Best Shots Advance Reviews: FALL OF THE HULKS, 28 DAYS LATER


Books come back with a vengeance this week, readers.  We’ll reprint our advanced look at SIEGE #1 below before getting into some more big releases.

Siege #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Oliver Coipel and Mark Morales

Coloring by Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

For just over a year, Norman Osborn and his Dark Reign have held sway over the Marvel Universe. Since then, the pressure between hero and villain has increased dramatically, affecting Iron Man, Captain America, and rest of the Avengers -- and in Siege #1, it all comes to a head. With battle lines drawn, H.A.M.M.E.R. meets Mjolnir, and the Dark Avengers are looking to kick some serious Asgardians for all the marbles in Midgard. But is it any good?

Comparing Siege with Marvel's previous crossovers is an interesting exercise. To me, Siege, at least in the first issue, is far and away more compelling than its predecessor, Secret Invasion, due at least in part to the tremendously polished art crew. Penciler Oliver Coipel is a widescreen artist with a great sense of motion as well as a unique quality that really pairs him up well with Bendis -- it seems that the more panels Coipel has to work with, the smoother and more effective the read. Of course, when you give him action, Coipel just knocks it out of the park -- the Dark Avengers, despite being a largely street-level team, really have a menacing feel, whether it's them riding into battle on jetplanes and Goblin gliders, or closing in on Ares' face when someone unwisely brings up his father...

Of course, Coipel isn't riding alone into this battlefield, and he has some of the best artistic collaborators in the business: his former Thor collaborators, inker Mark Morales and colorist Laura Martin. Morales gives Coipel a nice fluidity and weight to his pencils, occasionally reminding me of a scratchier, less shadowy version of New Avengers art team Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. Martin, meanwhile, is an unsung heroine for pumping up Coipel's work -- as compared to the more subdued hues of Frank D'Armata in House of M, Martin really invites you to drink in the rich colors of Asgard, giving each page such a strong energy.

In terms of the writing, there are those who might argue that the introduction of Brian Michael Bendis' story -- a preview that Marvel has heavily promoted in many of its other books -- could be considered a direct repetition of Civil War. In certain ways, they're not wrong, and in the story, it's referenced that way intentionally. But unlike Civil War -- which focused on the brooding atmosphere and political allegories -- this is high-octane action all the way, and it's a surprisingly refreshing way for Bendis and Coipel to get you hooked into the story. It's also an interesting way to see growth in both creators here -- just over four years ago, the first issue of House of M was largely actionless, with the sheer number of panels feeling very stifling. That's certainly not the case here -- Siege moves fast, bringing the tension of the last year to its inevitable breaking point.

Despite me finding this to be a more compelling book than some of the last crossovers Marvel has put out, Siege #1 isn't a perfect read. There will certainly be those who find the plot a little predictable or light. Meanwhile, while I found Bendis' attempts to reinforce the internal logic of the story -- something I think hobbled Secret Invasion -- a step in the right direction, I would also argue that these conversation scenes lasted a little too long, at the expense of the action sequence at the end of the issue, the last pages of which could have used some breathing room to let Coipel really cut loose. Despite the shakiness of the last couple pages, I would say this: While it's lacking the thematic weight of Mark Millar's Civil War, in terms of pacing and above all action, this is certainly my favorite Bendis-penned megaevent yet. When it comes to a popcorn actioner like Siege, what you see is certainly what you get -- but when it looks this good, how much is there to complain about?

Fall of the Hulks Gamma

Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson

Colors by Dean White

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Public speaking -- some people got it, some people don't.

You might be wondering why I'm talking about this when describing Fall of the Hulks Gamma, an event for a series that's been known primarily for its smashing. And while its violent opening is reminiscent of Loeb's first issue detailing the death of the Abomination, this issue largely goes to the softer touch -- and feels even more like a punch in the gut.

While Jeph Loeb might have his critics out there, it's not too hard to remember the sorts of heartfelt moments he had writing Superman, Spider-Man: Blue, Daredevil: Yellow, or Batman: The Long Halloween. Although in recent years much of his work has been a looser kind of Michael Bay-style action, this issue is a return to that weighty characterization that made Loeb a hero.

Despite the seemingly obligatory peppering of action in this book, Fall of the Hulks is really both a mystery and a memorial for a long-time Hulk character -- and it's to Loeb's credit that he is able to make this character a surprisingly sympathetic one in our eyes. There's one moment in particular -- "No parent should ever have to bury their child," one character says quietly, with tears in his eyes -- that's exceedingly powerful, and not only for the obvious resonance for the creator.

In terms of the art, the quieter tone of the book really works in John Romita Jr.'s favor. I'll be the first one to admit that Klaus Janson's scratchy inks aren't usually my particular cup of tea, but when it comes to displaying emotion -- a smirk on General Ross's face, a tear in Bruce Banner's eye -- they really hit hard. A quality that they have is a subtle one, but it's powerful -- they seem to really portray characterization well, through body language and expressions. In other words, there's a real sense of acting here, that the movement fits the dialogue. And that's a rare thing.

Of couse, I wouldn't call this story a perfect one -- Fall of the Hulk certainly has its flaws.  While Loeb has proven that he can write the hell out of a dramatic speech, when he switches gears to a fight scene or the underlying plot of MODOK and company, the transmission seems to grind a little bit. The villains of the piece are less menacing and more shrill, less of the charismatic Marvel style and more of an odd, sometimes annoying pairing. Additionally, while Romita really nails the quiet moments, when it comes to the action, there's a weird stiffness to some of characters, especially Doc Samson and Red She-Hulk. But if you're a fan of the Hulk's history and his supporting cast, this is a thoughtful, character-driven piece that, while it may be undone in years to come, is a surprisingly cathartic read.

28 Days Later #5

Written by Michael Alan Nelson

Art by Marek Oleksicki

Colors by Nick Filardi

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

You ever had a conversation with someone that's gotten really heated and really negative, only to have them say something an hour into it that totally made it all make sense? That's how 28 Days Later #5 feels, taking a break from the somewhat stop-and-go first arc and giving it some major context with an in-depth look at the ill-fated news team that was determined to break into infected England.

In certain ways, the placement of this issue in Michael Alan Nelson's grand scheme feels a little bit weird -- almost a dreamlike skipping in time -- but that said, it's hard to think of a better time to tell this story, and it's even harder to argue with the results. What happens when you're a hard-bitten embedded journalist when the Infected ravage an entire country? And what makes them so certain they're up for the job?

Nelson has a smart answer, showing these journalists dealing with the aftermath of the most impossible of today's journalistic assignments -- war, the Middle East, hostage situations -- and uses those fresh traumas to foreshadow how they would have inevitably react to the situation in England. In that sense, he pulls no punches, and even with only a handful of video images of the sprinting Infected, manages to give us the sort of human rawness of older horror movies like Cannibal Holocaust or Dawn of the Dead.

New artist Marek Oleksicki also hits the ground running with some moody stuff. One of the main critiques I had for Oleksicki's predecessor, Declan Shalvey, was that the menace of the Infected wasn't properly focused upon, really cutting some of the visceral dread off at the knees. While I think that the Infected in this book are still a little bit too clean for my taste, Oleksicki is really going in the right direction -- indeed, a little bit more blood and gore here and there will make our biohazardous antagonists just as dreadful as the original Danny Boyle film. Colorist Nick Filardi also bridges the transition between artists with his graying color scheme, which feels reminiscent of the cinematography of the original film.

This book likely won't scare the pants off you, but if you've read even the first issue of the series, it adds some much-needed context to the tagalongs following Selena on this ill-advised trek back into the hot zone. If you're a fan of journalism-focused fiction like DMZ, this is fun read that -- finally -- makes me care about this news crew, and makes me want to see them survive. Because the key to any zombie story isn't just the fear -- it's the humanity, and the affirmation that you do want them to live. And 28 Days Later #5 certainly has got it.

Advanced Pellets!

The Boys #38 (Dynamite; review by Troy):  This issue rounds out the origin stories of Hughie’s teammates, focusing this time on “The Female of the Species”.  As is the wont of Ennis and Robertson, the grim goings-on and splatterpunk action are juxtaposed with humor both clever and bawdy.  Fans of genre cinema will particularly enjoy the references to “Aliens” and “Species” as Ennis subverts some tough-guy clichés in the spirit of a layered story about how women have been treated in pop culture, science and society.  One of the best bits in each origin tale is that the reader is left to wonder exactly how accurate each one might be; however, the presence of the “Boy” that preceded Hughie is felt in flashback, even if his face isn’t seen.  That, and Butcher’s persistently mysterious background, will no doubt provide many story opportunities going forward.

Queen Sonja #3 (Dynamite; by Troy):  The recounting of how Sonja becomes Queen continues in this tough, fast-paced issue.  Ortega and Rubi definitely deserve respect as a team; they’re quickly building a new Sonja, making sure that her intellect and gift for strategy is on the same level as her frequent savagery.  In some ways, this royalty building arc puts me in mind of the excellent “Artesia” series, and that’s a compliment.  I like the way that Rubi depicts Sonja now; he did a great job in his initial run, but now he just makes it so that her sexualized visual is really just a matter of fact that’s incidental to the cunning, almost unbeatable warrior that Sonja is.

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