Best Shots Comic Reviews: WONDER WOMAN, AVENGERS, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews 08/30

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' review team that is Best Shots! Our hard-hitting review team is in full effect this week, with FIFTEEN reviews on the biggest hits from Marvel, DC, Image, BOOM! Studios, and even some indie books deserving some spotlight. Want to see more? I'll bet you do -- and for that, you can check out the Best Shots Topic Page here! And now, it's on with the show, as Vanessa has some words for the Amazing Amazon in her review of Wonder Woman #602...

Wonder Woman #602

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, Jay Leisten, Michael Babinski, Ruy Jose, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Click here for preview

I am well aware that there are some staunch JMS apologists out there. I am not one of those people. I had not read his work prior to Wonder Woman, and I did not watch Babylon 5. Thus, I've been reading his Wonder Woman so far with a fairly blank slate. Last month's issue left me a tad hopeful that DC had not just tossed my beloved Diana back in the fridge.

Wonder Woman #602 definitely starts off strong. After Diana leapt from the wing of a plane and landed Matrix style at the end of #601, how could it not? The pacing and buildup is good. JMS' Diana is impetuous and aggressive, and that works for me. There was plenty of Amazonian lore to tug at my heart strings, too. Then, about halfway through the book, I was able to predict every single panel that followed. And I did. JMS must be channeling Hollywood, because the script is clearly following a formula, complete with a close-up of Diana screaming, "NOOOOOOO!!!"

Desert? Check. Guns and bombs? Check. Soldier talk belittling females and foreign culture? Check. Blood and death? Check. Don't we have enough of that already? My stomach dropped, and I got that icky feeling that comes from reading clichés. The rest of the issue is ripe with triteness: There is foreshadowing, then more foreshadowing, then a statement of what's going on, and then a reference to it later. JMS is either trying too hard, or underestimating his readers.

While I am on the topic of dead horses, there is one that isn't buried, and the carcass is starting to stink. I thought the costume redesign would grow on me, but then Diana went and took her damn jacket off. The princess now has gold leather bondage-style straps criss-crossed across her arms and over her shoulders. Is that somehow supposed to support her disproportionatly pillowy bosom while she is jumping from planes and massacring a military unit? Not only was my intelligence assaulted by the tired plot, but I am also expected to believe her breasts will stay put in that get-up. I realize that fantasy is kind of the point in comic books. But why must my suspension of disbelief be tested by boobs? For the record, I think much of Don Kramer's art is quite beautiful. I generally like cheesecake, but it is NOT working here.

I am curious about JMS' penchant for fire. It is really on display in this issue with several panels showing flames. Amazons talk of fire, and the soldiers talk of fire, all in the desert. Is it an allusion to Ares --war and chaos -- or maybe Hades? Is it indicative of Diana's state of mind? Perhaps all of those things.

I do like the fiery Diana who will kill rather mercilessly. THAT I can get on board with. I have long thought that her character should be one to kill when necessary; something of a divine warrior anti-hero. One of the best moments ever for her character was when she broke Max Lord's neck. Then DC backpedaled and made her all apologetic. That was just lame. We already know that this version of Wonder Woman is a deviation, and I assume quid pro quo will take away the one cool thing about the revamp. A Wonder Woman who kills won't be kept in main continuity.

I know that Wonder Woman could be so much more than she is. DC also knows this, and JMS has been given a daunting task and an excellent opportunity. I hope he doesn't continue to squander it with overdone movie clichés. The full potential of the character has yet to be reached, or even hinted at. I am going to keep buying the book because I care about Diana, and I want very much for others to do so. But yet again, I am worried about her future.

Paging Greg Rucka and George Perez.

I know. Wishful thinking.

Avengers #4

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

So. You take Marvel's main architect, Brian Michael Bendis. You give him the keys to the Marvel Universe, you give him his pick of superheroes. And team him up with the closest thing Marvel has to a sure bet as far the art goes -- John Romita Jr.

The result: Sales. But the verdict? While Avengers is doing gangbusters on the sales charts, I can't help but see a certain shakiness in the execution, seeing two creators at the top of their game pulling in two opposite directions, resulting in a somewhat schizophrenic result that screams with unrealized potential.

I think part of that is because this book not only pushes Marvel's main draw -- namely, superheroes of varied powers and backgrounds who fight high-concept pop villainry -- and cranks it up to eleven, but it does that for Brian Michael Bendis, as well. There's a fine line between dialogue and characterization -- the former helps the latter, but they aren't synonymous. I'd argue that while Bendis has a way with words, they aren't being used as effectively here -- there's certainly some comedic beats here, particularly with Spider-Man teaming up with Killraven again ("I know this guy!" Spidey says. "He's a half-naked man with a sword riding a dinosaur -- of course you do," Spider-Woman replies), but it's not doing anything to make me feel for the characters, or to really root for them in this time-travel narrative.

Speaking of the time-travel narrative -- John Romita Jr. One almost senses that Bendis gave this story a whirl because it would let Romita draw pretty much whatever the hell he wanted -- Martian robots, antique biplanes across the city skyline, giant crowd scenes of Ultron fighting Kang as the heroes of the Marvel Universe wage bloody war beneath them. These pages look great, with some real weight and just pure carnage lighting up the page -- even if colorist Dean White occasionally goes a little too crazy with the light effects. But again, the problem here? Outside of the action beats, he's working against Bendis rather than with him.

But don't think that because I'm saying this, that this book is bad. There is an element of readers being able to have their cake and eat it, too -- there are plenty of people who like Bendis's quipping, and there are plenty of fans who want their art as close to JRJR as they can possibly get, and mainlining from the master himself is going to make many a fan as happy as a clam. But here's the thing -- I think the Avengers are only at the tip of the iceberg right now. I think there's plenty of sales that can go into a rock-solid, organic, complementary execution -- even more than just two of the biggest names in the Marvel Universe. Right now, this book is surfing on the sure-fire credentials of its creators -- but I think what would really define this book is if it brought Bendis and Romita to a new level of storytelling.

Superman: Secret Origin #6

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Gary Frank, Jon Sibal and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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After 75-plus years of icon status, Superman has evolved into a power-walking motivational speaker/life coach. For the moment, he’s more a man of the people than a soaring symbol of truth, justice and the American way. That idea has its merits, but the pitch-perfect Superman: Secret Origin series is a powerful reminder of just how enjoyable — and, yes, inspiring — an old-fashioned, “Look! Up in the sky!” story about the Man of Steel can be.

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have taken a narrative we’ve seen dozens of variations on, distilled the best of those versions and presented something that feels definitive and even fresh. The long-awaited (OK, late) final issue is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion that’s really just the beginning. There’s never any doubt that Superman will defeat the xenophobic Gen. Lane, who has declared war on the last son of Krypton, or the grotesque Metallo, who has been dispatched to destroy him. No matter. This issue is still full of dramatic tension and moments that bring out the essence of the story’s characters.

Let’s start with Gary Frank’s darn near flawless pencils. Look, you either like his Christopher Reeve homage or you don’t. I happen to love it. With the exception of a few awkward renderings of young Clark Kent early on, Frank has knocked this book out of the park. There’s an outstanding panel — and there are many — where a Kryptonite-weakened Superman crashes through the glass … of a telephone booth. It’s not just expertly illustrated; it’s clever. And Lex Luthor. Dude. His destructive narcissism is nothing new, but Frank’s close-ups of that snarling, sharp-edged mug are just plain frightening. A parting shot of Luthor, seething with hatred as a triumphant Superman soars away, effectively summarizes their relationship and foreshadows all the battles to come.

Superman: Secret Origin also had the rare effect of making Lois Lane likable. So often, she comes across as a generic tough broad, and her appeal often has eluded me. However, Johns fleshes her out and puts her personality in context. Here, she's a young idealist who has something to prove and a world to change. And yeah, she’s a tough broad. When she tells her alien-hating father that he’ll never tell her what to do again, we believe her. Superman’s the only one with the power to stop her in her tracks. Sappy? Maybe, but it’s quality sap. Johns clearly loves these characters, and his earnest style is just right for this kind of origin story.

Superman: Secret Origin is proof that familiarity can be extremely rewarding — especially when it’s this artful.

Heroic Age: Prince of Power #4

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Reilly Brown, Adam Archer, Terry Pallot and Val Staples

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Well, not really. If you haven't seen the interviews on the Newsarama Mothership, there's plenty of god-smacking that's going to be taking place with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's Chaos War. And while the immediate lead-in to that story does rob the conclusion of Prince of Power of its rightful denouement, there's still plenty of character and pizazz to this book.

Just to start off -- the construction of about 95% of this book? Absolutely stellar. Pak and Van Lente give plenty of exposition to latecomers, but also shrug it off with a witty one-liner from Amadeus Cho, who manages to get almost a mini-character arc from the beginning of the issue till the end. It's nice to see the writing team's take on Thor -- even as they unceremoniously give him the heave-ho, so as not to rob our hero of his victory. Delphyne Gorgon, meanwhile, does a bit of a 180 that might send some readers into a tizzy -- that said, I really like her as a supporting character, and so her about-face was actually quite satisfying for me.

Artwise, if you can get over the fact that there are two pencillers where there first was only one, then I think you'll be fine with this book. Reilly Brown, who draws the scenes with Amadeus, is joined by Adam Archer for the Gorgon sequences -- Archer feels a little rougher around the edges with his cartoony style, but he also gives Delphyne a tired look in her eyes. Still, he gives the fight scene an agility that is great. Reilly Brown, meanwhile, is the real draw (er, no pun intended) here -- his character composition is really strong, particulary with a flashback comparing Amadeus to someone from Thor's past. And there's a kiss in this book that will make you wibble, no matter who you are.

Of course, the last few pages blast by almost too quickly for my tastes -- while I understand the use of the cliffhanger ending, I think there are ways to incorporate it without necesarily flat-tiring the story that you've been telling since May. I think maybe another few pages might have helped -- still, as far as lead-ins go, Prince of Power has proven to us that you don't need Hercules to carry a series anymore than Herc needed the Hulk to carry his. This is all about character interacting with myth, with strong pacing and a great sense of humor to boot. And with execution this strong, I can't wait to see where Amadeus goes next.

Guarding The Globe #1

Written by Robert Kirkman and Benito Cereno

Art by Ransom Getty, Cliff Rathburn, Fco Plascencia, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mason

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

As big a fan as I am of Kirkman's The Walking Dead, I must confess that I've never read an issue of his other major series, Invincible. It's been on my list of "Things To Get To Eventually," which doesn't ever seem to get any shorter. When I saw that Invincible spinoff Guarding The Globe was starting this week, however, I figured the time was ripe to jump feet first into the Invincible-verse and see what it was all about.

In retrospect, perhaps not the best decision. Designed to cover events on Earth while Invincible is off in outer space in his own book, Guarding The Globe is not exactly set up as a newbie-friendly title. It pretty clearly depends on your knowledge of the heroes that make up Invincible's supporting cast, as they reform the titular Guardians, the original team having been killed early on in Invincible.  

That said, Kirkman's handle on his characters is such that I was able to pick up at least a basic idea of who was who without too much trouble, all in the midst of a superbrawl with invading aliens. Most of the remainder of the issue revolves around team leader Brit starting to recruit new personnel, along with the obligatory set-up of the villains that the Guardians will be confronting during the series.

In other words, pretty standard superhero fare. Knowing that Kirkman controls these characters himself and can do whatever he wants with them makes it a little more interesting, at least, and his flair for characterization is as strong as it's always been.

I have to say, though, that while I'm usually more of a plot guy, I found the art the most appealing part of this issue. Getty's pencils and inks have a great sense of nuance and detail to them without being busy or hyper-stylized. He's also got a great sense of depth and composition in his art, with action taking place on multiple planes but remaining easy to follow. I haven't seen any of his other work, but on the basis of this issue alone I'd say he's got a huge amount of potential as a dynamic, visual storyteller on any book he cares to work on.

If you're a fan of Invincible, I imagine you're too busy reading Guarding The Globe #1 to bother with my review. If you're like me, though, go ahead and give it a try. You might not know everything that's going on, but it'll at least give you a clue as to the kind of feel Kirkman is going for in these books -- plus, hey, giant Yeti versus ice demons, right?

Action Comics #892

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Pete Woods, Pere Perez and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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There's a line in this issue of Action Comics that I think sums up Paul Cornell's central conflict with Lex Luthor with both drama and style:

"I am greater than my need -- I'm my intellect... Not my feelings."

And while I think there's been some online skepticism about this Luthor-centric run since the get-go, I also believe in a lot of ways Cornell manages to take the post-Blackest Night, emotion-heavy status quo of the DCU and really use it to add to his story rather than supplant it. While he hasn't quite delved deeply enough into Lex's psyche in order to make him that sort of effortless anti-hero that, say, House is on your television screen, there's a lot to like about this done-in-one issue.

A lot of that has to do with Cornell's treatment of Lex Luthor, who zigs where so many other superheroes might zag. You've got Deathstroke the Terminator running after you in a frenzy? Screw the civilians, you're going to stand your ground (and maybe use a no-name assistant as a human shield)  -- there's that unreliable protagonist vibe that permeates this book, giving Lex an unpredictability that complements his naturally analytic mannerisms. Cornell makes this book move lightning fast, enough to tell his story and still have plenty of time to lay out some future plot threads.

Meanwhile, artist Pete Woods is looking like an interesting case to me. I confess, I wasn't a huge fan of him on Superman -- there wasn't a whole lot of nuance to his rendition of the Man of Steel, and even though Superman is still the visual embodiment of Truth, Justice and the American Way, you've got to finesse that square jaw and spitcurl in order to not seem like a caricature. But with Lex Luthor and Deathstroke, Woods is really coming into his own -- there's one page in particular with Lex activating the tendrils of his battle armor as Deathstroke leaps at him that just screams with tension. In a lot of ways, Woods' art here reminds me a bit of Mike McKone's when he joined up on Teen Titans -- he's really putting his foot to the gas with the speed and dynamic of these pages, and it's something I hope he continues to keep up.

Like Lex himself, however, this book isn't without its flaws. While I applaud Cornell for really wrapping this adventure up in just one issue, there will be those who feel that the ending is a little sudden and a little abrupt -- it feels almost like the battle ended with the absence of action, rather than based on anything Lex himself did. And one question that I couldn't help but think of: why Deathstroke? There didn't seem to be an in-story reason for the master assassin's appearance in this book, other than the obvious benefits that cross-promotion between Action Comics and Titans: Villains for Hire might bring to the table. Still, even with these questions in the air, it's great to see Action Comics as such a refreshing read -- with every issue, there seems to be even more method to Cornell's madness, and I'm hoping to see even more depth come out of the most dangerous mind in Metropolis.

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1

Written by Daryl Gregory and Kurt Busiek

Art by Scott Godleweski and Stephen Downer

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Kyle DuVall

With the increasingly obnoxious prevalence of vampires in the cultural landscape, its more than a little ironic that Count Dracula has basically been forgotten in all the sparkly, steamy hype. Vampires are everywhere, but Dracula is conspicuously absent. Where once the words vampire and Dracula were basically synonymous, now they've become mutually exclusive. Vampires are a tired trope, but you can be fed up with vampires and still pine for some Dracula action. Kurt Busiek and Daryl Gregory's new series Dracula: The Company of Monsters, puts The Count front and center, and that's reason enough to greet this new book with hopeful enthusiasm rather than a tired sigh  

Dracula is a character who, despite centuries in the common consciousness, still has oceans of untapped potential. This is because Dracula is an icon with three expansive levels of iconicism. There's the literary Vamp of Bram Stoker, a Victorian boogeyman with little substantive resemblance to the historical figure Stoker name-checked for his novel, then there's also Vlad Tepes Dracula, the historical figure; the national hero of Romania and a medieval warlord around whom a copious body of non-vampire related legend and folklore have aggregated.  There is also the post-modern, hybridized Dracula, a creation of storytellers who wish to reconcile the monstrous count's vampire mythology with Balkan history and legend. Its is this latter version of Dracula the creators draw upon in this new Bloodsucking-vampire-meets-bloodsucking-capitalists book.  

Not enough actually happens in Dracula: The Company Of Monsters #1  to establish how well this series will actually exploit its rich premise. The plot of issue #1 only gets as far as the big "reveal," basically that the eponymous corporation is on a mission to resurrect Dracula. Then again, we knew that much from the title. Taken on its own, issue 1 is treading familiar water: i.e. shady oligarchs tapping supernatural powers for some vague sort of supremacy (See BPRD, Angel, et al.)  

It's pretty unspectacular stuff for a debut issue. One has to take it on faith that this is all necessary groundwork for the future, and that what lies ahead will be something more earthbound and inventive than a simple "Evil tycoon unleashes horrible monster on the world" plot.

The flashbacks to events in the life of Vlad Tepes, AKA Count Dracula, interspersed in the story seem to hint that Busiek and Gregory have a more nuanced conception of their subject than many. In the interludes, Dracula's horrible acts of cruelty are framed as much as necessary political acts as acts of depravity. This is definitely promising. After all, this series needs to be more Sopranos than Supernatural to be successful. Dracula has rarely been portrayed as creature of intrigue. Juxtaposing the dark-age cunning of the count against the late-capitalist ruthlessness of modern executives could result in some really distinctive stories, but, once again, the reader has to keep their fingers crossed and hope that this is indeed where the narrative is going.  

Readers will also have to give the benefit of the doubt to the book's art. Scott Godlewski is certainly a competent penciler, and he's given the unenviable task of whiplashing between cubicle conversations and medieval action setpieces, but the visuals lack atmosphere and texture, with the casual linework and subdued colors falling a bit short of potraying either the slick gloss of corporate decadence or the full blood-and thunder of medieval brutality. Then again, this also could just be more set-up. Maybe the establishment of a rote visual world is intended to enhance the artistic contrast between crypts and cubicles that will emerge in issues to come. Once again, one issue is just not enough to make the call.  

Dracula: Company Of Monsters #1 is exactly what it needs to be: a steady, methodical laying of groundwork. This is storytelling as investment portfolio. You're not contributing your time for an immediate payoff, you're investing in the hope of future dividends. The risk, of course, is that either things will develop too slowly, or that not enough readers will stick around for the venture to become artistically profitable. Personally, I'm hedging my bets on the diverse possibilities inherent in this concept, and keeping my eye on the future. If the concept of Dracula: The Company of Monsters intrigues you at all, get in on the ground floor and check out issue #1. There could be a windfall ahead.

Black Widow #5

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Daniel Acuna

Lettering by Blambot's Nate Piekos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Click here for preview

Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna have outdone themselves with Black Widow.  They managed to craft a modern super-spy opus that stands on its own two legs while also adding thread to the overall tapestry of the Marvel Universe.  Through Acuna's moody and colorful art, and Liu's hardboiled grasp of the subject matter, also managed to make me care about a character I've never had much interest in.  In this final chapter of their run together, they manage to nicely tie up the remaining loose ends, while leaving enough plot hooks for the next team to dig into.  

I initially picked this title up at the urging of some fellow reviewers, and while I was very surprised by it, I was not disappointed.  I've never been a Black Widow fan, but this story has brought me in, and made me truly enjoy the character.  Marjorie Liu has done an excellent job of simultaneously playing up Black Widow's role as the ultimate femm fatale, and her secret vulnerabilities.  Daniel Acuna's artwork, of which I have long been a fan, seems at first to fit more with larger than life characters and settings, though he is truly in his element here.  It's impossible not to appreciate the tone and mood of this book.

In this issue, Black Widow finally confronts Imus Champion, the man who has been tormenting her, and discovers that the true goal of his machinations is something far stranger than getting his revenge on an old foe.  While many of the tropes at work in this story are not necessarily groundbreaking, there is much to be said for the style of the storytelling, and that is what truly comes through here.  In five issues, Liu and Acuna have managed to tell a complete story, with room to breathe and grow, plumbing from the history of the Marvel Universe, while not being beholden to it.

Dwayne Swierczynski takes over this title next month, and while I had initially considered dropping the book at that point, I think I'll stick around. Swierzcynski did an admirable job taking the reigns of Iron Fist after Matt Fraction left, and an upcoming crossover with Hawkeye & Mockingbird, another title I'm really enjoying, holds a lot of promise.  Regardless of what comes next, this five issue story by Liu and Acuna is not to be missed, and will undoubtedly read even better collected in a single volume.

Gotham City Sirens #15

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Andres Guinaldo, Lorenzo Ruggiero and JD Smith

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

In this issue, Catwoman and Harley are infiltrating the park in which Poison Ivy has shacked up with her new BFF, the mysterious plant man (with really unfortunately styled leaves for hair) from another planet. They've populated the park with their "babies," a ferocious plant breed that has killed the people and animals previously in the park. The gals spend time not just physically fighting but also bickering over Ivy's abandonment of the group. It's an argument so many of us have had with friends before, when one gets a significant other and starts spending all their time with that person. However, here we get to see it play out in their universe where it's totally acceptable to try to blast your best friends with flaming plants.

Selina and Harley do finally get the opportunity to play up some of Harley's characteristic banter. This is a direction I was most certainly hoping the book would go back toward following the sullen Sister Zero arc that marked Bedard's debut on the title. I love having a good laugh at the ladies of Gotham. Paul Dini started the series off on that foot, and one of my favorite short series, Shane Glines' Gotham Girls, had that same light tone as well. There are so many books out there that I can pick up if I want a good heavy read. When I think Gotham City Sirens, I want humor and sex appeal. Knowing Bedard's previous work, he can definitely bring those two things to the table and I hope that as he eases into the title they continue to appear more prominently.

The lush foliage in these scenes could really make or break an artistic team, and in this case the team pulls it off. It's not breathtaking in every panel, that would be tedious -- however, it's consistent and doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the story. Well, aside from the issue of the male lead's weird "hair." When I'm getting ready to review a title, I like to jot down a few quick thoughts immediately upon finishing reading. These are those thoughts you'd share with someone else that just read the book, the 'what would you bring up first' kind of thoughts. For this issue...  "wow, that dude had really unfortunate 'hair.'" Yes, of all the things plot wise that could be discussed, the resounding response to that book was simple to the doofus-like imagery of the male lead. I know, I know -- it's a small thing. But why couldn't he have a lush head FULL of leafy hair? And what was with the... goatee, I guess you'd call it? I digress. While I may disagree with the styling of that character, overall the art works and is amplified by JD Smith's colors. Rounding out the art, Guillem March's cover of the entangled trio is sexy and the vines are an ideal showcase for his kinetic talent.

After suffering a massive blow of disappointment on that previous arc, this series is winning its way back into my heart. If you tossed it aside in disappointment previously, please do yourself a favor and pick it back up. And if you haven't given this one a chance yet, the beginning of this arc is a great place to pick up.

Invincible #74

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Ryan Ottley, FCO Plascencia and Cliff Rathburn

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Although Invincible has been building to it current story arc, “The Viltrumite War,” since Issue #1, up until these last two issues, the arc has been a victim of Robert Kirkman and company’s past successes. After last year’s 3-issue mega brawl “Conquest,” and the mega-event-in-one-issue “Invincible War” before that, Kirkmans’ efforts to crank up the shocking violence in “The Viltrumite War” have been more desperate than mind-blowing. Let’s face it, we already saw a hero (Atom Eve) get her intestines punched out during “Conquest,” so seeing Invincible getting disembowled back in issue #71 was only faux-shocking. His name is the title of the book. We all know he isn’t going to bite it. Also, we’ve seen Invincible “cross the line” roughly 78 times in this series, let’s not act like it’s an earth-shattering development when ‘Vince sends someone to the big back-issue bin in the sky.

Fortunately, Kirkman has abandoned trying to out-extreme himself for now, and Issue #74 puts the book back in-touch with its fundamental strengths: gigantic, gonzo super-hero-action and an engaging supporting cast of hastily conceived but charming superhero archetypes. In Issue #74, starships explode, punches fly, and panels are breached as penciler Ryan Ottley gives a pyrotechnic seminar on what brobdingnabian superhero clashes should look like. A full-page splash of Invincible, Omni man, and Kid Omni-Man diving into a cosmic fray warmed this sometimes-jaded reader’s heart, especially on a week that mark’s Jack Kirby’s Birthday, and colorist FCO Plascentia’s boldly primal, yet meticulous tonalities make another strong argument that he’s the best colorist working in the traditional superhero idiom today.  

Drawing a good fight is one thing, but there’s more than just flash and power here. Ottley’s manipulation and disruption of traditional layouts is as exhilarating as his splash pages, it’s the kind of visual bang that brutalizes “widescreen” comics as thoroughly as ‘Vince and company brutalize their alien foes. This is the beautiful, hyperkinetic stuff of legend so many of us grew up on, so take heed, Invincible team, its not always necessary to pile on the blood and guts to blow the reader’s eyeballs out the back of their skull.

Still, Kirkman has a little more work to do to push this storyline where it really needs to be. The evil Viltrumites are a formidable but bland foe, with little more personality than that conveyed by their facial hair. Kirkman has already disposed of their most distinctive member, Conquest, whose gruesome death came a little to close to his jaw-dropping debut to really maximize the punch of his curtain call. Kirkman has also cranked back the threat of The Viltrumites as a whole, revealing that there are only 50 of them left, and introducing a magic bullet in the form of a Viltrumite super-virus that could kill them all.

Kirkman’s intimations that there was a traitor in the good guys’ ranks also seems to have fizzled, with the traitor being revealed as a character who is barely incidental (although this reader is betting on a bait and switch, with a second traitor to be revealed. My money’s on Allen the Alien in some sort of “Manchurian Unopan” twist). Nevertheless, things are still building in this epic, so theres’ plenty of time for everything to fall into place. Fan-favorite cosmic pugilist Battle Beast is still wandering around somewhere, for example, poised to make a dramatic entrance at some point and Kirkman does inject some creepy verve into the Viltrumite leader, who totes around a skull like a security blanket and a boasts mad posh for furred collars.

Invincible has succeeded in the past by being the ultimate fusion between the 90’s Image “extreme” aesthetic, and the classicism of the Lee and Kirby superhero salad days. Plagued by blown deadlines and a balance that has been skewed towards gratuity, the anticipated “Viltrumite War” storyline now seems to be hitting its stride. Let’s hope Kirkman and Ottley can keep up the pace in both their narrative and their publishing schedule.

Legion of Superheroes #4

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela, and Wayne Faucher

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

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Paul Levitz and Yildiray Cinar have really invigorated the Legion of Superheroes, picking up where Geoff Johns left off after "Legion of Three Worlds," and his Legion story in Action Comics.  The ongoing saga of the Legion has gotten back to basics, and while some may not appreciate the return to form for the classic super team, it's certainly working for me.  Levitz's writing is both classic and modern, drawing on his own history with the team, while not regressing them back to something that has since evolved.

Paul Levitz and Yildiray Cinar have really invigorated the Legion of Superheroes, picking up where Geoff Johns left off after "Legion of Three Worlds," and his Legion story in "Action Comics."  The ongoing saga of the Legion has gotten back to basics, and while some may not appreciate the return to form for the classic super team, it's certainly working for me.  Levitz's writing is both classic and modern, drawing on his own history with the team, while not regressing them back to something that has since evolved.

In four issues, we've managed to hit on many of the classic Legion stories, including, with this issue, "The Great Darkness Saga."  It's not all old school though, as the ongoing story of Earth Man continues to unfold in interesting and somewhat unexpected ways.  Levitz may move a little quickly for those more accustomed to a decompressed and drawn out style of writing, but he hits all the right notes, playing up the old relationships we all know, while still finding room to explore new ground among characters that have been appearing together for 40 years now. Meanwhile, Yildiray Cinar's art is really improving; his first couple issues, while decent, were a little inconsistent, particularly in his anatomy.  At this point, he's managed to cut back on some of the things that were holding him back, such as the occasionally deformed look of his faces, and focus more on his storytelling, which is clear and easy to follow.

I highly recommend this title to fans of Levitz's original Legion run.  The pieces are all in place, and they story is moving in a logical and exciting direction.  Newer Legion fans will not be disappointed either, as much of the story revolves around more recent developments for the team.

X-Factor #208

Written by Peter David

Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Pat Davidson and Chris Chuckry

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

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X-Factor is my favorite of the X-books right now, and has been for a couple of years. Only tangentially involved in the crossovers that entangle the other series in the franchise, it's really had the chance to develop its own tone and pacing under the guidance of writer Peter David. His lengthy, uninterrupted run has allowed him to put his own spin on Madrox, Siryn, and the rest, incorporating elements of everything from Raymond Chandler novels to soap operas.

In X-Factor #208, the emphasis is on the latter, as things pick up where they left off last month: a returned and pregnant Wolfsbane discovering Rictor, presumed father of her child, in a tryst with Shatterstar. As ever, there's been some minor controversy over the inclusion of gay and/or bisexual characters in a comic like this, but where else could we see a pregnant mutant werewolf tackle a shirtless alien mutant clone out of a second-story window? I submit that we could see it nowhere else.

David is great at creating very distinct characters and voices, and gives each member of X-Factor and its supporting cast more personality than most of them have gotten in their entire previous publishing history combined. Most of the time, you could take away the art and still be able to follow who was saying what to whom, if not exactly what was happening. That's a rarity in comics of any kind, and a tribute to David's skill with dialogue.  

I also just love the premise of X-Factor. Detective fiction so often positions its central characters as the outsiders in their given culture, which is what allows them to become successful investigators -- allowing for a unique perspective on events. It only makes sense, then, that the premiere superhuman detective agency of the Marvel universe would be staffed by mutants. Even better is that X-Factor Investigations does not limit itself to mutant-related cases, allowing David to explore obscure corners of the setting to find characters like Pip the Troll to trot out. It really helps create the feeling that Marvel is one continuous setting, and not several vaguely connected settings.  

The art from Lupacchino, Davidson, and Chuckry is an able complement to David's writing. The team invokes the shadows of noir, the gritty realism of crime comics, and the flashy styling of other superhero series to create just the sort of unique visual palette that a quirky book like this needs.  

While I can't say that X-Factor #208 in particular advances the current story-arc all that much, it does provide the set-up for some important developments to come, and the casual mastery on display from David is more than enough to give it a recommendation. X-Factor is one of the most consistent, fun, and interesting books on the stands month in and month out, and if it's not on your pull list, do something about it immediately.

Fraggle Rock HC

Written by Various

Art by Various

Published by Archaia

Review by Jeff Marsick

There will always be certain scents and sights that harken one back to their childhood.  Cracking this book open was a "Whoa" moment for me, instantly transporting me back to a family room in Cleveland, circa 1984, my butt firmly planted on shag carpet in front of a late-70s model Zenith that was only slightly smaller than a Chevy Vega. Fraggle Rock of my formative years is now Fraggle Rock of a new partnership between Archaia and the Jim Henson Company.  I never read the individual issues of the three-issue run that came out earlier this year, since I'm jaded on comic adaptations of cartoons (and TV shows and movies, for that matter).  Sure, back in the day I did read some of the Marvel's Fraggle series, but was disappointed that the magic of the show couldn't be reproduced on the page. So Archaia made a deal that would tug on the heartstrings of our fondness, I thought. Bully for them. But they won't get it right, not as I remember it.

Well, I've been wrong once before (it was some time during the Reagan administration), and now the tally is two. First off, it's a beautiful hardcover, the same size as the company's Mouse Guard. In my opinion, Archaia and Radical set the bar for hardcover presentation and this is a fine addition to my shelf. When you open the book, the colors just leap off the page, bold and bright yet subdued so that you don't get a first-degree burn off the reds and oranges. Just on perusal, it feels like you're fast-forwarding through an episode which is a nice comforting feeling, indeed.

The hardcover encompasses all three of the original issues (eleven stories), plus the variant covers, some activity pages, character bios, and a cute backup feature, The Skrumps, by John Chandler.  What's unique about this book is that you have eleven stories by ten different writers and nine different artists (writer Adrienne Ambrose and artist Joanna Estep collaborated on two of the stories), yet not one of them is glaringly weaker than the others.  Usually you're expecting at least a sixty-forty ratio of good stories to "who in Crom's name thought including THAT was a good idea?".  This time out you're getting one hundred percent of goodness for your money.

Even better, while the tales are whimsical and cute with just an occasional smidge of saccharine (which is just the right amount) they never come across as cartoony or too kiddie, and the stories are never forced.  In other words, the writers and artists didn't get in the way of the characters.  There's a respect there, an appreciation of the Fraggle community, and it comes through in every story.  "Time Flies" by Katie Cook is probably my favorite, where Junior Gorg drops a pocketwatch down a well and Fraggles, unable to comprehend its true purpose, are set off by Red to perform a series of tasks against the backdrop of ticks.  It's supposed to be a game, but racing against time quickly becomes work, and therein a valuable lesson is learned.

When my kids are older, I'm going to pull this out and read it to them, then pass it on, knowing they'll read it until the covers come off.  That's probably the highest praise I can bestow on such a beautiful and well-done book.  And this is only volume one.  I can't wait to see what the next twenty will bring.  Highly recommended, especially for those of you out there nostalgic for your Fraggle memories.

Archaia said this book would be on shelves this past week, but I didn't see it at my usual haunts, so either it was sold out or delayed.  However, like Underdog says, never fear:  it's due in bookstores on September 7th, and you can pre-order it right now on Amazon.

King! #1

Written by Thomas Hall

Art and Lettering by Daniel Bradford

Published by Blacklist Studios

Review by Jeff Marsick

Okay, so here's the skinny: there's this guy, a bounty hunter, who looks like the King of Rock 'n Roll. You know who I'm talkin' 'bout. Even has the same sartorial tendencies. 'Cept this cat goes by the name of Mr. King. He's a reclusive sort, that is until he gets a package in the mail, one containing a beating heart. That talks. And reveals a need for King's special talents to prevent a zombie apocalypse that is due to start in, oh, just under an hour.  Where's this portal of destruction going to open? Why, Blubber Tubber's Burger joint, just a mile away, home of the peanut butter banana burrito (with bacon and extra cheese), of course. And when the zombies arrive and King gets his hands on the Spear of Destiny: "C'mon, baby…Let's rock!"

I love this book.  It's another hit-on-the-screws home run by the same creative team behind the fantastic R-13 that I've gushed about in the past (and I'm jonesing to have collected in a trade paperback).  A bounty hunter that looks like Elvis may be the gimmick, but it's the personality that Thomas Hall injects into the character and the story that makes this offbeat book laugh out loud funny in spots and the best thing I've read since, well, okay, since R-13.  

Let's not forget the artwork by Daniel Bradford, which is some of my favorite stuff.  Kinetic and sparse (I'm a big fan of not cluttering backgrounds with 'stuff' just to fill space), it's the kind of art that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shoves you along from panel to panel.  The best is page nineteen, all of four panels: King's body is in silhouette beneath shades, gold belt buckle and a long white coat trimmed in gold flames, vanquishing zombies beneath a pair of brass knuckles emblazoned with 'ROCK' and 'ROLL'. You can almost hear "That's All Right" playing in the background. Uh-huh.

There's also a back-up story, "Sushi Or Not Sushi (That Is The Question, Baby!)" where King plays a samurai chef with an order gone wrong.  It's every bit as enjoyable as the main feature.  King!'s got  mythological monsters and explosive action, but it's not a sideburns and gold lame gussied retread of Hellboy, any more than The Expendables is an updated version of The Magnificent Seven. Bottom line, go get this book. In fact, get two copies and give one to a friend. It's just that good.

Cash For Cartoonists: 15 Methods To Make More Money With Your Comics and Illustrations Online

Written by D.J. Coffman

Reviewed by Jeff Marsick

If you're an illustrator, chances are pretty good you've got aspirations to get your own book published, land a gig with one of the Big Two, or maybe get a cartoon made.  Most importantly, though, is you want to earn a living doing what you enjoy and what you're good at.  Sure, filling a folio full of Batman sketches that you show to your friends is fine, but wouldn't it be great if you could make a few ducats for your time and effort?

Well, D.J. Coffman's got an eBook that will show you how.  If you're not familiar with him, Mr. Coffman is a cartoonist best known for Hero By Night, which was the winner of Platinum Studios's inaugural Comic Book Challenge. He's got Dark Horse credits, webcomics, even artwork that has appeared on the HBO show True Blood (a piece entitled “Barack Obama Vampire Slayer”), just to name a few.  The guy's been around the block a few times and rather successfully, it seems. His eBook, Cash For Cartoonists, is a list of fifteen proven methods for an illustrator to make, if not a living, then at least a comfortable sideline.

This isn't a get-rich scheme. The methods may be proven, but they don't come with guarantees. Nor is this a feeder scheme for a bigger system that Mr. Coffman may be hawking on his website (which he's not). This is just straight talk from someone who knows the different avenues of profiting from illustrating and how to walk them. He knows where the land mines are, has the scars to prove it, and can show you how to avoid them. Spot illustration, webcomics, cards, t-shirts, commissions, prints, they're all covered, and more.

You're thinking: So what? Duh. Common sense stuff there: Draw stuff, then sell it. Maybe so (even though I'll bet you never thought about greeting cards, didja?). But the eBook doesn't just say “do this”. It goes further to tell you who your target market is in each of the endeavors and how to market yourself to them, what you should charge, what tools you'll need, how to possibly turn it into your own company, and anecdotes from Mr. Coffman's experience.  The marketing information alone is gold (heck, I'm a writer and I'll be downloading it just for this skinny).  Even better is the chapter on Search Engine Optimization, and he takes you step-by-step how to do it.  

But that's not all. Buy the eBook and for 30 days after purchase you get one-on-one personalized coaching from the author himself. For free. And get on his newsletter for updated tips and ideas. For free. Seriously, there's so much information available that I almost want to try and become an illustrator myself. The eBook is sold on his website and until September 30th goes for $47. After that the price bumps up to $97. Either way, the price is highway robbery propagated by the author upon himself since this information would cost you two or three times as much at a seminar. With free coaching t'boot.

It's not for beginners, though. If you're a newbie still struggling with stick figures, you're better off with the day job for now. If you've got some talent, though, why not learn how to make money flexing your muscles? And if you already are doing commissions or selling cards on eBay, then this book is still a must-read since it will show you how to more efficiently and effectively expand your reach and gain more clients. More clients equals more cash in the piggy bank. More clients also means more exposure, and more exposure means a greater probability of you being noticed by someone who maybe can offer you a gig at the Big Two or who wants you to create a webcomic for them. Sure beats humping a folio full of Batman sketches to a convention hoping that you'll be discovered at the talent search.


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