Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAKEN, BATMAN AND ROBIN, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews 09/13

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! The Best Shots team has been hard at work this weekend, coming to you with a handful of the big books of the week, hitting DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Oni and more. Looking for more reviews? We got your back, with hundreds of reviews up for grabs at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's see what's crackin' with Daken, as we check out the first issue of Daken: Dark Wolverine ...

Daken: Dark Wolverine #1

Written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu

Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Onofrio Catacchio and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Wolverine may be going to Hell, but if this first issue of Daken: Dark Wolverine is any indicator, Logan's long-lost son might be moving on up. With some renewed storytelling focus after the more static plots told during Siege, Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu are well on their way towards rebuilding a better bad guy.

Immediately upon reading this story, you get a real visceral sense of ambiguity through the artwork of Giuseppe Camuncoli. Seeing the degradation and shame on Wolverine's face as he stumbles out of a bar is pure acting, pure artwork — as he looks at his hands, and a woman with splattered blood across her face pounds at his car, you know he's done something wrong. Is he possessed by a demon, as he is in the main Jason Aaron series? Has his animal nature just led him astray once more? You don't know, but it's Camuncoli's versatility that really helps sell the whole enterprise.

But where Way and Liu succeed is they don't just take Daken through the horror and the mud, as he watches his father leave the scene of the crime. They take him to all the beautiful people, as well. It's a bit of a soft reintroduction to the character after the duo's stellar first arc, but as the man says, there's a terrible beauty to Daken, thanks to his pheromone-emitting powers. Seeing him mill around with models and designers is a fairly unique method of getting him a new costume — but it allows Camuncoli to amp up the expressiveness. When Daken looks at you, eating a strawberry, watch out — the soft lines around his eyes have the making of a snarl just beneath.

That said, Daken isn't out of the woods quite yet. The biggest issue with the relaunched property is our lead's new costume — while Camuncoli manages to pull it off for the cover with a lot of shadows and mood, when you see it inside, it's pretty underwhelming. And while Way and Liu bring some poetry with Daken's internal monologue, the overall story structure goes all over the place — if you're the type that needs a deliberate sense of "this scene needs to be here," you might do a bit of a double-take. Is this issue as good as this creative team's first? Not yet — but just like Daken himself, there's a real charm on the surface of this book, and with the brakes off this character's progression, Daken: Dark Wolverine might sink his claws into you again soon enough.

Batman and Robin #14

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Frazer Irving

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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“I’m not like the others,” the latest Robin, Damian Wayne, says early in Part 2 of the “Batman and Robin Must Die!” story. That quote is an apt summation of this book’s overall run, and issue #14 is a commanding entry. Batman and Robin has displayed flashes of brilliance before, but Morrison and artist Frazer Irving have outdone themselves with a taut, grotesque and mesmerizing chapter that may be the best so far. This is a comic that sticks with you long after that last panel of the Joker fixing his terrible grin on Robin.

The knee-jerk criticism of Morrison is that he’s too dense, even pretentious in his approach to writing comics. As far as Batman and Robin is concerned, I couldn’t disagree more. I enjoy a linear, butt-kicking narrative as much as anyone, but it’s precisely the complexity of Morrison’s work that has drawn me into this comic. Yes, this storyline forces the reader to think a little bit about all its threads, and there is a crazy, disorienting carnival ride aspect to the whole thing. Morrison and Irving’s vision of Gotham’s criminal underbelly is a horror show you can’t look away from. Joker and Black Hand are plenty frightening on their own, but if there is a more repugnant creature than Pyg in mainstream comics right now, I have yet to see it. The old saying is “Show, don’t tell,” and boy, are we shown.

I also appreciate how Morrison has developed Damian, a character who resists likability but is never boring. He may be the most formidable Robin in terms of sheer fearlessness, but that same quality makes him vulnerable to villains like the Joker, who rarely use their fists. Damian’s swagger and immaturity land him in a terrible position, and Batman along with him.

Irving’s style here is liquid and dream-like, and the man can draw the hell out of a fight sequence. As Dick Grayson’s Batman takes on an army of crazies, he does it the elegance and flair of a circus-trained acrobat — which he is. There are two, consecutive panels in particular that display both Dick’s unique fighting style and Irving’s gift for visual characterization and storytelling. Combined with Morrison’s script, it’s a stellar package.

B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth - New World #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Patrick Hume

Perhaps it's that I have only a basic familiarity with previous incarnations of the B.P.R.D. title, but I find myself surprised at just how much time this miniseries is spending at the agency's headquarters, with a supernatural office politics plot that doesn't share any obvious connection to the mystery that Abe Sapien is investigating. This issue splits almost right down the middle between the increasing tensions between Kate and her staff, and Abe's conversation with a certain former B.P.R.D. operative (no, not Hellboy) who has taken it upon himself to look into the disappearances that brought Abe out to British Columbia in the first place.

It's an interesting choice, and one that I'm not sure works. B.P.R.D. is, of course, its own book with its own idiom to work in, but the office-based material fell flat for me this month. Lacking the atmosphere and vague sense of the surreal that characterizes most of Mignola's work, it came off as banal even in comparison to the material that followed it, with Abe off trying to find out what happened in Marekeos. Even artistically, it came off as too bright and clean for a B.P.R.D. book. That's not the fault of Davis and Stewart, by any means - their work remains solid throughout - but instead reflects on the choices made by Mignola and Mangrum in their writing. I find myself uninterested in what Panya is up to and only mildly piqued by Kate's struggle to stay ahead of the game now that the U.N. is calling the shots. The B.P.R.D.-verse has many strengths and can tell many types of stories; I'm not sure this is one of them.

Perhaps I was so put off because the second half of the book is so strong. Abe's conversation with his former colleague perfectly conveys the history between them, their differing philosophies and the regret they feel over the past. The brooding forest and unseen watcher that surround them only add to the sense of melancholy and danger that's par for the course in the B.P.R.D. There's even some sarcastic humor to lighten the mood ... only to lead to a reveal that drags it back down considerably. Despite the occasional cartooniness of Davis' pencils, this second half shows that he has a real feel for the desolate and macabre, ably enhanced by Stewart's colors.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I read Hellboy and B.P.R.D. to see the bizarre cast of characters that Mignola and company have created plumbing the depths of supernatural weirdness and, in the process, confronting hard truths about themselves and each other. While last month I enjoyed the look behind the scenes at the agency, here I feel it took too much time away from Abe's adventure. If the other plotline were more compelling on its own, it wouldn't be a concern, but it's not quite there yet. Hopefully, the next three issues will be better paced, and ratchet up the interest quotient on whatever is going on with Johann, Kate and the others.

Green Lantern #57

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Keith Champagne, Randy Mayor and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

It's a subtle thing — well, subtle for a book that has rainbow-colored corps signifying the "seven" emotions of humanity — but structurally, Green Lantern is taking a step back from the idea of "event fatigue," even with the Brightest Day logo shining brightly on its cover.

What do I mean by that? Yeah, there's a lot of continuity at play here — you've got Green Lantern Hal Jordan teaming up with his old flame Carol Ferris (now a ring-wielding Star Sapphire) to stop a rogue love entity — but the pacing of these chapters is very efficient. Geoff Johns knows that you've got people jumping in and out of this book, and without a really mythic throughline like he had with Blackest Night, why draw out the "day-to-day" story past its expiration date just to get to your meta-arc?

So instead, he dishes out a story that actually makes Carol Ferris so competent, you don't even really need Hal's presence in the book at all. There's action, there's some humor, there's a little bit of building up on the Star Sapphire mythos — but ultimately, you don't have to have read the last issue to get in on this (although it helps) and you don't have to read the next one to get any resolution. You want a shallow learning curve? This may not be the book for you, given the ever-increasingly mythology. But you want a self-contained read, free of the big crossover event? This is it, my friends.

As far as the artwork goes, Doug Mahnke does a mean job on the Predator, the Star Sapphire's entity of love — not to mention giving some great physical comedy with Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern of Avarice. What I think a lot of people won't give Mahnke enough credit for is how densely he can pack some of these pages — sometimes Johns is a wordy beast of a writer, and yet Mahnke makes it look so effortless, throwing together six- and seven-panel pages that all still look like a widescreen epic. The page where Carol finally takes out the Predator looks electric — especially with some explosive violet colorwork by Randy Mayor and Gabe Eltaeb — and the Predator himself looks really menacing, especially as he runs across rooftops in silhouette.

Now, that's not to say that this book is perfect. The learning curve alone, even with only three of the seven corps, might be enough to deter some readers from the book — and I will say that the "villain" of the piece, as well as his quarry, seems a little bit two-dimensional. But the fact that Hal and Larfleeze almost seem superfluous to the plot is, in my mind, actually this book's strength — it can rest on Carol Ferris and not falter. With a strong female lead — even with the skimpy costume — Green Lantern #57 may be giving fans what they want, even if they don't realize it: the book may be a mouthful continuity-wise, but structurally it's actually pretty bite-sized.

Batgirl #14

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Art by Lee Garbett, Trevor Scott, Guy Major

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Click here for preview

Batgirl, Supergirl, and ... Dracula? Yes, Dracula. I admittedly have been looking forward to this issue since awhile back when one of the creators mentioned on Twitter that they were working Dracula into the story. How can this NOT be intriguing? I mean, really — I tried to wrap my head around it and figure out how Dracula could be part of the story and it just seemed so completely random. It is, but it works! Turns out that a science experiment at Gotham U. goes wrong just as the girls are settling in to a 3D showing of Dracula at the movie theater nearby. This brief catastrophe causes 24 Draculas to manifest as solid holographic projections, lamenting the line that was being spoken in the movie at that precise moment.

We see the term "LOL" tossed around the internet liberally (and scarily, in real life as well). However, I assure you that the sequence of events as the two heroines track down all the Draculas had me laughing out loud repeatedly. These baddies all have the same appearance and dialogue, but very different ideas of how they want to spend their new found freedom. Riding a Segway? Booking a ticket to Prague? On a ferris wheel? No, I'm not kidding.

A lot of this issue shows us the friendship and rapport between these two young heroines. While their lives are completely unlike any of ours, their friendship is portrayed very realistically. Whether it's Kara explaining what else affects her besides kryptonite, or Steph explaining her relationship with her mom, these two seem like a natural team-up. I have to say that I love the way Miller writes Kara's character, completely enamored with college life and in seek of keg parties, pillow fights, and innocently asking Steph if her bra has a bat on it. It's a gentle and humorous reminder that she is not from our world, appearances aside.

With the forthcoming departure of Lee Garbett, this had to be a particularly fun last issue to work on. Miller wrote a script that allowed Garbett to bring the silliness to the board with the girls stopping in a photo-booth, and munching ice cream cones as they worked on eradicating the Draculas. I couldn't help but wonder if scenes like that were specifically directed, or if Miller just said go at it. This has proven to be a successful team since the book debuted just over a year ago, and I will certainly miss Garbett's art. Steph is a young girl that wears her heart on her sleeve and he has always been able to convey her joys and frustrations with expertise.

The series has been pretty serious up to this point, and this was a really fun in between arcs issue. I found myself reading it several times over the weekend (mostly to laugh at the Dracula on a Segway, I'm silly like that). This is definitely an issue for fans, but I encourage anyone to give it a look. It's even one you could share with the kids!

Thor, The Mighty Avenger #4

Written by Roger Langridge

Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Stop me if you've heard this one before: an Asgardian walks into a bar — a pub, actually — asking for the way to get to Trondheim. A superhero taps him on the shoulder and asks, "would you mind stepping outside?"

The punchline? Captain Britain's face. The venue? Thor, The Mighty Avenger. Mighty Avenger? How about mighty entertaining? Mighty endearing? Mighty funny? Take your pick, they're all correct, because this is a brisk, rollicking series with some serious character and laughs to spare.

While writer Roger Langridge gives us all the set-up for this issue, I wouldn't be doing this comic justice if I didn't praise artist Chris Samnee. Considering some of the darker fare he's done in the past — think of DC's The Mighty, or even the fairly depressing Siege: Embedded — and you wouldn't think of Samnee as a "funny" artist. If this book doesn't change that perception, you might want to make sure you're not lying in a tub filled with ice, because your sense of humor has been surgically removed. The look on Hogun the Grim's face as he holds onto a now-dislodged door knocker, or the mischevious look on Thor's face as he's about to lay ye olde walloping to Captain Britain, it's all hilarious. (Extra funny is the look on Volstagg's face as he holds Captain Britain in his old "mother hen" maneuver. Best drinking buddies ever? Best drinking buddies ever.)

But I shouldn't discount Langridge. He moves the story along super-fast, and to be honest, he brings some comedic fireworks of his own in the second half of the story, just when you might be getting a little used to Samnee's funny faces. Hearing what Brian Braddock's friends have to say about him is low-key but such an absolutely great way of establishing this character. And hearing this foppish superhero give a dramatic speech is hilarious and awkward. "This is Britain. And we have a tradition of fighting on. Agincourt! Trafalgar! Dunkirk!" he shouts. "Okay, we gave up on Dunkirk, but the point stands. We gave up with dignity!" The look on Thor's face in the preceding panel is pretty indicative of how great this is, as I probably terrified my neighbors with a Joker-esque giggling fit. And the way that Langridge makes it all work out is really endearing, and reminds us why we like Thor — yeah, he may be from out of town, but he's a genuinely nice guy. (That is, unless you ask him to step outside.)

If you know who Thor and the Warriors Three are, and if you know who Captain Britain is, well, then you owe it to yourself to go Asgardian pub-crawling in this mighty excellent issue of Thor, The Mighty Avenger. This is easily the most fun book of the week, and while it may not crack worlds or change Thor's status quo in any enduring way, this book stands on its own merits as a pitch-perfect read. C'mon, look at the cover — would you say no to that face?

Smoke Signal #6

By Various Artists

Published by Desert Island

Review by Matt Seneca

There's more to each issue of Smoke Signal than just about any other comic you care to name. Its newspaper broadsheet-size pages are bigger, its stellar cast of talent is more brilliant, and its free-with-shipping price point is better value. It takes all comers. With its sixth issue, the independent comics store-published star of the modern anthologies continues its push out of the lo-fi small press basement and into the starry limelight of essential comics art. 

Like every issue previous, Smoke Signal #6 is a relentless parade of comics, the high points coming as fast and furious as the changes in drawing style. What could easily be a schizophrenic bundle of one- and two-page strips is somehow held together by a common spirit of broken boundaries, of creativity, of the new. Pakito Bolino's art brut panel slashings and Sam Henderson's edge-of-minimalism cartooning may not look much alike, but the end goal is the same: make something like no one's ever seen before. There are certainly some deft editorial flourishes in Smoke Signal — for example, putting strips by Marc Bell and Tom Gauld on facing pages is no small stroke of genius — but as with all the best anthologies, this thing is held together by a common spirit more than any shared mannerisms. It overflows. It sprawls.

It's tomorrow's world, likely enough. One of the most exciting things about Smoke Signal is the massive leaps forward it takes between issues, not just in the quality of the individual comics displayed, but in the tone of the whole production. Early issues felt more like assemblages than communal presentations, with strips by the medium's grandmasters flashing out little bursts of genius while unknown contributors pushed slivers of innovation up from the substance of the medium. It was wild, it was variable, it was a glorious mess. But for the past two issues, this comic has absolutely narrowed its focus, born down and blazed trails. The best strips in #6 seem to offer up not just new ideas or ways of drawing something, but whole new ways of making comics that offer any followers rich ground for exploration. Where plenty of anthologies are futuristic in an alien, whoa-look-at-this kind of way, Smoke Signal offers newness that's tangible. A page of visions that are put there to be followed up on. Then another. Then another.

The highlights in that vein are numerous. Michael DeForge continues what's got to be one of the all-time best years a cartoonist's had in a while with a sweltering, surreal horror strip that melds the insect fear of The Exterminators with the perfect puffiness of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Blaise Larmee levels up big time in a Kubrickesque one-pager that melds organic, lo-fi figure drawing with cold Piet Mondrian geometrics to hypnotic effect. Kevin Huizenga translates the internet experience to comics in a formalist exercise that won't be caught up to until the late 2060s at least. Tim Lane packs about a trade paperback's worth of story into the latest two pages of what's shaping up to be a downright epic dada-noir serial. And the straight gag strips are just as strong, from Jon Vermilyea's hallucinatory Smurfing in the color center spread to Emily Flake's transmutation of the obligatory New York hipster monologue into the funniest thing I've read all year. Put simply: Smoke Signal #6 is a delight, a kaleidoscope, a cornucopia. Fans of great art, fans of new things, fans of comics: read it. Learn it. The future does not disappont.

Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist

Written/Edited by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen Weathington

Published by TwoMorrows Publishing

Review by Tim Janson

One word comes to mind when I think about the art of Sal Buscema: Consistency! Throughout his fifty plus years as a comic book artist, Buscema has been a model of consistency. While perhaps not having the flair of some artists and being in the shadow of his older brother, John, Sal has carved out a career that has included working on just about every character at Marvel throughout the last five decades. 

In TwoMorrows’ latest tome of comic history, Sal gets the credit he deserves as one of the steadiest hands in the industry. Told in a book length interview with Jim Amash, Sal relates growing up in New York, 8 years younger than his brother Big John and how he eventually followed him into the comic book business. Like so many artists of the era, Sal had to find other work when the comic business crashed in the 1950s and he went into design and advertising work. 

Sal talks about learning to make his art more dynamic by studying the art of guys like Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, and his brother, John. John offered great advice but also was Sal’s toughest critic. Sal did it all at Marvel, starting on the Avengers but working on titles such as Captain American, The Defenders, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, and of course, The Hulk, which was one of his longest runs on any title. Sal is candid when discussing other artists. He didn’t care for the inking of Ernie Chan, Joe Staton, or Mike Esposito over his pencils. He did however enjoy the inks of Joe Sinnott and Gary Talaoc. 

Sal also talks about how he worked with the various writers he teamed with over the years. This gets into the “Marvel Way” of producing comics in which artists worked from plots rather than full scripts, giving them greater freedom to interpret a story. Sal relates the disappointment of losing work at Marvel when the company went bankrupt in the 1990s but it gave him a chance to move on to DC and work on Batman.

TwoMorrows concludes the outstanding book with a Sal Buscema art gallery which includes several non-comic book drawings and illustrations. Sal Buscema’s art is like comfort food… it’s always good and hits the spot.  

Pellet review!

The Sixth Gun #4 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Lan Pitts): Boy, this book gets cooler and cooler with each passing issue. It's Jonah Hex meets The Nocturnals sprinkled with some Jack Kirby flair. This time around we learn Sinclair's origins and his ties to General Hume. The pacing of the world expanding is constant and not too much information is thrown at you at once. Sinclair is a changed man since he left Hume's army, but his agenda with Becky is still unclear. As for the guns themselves, we see their true potential as one disembowels a thunder spirit. Brian Hurtt's art looks a bit grittier in this issue. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but you can tell the heavier inks in this issue than prior ones. It doesn't hurt (pun not intended) the story by any means, but it is rather noticeable. It's a breath of fresh air and already has the industry buzzing. Should you pick this up, you'll see why.

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