Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SCARLET, FREEDOM FIGHTERS, More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you not just with some Rapid-Fire Reviews, but with some good news — the Best Shots team has a new addition! Internet, give a warm welcome to Teresa Jusino, who honed her geek skeet shooting skills at Pink Raygun, and It's an auspicious start to a big column, with 14 action-packed reviews covering the latest hits from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite, Archie, Aspen and Radical! And don't think this is the end of it — Best Shots doesn't sleep, and you can check out some back issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page. Let's let our newest recruit lead us in today, with a look at Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's look at Portland's criminal underbelly, with Scarlet...

Scarlet #2 (Published by Icon; Review by Teresa Jusino): Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have the balls to create powerful female characters. Not just the superpowered variety, though their collaboration on Spider-Woman reinvigorated Jessica Drew. In Scarlet, they’ve taken an ordinary young woman from Portland and made her extraordinary through her absolute commitment to ridding the world of corruption and injustice. In issue #2, we see not only Scarlet’s revenge against the cop who shot her and killed the love of her life, but how she moves past it to a larger calling; one in which she hopes the reader will join her. Bendis’ storytelling is fearless, allowing this character to indulge her desire to give corrupt people at all levels their comeuppance, be they high-ranking cops or lowly bicycle theives, as well as forcing the reader to consider action, drawing us in through Scarlet’s direct conversation with us. Not enough can be said about Alex Maleev’s gorgeous artwork. His pale, pulpy style manages to make everything look gritty and ethereal at the same time, which is perfect for this singular heroine.

Freedom Fighters #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): This comic had me at “Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray,” and it’s an engaging, fast-moving introduction to the Freedom Fighters. There isn’t a whole lot of setup or explanation, but I tend to prefer the method of just diving into the action. Palmiotti and Gray offer readers a hint of the team members’ personalities (Who knew Uncle Sam was such a buzzkill?) and their group dynamic, and they pack a lot of story into this first issue. There’s a thought-provoking conspiracy theory that dates back to the Civil War, plus several rewarding panels of racist supervillains getting spanked. As someone with limited knowledge of the Freedom Fighters, I appreciated this comic’s accessibility and smart writing. Travis Moore contributes some fine pencil work to Freedom Fighters #1, and even Phantom Lady’s boob-tastic ensemble, which easily could have been tacky, somehow suits the character’s glamorous, cheeky persona. This is a well-crafted debut, and it’s a given that I’ll read the second chapter.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Don't ask Allan Heinberg if he's ever heard of a sophomore slump — this second issue is far better than the first. And that's no mean feat, considering Heinberg has to fit in a ton of backstory, giving readers a continuity refresher in all things Magneto and Scarlet Witch. While you could definitely argue that there's some meandering with the plot, Heinberg really succeeds with the characterization — there's an organic flow to everyone's reactions (well, except maybe for the kill-crazy Wolverine), whether it's Wiccan declaring his independence from both the Avengers and the X-Men, or Speed meeting... well, I won't give it away. But what pushes this book over the top is Jim Cheung, who gives you the big superhero fight moments — Magneto tossing Wolverine aside has some great composition, as Wolvie is thrown right at you, and the joy on Speed's face as he runs is truly palpable — as well as some beats of real emotion, like Wiccan realizing that he's really on the run. That said, there is some heavy continuity here, so if you're unfamiliar with the Young Avengers, pick up the first two trades before wading into these waters. But if this is preaching to the choir, let's say Heinberg and Cheung's voices aren't getting old.

Secret Six #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): I am usually Secret Six's personal sycophant, but not this month. Calafiore does what he does, and it is kind of perfect. No complaints there. I used to miss Nicola Scott's art when he first started drawing the book, but not anymore. I really cannot imagine it any other way, which means DC is probably going to change it soon. Before they do that, I'd like to personally thank Calafiore for how he draws Catman. Kudos, my man. KUDOS! The splash page in this issue is fraggin' amazing. I have to give props to colorist Jason Wright because he definitely set it off. As for the story; well Gail, I love you ... as much as I can love anyone I've never met before. But, for the first time in my comic book career, I was underwhelmed by something you wrote. There just wasn't much "there" there. I would like Dwarfstar not to talk ever again. Lawton was still amazing, of course. I have faith that this is a set-up issue, and the Sixes will return to full glory. I will be patient. Six fans, if you were waiting for an explanation for last month's Wild West debauchery, no such luck. Not yet anyway.

Young Allies #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): I’m a sucker for Marvel’s teenage superhero teams, and the most exciting of those right now is the Young Allies. Issue #4 is the fourth part of a story called “Now, Not Tomorrow” in which the Young Allies first come together to combat a team of superpowered teenagers called the Bastards of Evil, who are intent on undoing society’s hypocritical status quo. Sean McKeever respects teenagers, which is of utmost importance when writing a title like this. Each character is finely-etched and is allowed to act his/her age and be funny without sacrificing their intelligence or competence. The complexity of McKeever’s characterizations isn’t reserved solely for the heroes. Each of the Bastards of Evil also has a fully fleshed-out inner life that motivates their actions. These are kids that you might have gone to high school with…even if they do have super powers. David Baldeon was a perfect choice of artist, as his round, lively style evokes the kind of youthful exhuberance a title like this demands. Issue #4 introduces an intriguing new threat to the Young Allies in the form of a superpowered being named The Superior, whose appearance at the end of the issue makes me impatient for the next!

R.E.B.E.L.S. #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): There's something about Lobo that I think DC could really cultivate here — it took me a few reads to pick it up, but he could very well be DC's Deadpool, with the sort of no-holds-barred unpredictability and power that I think automatically ratchets up the tension (and the fun factor) of DC's methodically constructed mythology. I saw it a little while back in Green Lantern, and I'm seeing it here with R.E.B.E.L.S. — everything just goes better with Lobo. Tony Bedard's scenes with the character are both action-packed and have a real tongue-in-cheek nature to them, but in a way that has a bit more character than Wade Wilson's do-what-the-writer-tells-me kind of style. In a lot of ways, Lobo overshadows Bedard's main plot, with Brainiac 2 having his comeuppance against his father — although that's not to say there isn't some weight there, either. But I will say that the art is the weak link here — Claude St. Aubin does good stuff with the Main Man, but sci-fi landscapes of Brianiac's quest doesn't hit you with any weight (particularly when a villainous stellar mass gets nailed). Which is a shame, because if the art ran electric, I think this book would be getting a lot more eyes on it — because if Bedard can keep Lobo around, the Last Czarnian will give R.E.B.E.L.S. a huge shot in the arm.

Veronica #202 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): OK, so it would have been much edgier in 1990, but the arrival of Riverdale’s first openly gay teen is still a big deal for the Archie crew. Super-cute Kevin Keller, who’s new to the land of malt shops and hijinks, inadvertently rocks Veronica’s world while bonding over buffalo wings and comic books … with Jughead. So much unintentional humor, so little time. While this is a typically bubblegum sweet Archie story, it’s also good fun with a touch of slapstick. Kevin’s sexuality is handled matter-of-factly, and writer/illustrator Dan Parent gets a lot of mileage out of Veronica’s clueless determination to woo him. No matter how old you are, the pleasure of seeing the bratty Miss Lodge humiliate herself cannot be underestimated. Kevin's a total charmer (he loves books and newspapers, for crying out loud), so here's hoping we see more of him in upcoming stories.

Sweet Tooth #13 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): Issue #13 of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth begins a new story arc called “Animal Armies,” and as the title suggests, the story is moving into a more war-like state, upping the ante for all involved. Lemire’s story structure increases the tension as each character comes closer to something they want. The characters are human and sympathetic, despite less than selfless motives. For example, despite Dr. Singh’s desire to use Gus for his own professional glory, Lemire shows us that Singh is a man who needs a victory, and because he needs it so bad, we want him to have it. For the first time, Lemire gives us a glimpse of a greater mission for Gus, who is starting to come into his own. He is determined to bring his new hybrid friends back to his cabin in the woods to keep them safe, and has a dream in which an adult male hybrid says “Not yet,” as if there is something Gus is supposed to be doing. Lemire’s wonderful writing, as well as his charming, chicken-scratch pencil style (aided beautifully by Jose Villarrubia’s colors) evoke a down-home world torn asunder by tragedy, and the wounded survivors trying to pick up the pieces.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): This title is really hitting it's stride right now. It started a little ho-hum, despite some stellar art by David Lopez, but writer Jim McCann's choice of immediately tackling some of the most prominent solo stories from Hawkeye and Mockingbird's respective pasts is really paying off, giving some emotional resonance to their reunion. It's always a little tough not to let your readers feel like two previously involved characters are being forced back together, so finding some ground on which to predicate things is a wise and natural move. This issue is a lot of fun; there's some very nice tongue in cheek dialogue, particularly between our two leads, and from Dominic Fortune, along with robots, dinosaurs, ghosts, and pretty much all manner of epic and ridiculous happenstance. McCann is really finding his voice for this title, and Lopez's clean, expressive art is just getting better and better. If there was ever a book about an archer and his wife worth reading, this is it.

Green Hornet #7 (Published by Dynamite; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): "Kung fu, bitches..." I think that line in particular will determine whether or not you dig Green Hornet #7 — a book that I think is a clear case of strong editing and a powerful artistic voice elevating this "reimagining" of this classic character. Some might see Kevin Smith's writing as sort of fanboy fan fiction — although once you get down that slippery slope, how many aren't? — but it move supremely fast, and we're getting to the point where, yes, Smith's voice is showing (Mulan Kato threatening Britt by saying "how 'bout I rip your balls off so you can go mystery-sexed"), but I think he's also at the point where he's earning that. In his favor is that he's starting to give Britt Reid Jr. a firm world to work with, giving him a new job, new skills, new purpose: This is what I think a lot of origin stories are giving short-shrift, saying "but how does he get the powers?" Give him a world. But what I'm particularly digging is Jonathan Lau's work — man does he move fast, with some really stellar composition that only seizes up once, with an unfortunate sideways page. Colorist Ivan Nunes also deserves some real praise here, giving Lau's cartoony art some real weight — honestly, the visuals are superb. As someone who started off feeling pretty cynical about this relaunch, seven issues in I know it's my favorite Dynamite book. Pick. This. Up.

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper #3 (Published by IDW; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): As this three issue series comes to a close, I can say as a whole I really enjoyed it. It was a step out of the ordinary, thanks to the classic Robert Bloch story and pulp comic style art. Joe and John Lansdale's adaptation took a couple of liberties with the original tale, however the overall feel kept close. It's not too hard to see the end coming, but it's an enjoyable tale nonetheless. Well, as enjoyable as a Jack the Ripper story can be. But again, Kevin Colden's art does not go over the top. The gory scenes are mostly implied with only a few "ewww" panels that are unfortunately (to my delicate sensibilities) necessary to the story. But see, that's what I like about classic horror and suspense tales like this. They aren't up in your face. They leave some of the story up to your imagination. This tale does that, in a classic and classy way.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships #2 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by David Pepose): If you're a fan of atmospheric vampire fiction, you need this book. Giving us an in-depth look at what made Baltimore the man he is today, artist Ben Stenbeck and colorist Dave Stewart show a flawless amount of control — this is mood, this is fear, this is absolute deliberate art with every line. Stenbeck's use of shadow here is what is really evocative, always givign you the heaviest weight to these images, showing the terrifying new world that the once-ordinary Baltimore stumbled into. The dull, soulless blues of the battlefield, the screaming bloody reds that grace the page, Dave Stewart shows why he's the best in the business with every single page. That's not to ignore Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden's writing here — this feels supremely organic, quickly dropping Baltimore into the worst place on Earth and giving him a reason to fight his vampiric Moby Dick. I can't recommend this book enough — if you're looking for some stellar artists at the top of their game, working on some rock-solid vampire mythology, run, don't walk, to your local comics shop and buy this book.

The Last Days of American Crime #3 (Published by Radical Comics; Review by David Pepose): There's a saying in comics, that I think a lot of people don't think about, particularly not in the age of collected trades and Wikipedia continuity: Every comic is someone's first. First to a series, first to the industry, it doesn't really matter — accessibility is key, due to the serialized nature of most comics. So it's good to see that Rick Remender hasn't forgotten that rule — you automatically dive right into the world of Kevin Cash. And things are not looking good for this guy. Remender doesn't just set up the characters, their traumas, what they want before the American Peace Initiative wipes our crime as we know it — he gives some great voice that is exquisitely paced. It may sound a little similar to his Punisher run, but I adored that book, too. Artist Greg Tocchini, meanwhile, gives this book a style that's both Hollywood and comics — he's almost reminiscent of a slightly sketchier Pasqual Ferry, with a confidence in his composition (particularly when Cash cavalierly watches a crushed car sail through the air) that you just want to drink in. It's rare that a concluding issue will make you a believer, but I'm all in — I'll definitely be reading the previous two issues to get fully up to speed on such a stylish and stylized crime thriller.

Fathom: Blue Descent #1 (Published by Aspen Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): Wow. That was good. I am somewhat unfamiliar with the Fathom continuity other than what I've read on Wikipedia. I know about the Blue, the Black, and who the main players are. That's about it. I suppose that may have helped me along while reading. But then again, I imagine if I knew nothing, this issue might have been even more intriguing; the Black are that much more mysterious when you don't know what they are. The writer does a good job keeping the details clean and providing exposition for those unfamiliar with Fathom. The story is interesting and the art is decent; better in some places than others. It is still fairly good art none the less with more than one splash page. I like splash pages. The artist also has a great hand at drawing distinct, life-like faces. This too, was better in some panels than others. There are not a whole lot of bells and whistles here, and I'm not screaming from the mountain tops, but I liked it. I devoured it pretty damn quickly, and I want to know what happens in the next issue. Am I going to buy it? I don't know. I will definitely be thumbing through it at my LCS, so maybe.

What's your favorite book of the week so far?

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