Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SPIDER-MAN, BRIGHTEST DAY, More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews 08/05

Face front, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with a dozen pellets for your reading enjoyment! We've got hits from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and BOOM! Studios, with weddings, gunshots, mind-trips and retro-returns -- all the stuff you crave! Want some more review goodness? Have no fear, check us out on the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, I'll take a look at One Moment in Time that changed Peter Parker's life...

Amazing Spider-Man #639 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Hm. Reading this comic, it made me think of a song lyric a professor of mine used to sing every so often. "Is that all there is?" Looking at this second issue of "One Moment in Time," it just makes me feel like both sides -- that is, both Marvel and its True Believers -- have made the whole Spider-Marriage thing from a molehill into a mountain, with each side antagonizing the other into bigger defenses over MJ getting the heave-ho as Peter Parker's main squeeze. The main question -- the main justification, if you're looking for such a word -- is this: Does the story work? Yes. Is this story and explanation, all affections aside, worth the wait? That's a different question entirely. Paolo Rivera, who is credited for both the linework and colors for his particular contributions, is absolutely fantastic -- he's got that Marcos Martin feel with all the imaginative acrobatics and wallcrawling... but what he adds to the mix is some fantastic expressiveness, even underneath Peter's all-black mask. Joe Quesada's writing, in the context of Rivera's work, fits better than his art contributions -- while I like the interplay between all the characters (and the extremely cathartic last few pages -- the man does know how to pace some pages), it's just that, ultimately, his story feels like it would have been a perfectly acceptible compromise for the easily offendable... if it had just been set up that way from the get-go. Even with its great art, the question remains: "Is that all there is?" That said, there's still time left to shake up the boat -- it's just funny, because after waiting this long, while this is definitely an "important" issue (especially for continuity sticklers), I wouldn't say it's a must-read.

Batman: Odyssey #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This comic, in a lot of ways, reminded me of Kyle DuVall's look yesterday at Magnus, Robot Fighter. This isn't the cleanest comic in the world -- far from it, it drips with anachronisms -- but at the same time, it speeds through unapologetically, being pretty much a hodgepodge of Neal Adams drawing whatever the hell he wants. I will say this -- it looks great, even if it reads clunky. Looking at the preview of this book on the Mothership, you'll see that there's an unnecessarily long look at hydrogen tanks, and why they will or will not blow up -- that's pretty much par for the course as far as Adams' writing goes, with non sequitors and cheesy dialogue popping up here and there. But here's the thing -- he makes it look great. How many times can we see Batman get shot and still stay impressed? I gotta say, between this cover, these interiors, not to mention the slugs Ol' Bats took in the last issue, it's astonishing how good Adams (and Continuity Studios, which provides the coloring) can make it look. It's old-school lunacy put in the context of today's ultra-clean, ultra-structured storytelling paradigm -- in other words, if Magnus, Robot Fighter is the trucker cap of this week's comics selections, Batman: Odyssey is the pink plastic hipster shades. If you're looking for a nostalgia-laced look at story for the storyteller's sake -- you've bought the ticket, but Neal Adams controls the ride -- then this may be up your alley.

Brightest Day #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame; Click here for preview): DC has promised this issue to be a game-changer, and it certainly appears to be. All the complaints (including some made by this writer) that the series was creeping along with no sense of direction are now officially out the window and each character has a clear sense of purpose. Most of them are frankly not that thrilling or surprising, though, and the fact that almost none of the characters are working toward a common goal means that the series may well suffer from the kind of schizophrenia that made 52 inaccessible to a lot of readers. The upside? I love where they’re going with Magog so much that it almost justifies bringing Max Lord back. That said, maybe those poor small-town cops can finally get traffic moving again on the street that’s had a White Lantern-filled crater in it since May.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review By Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview): Jonathan Hickman’s audacious S.H.I.E.L.D. series is the writer’s big swing at top-tier auteur status. SHIELD is a typical instance of a big company giving a well respected, but not-quite-superstar writer free reign with a vague but important chunk of continuity. S.H.I.E.L.D. throws out wild concepts on every page, from secret cities beneath Rome to ancient Egyptians fighting off alien invasions, in order to re-invent the mythos of the stolid old spy agency where Nick Fury made his bones. With this series, Hickman is ret-conning S.H.I.E.L.D. into a quasi-mystical lodge that could easily be pulled from the works of Grant Morrison or Alan Moore. As awesome as it is to see something as eclectic Leonardo Da Vinci zapping Galactus with a ray gun, (and as beautifully as Dustin Weaver’s rococo penciling renders it) with issue 3, Hickman’s plot is beginning to slip away from him. What once started as a tantalizing story of a fated young man who suddenly becomes embroiled in the esoteric and wondrous workings of the ancient order of the shield, has now collapsed into an unbroken recitation of Hickman’s increasingly labyrynthine backstory. Issue 3 is all exposition, there’s not a glimpse of our initial protagonist, or of Nathaniel Richards or Howard Stark, nor is there a sign of the villainous Night Machine from issue #2. The backstory is supremely cool, but Hickman needs to tether it all back to something to give the reader some emotional center. Eventually your backstory has to give way to the plain ‘ol story or else you just end up digging a narrative hole.

Superman: Last Family of Krypton #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame; Click here for preview): As DC shutters imprint after imprint, it’s good to see that Elseworlds -- one of my favorite imprints as a teenager -- is back in circulation. That said, this series has both the best and the worst of traditional Elseworlds storytelling in it. Bates’ unique take on Jor-El’s personality is quite fascinating, and the idea of a Kryptonian family stranded on earth and missing Krypton, maybe even trying to reproduce elements of it is interesting in the face of seventy years of Superman stories where Kal-El hasn’t had much similar interest. He has in fact stopped The Eradicator from creating freestanding Kryptonian structures in Metropolis before. That said, most writers can’t resist the urge to play with all the coolest Superman toys, so even in a story where Superman’s parents survive and move to Earth with him, there’s still that need to incorporate Smallville, the Kents and Lex Luthor -- something that takes some of the “else” out of Elseworlds.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Erika D. Peterman): “I can see you were a gentleman once, but you’ve obviously lost your manners,” a wizened sorceress tells Lord Henry Baltimore, the protagonist of Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s stylish, pestilence-themed comic. Lord B. can be forgiven for any breaches of etiquette, as he’s been busy battling the ghouls who have descended upon a plague-ridden, French coastal town after World War I. For a guy with a wooden leg, he’s one fierce, assured monster slayer/vampire hunter — but who is Lord Baltimore, exactly? Unfortunately, the comic doesn’t give us much to go on, and that presents a significant barrier to newbies like me, who haven’t read Mignola and Golden’s Baltimore, Or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire novel. In this comic miniseries, Lord Baltimore is tailing Haigus, the gnarly vampire who’s responsible for the devastation, and his loner cred is threatened when a plucky heroine named Vanessa insists on joining him. The story is slightly above average, but it takes a back seat to Ben Stenbeck’s sophisticated, darkly lined illustrations, which make decay and scourge look almost elegant. Major props are also in order for colorist Dave Stewart, who layers the images in varying shades of gloom, then employs well-placed dashes of crimson and fiery orange that leap off the page. In order to hold readers’ attention, though, Baltimore: The Plague Ships will have to provide a storyline that’s as enthralling as the scenery.

Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): No matter how many times you come back, I still think there's something to be said about the Marvel Zombies Universe -- you just have to get the right people on board. Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar -- the true architects of this horror world -- already had their fill. Fred Van Lente did, too, albeit taking an even more slapsticky tone to this bleak world. So it's nice to see writer Jonathan Maberry have an unofficial return to the Marvel Zombies Universe, bringing back some needed focus -- and some needed fear. What I liked most about this book -- and believe me, I'm as surprised as anyone that I liked it -- was the fact that Maberry really illustrates an entire world, one that seems realistic enough that we wouldn't see a threat this massive to our very existence until it was far too late. Artist Goran Parlov and Lee Loughridge do their best work fleshing out this architecture, making the shadows creep up on you, making it look like the infected could be anywhere -- that said, when there isn't the real world to anchor it, like the last splash page, the duo falters a bit. While I think Maberry does trip himself up once in his explanation of "why Frank?" -- he's Frank, that should be enough, he doesn't need any other protection than that -- this is a surprisingly enjoyable read that brings the bite back to the Marvel Zombies... even if it won't come out and admit it.

Secret Six #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): This seems to be another stand-alone, "monster of the month" issue. It was a festive read, but I was thinking "What the Hell?" the entire time. The Six are in an alt-version of themselves set in the Wild West. I'm not sure who's dreaming this up, but that's the best I got as to what this issue is. That aside, the lingo flying out of their mouths is brilliantly written in the way that only Gail does. The manner in which the characters interact with one another is simply delicious. Jeannette is fast becoming a favorite of mine, and she has the best line of the book. "I've been told I'm worth the hot water and soap." Tip of the hat to Jim Calafiore for the art in this issue. The action sequences are spot on, and he creates some jaw-dropping and grotesque detail. I am getting accustomed to him drawing The Six, and I like it. Shame on you, DC, for spelling Calafiore's name wrong on the cover.

Greek Street #14 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Amanda McDonald): As the "Ajax" arc comes to a conclusion, former soldier of the Afghan War, Alex, is still out for revenge. His buddy Patroclus died in his arms, and his anger toward the Minister resulted in bureaucracy working against him to prevent award of a deserved war medal. As in the previous two issues of the arc, this is a complete departure from the usual cast of Greek Street characters, aside from a brief appearance by Detective Dedalus. I enjoyed this side story, a look into other citizens of the realm of this book -- set in current day but steeped in allusions to classical mythology. It was a poignant look at how the troubles of today echo the troubles mankind has faced for ages. Peter Milligan's story tugs at the heartstrings, and is definitely not shying away from some social commentary. Werther Dell'Edera's art could just as easily tell this story if it stood alone. He aces the facial expressions and pain that shows just how distraught Alex and the Minister are in this conclusion to the story. Things tie up a bit quickly at the end of the story, and if it were a longer arc, I would be annoyed by that. However considering that it was only a three issue story, and served as a slice of life of a side character -- it was satisfying to know how it all played out. There is a bit of an opening for the story to resurface, but if it doesn't, I'm not going to be unable to sleep at night wondering what happened. This book is consistently solid storytelling. I'm not sure it gets the attention it deserves, so please -- check this series out. There's already one trade available, or these past three issues would also be a good way to immerse yourself into Milligan's storytelling and get you excited for what's to come.

Jonah Hex #58 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview): Maybe I’ve got my ten-gallon fanboy hat on too tight, but I believe that if you are going to have an issue called “Every Bullet Tells A Story” it might behoove you to find an artist who actually knows how a bullet works. Jonah Hex #58’s plot is structured around the lives of a handful of ballistic projectiles and how they affect the bloody world of Jonah Hex. It’s a tight little western noir that cranks up the unseemly grit of the book after last issue’s almost superheroic outing. Unfortunately, someone needed to tell penciller Giancarlo Caracuzzo that, when a gun is fired, the casings on the bullet don’t go flying out of the barrel still attached to their slugs. That’s basically the gunfighting equivalent of drawing a jet plane whizzing through the air with a tanker truck dangling from its fuselage. Also, Palmiotti and Gray throw in a florid bit of poetry comparing the empty shell of a spent bullet to the psyche of the man who fired it. The words are juxtaposed with an image of an ejected shell casing lying in the mud after being fired. Unfortunately, a six shooter doesn’t eject its shell casing like an automatic weapon -- but then again, with bullets flying around with their casings attached, who knows what is possible? These are fanboyish details, I admit, but they’re fanboyish details that matter in a story that fetishizes an object that the creators don’t seem to understand. With Jonah Hex #58, Palmiotti and Gray are aiming really high, but their shot goes just off the mark. Their musings on the metaphorical significance of ballistic objects are a bit too flowery and self conscious for this book and the story would have been just as effective without these, florid, gimmicky bits of narration. It’s your basic show not tell dilemma. Nevertheless, this is a savage little gem of a story, just one that isn’t as good as it should be. If you grit your teeth and take the misfires like a man, this book still outguns two thirds of what’s on the market today.

Casanova #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matt Seneca; Click here for preview): It’s one of the weirder publishing plans I’ve seen in a while, but I can get behind Marvel’s reprinting of Matt Fraction’s light-R rated, extended-disorientation Image spy book Casanova as an eight-issue mini before starting new stories with #9. Seeing popular comics repackaged, recontextualized, is always interesting, this one as much as any other.  It should be noted just how Marvel is contributing to that retconning: packing two of the 16-page original issues into each single reprint comic, sticking a “not really Vertigo” Icon logo on it, and slapping some (not always, but generally pretty snazzy) colors on it to bring it more in line with the accepted mode of hero comics. Two different things give a little, bend, and meet each other.  Fraction and artist Gabriel Ba aren’t making Yuichi Yokoyama stories or anything, but they were still slightly ahead of their time with this book a few years ago -- so the material’s second go-round now really feels like an arrival, the ideas its creators pursue having become part and parcel of the mainstream as opposed to the visions of a possible future they once were. Self-referential, post-Morrison writing that understands action comics’ need for economy and bouncy, pop, Mignola-esque art feel pretty moment-appropriate, and even if they don’t strike you as such Casanova is a fun, silly, occasionally smart comic that looks very nice -- we call those the “good reads." Worth a hard look.

The Incredibles #12 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): I know this book is for kids, but I really enjoyed it! There is a brief rundown in the beginning that lets you know where the story left off. I dove right in effortlessly with the warm and fuzzy feeling that the Incredibles tend to elicit. The dynamic between the members of the Parr family is so charming. When Mrs. Incredible gently inquired with Violet about the boy she likes, I could totally relate! It is a perfect mother/daughter moment. I definitely giggled. The story is clean and fun, and the quick pace makes for an amusing read. I fancied the art for the super-cool action scenes. They maintain the pace and were easy to follow. The expressive faces are the cherry on top; it keeps you engaged thru the story. I would definitely pull this book every month for my daughter, and then read it when she's done.


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