Best Shots Comic Reviews: SECRET WARRIORS, DETECTIVE, More


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Secret Warriors #15

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Stefano Caselli and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Artmonkeys' Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

While writer Jonathan Hickman has rightly been catapulted into the spotlight with last month's S.H.I.E.L.D., it's easy to overlook the fact that his artistic compatriot on Secret Warriors, Stefano Caselli, is really something else.

It's been a bit of a cliche on recent years to rag on Marvel for having scenes of superheroes sitting and talking around a table. And while some may lash out a bit more unfairly than others, the reasons are sound -- it's not particularly engaging visually. It occasionally feels like filler. And in a world where -- even if people don't always believe it -- every comic is somebody's first, having a slow talky scene can really derail an otherwise engaging premise.

That's not what happened to Stefano Caselli.

To call him anything less than a magician is an insult. And with all respect to Hickman -- who paces this issue and gives it a great voice -- it's Caselli's expressiveness that really makes this quiet issue roar. He's paired nicely with colorist Sunny Gho, whose darker tones really cast a moody pall, even in seemingly domestic settings. How is it that a card game can look so cool? When you have Caselli drawing Phobos' youthful cockiness, to Daisy's look of insecurity and sadness, to a fantastic -- utterly fantastic -- final page.  And that's not even mentioning Caselli's take on Nick Fury, which absolutely exudes atmosphere.

Heaping this praise on Caselli, however, doesn't mean that Jonathan Hickman is anything to sneeze at. While the aforementioned kitchen scene rests on his artist's shoulders, he has a scene with Nick Fury that positively crackles with betrayal and intrigue. There's a lot going on in this book, whether its with Fury, his Secret Warriors, or the changing personnel at HYDRA. While there is a bit of a steep learning curve for this book -- unfortunately, I don't think you'll understand the powerful last page without having read some of the previous issues -- it does ring true for regular readers of this series.

There are some missteps in this book, of course. There's one change for a villainous character that feels extremely heavy-handed and more than a little bit goofy -- neither Hickman nor Caselli manage to stick the landing for this new design -- and there is one page that seems almost like a printing error, because the color work seems so dark in comparison to the rest that it blots out a lot of Caselli and Gho's details. But that said, this is an extremely human issue of Secret Warriors, an issue that possesses such a great artistic vision that it skates past some of the more challenging elements of this series.

Detective Comics #864

Written by David Hines (Co-feature by Greg Rucka)

Pencils by Jeremy Haun (Co-feature by Cully Hamner)

Inks by Jeremy Haun and John Lucas

Colors by David Baron (Co-feature by Dave McCaig_

Letters by Todd Klein (Co-feature by Jared K. Fletcher)

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"I know you want the best for Gotham. You always have." - Batman

Over the past three years or so, Detective Comics has been my quintessential Bat-book. I find that it has had some of the best collaborations we've seen all decade. I fear a lot of people will be dropping this book, and sad to say I think I might be one of them. Where as Hines and Haun succeeded with Arkham Reborn, something here just fell sort flat.

After Dr. Jeremiah Arkham is revealed to the new Black Mask, he's sentenced to time in Arkham Asylum, where Batman can keep a watch on him. Where he can be monitored, and so forth, as well as give Batman information since Jeremiah has been diagnosed as a "genuine schizophrenic", which means there is some doubt he is indeed the new Black Mask. Consider Batman on the case.

Now this is where the book begins to fall apart. I wouldn't consider Jeremiah a schizo, as much as multiple personality, or something in that field. From there, we get a hint of Jeremiah's madness as he's confronted by his other inner-villains: No Face, the Mirror Man, and the Hamburger Lady. Enraged, by their visages, Jeremiah slashes them to pieces, but apparently they were real, and the cliffhanger confused me as much as the first time I watched "American Psycho". I understand it's a two-part arc, and my answers will (hopefully) be revealed in the following installment. The truth is, though, between the mediocre dialog and uninspiring art, I didn't care.

I believe Hines was trying to paint a sympathetic, yet malicious picture of Jeremiah (and there is one bit of okay dialog) but it comes off as trying too hard. I didn't feel his threat level, or believe Batman's intensity on getting answers.

Onward to the Greg Rucka, Cully Hamner and David McCaig Question and Huntress co-feature, in which the ladies take on Vandal Savage. Now at first you wouldn't suspect two urban-centric heroes to take on somebody like Savage, but Rucka has some clever moments and in doing so, the feature that is usually over-shadowed really gets to take centerstage. Hamner continues to do some of the best line work of his career, and McCaig does a great job making it look even better.

Now, the mentality of dumping a book because of Rucka making his exodus just on principle is, for a lack of a better word, silly. Though if you found Hines' style as lacking as I did, that's understandable.


In Case You Missed It...

American Vampire #2

Written by Scott Snyder (co-feature by Stephen King)

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Colors by Dave McCaig

Letters by Steve Wands

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

"You, Pearl Jones, are a different kind of vampire." - Skinner Sweet

Talk about a series you can sink your teeth into. Yes, I started off with a cheesy pun. I've seen ads for a while and after a few recommendations, I checked it out. Glad I did. With the vampire craze at a fever pitch, I guess it was only a matter of time before we saw them back on our comic shelves. I honestly can't remember a vampire-themed comic I read since Crimson. Since it carried the Vertigo imprint, I wasn't sure on what to expect. Add to the fact I was not too familiar with Scott Snyder's work, save for Iron Man: Noir.

Now, I wasn't blown away by the concept, but more intrigued. Snyder has woven an interesting story about an inspiring actress named Pearl who is turned into a vampire and gets a bit of revenge in this issue. It's not glamorous. It's gutsy, it's gory, and with Raf Albuquerque, it's glorious. From Pearl's metamorphosis from human to vampire to the desert landscapes, everything seems in place and nothing is wasted. On top of that you, Dave McCaig does another stellar job, but doesn't take away from Albuquerque's work. You can feel the heat of the sun, and the cold of the morgue.

One of the best things I love about this book is that it's a double header. Yes, it has a co-feature, but unlike most of the DC co-features, the b-story is intertwined with the main story and acts as a prequel. It's also not everyday such a feature is written by one of the most prolific authors in the horror genre: Stephen King. King touched on the vampire lore with "Salem's Lot" decades ago, and it seems he hasn't lost his touch. Albuquerque and McCaig are on art duties on this one as well, and while the style is slightly different, it's just as good.

The dynamic of Pearl and her mentor of sorts, Skinner Sweet (who is the main star in the co-feature) is going to be fun and bloody, I can tell. So if you like your vampires with a little bit more balls and less sparkles, be sure to pick this up.


Gotham City Sirens #11 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald): In my review of the previous issue, I mentioned being interested in seeing Ivy start her new job at S.T.A.R Labs and hoping for a chance to see the Sirens' individual lives-- not just as their personas but also as their regular selves. This issue hit the nail on the head with the ladies not suiting up once the entire issue (to Harley's chagrin). Now don't get me wrong-- the lack of costumes does not constitute a lack of action. Ivy is busting chops at her new workplace, while Selina and Harls embark on a quest to figure out why neighborhood dogs are going missing. Ivy's aggressions leave her in danger, while Selina and Harley's adventure doesn't end well, but I couldn't help but have a good laugh at the result. Dini's writing is best fit for this sort of storyline, the banter among characters is genuine and definitely what I imagine when I imagine the ladies trying to plan their day. Guillem March's cover of the ladies in costume is one of my favorites yet. His imagery of Ivy sprouting, Harley cartwheeling, and Catwoman cracking her whip, is sure to catch the eyes of LCS browsers with it's sex appeal and kinetic energy.

The Outsiders #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): You know, I have to give Dan DiDio some credit. Without a doubt, he's been doing everything in his power over the last few months to inject some new life into this beleaguered Outsiders book. And as someone who's been following the book on a consistent basis for well over a year now, I have to say that I truly appreciate his efforts. But that doesn't change the fact that, for the most part, his current run on the title has been extremely disappointing and frustrating so far. The Outsiders #29 doesn't really break that problematic trend, but thankfully, DiDio does manage to show some significant signs of improvement here, mainly in the characterization department. The entire issue revolves around the vampiric Looker (who makes her formal return to the Outsiders title this month after a hiatus of almost two years), and DiDio does a great job of reintroducing us to the character before finally letting her cut loose on a cocky vampire-hunter sent to assassinate her. At the same time, however, DiDio's dialogue is as clunky as ever, and there are a couple of scenes in the story that just feel incredibly contrived. In addition, it seems that one of the primary reasons behind DiDio's decision to bring Looker back to the Outsiders this issue was so the struggling book could try to cash in on our pop culture's current vampire craze. I don't necessarily have a problem with that potential reasoning, but it definitely doesn't serve the book well in this case, mainly because DiDio barely touches upon the larger story he's been telling with the Outsiders this month. All in all, The Outsiders #29 isn't as bad as some of the title's previous installments from the past year, but I still wouldn't call it a good comic book. On the contrary, after reading this issue, it's quite clear that this series still has a very long way to go before it can even be considered a solid superhero team book.

Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #1 (Marvel; reviewed by Kevin Huxford): Eight pages of “Punisher Gets Busy”? Really? Leinil Yu makes it look wonderful, but it doesn’t change the fact that eight pages of graphic kills to establish the Punisher is, pardon the pun, overkill. It is laziness by the writer and padding for the issue. I understand that some writers don’t work to be economical with their pages, but it is inarguable that pages are simply wasted here. To further support the feeling that there’s lazy writing here, Millar lifts the 616 “Captain Punisher” costume from Matt Fraction’s run on Punisher: War Journal.

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