Best Shots Reviews: SPIDEY, ACTION, More

Best Shots 12-14-09

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Your Host: David Pepose

Face front, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, filling in this week for Troy Brownfield!

While I start picking out a legacy codename for myself as Troy runs into the Yuletide Speed Force, you guys should check out the Best Shots reviews of this week! What rocked? What merely rolled? Our crack team of critics has looked at books from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Vertigo and Fantagraphics, and are ready to lock and load with this week's reviews. As always, if you can't get enough of the team, you can check out earlier reviews and BSEs at the Best Shots topic page by clicking here.

Seatbelts on? Dynatherms activated? Then.... go!!

Daytripper #1

By Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon

Colors by Dave Stewart

Lettering by Sean Konot

Published by Vertigo

Review by Henry Chamberlain

Daytripper comes out of the gate with a likable main character and an easy-going yet compelling story. Brás is a writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. He lives under the shadow of his father, a literary giant, while he works at a newspaper writing obituaries. This comic joins Vertigo's other two celebrated titles with a literary subtext, The Unwritten and Greek Street. In comparison, Daytripper is quiet and down-to-earth and more quickly brings you into the inner life of the main character. Also, there is a more organic and cohesive quality at play here owing to the collaborative efforts of Fábio Moon and his brother, Gabriel Bá. In due time, we may be calling them the Coen Brothers of comics.

It's an undeniable treat when the writing is so linked to the drawing and vice versa. The simple yet complex story, mixing bittersweet memories with dreams of glory, is mirrored in the melancholy depiction of setting and characters. The art is full of beautiful long deep sighs of sweeping vistas and incredibly long legs and wide shoulders that linger forever. And, to top it off, the coloring by Dave Stewart is remarkable. It's as if he's a third brother at work here providing a sympathetic palette of muted and soft colors. On one page, for instance, Brás is talking to his dog and there is such a wonderful blend of blues and oranges that really helps to evoke a day in the life of a writer.

Moon and Bá don't miss a chance to provide a pleasing setting whether out on the street, in the office or at a favorite bar. The story itself, however, falls short a little bit as we go over once too often the fact that Brás is stuck at a day job writing obits instead of working on his novel. To have Brás tell his friend that all he writes about is death is putting too fine a point on things.  

And the reflections on family at the end come across as a little pat too. But that is forgivable. In the end, this is a very worthwhile comic and one that should continue to reveal intriguing developments. In fact, the end casts everything in a very different light with some unexpected action that will leave you curious about what happens next. Whether you're already a fan or new to the the work of Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon, this is a comic you should enjoy.

The Unwritten #8

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross

Colors by Chris Chuckry and Jeanne McGee

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by Lan Pitts

"Find your torch, and your wand. It's up to us, Peter Price. If you're brave enough....we're going to rescue him."

While this issue doesn't resolve the cliffhanger from the last one, it does add a bit of depth to the story and shed some light on Governor Claude Chadron and his family. The action and fantasy level is grounded a bit, but Carey once again provides excellent story-telling that adds a little something extra to this already amazing cast of characters. Even though I was a bit agitated thatwe don't find out what happens to Tommy and Savoy or Chadron himself, the issue plays out like a prelude and has some fantastic character work here.

Tom himself only appears in a few panels since it retells events in the past issue when he arrives at the prison and explains why the Governor was so cold to him. He's not a bad guy or the cliche corrupted politician, it's just the Tommy Taylor books have affected his children (his daughter especially) in a negative way and Carey gives us a taste of the bad side of things in which otherwise had been pleasant family bonding with those stories. I really have to hand it to Carey for making me actually care about an otherwise background character. It expands to the suspense and does so without having to add anything supernatural.

These next 30 days to wait for the next installment are going to be painful.

I also have to say I love what Peter Gross did with the art here. He could have taken the easy (read: lazy) way and just swiped what he did in earlier issues, but he doesn't He rearranged panels, added new angles which just build on the experience of reading this title. The art is strong and meshed with Chuckry and McGee's use of coloring to add the proper mood and tone, it's just all the more amazing.

I can't wait to return to the main story, but The Unwritten #8 continues to build more and more in what is becoming my favorite book of the year. If you haven't experienced this book by now, I could not recommend it enough. However, be warned you cannot just simply pick up this book now if you haven't read the previous seven issues. It would be sort of like reading "Deathly Hallows" without reading books 1-6, and you wouldn't want that sort of confusion.

Strange Suspense:  The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1

Written By Steve Ditko

Art By Steve Ditko

Published by Fantagraphics

Reviewed by Tim Janson

To most comic book fans, Steve Ditko is best known as the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man or Doctor Strange during the 1960’s.  Without a doubt, Ditko is one of the most enigmatic creators in comic book history, a man as mysterious as the characters he drew.  At the height of his career at Marvel, he walked away, reportedly over a dispute with Stan Lee, but this has never been substantiated.

Ditko may have become famous at Marvel but he didn’t get his start there.  Ditko had been working in comics for years for companies such as Prize, Ajax, and especially Charlton.  Strange Suspense collects dozens of Ditko stories from the 1950’s showcasing his work in a number of different genres including horror, science fiction, crime, western, and romance.  Almost a decade before Ditko moved to Marvel, these stories bear his unmistakable style.  His fine line work and flair for the abstract that would serve him so well on Doctor Strange particularly, is on full display.  While Charlton was known as one of the lowest-paying companies for creators, they offered unparalleled artistic freedom.

Most of the stories in this volume fall into the horror/thriller vein, certainly an area where Ditko excelled.  His stories were in the EC comic’s tradition and in fact often even more ghoulish. An early gem from The Thing #12, 1954, Ditko gives his own unique twist to the fairy tale “Cinderella” except in his version, the stepsisters are not just wicked, but vampires as well and this story doesn’t have a happy ending!

“Library of Horror” is a classic EC-style story with its grim irony and a hint of Lovecraft influence.  A struggling writer’s happens upon an old book store filled with long forgotten horror stories.  Killing the shop’s owner, the writer looks to make a fortune by claiming the stories as his own.   Perhaps the goriest tale in the book is “The Evil Eye” from The Thing #14, 1954. Here a man steals his rich wife’s jewels and then tries to murder her.  But she doesn’t die too easily and comes back for revenge, branding his forehead with a hot iron and having his limbs chewed off by giant rats, leaving him with bloody, bone-protruding stumps.

“Comeback” from The Thing #15 is an interesting tale because its main character, a rubber-faced man named Flexo bears a strong resemblance to Spider-Man foe, The Chameleon, who would appear in Spider-Man #1 nearly ten years later.  Not only does Strange Suspense present these tales, most for the first time since their original release, but also included are many of the Ditko covers from the era, representing some of his best work including many fantastic covers from “This Magazine is Haunted.”

If you only know Ditko for his work at Marvel or later at DC, here is the chance to explore Early Ditko, unconstrained by editors or the Comics Code.  While all of this work is marvelous, clearly Ditko is best at home in horror where he could let his imagination run wild, creating monsters and demons and the things that go bump in the night. Rediscover Ditko today!

Pellet review!

Adventure Comics #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): Superboy-Prime strikes back! Well, sort of. Superboy's infamous doppelganger from Earth-Prime doesn't exactly come up with a plan to defeat the menacing mob of Black Lanterns that are hellbent on ripping out his rage-filled heart in this issue, but he does decide to take the fight directly to the real "bad guys" behind his seemingly never-ending plight: the DCU Editorial Department! That's right. In Adventure Comics #5, the concluding part of the two-issue Blackest Night tie-in tale of Superboy-Prime, the bitter and bad-tempered super-villain (or should I say fanboy?) actually attacks and unexpectedly destroys the DCU Editorial offices in New York City in an attempt to make the publishing staff pay for everything they've put him through since his controversial return to the comic book world nearly five years ago. Needless to say, Prime throws one of his patented temper tantrums here, but believe it or not, it's actually a fascinating thing to watch unfold this time around. He seriously spends a significant number of pages terrorizing many prominent members of DC's Editorial staff, and given the direction that his character has been taken in recent years, it's a meta-textual plot thread that makes perfect sense. Heck, Prime even comes face to face with DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio and smashes the chief's desk in retaliation for the substantial role he played in his character's "fall from grace." And, yeah, it's pretty funny. Just like last month's set-up issue, all of the bending/breaking of the fourth Wall business in this second part of the story is both clever and hilarious. Overall, writers Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates are surprisingly able to craft a compelling Superboy-Prime story here, and they actually succeed in making the character seem more compassionate and sympathetic. I wouldn't say that Johns and Gates have totally transformed Superboy-Prime into some sort of tragic hero in this one issue, but it certainly seems that they've decided to take the character into a dramatic new direction for future stories. After all, let's not disregard the fact that this latest Superboy-Prime story ends with a cliffhanger rather than a conclusion. In other words, I think it's safe to say that we haven't seen the last of this character just yet. Not by a long shot. Let's face it: Superboy-Prime is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

In Case You Missed It...

Empowered: The Wench of a Million Sighs

Story and Art by Adam Warren

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by David Pepose

It's nearly two weeks after it hit the stores, and Empowered is still my favorite book of the week.

And it's obvious other people feel that way, too -- the reason it took me so long to review this book was that I hit a number of comic shops throughout the state of the past few weeks, and many of them were sold out. (Indeed, I also purchased the last copy from the store that finally had it.)

You know why? It's because Empowered is not just light-hearted, but puts the emphasis on the humor and the characterization with equal aplomb. For those who don't know, it's simple -- buxom superheroine with a tendency to getting captured and tied up by evil masterminds struggles with fighting the good fight as well as bolstering her own self-esteem. Now, who can't relate to that a little bit?

(The self-esteem part, jerks, not the getting tied up part. Readers these days.)

Despite being a black-and-white book, Warren embues Empowered with an energy that comes both from his emaculate pencilwork, as well as the pitch-perfect characterization and dialogue. Taking a page from the en vogue body-snatching-of-the-superheroes that you might have seen in Nightwing, Necrosha, or Blackest Night in the past year or so, Emp fights against a force-field-wielding jerk who wants to sell superhero corpses on the black market. The manga-style action here doesn't fail to impress -- not only is there a real sense of force and power at play, but there's a real sense of emotion, as Emp is trying her best to save the day.

That's not the best part of this book, however. Those who haven't met Emp yet also get a great look at her as a character, based on the purple prose narration of the "Caged Demonwolf," an interstellar conqueror who is trapped in alien bondage gear on Emp's coffee table. Exploring Emp through her greatest weapon -- her arsenal of sighs -- we get a sense of Empowered's struggles, her hopes, her insecurities, as well as her indomitable strength to keep working the superhero business again and again and again, despite her many, many failures. The heart of this piece -- its sense of humor -- works wonders with the Caged Demonwolf narrating Emp's past to her boyfriend Thugboy and her best friend Ninjette.

Ultimately, I can't recommend this book enough. Is there a cheesecake factor to the art? Absolutely --the comic was inspired by bound-and-gagged art commissions in the first place. But does it have a surprisingly, well, empowering message about dusting yourself off and getting back up again, no matter what your losses? Absolutely. Stellar art, great character work, a sense of humor -- Empowered has it all. If you haven't picked this book up, you are certainly missing out.

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