The Collector to get Moebius and Fox to chase the artifact, nor is there a race against time.  Secondly, the penalty for failure is never discussed, and lastly, the words “The Devil’s Handshake” are never once used within the story.  It’s as if the cover was printed based on the premise, and no one checked to see if the story matched.

So why put a review on this book if you’re better off getting your adventure fix buying Ape’s Athena Voltaire or Dark Horse’s Hellboy or BPRD?  Because ignoring it and not giving kudos to Adam Archer and Lizzy John, the artists, is like throwing the baby away with the bathwater.  That opening scene aside, the art duo does a fantastic job at giving some semblance of story to a script that clearly has almost none.  The style is like Greg Land tempered by Mauro Cascioli, with muted colors that give it a sort of action-movie-set-in-the-30s kind of feel.  On a bigger epic, Archer and John could be very impressive, indeed.

Hack/Slash Volume 6 In Revenge and in Love

Written By Tim Seeley

Art By Various

Colors by Mark Englert

Letters by Crank!

Published by Devil’s Due

Reviewed by Tim Janson

I’ve been singing the praises of Hack/Slash from the very beginning as one of the very best horror comics in the business.  Horror with a dash of witty and irreverent humor that keeps things just light enough to lull you into a false state of comfort before one of the series’ slashers grabs you by the throat.

Volume 6 collects issues 18 – 23 of the ongoing series as well as the one-shot Entry Wound.  Cassie and her hulking partner in monster-hunting, Vlad, are just coming off their most recent hunt and things did not go well.  She finally met her father, Jack, who was working with Herbert West, The Re-animator, to try and resurrect Cassie’s mom, the killer known as “The Lunch Lady”.  But Cassie’s mom is still a homicidal maniac and she kills Jack leaving Cassie to kill her mother…again. 

Fresh off this traumatic experience, Cassie is virtually shocked into a near comatose state.  Unresponsive to Vlad, he contacts her friend Georgia to help left Cassie out of her morose mood.  It works too well…Cassie and Georgia share and intimate moment, which causes Vlad to become Jealous.  And that’s not all, Cassie decides she’s had enough with monster-hunting.  She wants to have a normal life leaving Vlad to ponder what will become of him.  As if that were not bad enough, a demon assassin has arrived to kill Cassie and the police have accused Cassie of many of the murders committed by the Slashers that she and Vlad have dispatched.

Writer Tim Seeley gives Cassie and Vald a great deal of emotional depth throughout this story arc.  Cassie’s doubts about her mission and own sexuality provide her with a fork in the road to her destiny.  This is her opportunity to completely change her future.  Meanwhile poor Vlad displays a vulnerability that belies his powerful frame.  Vlad’s dependency on Cassie for his own survival makes him realize just how fragile his own future may be.

I normally live consistency when it comes to art but Hack/Slash has always used a variety of artists from one issue to the next, with each having their own unique interpretation of Cassie and the diversity works well.  The consistency is there…consistently outstanding and entertaining! 


Secret Warriors #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Gods move in mysterious ways -- and apparently, so too does writer Jonathan Hickman. Reading through this book, I couldn't help but wonder who the target audience was: on the one hand, it gets readers acquainted with Alexander Aaron, aka the demigod known as Phobos, but on the the other, it seems like a direct sequel to The List: Secret Warriors and even the original Ares miniseries. That said, for people who dipped their toe in the series with the previous two books (or Dark Avengers #9), this is definitely a solid read, with the Alex/Ares relationship feeling both real and epic. The highlight of the book, though? The art by Alessandro Viti and Sunny Gho -- Gho in particular uses some very bold color choices, and it gives a very antiquated feel for this world of gods and history. It's definitely a case of the artwork fitting the tone of hte piece. Fans of the rest of Fury's Secret Warriors will be disappointed, however, as they are largely absent -- even though a little bit of Nick Fury seems to go a long way. While it may not bring in many new readers, Secret Warriors #10 manages to get by largely on a unique visual style.

The Waking #1-4 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by David Pepose): It takes a little bit to get there, but The Waking takes an interesting spin on the undead genre -- namely, what is the morality to zombie attacks? Horror fans will definitely enjoy writer Raven Gregory putting his own twist on the usual horror tropes of sex and hubris, while the uninitiated will like the CSI entrance to the story. While occasionally Gregory's humor feels a little much, there are times where he really manages to make it work -- namely, a cop whose nymphomaniac wife leaves his physically and emotionally, erm, drained. The art by Vic Drujiniu definitely fits the Zenescope house style -- the women look like models, and Drujiniu certainly doesn't shy away from (female) nudity if the script calls for it. In certain ways, the men have a certain squareness that's a little reminiscent of Oliver Coipel, only a bit more emotive, with more shadow. It's the displays of violence that really shine, with one stabbing/drowning sequence that's the highlight of the book. The main problem of the book? It takes awhile to get to the point, so it may lose some people who don't know what kind of story this is going to be about. Think CSI meets zombies, and give it a read.

New Avengers #49 (Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston): The current arc of New Avengers makes me wish that the previous several had never happened.  The "Luke Cage surrenders to Osborn" hook has been used way too many times of late for this story to hit as hard as it should.  The strategy involved in this story was a good touch.  Too often it feels like the team rushes headlong into a fight they can't win.  They even bring in some nice ringers, and I was pleased to see characters such as Valkyrie, Daredevil, and the Thing.  Immonen's deft pencils render these characters superbly, though their presence harkens back to the Defenders comparisons this team got during the days immediately post-Civil War, and they feel a little underused.  If there is one major flaw in this title, it can be seen pointedly in this issue.  Much of the action I wanted to see happens off screen in favor of more dialogue, though little of that serves to do much but explain what we didn't see.  Bendis often feels like a child who doesn't quite know how to play with his action figures, spending more time thinking up the kind of things they would say in battle, rather than actually making them fight.  Regardless, this is an enjoyable issue for what it is, and one can't help but hope some of the things we've been building to over the last year will come to a head soon.

Amazing Spider-Man #613 (Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston) I cannot express my love for the current run of Spider-Man strongly enough.  I don't know if I am in the minority, but this book has been a lot of fun.  Mark Waid's Electro arc has had everything a Spider-Fan could want: great action, snarky comments, and plenty of self-deprecation from our boy Pete.  The Electro/ Mad Thinker team up (if you can call it that...) is solid gold.  Everyone knows I love my villains, so I always get a kick out of it when we get bits of insight into the interal supervillain community, such as the services the Mad Thinker offers to his fellow ne'er do wells.  The two provide perfect foils for Spider-Man, doing what great recurring enemies should do, and providing plenty of fodder for Spidery's running commentary, while still upping their game on every page.  Electro's "Man of the People" schtick feels topical without feeling gimmicky, and has just the right element of satire to level the palate.  Paul Azaceta's art is fantastic, and is well complimented by Dave Stewart's notably understated colors.  Favorite moment: "Hey, it's the Mad Thinker!  Wow!  If Electro's gotta be teamed up with somebody, I can't tell you how relieved I am it's only you!"  Bottom line, I'm gonna tell you what I tell my friends: buy this book.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #5 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) If this series was designed to restore the JLA to some sort of greatness that the main series has been lacking for a good long time, it's time to go back to the drawing board.  This was essentially my last gasp with the League, and nothing about this storyline compels me to move on to other title now fronted by writer James Robinson.  I'm pretty cool with the stuff Robinson's been doing in the Superman books, but here I feel like any innocence of the Justice League days of old are being torn apart, literally and figuratively.  And it's funny, too, because Robinson clearly knows his comics history, as evidenced again by the supplemental material that the book concludes with, a background look at Captain Marvel, Jr. and classic creators Mac Raboy and Mort Meskin.  I've never seen a creator hold characters in such reverence only to shit all over them in the very same book.  And I will place the utter tastelessness of the thoroughly unnecessary cover title at the feet of editor Eddie Berganza.  I am okay with this particular instance where the cover art by Mauro Cascioli totally misrepresents the story inside with this action not occurring at all, because on its own merits it's a magnificent illustration.  But "Love and Dismemberment"?  Not cool, Mr. Berganza.  Roy Harper deserves better.  We all do.

Superman #694 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) Now here's a welcome example of reverence meeting reward.  James Robinson appears to have great respect for Mon-El, and it shows in how he uses the Daxamite as a means of restoring Superman's good name and reputation after recent events.  This issue of had a pretty nice vibe to it considering how behind the eight ball the heroes have been of late in a "World Against Superman."  There was a definite feeling of optimism and hope that was more than welcome.  Ironic, considering the observation made that Mon-El is fighting with more anger on top of a renewed sense of purpose.  Also welcome is the art by Javier Pina, though looking at DC's schedule this may be a one-off appearance by the artist (apparently Bernard Chang's lined up to do the next few issues, and that's fine in my book).  Pina's spare style proved effective especially in scenes at the Kent farm where Mon-El gets some much-needed counsel from Ma Kent.  Boy, she's sure holding up well without her husband to lean on.  Pina's pencils and inks reminded me of Peter Snejbjerg, and someone needs to tell me where he's been keeping himself.  He's worked well with Robinson before.  And this issue gets the distinction of being the latest to reveal a missing member of the Legion of Super-Heroes who's been hiding in plain sight in the 21st century.  This was one I had not figured out, some occasions being obvious (Element Lad) and others out in left field (Projectra/Sensor Girl), but it was one of the many instances that made this issue a joyful read.  I am dying to see where, when and how this plays out once all of the missing Legionnaires are revealed.  But despite a lack of consistency in the book's art assignment, "Superman" has been a solid read of late.

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