Best Shots Advanced Reviews: HULK: BATTLE BEGIN, More

Best Shots Advanced: HULK: BATTLE, More

Hulk: Let the Battle Begin #1

Written by Jesse Blaze Snider, Mark Parsons and Tom Cohen

Art by Steve Kurth, Andrew Hennessy and Ed McGuinness

Colors by Chris Sotomayor and Kelsey Shannon

Letters by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Don't let the title or the solicits fool you -- the majority of Hulk: Let the Battle Begin isn't smashing or stomping, but is a done-in-one character piece. And that's to this book's benefit.

While I don't necessarily think that this book could support a $3.99 price tag, there is still a lot to like about this book -- namely, Jesse Blaze Snider. While at first glance you might think of him as "jokey," ultimately his story taps into a strong vein of irony -- two very different things. I'm a sucker for stories that explain some of the inherent weirdness of comics, and Snider's insightful look at just what happens after a Hulk-out not only has its chuckles, but has a real solid substance to it. Without giving too much away, it will charm the large purple pants off of you.

Meanwhile, Steve Kurth's art has an occasionally over-the-top expressiveness -- well, maybe expressiveness isn't the right word, but "character" -- to it that helps bump up some of Snider's humor and humanity. Whether it's Bruce Banner's hair perpetually sticking up like something out like Young Einstein, or the Hulk's goofy yet somehow scary grin when he takes on the Wrecking Crew, it has a very distinct tone to the piece. Sometimes it looks like Kurth's heads are a little flat -- almost as if the scale was changed on Photoshop -- but by and large, there's a real flow to all of this, that gives Snider the platform he needs to shine.

The second feature on this story, while a bit of a sharp turn in terms of the tone, is possessed with one of the most rockingly awesome titles I have heard in some time: "Gammaragnarok." While Snider's story was very human, Mark Parsons and Tom Cohen take a more poetic look at a dark future run by the Hulk's future self, the Maestro. Ed McGuinness's art is the real appeal for this story, as there is a boundless enthusiasm to the craziness of a gamma-powered world war. Kelsey Shannon's color work should not be ignored here, either -- she plays with greens and oranges with a confidence that most artists just can't pull off. Ironically, the usualy roles for a penciller and a colorist seem reversed with Gammaragnarok: McGuinness is the one who gives the book its energy, while Shannon gives the book its weight.

Ultimately, I think the price is going to be the big hurdle for this book, which is both understandable and a shame -- Marvel needs to keep the price up to justify the sales, but the sales won't get very high for a $3.99 non-continuity anthology book with only two stories (one of which is a reprint). Can character overcome cash? Can good storytelling overcome a hard sell? In this economy, I think you probably know the answer -- even if it's one that Snider and company don't deserve to hear. But if you're a Hulk fan or have cash to burn, Hulk: Let the Battle Begin #1 is a story that punches well above its weight class.

Savage Dragon #158

Written by Erik Larsen

Art by Erik Larsen

Colors by Steve Oliff

Lettering by Tom Orzechowski

Published by Image Comics

Review by Russ Burlingame

Larsen has found his groove for the “Dragon War” story, and this issue is as indicative of a creator who knows just what he’s doing and just where he wants it all to go, as any I’ve seen in mainstream superhero books in a while. Aside from a brief (one-page) and hilarious cutaway that addresses some of the online comparisons between Overlord’s current plan and the one that Norman Osborne has had in place in the Marvel Universe for the last year or so, Larsen makes every panel count toward what he’s building in the story, without turning it into the kind of talking-heads book that’s gotten so popular in recent years and hijacking the action completely.

Clearly his experience with Spider-Man is serving him well here, as one of the strongest elements of Savage Dragon (the comic) and of Savage Dragon #158 specifically is that Larsen manages to convey a lot of information without breaking up the action. The bantering skills Larsen developed while working on Marvel’s web-headed hero are clearly on display here, as two sets of characters—Savage Dragon/Kurr and Brawn, and Malcolm and Flash Mercury—carry on important dialogue without detracting from the sense of frantic action that the comic communicates.

Larsen is also clearly moving the characters toward an objective; one of my least favorite parts of big superhero stories is that you get so focused on beating the bad guy or moving the plot forward that characterization, and ongoing subplots, often get dropped along the way. Dragon’s daughter Angel, though, is using the chaos, fear and pain that characterizes her life an Chicago at present to move along an existing goal: taking her relationship with the Golden Age Daredevil to the next step. Where that leaves her sibling Malcolm, who has something of an understated crush on Angel in general and who, in a more important sense, depends on her for any sense of family, continuity or normalcy now that Kurr has taken over and Savage Dragon is effectively dead…well, we’ll have to see about that. He’s been jealous of the connection that Daredevil and Angel share from the word go, and their abandoning the battlefield together at the end of this issue can’t help that in the long term.

Dynamite Previews: COMPLETE ALICE, More
Dynamite Previews: COMPLETE ALICE, More
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Written by Charles Dodgson (as Lewis Carroll)

Adapted by Leah Moore and John Reppion

Art by Erica Awano

Published by Dynamite

Review by Jamie Trecker

I’ll allow that the third of a planned four-issue miniseries may not seem like the natural jumping-on point for a reader. In this case it is: Dynamite’s adaptation covers both of Carroll’s Alice books — the original Alice In Wonderland and its sequel Through The Looking Glass — and this third issue starts off the second arc.

For those of you living an ascetic lifestyle, Alice in Wonderland is one of the most adapted works of children’s fiction. Several dozen films, a few hundred pantomimes and plays, and a assortment of comic books have been produced from Carroll’s original 1865 work. (Leah Moore and John Reppion aren’t even the first husband-and-wife-team from Northampton, England to tackle the job: Leah’s famous father, Alan Moore, used Alice to great affect with her stepmother, Melinda Gebbie, the riveting Lost Girls.)

Through the Looking Glass is, as one might expect from a man of Dogdson’s wit,  sort of the mirror image of the original Alice. In the former, Alice frequently changed size and roved through a brilliant pastoral outdoors; while in the sequel, Alice’s relation to time and space is what changes, and the book feels more claustrophobic, with set pieces in a train, a deep forest, and concluding with the final struggle at the end of the chessboard.

Moore and Reppion largely play the story straight, but make some interesting choices in how they present some of Dodgson’s material. Case in point is their downplaying of Tweedledee and Tweedledum’s needling of Alice. In the original, this is a key plot point because of the inference that Alice does not exist except in the dreams of the Red King. Another is the pacing of Alice’s interaction with the White Queen, perhaps the finest sequence in the book. Here, Moore and Reppion wisely elongate the interaction between the White Queen and Alice in the shop, to play up Alice’s essential brattiness while slowly tightening the vice.

What’s left out in this adaptation, however, are the mathematical and political overtones that Dodgson buried in the surprisingly dense original. That’s not a bad choice, but it will be noticed by obsessive fans of the books.

The biggest hurdle might be the artwork. Erica Awano’s work isn’t bad — it’s quite good in fact — but it pales in comparison to John Tenniel’s glorious original illustrations. That’s excusable: What isn’t is that Awano’s work also fails to banish memories of Walt Disney’s memorably different — and glorious — adaptation.

Awano’s art is also a little too manga for my taste, with predictable faces and a lack of real feel feeling in the characters. She’s best with the animals and the oddities — her Walrus is peppy, and her Tweedledee and Tweedledum come close to being sinister.

Still, this isn’t a patch on Dodgson and Tenniel’s original, or the luminous Disney comic adaptation of the title. That’s not unexpected, but it is too bad. Based on this issue, this is half a step behind other Alices.

Toy Story #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): We're only three issues in, but Toy Story is already the smartest kids' book on the stands. Jesse Blaze Snider (big day for him tomorrow) introduced the idea of duplicate toys and the threat of returnability in previous issues, and now there's a both a sense of pathos and comedy in the third issue. Having Buzz lament about his broken laser bulb and seeing the expression on his face (superbly drawn by Nathan Watson) is heartbreaking -- "I guess I'd have returned me too." But there's a lot of laughs here, as well, especially as Woody and the gang try to take on ridiculous variant Buzz toys. Whether it's Rex shouting how he's a pacifist or wrestler toy Rocky Gibraltar shouting how he eats Green Berets for breakfast, Toy Story is a book that you should not just buy for your kids, but should read with your kids. Pound for pound, this comic has just as much fun as any of its Pixar film counterparts.

In Case You Missed It . . .

NEMESIS: The Impostors #1

Written by Ivan Brandon

Art by Cliff Richards, colors by Matthew Wilson

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jamie Trecker

There’s a book on the stands right now that features a sweaty guy with a grenade in his mouth on the front cover. It’s pretty unappealing, what with the blood and the drool and all. You might become alarmed when your retailer allows that this title spun out of Final Crisis. No, not the good Final Crisis, but the bad Final Crisis “Aftermath” titles that hit the marketplace like one of Shaq’s freethrows.

There are still more caveats. This book’s core concept is a shameless rip-off of the Prisoner. Grant Morrison has a book out right now from the same publisher, Joe the Barbarian, which far more convincingly induces wooziness while playing with the same toys. And Nemesis himself isn’t exactly A-list material.

Got all that? Now, here’s the kicker: This book is good. Damn good. Despite the fact that this little miniseries — which as far as I can tell got no advance publicity whatsoever, a move that virtually ensures it will remain “little” — spun out of a maelstrom of suck, the first issue of this title is worth your time and your cash.

Cliff Richards (not the singer; this guy is Brazilian) is a major talent who has slid under the radar for a while. I’m not sure why: His work on the now-defunct CrossGen titles was clunky, but after a several years on titles as far afield as Thunderbolts and Bird of Prey, he’s blossomed into an artist you should be paying attention to.  Richards has a great, chalky look going on in this book (think the Supergraphics era of 1970s comics) that he sets over slick, minimalist sci-fi backgrounds. It’s good stuff, and colorist Matthew Wilson, makes it pop. Wilson smartly chose to use a watercolour look for the backgrounds while using a limited, almost primary colour palette for the foregrounds. The two-page splash is the payoff, but the whole book is solid.

Writer Ivan Brandon has done quite a bit with a throwaway character already, changing him from your garden-variety spy into a far more conflicted and perhaps paranoid character. His riffs on the original OMAC, Electric City and the Global Peace Agency are good and weird. And while there’s more than a whiff of Phillip K. Dick over this book — notably “A Scanner Darkly” — that’s not a bad thing.  But Brandon is also shooting for the moon, using one of the toughest tricks in writing. Nemesis is an unreliable narrator.

I give Brandon a lot of credit for even trying this, because it’s hellishly difficult to pull off using only one point of view. (Take a look at Kurosawa’s Rashomon for a great example of this technique with multiple points of view.) It’s even harder to do this and channel the effortless creep that seems to ooze out of the aforementioned Mr. Morrison, who’s responsible for the resetting of many of the classic Kirby stuff that Nemesis now bounces around in. So, it’s not unexpected that the package isn’t wholly convincing. Yet.

Now, Brandon tried the same thing in his first outing with the character — the interesting but seriously flawed “Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape” mini — and he learned some good lessons from it. His writing this time around is punchier, tauter, and comes packaged with a fine cliffhanger. It still falls short; this time, because Brandon chose to graft his meta-story onto a fairly standard thriller plot and unfortunately didn’t give the weirdness enough room.

All said, this is a better and more thoughtful book than a great deal of the genre action books on the shelf. Brandon’s writing might not be perfect, but at least he’s trying do something interesting. For that alone, this title deserves a read.

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