Best Shots Comic Reviews: AVENGERS ACADEMY, SUPERGIRL, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, happy to greet you to the new week with the Best Shots team! We've got books from Marvel, DC, Dynamite, Top Cow and Archaia for your reading enjoyment. Want to see more? Check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's get "Scared Straight" with twin reviews of Avengers Academy and Thunderbolts...

Avengers Academy #3

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Mike McKone, Andrew Hennessy and Jeromy Cox

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

After this series' fast-paced second issue, Christos Gage and company are steering their class at the Avengers Academy toward what's generally seen as the straight-and-narrow of sales success -- that is, a crossover with another book for the "Scared Straight" story arc. And while the execution certainly doesn't register any complaints, it almost feels unnecessary for this title, an exercise in swimming against the current for a book with a strong enough concept to let it stand on its own two feet.

But let's get to brass tacks and talk about what works -- namely, Christos Gage and his character work. If anything, I think that's where the crossover nature of this book puts the brakes on things -- although we haven't gotten fully introduced to all the characters, Gage has to eat up precious pages plotting these new recruits' trip to the Raft, home of the convicts and crooks that are rehabilitated by the Thunderbolts program. When he's not working on the plot, however, the book is great -- it's nice to see some of the bitterness that the more isolated recruits, such as Hazmat and Mettle, exhibit about their condition, and there's a cameo by the Valkryie that's easily the highlight of the book.

Mike McKone, surprisingly, doesn't light up the page with some of the more actiony sequences in this book -- you'd think with the obligatory training shots in a teen book like this, there'd be some more room for his innovation with panel composition and speed. While the action might not wow you, McKone's "acting" and expressiveness for all of the characters certainly will -- I particularly love the eye-roll he gives to the Juggernaut, when one of the youngsters asks for, well, a bit of a fanboy moment. Colorist Jeromy Cox is an interesting fit for a book like this, giving the images some brightness and pop that cuts at odds with the moral ambiguity that this title has.

And you know, that ambiguity is really what drives the Avengers Academy. Will these kids grow up and become Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Will they become the next generation of the Masters of Evil? It's all about self-fulfilling prophecies, a sort of ever-evolving status quo that gives these characters new life and new tension, even if we don't know the particulars about them just yet. And in that regard, the trip to the Raft -- and all the demons both literal and otherwise that reside there -- feels almost like an unnecessary effort. The teens may just be confused enough to be "scared straight," but this book was already on the right course for some rich heroic storytelling.

Thunderbolts #147

Written by Jeff Parker

Art by Kev Walker and Frank Martin

Lettering by Albert Deschesne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Even though this book is billed as the sister title for the "Scared Straight" crossover with Avengers Academy, the actual overlap between the two books is fairly limited. But you know something? That's not such a bad thing -- it simultaneously gives Thunderbolts a little bit more "oomph" in the slew of new titles Marvel is putting out, while allowing the art to really push this book along.

And really, the art is what sells this book. Kev Walker hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for what he's done on this book -- it's like a crazy mix between Scott Kolins, Leinil Francis Yu and Kelley Jones combined with some surprisingly evocative geometrics that show that there's no softness to this pack of crooks, and I gotta tell you, every page of this jailhouse brawl looks great. Walker's use of panel composition is also nothing to scoff at, particularly with a five-pge sequence showcasing three separate fights. Without giving too much away -- I have yet to see a fist-pumping moment with U.S. Agent like this. Colorist Frank Martin also really does a great job setting the grimy tone of the Thunderbolts facility -- with acidic pinks, greens and oranges, he really lights up the pages.

That's not to say that Jeff Parker should be ignored. The guy knows how to set up some really compelling swashbuckling, whether it's having Crossbones shout that he's "death from above" or having Luke Cage reunite with an old enemy of his. And good on him for really putting his foot on the gas for setting up some potential complications for this crew -- obviously they're not as iconic as Warren Ellis' gang of freaks, but at the same time, this gives Parker some room to tinker, as nobody is quite what they seem to be. The only weak link in this series thus far is the new character Troll -- because she doesn't get a strong introduction to the fracas, in addition to not having a strong personality yet, she's a little too easy to miss.

Out of all of the Avengers books, I think it's been Thunderbolts that's really gotten the worst rap, only because of the lack of direction this book had taken in the post-Secret Invasion hullaballoo. But I'm here to tell you that this book has easily one of the strongest high concepts -- and certainly one of the iconoclastic art teams -- out of the entire relaunched Avengers lineup. It may not have the rumble of its more marketed sister titles, but rest assured -- even if you haven't read any of the other "Scared Straight" issues, Thunderbolts is running electric.

Supergirl #55

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Jamal Igle, Jamie Grant and Jim Devlin

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

If you’re a heroine from Krypton and you’ve just been hurled through the Daily Planet’s plate glass windows, you must be doing something right. And like its namesake, Supergirl #55 gets plenty right with Sterling Gates’ thoroughly enjoyable script and Jamal Igle’s art, which never disappoints. Speaking of Igle, how refreshing that he draws Kara Zor-El like an athletic, adolescent girl instead of an overly endowed fantasy/parody.

I’d heard good things about Supergirl but had concerns about whether this was a good time to drop in. I needn’t have worried, because the “Fakeouts” story is easy for newbies to follow and offers a pretty clear picture of who Kara is: a scrappy, tenacious young woman who has a good sense of humor (handy for a crime-fighting alien) and compassion for her enemies. In this case, the enemy is Bizarro Supergirl, whose, um, creative syntax is hilarious: “You am going to be horrible barbecue dinner, Jimmy Olsen, ‘cos me loves ribs.”

This issue is basically one big throwdown between Supergirl and her Bizarro nemesis, and it’s a fast-paced read with witty dialogue and cameos from the Daily Planet crew and Doctor Light (Kimiyo Hoshi). There are some outstanding splash panels, and Igle’s attention to detail is evident throughout. For example, when Kara power-punches a tree trunk, you can see the bark’s intricate texture, and the pulverized shards of wood look realistic and thoughtfully placed. Kara also looks like she’s having a hell of a lot of fun shredding that thing with her fists.

Jamie Grant and Jim Devlin’s colors were another plus, from the fittingly drab tones of Bizzaro World, to the fiery, “SHA-CHOOOM” blasts of star light from Kimiyo. An unexpected ending capped off issue #55 off with just enough drama and suspense. Even though I’m new to the title, I already care about what happens next.

Supergirl, consider yourself added to my pull list.

New Avengers #3

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Click here for preview

Man, while I think that relaunching New Avengers at the onset of the "Heroic Age" was questionable, I certainly can't argue with the results.  Three issues in, Bendis is moving at a steady pace, and details are coming forward in this story faster even than on the adjectiveless "Avengers."  Maybe its simply a level of comfort with the characters at play, or a passion for the subject matter, but this book is hitting on almost every level.  Sure, they're still fighting demons in Central Park, but at least the story is evolving rapidly, and we aren't getting bogged down in page after page of aimless banter.  

The impetus for this secondary Avengers squad aside, this book feels a lot more like a "Defenders" title, than the Avengers.  I know that's been said a lot of New Avengers since "Civil War," but it's really true here, especially considering the squad at play in this title, and the mystical nature of the threats they face.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, either, considering the curveball thrown at the end of this issue.  Bendis has managed to actually surprise me, rather than once again giving me the "surprise" I expect.  If I have any complaints about the writing in this issue, they're purely cosmetic.  For example, the spell names that Bendis gives all the magic users are senselessly lame.

The entire art team on this book is almost beyond compare; Stuart Immonen is one of the best pencillers working today.  His combination of style, storytelling, and timeliness is unmatched by anyone at Marvel, and is lightyears ahead of anyone in the mainstream DC stable.  Wade Von Grawbadger's long term working relationship with Immonen really comes through, as the inks are crisp and concise.  Laura Martin's work needs no explanation; she never fails to strike the right balance of mood and clarity.  Seriously, the art alone is worth the cover price.

While the "Avengers" title is really only on the cover of this book for semantics, and the overlap of characters with other "Avengers" books is a little redundant, this title is a super fun ride, and different enough in tone and scope that it more than justifies its own existence.  Fans of Bendis' trademark witticism will not be disappointed, and those who have been turned off by the same may be surprised to enjoy this title, should the choose to give it a chance.  

Witchblade: Due Process

Written by Phil Smith

Art by Alina Urusov, Scott Forbes, Polina Radtchenko, and Thea Chow

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

"I feel obligated to him. We took his life away. Someone should do something to make that right." -- Sara Pezzini, the Witchblade

A decade ago, an innocent man was wronged by the system and Sara Pezzini is trying to set things right, even if that means turning in other cops. Ten years passed and William Hicks, the man who was dealt an unjust hand has changed, and not for the better. He's alligned himself with a white supremacist group in order to have survived in well as a demon that sort of resembles a Beholder from Dungeons and Dragons, in order to protect his family. Of course knowing what he's become friends with, I'm sure you can see that things don't bode well for Hicks.

Phil Smith is not Ron Marz, and he doesn't have to be. He's given Sara a different voice here, but nothing that deviates from what Marz has set up these five years or so. She is more "cop" here than Artifact Bearer here and it's interesting to note that there is none of her supporting cast. No Julie, no Gleason, no Hope. Just Sara. Which is fine considering the nature of the story: it's Sara on a personal mission. It feels more direct that way. Though adding the demon angle seems sort of unnecessary. It doesn't hinder the story since the demon, Agares, actually bonded to Hicks in order to get souls while he was in prison, so there is a reason for him to be around, but a story dealing with a man wanting justice would have been compelling enough. I understand that this is a Witchblade story and the supernatural elements are in full effect, but Smith had a chance to do something different. It just seems that Agares was placed in the story to make it a Witchblade story.

Demons aside, it's an intriguing story, but the art takes some of the wind out of it. Using a style similar to Alex Maleev, Alina Urusov uses photographs, heavy lines, and an uber-coloring job and meshes it all together. It's different to see Sara drawn in anything besides Stjepan Sejic these days. So while it breaks monotony, it still comes across as sometimes muddy and overdone. There are good moments that really display Urusov's skills, such as the opening pages and whenever Agares would appear. While not possessing a face, the demon comes across as a malevolent force and the obvious opposition.

As a Witchblade fan, I found Witchblade: Due Process interesting enough to recommend it to others. It just seems as if Sara isn't justified and neither is William. The script comes across as too wordy at times, which slows down the pace, but is still a solid read.

Green Lantern Corps #51

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes and Randy Mayor

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

If you're looking for an iconoclastic sci-fi read, then Green Lantern Corps #51 definitely brings some fireworks to the table, as our favorite corpsmen take on a planet of Manhunters and the Cyborg Superman. While I think the characterization isn't as deep as it has been in the past, there's definitely plenty of action for Lantern fans.

In a lot of ways, writer Tony Bedard's really just gearing us up for the final battle -- if you haven't read the past few issues, it might not hook you as hard. Bedard does bring some character moments to the fore, such as the former Guardian known as Ganthet experiencing grief, or the Alpha Lantern Boodikka giving her regards to a former prisoner of war. Yet certain moments, such as the Lanterns engaging the robot people of Planet Grenda, feels a little like wasted space, not adding a whole lot to the plot or the characterization of any of the protagonists.

As far as the art goes, the detail certainly feels a little more glossed over with Vicente Cifuentes' inks, which cast more of the art in dark shadows that evoke the do-or-die nature of the Lanterns' deep-space mission. The pencils by Ardian Syaf light up when there's some action -- it certainly evokes the sort of visual style of Brightest Day's Ivan Reis, or even a hint of DC co-publisher Jim Lee -- but with the more talky nature of this book, the script doesn't play as much to his strengths. I think the composition is where he stumbles a bit -- there's a lot of options to show strange new worlds, and while Syaf can certainly show the Lanterns giving a punch, there's so much more creative stretching that can take place here.

Reiterating what I said before, if you're into the sort of sci-fi fantasy epics that value these sorts of tribes and fireworks, then I think Green Lantern Corps definitely has some chops. Ultimately, it does feel like Tony Bedard and Ardian Syaf aren't quite simpatico with their work -- sometimes working against each other rather than playing to one another's strengths -- but that said, they also manage to give a little bit of humanity to the hulking mythology that this franchise has created. And ultimately, this book doesn't need to redefine the DCU -- we've got plenty of other books to do that. This is the Green Lantern Corps returning to the stars. And that's a victory in and of itself.

Power Girl #15

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Sami Basri and Sunny Gho

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Click here for preview

Last we saw PeeGee, she had just been informed by a giant purple android type character that he was about to destroy New York City. At the same time, her business was being visited by the Feds, shutting her down. In this second installment of the arc, she continues to battle the character we learn refers to himself as "Crash."

We've got some pretty good action sequences going on in this issue, and we get to see Basri's art in motion. I've been warming up to him over these past few issues. His style is clean, he's got some interesting paneling going on in this issue, but there's still not really any wow factor there for me. It tells the story, but it doesn't stay in my memory long. Winick is moving the story along, still balancing the story between Power Girl's duties as a hero, and her status as a high powered executive. The two's aspects are essential to a good PG story, but the content of the story itself is lackluster. I wanted to give this team a few issues to decide whether to keep pulling this book. I think this issue helped me make the decision, and sadly it's time to say good bye to this title.

I've read a lot of reviews of this series that compare it to its earlier creative team. I'm guilty of some myself. However if I were to pick up this book right now with no knowledge of what came before it, I'd come to the same conclusion. I like the idea of the character, but this book just doesn't make me feel invested in her. There's nothing about the way she's being depicted that makes me find her charming. I don't dislike her, but I don't really see anything about her that makes her especially unique or intriguing. The big twists in the issue are that one of her genius employees discovers her secret and an appearance by Cash's creator. These twists just weren't enough to make me long for the next issue.

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1 (of 6)

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by John McCrea and Keith Burns

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Patrick Hume

What an odd little book. Tonally very different from its parent series, The Boys: Highland Laddie #1 follows Wee Hughie as he returns to the village in Scotland where he grew up for the first time in several years. With none of The Boys' trademark superhero satire, over-the-top violence, and only a bit of grossout humor, this issue stands apart, becoming almost a picaresque about the life and times of Hugh Campbell.

And that's a good thing! As fun and boundary-pushing as The Boys often is, the most interesting thing about the series to me has always been Hughie. Watching his induction into the fairly insane lifestyle that the Boys lead, seeing how this ordinary guy grapples with how the world really works, gives the book the emotional anchor that it needs. Now, after the unfortunate revelations of The Boys #44, Hughie needs to take a step back from that new world he's been living in, returning both physically and mentally to the old one for a while.

And that's pretty much all that happens. Hughie goes back to Auchterladle, has dinner with his folks, spends an evening drinking with two childhood friends, and talks to a tourist on the beach. No fights, no spandex-clad psychos, and only a brief glimpse of the rest of the Boys, but Ennis makes it just as engrossing as anything else he's written. This issue really grounds us in what Hughie's life was like before he went to Glasgow and the States - very pleasant, very inconsequential. Had he stayed behind, there's no doubt that he would have led an enjoyable, anonymous existence, but he wanted something more. Now that he's found it and realized "more" isn't all it's cracked up to be, he tries to go home again, and even though things are different, they're the same enough that he remembers why he left in the first place. It's a really nice character piece and, while there aren't any startling revelations, it rounds out Hughie as a person very well.

Missteps? Ennis' taste for the surreal showed up in the hilarious visuals for Hughie's friends Big Bobby and Det, particularly Det's drinking method, but they felt out of place with the rest of the book. McCrea's art, meanwhile, was perfectly decent, with one exception. Hughie has a very distinctive look in the main series, but was transformed by McCrea into a taller, slimmer version of himself here. Normally, I can deal with other artists' interpretations of a character with barely a second glance; the fact that it took me out of the book several times is indicative of how jarring a difference it was.

Despite the low-key nature of the issue, it does end on something of a cliffhanger, introducing a potential mystery for Hughie to solve - but truth be told, I couldn't bring myself to care about the implications too much. I doubt Ennis could have sustained the calm, contemplative tone of this issue for the entire mini and still made it interesting, but what we got of it was a welcome change of pace.

Fables #97

Written by Bill Willingham

Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Dan Green and Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

The covers of this current Rose Red arc have been catching my eye on the shelf for several months now. Alas, I was late to the Fables train, and have been steadily reading them in trades, so I didn't want to just pick up an current issue and be utterly lost.

I just couldn't resist anymore, upon seeing this most recent cover by Joao Ruas for this fourth chapter of the arc. Picking up all four issues, I settled in on a rainy afternoon to enjoy them. I felt the same surge of love that I felt when I picked up my very first Fables trade. The earlier issues fill us in on the details of Rose Red and Snow White's childhoods, while Rose Red has sunk into a deep bed-ridden depression. By this issue, Rose has learned that perhaps her resentments toward Snow are misguided and unfounded. Of course the damage is already done, and Rose has to decide where to now turn her aggressions.

While this issue is definitely not a starting off point, it's well worth picking up the few back issues of this arc. You're still not going to be completely up to speed on what's been going on prior to the arc, but if you love the way Willingham writes these sisters you'll be glad you took the time to read this story. This issue seems to be a turning point in the story, moving away from character development and background and into action.

The page illustrations are lush as to be expected from this creative team, with the classic illuminations bordering the pages just as you'd find in an old book of fairy tales. Between these illustrations and the detailed dialogue and narration, there is no such thing as a "quick" read through of these books. This issue and arc exemplify what I initially loved about the Fables series: the complete departure from the realm of superheroes, and proof positive that sequential storytelling can work in a variety of genres. Ruas' cover is absolutely stunning. While the interiors of the book are very traditional, the cover has a highly stylized, very modern grayscale image of Rose posing with a gun -- her hair brightly glowing against a vibrant pink and yellow background.

So yes, my love affair with Fables has been renewed. Looks like I've got some catching up to do!

Syndrome OGN

Created by Blake Leibel

Written by Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan

Art by David Marquez and Bill Farmer

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Archaia

Review by David Pepose

What is evil?

It's a simple question, but with broad ramifications. Is it a choice? Is it something you're born to do? Nature? Nurture? Destiny?

Archaia's Syndrome is an interesting venture, one whose setup is so fascinating that you don't want it to end. Equal parts Silence of the Lambs and The Truman Show, this is a lushly illustrated read that's definitely thought provoking as it is labyrinthine.

Daniel Quantz and R.J. Ryan create an interesting world with the murderer Thomas Kane. Think of Bullseye from Daredevil, and you're not too far off from the characterization -- he kills not because he loves it, but because it's a calling to him. Bringing him into a new world, Quantz and Ryan give some very interesting new angles on not just what the nature of evil is, but how does one quantify it, how does one study it? Moving from psychology to architecture to the people who inhabit this fantasy world, it's a very three-dimensional look.

The real highlight of the book, of course, David Marquez and Bill Farmer. There's a real cinematic streak to this book with something that's undescribably "comic booky" about the lines -- it's like Howard Porter in his prime mixed with Darick Robertson. And Marquez's inks? Man, are those some lush shadows. Considering Marquez's past as an animator, it's great to see that his storytelling prowess makes it to the static page.

The one problem with this book? Structure. With such a fantastic set-up, as soon as you get into the world of Syndrome... the book ends. It's almost structured like an episode of "Tales from the Crypt," where it's all set-up with a horrific twist at the end. But perhaps that means it's just a symptom of Syndrome's success -- there's clearly a lot of mileage in this book, and you want to check back in to see more of Kane's treatment. Let's face it -- this book? It's contagious.

The X-Files/30 Days of Night #2

Written by Steve Niles and Adam Jones

Art by Tom Mandrake and Darlene Royer

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by WildStorm Productions and IDW Publishing

Review by Patrick Hume

Media tie-in comics are never a sure thing. There's been some quality material over the years, but too much of it comes across as warmed-over dross whose only purpose is to make a quick buck. Thus, it was with trepidation I approached The X-Files/30 Days of NIght, anxious about the end result of throwing together one of the decade's biggest OGNs with what may be my favorite TV series of all time.

The result? Nothing special, but nothing too painful, either. I missed the first issue, but the premise is pretty self-explanatory: Mulder and Scully get called up to Alaska's deep north to investigate some mysterious deaths as the sun prepares to set for several weeks. Co-writers Niles, creator of 30 Days of Night, and Jones, best known for playing lead guitar in Tool, actually do a good job of capturing at least the superficial levels of Mulder and Scully's relationship. While at times going through the motions of "Mulder the believer/Scully the skeptic", they do get in some good banter. There's little sense of the deeper bond between the two characters, but then, there's only so much you can do in a single comic.

On the other hand, much of what made both 30 Days of Night and The X-Files modern classics was the constant tension and moody atmosphere, both of which are almost entirely lacking here. Despite the agents' discovery of some fairly grisly scenes, there's almost no sense of urgency to anything that happens. I don't care how many bizarre murders you've investigated: if you come across the dinner-table tableau that Mulder and Scully find, you're going to have some kind of reaction beyond a clinical investigative discussion. It's almost as if Mulder and Scully know that they're just visiting this setting for a while and don't feel the need to get too involved.

Mandrake and Royer's art doesn't help. The draftsmanship is great, and they get Mulder and Scully's likenesses down pat, but there's no character to their work here. The X-Files is legendary in television circles for its sophisticated use of light and shadow, as well as the cinematic feel of its editing. 30 Days of Night, of course, introduced the world to Ben Templesmith, whose flair for the visceral made it one of the most visually fascinating books of its time. None of the source material's stylistic choices, so important to defining both universes, make it through to the page. Perhaps if they had, it would have ratcheted up the stakes a couple of turns. Straightforward visual storytelling isn't the right approach for a horror comic - there needs to be an eye for perspective, lighting, and timing that just isn't here.

If you'd rather your most recent memory of Mulder and Scully not be the failure that was The X-Files: I Want To Believe, or you're a fanatic 30 Days completist, go ahead and pick up the book. It's certainly not a waste of time. Otherwise? Go fire up your DVDs or take Niles and Templesmith's book down off the shelf instead, and remind yourself why you liked this stuff in the first place.

What were your picks of the week?

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