Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SIF #1, THE SPIRIT #1, More

Face front, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose back in the driver's seat, after successfully ousting Jamie Trecker -- as a wise Scotsman once said, there can be only one!! But in all seriousness, give Jamie a round of Internet applause for running such a tight ship while I was flying to C2E2. For those of you who are reading this not for the self-reflexive teammate congratulations, have no fear -- we have more than a dozen of this week's hottest books, from the best of the best (which is why we call ourselves, Best Shots). As always, if you want to check out more of our reviews, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, it's on with the show:

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9 seems designed for the Internet crowd, whether its dealing with the ramifications of the Human Torch dating Ultimate Spider-Woman (read: a female clone of Peter Parker, with most of his memories), or dealing with the fanboy critique that David LaFuente's Peter Parker looked like a long-haired version of Charlie Brown. I think it's a clever, playful move on Brian Michael Bendis' part, and that sort of hand-waving made me laugh a lot. That said, it's not all fun and games, as he takes a last-minute swerve at the end that I think is particularly powerful. Maybe it's just me, but LaFuente's art looks a little scratchier and distended in this issue, but that doesn't stop him from having some fun, expressive scenes that are both densely packed and visually satisfying. There's one sequence, however, that LaFuente really tears loose, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

The Brave and the Bold #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): This is a book with a clever twist that is ultimately held together by some stellar artwork. While you might think that J. Michael Straczynski's premise -- having Zatanna, Wonder Woman and Batgirl have a girl's night out -- might be a bit hokey, I promise that it does make some sense. But where this book really succeeds is with Cliff Chiang, whose enthusiasm for DC's greatest heroines really shines through every page. Zatanna has some great expressiveness, Babs in her civilian attire looks cute as a button, and I swear that guy is born to draw Wonder Woman. Occasionally the characterization feels a little bit thin in the dance club scenes, but this issue really gels together magnificently in the last five pages -- and those scenes alone make this book definitely worth a look.

Sif #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): She is no one's mere companion. She is a warrior born. She is Sif, and she will cut you. Kelly Sue DeConnick makes her Marvel debut in this Women of Marvel one-shot, and she makes it count. Artist Ryan Stegman does strong work, balancing humor with horror and showing range from Broxton to outer space. His facial and figure work bears a striking resemblance to that of Art Adams; evoking without mimicking. Sif was the last Asgardian to be re-awakened after Thor's resurrection of Asgard, (save for Odin, but that's a tale for another day, I'm sure). This was due, unsurprisingly, to the machinations of wayward Loki, who had usurped Sif's body to plague the mind of his mighty brother. Sif has since been recovered, but as we find her she is still struggling to come to terms with the base violation. DeConnick revisits the idea of controlled possession to great effect. Sif is a proud character, one of the proudest, and so the very thought of being manipulated by others, both physically and mentally, is the ultimate offense. This one-shot is rich with flourishes that serve to define Sif as more than merely someone's shield maiden. Who Sif is has been largely defined through her companions up to now, though, and when Beta Ray Bill makes an appearance we are reminded that Thor isn't the only hammer-wielder Sif has been attached to. Seeing Sif and Bill as ex's, struggling to interact with any sense of normalcy, showcases the depth and breadth of Marvel's Asgardian science-myth. Sif does a good job in telling an Asgardian story without Thor making an appearance, even if his presence is felt. Surely, Sif's story will eventually become folded back into that of Thor, and when it does Sif will be a stronger character, and a more apparent peer. Thor gets called “Mighty,” while Sif is called, “Lady.” Don't let that fool you.

The Spirit #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker) The Spirit is a character that’s endured a lot of fits and starts: The hardbound reprint volumes of Will Eisner’s original strips, also released by DC, are drool-worthy, but aside from Darwyn Cooke’s remarkable run on the character, a lot more harm than good has been done to one of comics’ most revered creations. (Exhibit A might be that film.) Since last week I ripped Doc Savage for being, well, terrible, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing what had been done to Denny Colt this time ‘round. That’s why it’s so pleasing to be able to report that the new team of Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales, Prince Valiant) and Moritat (Elephantmen) knock the Spirit out of the park. This is the best-written, best-drawn and best-packaged book out in the market this week, and you miss it at your own peril. As did Cooke’s breathtaking run in 2007-08, Schultz and Moritat’s Spirit veers sideways, keeping Denny Colt grounded in the noir vein while adding a few slick contemporary touches. Schultz’s writing crackles; Moritat’s artwork reminds me of the late great Jack Cole. All in all, it’s a winner. Go buy it.

X-Men Legacy #235 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Mike Carey knows how to write one dense comic. Continuing off of the previous chapters of Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants, I'm surprised that I'm still enjoying the pedal-to-the-metal action that is tying together the disparate groups of the X-Men universe. The New Mutants surprisingly steal the show here, possibly even more than the main X-Men team -- perhaps because their sequence is action-based, it also gives Greg Land more to work with. Sometimes, such as on the last page, I think Carey and Land's pacing of the pages can be a little too cramped for their own good, but all in all the skillful balancing of the teams is something that keeps me coming back to Second Coming.

Elephantmen #25 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Richard Starkings loves comics, and comics love him right back. The celebratory artist jam issue is a time-honored tradition of comics, allowing a slew of pencil & pen pushers to lend their visual voices and make a story truly grand. Almost as old a tradition is the storytelling-within-a-story trope that enables the artists' work to blend together naturally. In this instance, Starkings crafts a tale that reflects back on the entire vast scope of his Elephantmen and Hip Flask works, acting both as a series primer and as an omen of things to come. The variety of artists that contribute a page to this story is stunning. It truly is a testament to the bombastic energy that Starkings brings to this series that each one of these artists was compelled to become involved. Without resorting to a simple list, the diverse talent includes; Dave Gibbons, Tim Sale, Brandon Graham, Dougie Braithwaite, Sheldon Vella, Pia Guerra, Dan McDaid, Ladronn, Marian Churchland and Ian Churchill (and a host of others whose work sings every bit as harmoniously). If you know of another comicbook that could unite those disparate talents, I want it. Now. Appropriately, this ode to comics is dedicated to memory of Marvel giant Mark Gruenwald, a man known as universally beloved and respected. Elephantmen is pure, uncut, comics-for-the-sake-of-comics, and for that alone it deserves to be universally beloved and respected. For readers that enjoy pulpy science and social fiction crime, it's been a hell of a ride. No need to slow down now. There's an elephant in the room. Let's hope it doesn't go anywhere.  

Green Lantern #53 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): The highest compliment I can give about this book is that it does not look like it came from two guys who just finished working on a nine-month megaseries like Blackest Night. Doug Mahnke's pencils, if anything, look more energetic than they have in months, and Randy Mayor just does some great color work that really sets the visual tone for this Brightest Day. And the thing I like best about this book? Geoff Johns comes back down to Earth, both literally and metaphorically, giving us the sort of interpersonal drama -- this time between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris -- that really drew me into this series in the first place. (He also gets bonus points for having Saint Walker and Lex Luthor steal the show with their characterizations, with only one to three pages each.) Combine this with the same sort of solid pacing and character beats that Johns has done with Pete Tomasi in Brightest Day #0, and this is a really hefty 22 pages.

Firestar#1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): Again, another book not really having any other purpose but to springboard another soon-to-launch ongoing series. Now, if this issue was to entice me on getting on board the other book it's connected to, then color me unenthusiastic. Sean McKeever does a great job with the script in the beginning, but then it opens up a sort of Lifetime movie that doesn't seem to end. I admire how McKeever adds a bit of scientific knowledge to Angelica's (aka Firestar) powers, but the rest just seemed heavy-handed. In addition to that, I don't remember her being this young or looking as such. Then again, last time I read anything relevant with Firestar in it was "Maximum Carnage." Oh, that's right. I went there. Emma Rios delivers in her usual style, but the anime-esque appearances look to have been pulled back a tad, at least compared to her Strange series a few months back. If you're a fan of Firestar, I know you're going to at least browse through this, but there's nothing to write home about, but I'll give credit for Marvel to start putting out some female-centric books.

Supergirl #52 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose: Watching the adventures of the Girl of Steel in the Last Stand of New Krypton has both some good and some bad -- Sterling Gates gives a compelling hook by establishing the time-crossed relationship of Supergirl and Brainiac 5. That said, hardcore fans might feel a little bit cheated, since the dual-narrative structure of this issue really makes Brainiac the active protagonist, with Supergirl occasionally feeling like the sidekick in her own book. I do dig Ivan Rodriguez's action sequences, as he really knows how to play with violence, fire and energy beams with a gusto I haven't seen since Howard Porter on JLA. Where I think the book isn't as strong, however, is when it comes to expressions -- Supergirl looks a little older than I'd've expected, but that does make the age difference between Brainy and her less potentially creepy. If you dig Supergirl and Brainiac as a couple, this is a great book to read.

Her-oes #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald: Taking Marvel characters such as Pixie and She-Hulk and setting them back in high school, this series seems to be geared toward younger readers. Not being a big Marvel reader, I picked up this book on a whim, knowing I enjoy the art of Craig Rousseau. Writer Grace Rudolph provides authentic high school girl dialogue and angst, and I was pleased to genuinely enjoy the book. I did find myself wondering as cousin of Namor, Namora, clearly established herself via dialogue as the antagonist, when the action of the book would come into play. It does as she faces off with Pixie toward the end of the book. The premise has the potential to grab readers who are new to comics and looking for an easy way to get started without knowing any heavy continuity. The title puzzles me a bit -- how do I pronounce it? Heroes? HER-oes? The latter leaves me sounding like I have some sort of strange drawl. I definitely look forward to picking this up again for a fun read, and to share with the young comic book aficionados in my library.

Power Girl #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald: Power Girl, Terra, Ultra Humanite, oh my! After finding out that Ultra Humanite had inhabited Terra's body in the last issue, Power Girl fights to save her young friend. We see Power Girl taken out of her home element and traveling to Terra's home deep within the planet. Palmiotti & Gray serve up the witty banter and engaging dialog that I expect from this book, while Conner 's art once again gives us plenty of wham-bam action and paints a colorful picture of PeeGee's sex appeal and humor. Satanna and her rogues appear again, bloodied and ready for action. Each issue, I enjoy going back over after an initial read, just to look at the art. Notable and amusing this time around, Satanna's buddy badger playing Bejeweled on his iPhone-like device as she plots and plans. Necessary to the story? No. But it's the little extra touches like that that show how much fun this team has had working on this book and that translates to the level of fun I'm having as a reader.

The Marvelous Land of Oz #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): If you haven't been picking up this series for you, a young reader you know or love, or just a fan of the world of Oz, shame on you! The collaboration of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young is one of this generation's greatest, especially in the field of literature for the young and young at heart. I've mentioned numerous times how Shanower is a known Oz fan and knows the world left and right and up and down. Young's style incorporates everything you would want to see in a book aimed at young readers with it's animated look and storybook charm. Accompanied by coloring mastermind Jean-Francois Beaulieu this series is one of the best all-around titles out there. Now, I know some of you might want to wait for the trade, but once you give one issue to a child, I'm sure their patience won't run as deep.

Captain America: Who Won't Wield the Shield? #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): It's a shame Marvel is unable to sustain a humor series or quarterly anthology, because when things click as well as this off-beat one-shot does, readers are sure to clamor for more. Marvel has long known that the ideal tactic in charmingly humbling oneself is to turn the target inward, and this issue follows suit. As the cover promises, this issue has absolutely nothing to do with current Captain America stories, except that writer Ed Brubaker is mercilessly skewered by peers for his great success and love of hats. Using a fourth-wall shattering framing sequence, CA:WWWTS tells dark and stormy tales of Forbush Man, Doctor America, and the Golden Age Deadpool. It is as ridiculous as it sounds. Doctor America arises from the tripped-out mindspaces of Matt Fraction and Brendan McCarthy, and gives readers a peek into what a world would look like if 60's & 70's era Marvel Comics were blended with  60's & 70's era underground drugged-out comix. Or maybe it is a peek into the twisted mind of FractCarthy, where they alchemically melded into a singular being of pure comickery. Or maybe it's just the most colorful story you'll see all year. Or maybe it was one long excuse to use the word “toyetic.” No matter how it's sliced, it's unbelievable and awesome. Golden Age Deadpool is similarly great, with Stuart Moore and Joe Quinones re-envisioning the Merc with a Mouth as a WWII Looney Tune/ Nazi death machine. Forbush Man, furnished by Jason Aaron and Mirco Pierfederici, ties the whole story together, acting as touchstone to Marvel humor stories past and as a silly anchor to the sublimely ridiculous world of superhero comics. Buy this issue, or who knows what will happen to the Cosmic Kitten KITHOTEP. You have been warned.

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