Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SHADOWLAND, BATMAN & ROBIN, More

Marvel SHADOWLAND Teasers

Thank Geoff It's Friday, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, helping you check out from the work week with a lucky 13 pellets for your reading perusal. We got some of the highlights of the week, with books from Marvel, DC, Vertigo and BOOM! Studios, moving from the darkness of Shadowland to the, er, brightness of Brightest Day, and tons of other books in between. What's that, you say? You still want more reviewing goodness? You better believe we've got you covered -- check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take you on a trip down the seedy streets of Marvel NYC, as the Avengers talk to the Hand in the first issue of Shadowland...

Shadowland #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): It's books like these that remind you that comics are a collaborative medium, and if one side of the team isn't as strong as the other, it definitely shows. While this issue definitely has some slowdown due to set-up, Andy Diggle does get some good moments out of this -- particularly the Avengers' intimidating view on Matt Murdock, or Matt's eerie reply when Luke Cake and Iron Fist come to help. Like his first issue on the series, Diggle takes Matt down a road that, while not especially surprising (those promo images are some definite spoilers), is a definite character moment that should have implications for the months and years to come. But where the issue stumbles -- and stumbles hard -- is with Billy Tan's artwork. There's really very little mood here, none of the stylishness or oppressiveness that, say, Roberto De La Torre would have brought -- instead, the characters (particularly Bullseye) are malformed and lumpy... It's weird, because there are some moments of true inspiration in the art -- let's just say there's some letter work that brings the pain to life -- but with a different artist on board, I think this issue could have been a definite home-run.

Batman and Robin #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matt Seneca; Click here for preview): By the time its ninth panel hits this comic is the best issue of B&R yet, and by the time the final page comes slamming down it's probably Morrison's best Batman issue all around.  The cryptic, occasionally sluggish pacing of this title's past year is blown out of the room here by a level of dynamic scripting Morrison hasn't brought since Batman #666, a tone that doesn't seduce so much as completely overpower.  This is big loud dark nasty Batman comics, continuity revisions and nerve-grinding imagery slam dancing each other into oblivion, blood splattering, rain clattering, dangerous drugs gnawing their way into innocent nervous systems.  It's everything great about Morrison's Batman crammed into an issue's worth of burn, and if you don't like it you better just get out of the way. Even a story this searing, however, pales in comparison to Frazer Irving's monumental, self-colored artwork -- grim and glam, decayed and dramatic, it gives a note-perfect visualization to the hell-pop tone Morrison has been going for all along. Irving eschews the technical tricks of Frank Quitely and the oddball compositions of Andy Kubert, going right at the throat with straight-ahead nightmare pictures that feel more a part with Hieronymous Bosch than Bob Kane, a sublime synthesis of razor-sharp line art and computer-rainbow magic turned to horrific ends. Irving might just be the best hero artist in comics right now, his every panel humming with low, pulsing static electricity. This issue is a prime example of everything great about contemporary mainstream comics: two consummate craftsmen pushing as far as their environment will let them and coming up aces and kings.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk; Click here for preview): Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's first volume of Young Avengers work was all about character definition. Who are the Young Avengers, they asked, and why do they matter? While the creative team has been out of the picture for some time, the Young Avengers have not. They were party to the Civil War, the Secret Invasion, the Dark Reign and the Siege, and somewhere along the way went from untested rookies to up-and-coming superhero prospects. In The Children's Crusade, Young Avengers leap from mere tag-alongs to adventuring Avengers in their own right, unafraid to challenge the assumptions of their elders. Their aim is to redeem Scarlet Witch, the woman responsible not only for the dissolution of the original Avengers (and, thus, the assembling of their Young counterparts), but also the woman to blame for the mutant Decimation. The very core of the Young Avengers was one of hero-worship, and as such they feel they have an obligation to salvage the legacy of one of the great Avengers. Is there wisdom at the core of the young heroes' stubborn resolve, or merely naivete? The Young Avengers have proven themselves, at the very least, to be imminently competent heroes, but this challenge promises to take the team to either new heights or new lows. With expectations raised after years of growing anticipation, the same could be said for the creative team.

Brightest Day #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Despite the Hawks on the cover, the real stars of the book are Aquaman and Mera, some characters that Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis really do some real justice. While the overall Lantern-related plot is becoming a bit more clear -- it's basically twists on characters' powers and status quos, which has been something that Johns has been doing for years anyway -- this is an action-packed book that has some hits, and some misses. Reis draws Aquaman with a panache the poor guy hasn't seen in years, and I'm particularly curious as to the fallout for the Deadman story (which, sorry readers, doesn't really progress too far here, either). The weak spots in this story, unfortunately, are Hawkman and Hawkwoman -- their story, with weird animal-human hybrids, isn't exactly the characterization that these two desperately need, and for some reason, colorist Peter Steigerwald really gives them a washed-out look that doesn't draw the eye. Considering this book is biweekly, is it necessarily enough to pique readers' interests? Right now, despite this issue's individual successes, the answer doesn't look too promising.

Great Ten #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview):: Say what you will about this series -- Tony Bedard is one heck of a professional. A ten-issue maxiseries gets cut by its ninth issue, and what does this guy do? He makes lemonade out of some serious logistical lemons, smooshing together the stories of Mother of Champions and Socialist Red Guardian, all while wrapping up the greater story of the Great Ten fighting the gods. All in 22 pages. Is it necessarily the smoothest conclusion ever? Not really -- but considering the guy is writing with one hand tied behind his back, it's one heck of an effort. Artist Scott McDaniel doesn't fare quite as well with the abbreviated ending, with some of the last pages being understandably sketchy, but he does get some great emotional content out of Mother of Champions in particular. It's a shame that this series couldn't have had one more issue to at least stick the landing, but it's the work under adversity -- and the grace under fire -- that makes this book not necessarily a triumph of the artform, but a real masterwork in the craft.

Scarlet #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kevin Huxford): I know Bendis likes to make with the talkie. Hell, I often enjoy how much he makes with the talkie. But wow. Breaking the fourth wall seems to have exponentially increased this tendency. The worst part: It doesn't work. There is so much talking directly to the reader that it loses nearly all value and appears to be more of a tool for the lazy to avoid having to find a way to naturally introduce info in the flow of the story. Not that the story had much flow to it, regardless of whether walls were broken. There's an overly cute bit of listing firsts for the character, when the writer couldn't be bothered to sufficiently build the world around her. We're given the impression that what the character has shared with us is enough to understand why she's on such a mission, but it doesn't click. As it is, it comes across as a grim & gritty "The Legend of Billie Jean" with a red-headed Helen Slater without an entourage. On top of that, the Maleev art has the appearance of bad photo manipulation in far too many panels and pages. Believe it or not, I really wanted to like it because Bendis & Maleev are capable of greatness, but the issue reads like something that would have been dropped in the circular file if lesser names (not talent) were attached.

Red Robin #14 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): Considering his history with Tim Drake Wayne, it’s no surprise that writer Fabien Nicieza has made a smooth transition into the Red Robin writer role. This issue raises good questions about whether Tim learned from his adoptive father a little too well, and the dynamic among the Wayne heirs — Tim, Dick Grayson (Batman) and Damian Wayne (Robin) — continues to add depth to this consistently enjoyable book. Marcus To’s crisp artwork suits the comic well, whether Tim is swinging across the Gotham skyline or staring down the formidable Vicki Vale during a press conference. Throw in an excellent Brady Bunch joke, and it adds up to another solid chapter in Red Robin’s evolution.

X-Men Vol. 3 #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kevin Huxford; Click here for preview): I wish I had a strong opinion to share on this book, but I don't. It's one of those issues that is just more or less there. It is a pretty standard, paint-by-numbers start to an arc/mini-event with nothing out of the ordinary to catch your eye. There's no bits that make you say oooooh, ahhhhh or WTF, really. The most notable items would be the somewhat tired-cliche "suicide bomber" and what feels like a bit of a stretch in the way some victims are turned to apprentice blood-suckers. While they are both weak and generally pull the story down a notch or two further from mediocre than it would otherwise be, they're nothing to get too worked up over. Despite Medina's artwork being solid here, I'm most likely to pass on the next issue due to how forgettable the first was, when even being terrible (think "Rise of Jubilee") might have enticed me back in a month's time.

Hellboy: The Storm #1 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Kevin Huxford): There's dry humor here. There's casually dealing with the fantastic. There's a lot good. But there was just a bit too much recap of Hellboy's history (whether previously told or new info). It takes you a bit out of things. I can't pinpoint where it was that the switch was flipped for me, but I was distinctly enjoying the brief bits about his past few years, until they tipped the scales just a bit much and kept adding on. It's a potentialy great issue that, in the end, felt more like just a good issue because of being a bit bloated in the recap. A little trimming there, combined with the exchange with the priest and officer and then the action that picks up after the recap, would have led it to feel like the strong piece of work that it mostly is.

Sweet Tooth #11 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Despite all the caged captivity, Sweet Tooth is a book that you can't put in a box. Writer/ artist Jeff Lemire's methodical, drumbeat storytelling paces on, closing Book 2 with more revelations of Jepperd the Big Man's tortured path. Sweet Tooth's is a joyless world, filled at every turn with disappointment and betrayal. Every secret unearthed reveals only greater, more twisted tragedy. Lemire presents the dichotomy plainly; while humanity's very nature is being perverted at birth with the advent of the hybrid children, it is the “mankind,” that remains that loses all sense of value for human life. The children are the freaks, but the adults are the monsters. For the good of our nightmares, Sweet Tooth is one of a kind.

Coldspace #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): The greatest strength of Coldspace #3 is the fact that Samuel L. Jackson's "voice" comes out in a big way here -- just the first page recap alone is fun to read, as it tells you everything you need to know with some real style. Now, considering Jackson and Eric Calderon's background with Afro Samurai, it's perhaps no surprise to see some of those animation tricks get incorporated by artist Jeremy Rock -- there's one beat devoted to Billy shifting his eyes angrily, and it's an interesting to see. And the combat -- well, Rock does some fun things with panel shapes that really evoke some serious speed. If only we saw more experimentation like that in comics. Letterer Troy Peteri also gets a chance to play around a bit, with captions drunkenly swerving around drug addict Zee. Where I don't think the story quite works as well is with the insurrection of the bounty hunter Patience -- that sideplot feels a little rushed, especially since there's apparently only one issue left. Even as it might be a case of "too little, too late," this is a fun sci-fi actioner that just needs more time to spread its wings.

Thor: The Mighty Avengers #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matt Seneca; Click here for preview): When is "good" good enough? The debut issue of the new all-ages Thor series is certainly a nice-looking comic, with Chris Samnee's ink-heavy compositions anchored into page after page of art that pushes the story along while neatly walking the thin line between cartoon and realism. And the script isn't bad -- Roger Langridge is clearly committed to his cast of characters and does a lot better than average to endear readers to them. (So what if the hero himself is little more than a cipher -- it's Thor, what do you expect?)  Judged against the crop of less disntinguished books Marvel releases every month, this is excellent stuff. And hey; even if you judge it against the wider market, it's probably still up there around the seventieth percentile.  But high quality isn't a good substitute for passion, and this issue's rote, seen-it-before feel testifies pretty well to that effect. A pretty girl meets a hero who alternately bedevils and charms her; a broad mythos is hinted at; and there is a fight. That's what happens in this comic... like, that's everything that happens. As a new series it doesn't exactly make the case for its individuality, or even its neccesity. Which doesn't have to be a problem -- few series do, after all -- but it isn't a plus by any means. Still, it's good, it will probably get better as the backstory gets fleshed out, and it's definitely the best-looking Thor book on the stands right now (I checked). If you want to slip into the comforting routine of another superhero serial, by all means check this out.  It's a valid way to enjoy comics, and this stuff delivers quite well on that level. But if you need every issue to thrill you're probably better off elsewhere. Last snap: multi-part stories are a bad idea for all-ages books, especially ones as high-concept and fluffy as Thor.

Secret Six #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): As per usual, mercenary work almost always leads to precarious situations for the Secret Six. What am I saying; it ALWAYS leads to a big bunch of crazy. John Ostrander writes this issue, and does a bang up job. He's not quite as quippy as Gail, but still thoroughly understands the spirit that animates the team. Just in case you did not already know, DON'T F&@# WITH THE SIX! Holy cow, I love these characters! The chemistry that is so wildly amusing is all over this issue, particularly with Deadshot (that being Ostrander's baby and all). We get them in all of their grotesque glory. The art, on the other hand, left a bit to be desired. Silva's hard jaw-lines and peculiar facial proportions didn't do much for me, but as a whole, still decent work. Beyond that, an awesome stand-alone issue that I think just about anyone can enjoy, Six fan or not. Check it out.


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