Best Shots Rapid Reviews: BATMAN: THE RETURN, AVENGERS, More

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Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with a lucky thirteen pellet reviews from the Best Shots Team! We're looking at books from DC, Marvel, Image, IDW and Archaia, and we're not stopping there — we've also got tons of back issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's check out Bruce Wayne's international comeback, as Teresa checks out Batman: The Return...


Batman: The Return #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): This Batman one-shot, written by Grant Morrison, is the beginning of something good, taking Bruce Wayne and the Batman family places they’ve never been before. In it, Bruce not only publicly supports Batman’s crime-fighting efforts with financial backing (never going so far as to say he’s Batman, but still!), but he begins to reach out to others, both in the Bat-family and around the world, to help him stop crime not just in Gotham City, but everywhere. For the first time, Batman has found a purpose beyond reacting to his own pain, and Bruce Wayne can finally put his family fortune to good use. Both make for a refreshing change. Morrison is giving us a kinder, gentler Batman who’s more globally aware, which I think makes the character more relevant for today’s reader. He also seems to be growing a sense of humor, which is always welcome! David Finch’s art is troubling, stuck in the dark even as Morrison is pulling him into the light. It was also often difficult to tell who was doing or saying what in action panels, and there was one panel where the shadows were such that Bruce looked like he had a thick mustache, and for a second I thought, “Who’s that guy?” Still, the issue does its job introducing the intriguing concept of Batman, Incorporated.


Avengers #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for review): Please, please, PLEASE let Brian Bendis keep up the pace set by this issue. After a snoozer of a first arc, which disappointingly featured my two favorite villains of all time, Bendis starts his second story on this title not with a bang, but with enough steam to keep things interesting. Parker Robbins has, somehow, come to know the location of the Infinity Gems, long hidden by the Illuminati, and has set about collecting them. His quest leads to brief run ins with Red Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, and finally to the Avengers' doorstep. Bendis still manages to squeeze in a couple pages of the Avengers acting casual, and also throws in another brief argument between Iron Man, Thor, and Wonder Man. Bendis is at his best when he's picking up his own long-laid threads, and that's what's happening here. It's cool to see the Infinity Gems making a comeback, and I'm interested to see where the Wonder Man arc is headed. John Romita, Jr.'s art is more up to speed this issue, too. As long as this story results in a knockdown, drag-out Avengers fight, and doesn't devolve too quickly into snarky, talking heads, things will be looking up for this title.


Batman Incorporated #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): Batman is having fun again. I mean, he’s still a long, long way from lighthearted, but as he swings above Tokyo with the one and only Catwoman, Bruce Wayne looks, dare I say it, almost happy to be back on the grind. Grant Morrison’s opening chapter of the Batman Incorporated saga finds the Dark Knight, with Selina Kyle’s nimble, quick-witted assistance, taking his crusade global. It’s a sexy, assured team-up story with a menacing undercurrent. (After all, the story’s title is “Mr. Unknown is Dead.”) We’re introduced to the fearsome Lord Death Man, who more than lives up to his name. Most notable is the appearance of Jiro Osamu, the young man who is shaping up to be Wayne’s trainee as the Japanese Batman. Morrison strikes a fine balance of grim and playful, and the concept of a Batman in every corner of the world is loaded with narrative potential. Illustrator Yanick Paquette does striking pencil work throughout, and he saves the best for last in a flat-out awesome final image. Though I didn’t particularly care for the color choices, the book’s overall presentation is eye-catching and confidently executed. In fact, that’s an apt summation of this entire first issue.


Thunderbolts #150 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This issue may not actually celebrate the history of the Thunderbolts as much as it could — and it may require a little bit of know-how in recent Marvel lore — but this curiously intimate 150th issue is still a fun one. Jeff Parker's biggest success with this issue is that he so muddies the waters between good and evil here, with some particularly compelling characterization for Luke Cage. Action junkies will find a lot to like, as Crossbones, Ghost and the Juggernaut take on Cage and the Avengers' Big Three — the back-and-forth in particular between Iron Man and Ghost has a real sly humor to it, and it's definitely an underrated point of the story. Kev Walker in particular really gives this book its visual identity — it's jagged, off-kilter, unadulterated fun that is as energetic as it is unorthodox. That said, the thing that might cause a little frustration from readers is the price point — yeah, it's a 96-page comic, but much of the book is reprinted material from the surprise first issue. Considering there's so much history with the Thunderbolts — particularly, Warren Ellis's seminal run — it's too bad we couldn't get some sort of "lost" tale from Norman Osborn's Initiative. Still, this is the Avengers book that no one gives enough love to, and anniversary aside, this is a no-nonsense action-filled romp.


The Flash #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If ideas like the Flash riding a time-traveling surfboard sound up your alley, you probably should give this book a look. Geoff Johns rides the momentum of time-traveling super-rogues, adding in some of those cool action bits like Barry Allen zooming across the face of a skyscraper, or him reversing a human tornado from within. While the story logic at the beginning of the issue seems to skip a beat, other developments — such as the Top's reason for going AWOL — are a nice touch. And something else that gives this issue some traction is that it feels like Johns is playing the long game now: There's some development in the normally stoic Flash that's foreshadowed here, and I like the idea that Barry has actually made some change as far as the Central City Police Department goes. Francis Manapul's work occasionally feels a bit cramped, particularly in the first couple of pages, but once Johns gives him more breathing room, there's some pretty cool imagery here — the super-speed feats will really take your breath away, and the linework that he and colorist Brian Buccellato bring makes the "blur" effect look absolutely gorgeous. If this issue is any indication, it seems like time-travel and the relativistic implications of super-speed are going to be front and center for Flashpoint, but what interests me the most out of all this is the idea that Barry Allen might really get some more depth as a character through his struggles. I say: Bring it on.


Daken: Dark Wolverine #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith; Click here for preview): Since Marjorie Liu joined Daniel Way in the writing of Daken, Wolverine's sociopathic son, the character has transformed into one of Marvel's most interesting new characters. He's become simultaneously more well-defined and more mysterious, a Machiavellian schemer unafraid to use sex, violence, or anything in between to achieve his goals, whatever they may be. This issue, with its ambiguous flashbacks to Daken's time being raised by the villainous Romulus, continues that trend, providing just enough information to intrigue the reader without spilling too many beans, much in the way Wolverine himself was written before the restoration of his memories. While last issue focused on the "I can't believe no one's thought of this before, it's so perfect" pairing of Daken and Mystique, this month we see more of the loner Daken, willing to sever all ties — even with his closest allies — in order to get his way. Clearly, Daken has set up a lot of dominoes with his manipulations, and Way and Liu are poised to let those dominoes fall, amping up the tension for the waiting reader. This tension is assisted by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who ably renders the story with his jagged, sketchy pencils, and while I'm not generally a fan of Frank D'Armata's super-saturated colors, the garish contrasts fit the tone of this book perfectly. Daken: Dark Wolverine is blood and fire and neon, dripping with sex and violence and mystery, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Legion of Super-Heroes #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview): In Legion of Super-Heroes #7, Paul Levitz is doing this intriguing thing where he’s weaving a number of different plots together, creating a tapestry of the future. His adventure stories about time travel and Durlan assassins are balanced out by the soap opera aspects of team leadership and romance. You can’t accuse Levitz of writing for the trade as he fits in these seemingly separate plots into one issue, creating a story that flows like an old comic from the 1970s or 1980s, but giving it a modern (or, in this case, futuristic) feel to it. It’s starting to feel like Levitz never took a 20-year break from writing this book. The art by Yildiray Cinar and Francis Portela continues to get better every issue, with Cinar starting to take on a Tom Grummet feel to his artwork. In their respective stories, both artists look to be getting more comfortable with the characters, the look of the future and with each other. Their styles are different but mesh together nicely, creating a great consistent look to this book. If nothing else, this issue has to get credit because Levitz finally finds a fantastic use for Tyroc, the most neglected Legionnaire in the history of the team.

Fred Van Lente On the DEAD AVENGERS
Fred Van Lente On the DEAD AVENGERS

Chaos War: Dead Avengers #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): I was a little wary of this title, mostly because the characters I am really interested in have all been resurrected one way or another several times over the last few years, each with disappointing results, and the others, well... Let's just say there's a reason Dr. Druid has been dead since the '80's. I'm still not 100% convinced on this mini, but after reading the first issue, and with the strength of "Chaos War" at its back, I'm pretty willing to commit to two more issues. The story follows of this team of classic — wait, you know what? I hesitate to call Deathcry a "classic" Avenger, so let's just say "Vintage Avengers" as they find themselves reawakened after years of being dead. A few arguments with Dr. Druid about the nature of death later, and they've all decided to stay where they are, and defend the unconscious Avengers that lay at their feet, having been subdued by Chaos King in "Chaos War #1." Van Lente's writing is fine; he tries too hard with the dialogue a few times, and Tom Grummett's art does the job. I wouldn't call this a must-buy, but it's worth a look, and the presence of the Grim Reaper adds another check mark in the plus column.


Haunt #11 (Published by Image; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I checked the last issue of Haunt, and figured it would be a one-off deal. Not so. In an age of widescreen storytelling, there are an increasingly few people who really play around with the visual possibilities of comics — it's all letterboxes and no verticals, with composition really suffering as a result. Greg Capullo, even with some of his occasional excesses in drawing women, is the last person you could accuse of coasting with the visuals — I love the use of vertical panels, and in particular, one sequence where the panels shift as Haunt is yanked by his own prehensile suit. Yeah, Capullo has that scratchiness in his line that he borderline pioneered after Todd McFarlane stopped drawing Spawn, but his use of motion lines is just sparse enough that it really adds a nice sense of motion, of even cleanliness. It's the visuals that are the entire reason to read this book — no knock against Robert Kirkman, but this is pretty much an action-for-action's-sake kind of story, and questioning things like backstory or high concept isn't going to do anyone any good except for those who have been reading since Issue #1. It may get by on looks alone, but there's an energy to Haunt that not nearly enough books reach these days. Just a really refreshing book.


Star Trek — Khan: Ruling in Hell #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Teresa Jusino): It’s shocking that Khan continues to be such a popular character in the Star Trek universe, having only been in one episode of original series Trek and one film where his wrath gets to be the title. IDW did right by telling the story of his exile, however, which has always been only referred to and never shown. Writers Scott and David Tipton do a wonderful job introducing us to a man who genuinely only wants good things for his enhanced humans. He is a man of honor who believes in Kirk and the Federation, despite his having been dropped on a harsh planet having to make do with very basic supplies, and it is heartbreaking to watch as his crew try to disillusion him, as Kirk never comes to help, as his crew plans mutiny, and as the planet slowly dies. IDW’s Star Trek titles are hit-or-miss, but Khan: Ruling in Hell is one of the rare books of theirs that is necessary to to the franchise, and its execution is great. My only problem? The women’s clothing as drawn by Fabio Mantovani. Is that some kind of jumpsuit? Is it a mesh? A weave? Where does it start and end, and what exactly is it covering up? I’m so confused!


X-Factor #211 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Smith; Click here for preview): In many cases, I'd find it frustrating to read a series with two very different plots going on concurrently, each one featured exclusively in every other issue. The magic of Peter David's writing on X-Factor, though, is that he always manages to make every member of his cast, and every plot point, equally intriguing. So while I'm anxious for the next chapter in Rictor, Rahne, and Monet's stories, I was just as happy to return this month to the rest of the team in Las Vegas. This issue brings with it a feeling of detente between Jamie and Siryn, a resolution that's been a long time coming, as well as some great examples of the book's fantastic, offbeat humor. Jamie's narration, meanwhile, tightens the book's focus and sheds light on the significance of actions from characters who wouldn't express their feelings openly (Shatterstar) or don't normally appear in the comic (Thor). While narration can be a crutch for some writers, David's keen sense of Jamie's distinct first person voice has always been one of X-factor's best features, even beyond its connection to the comic's self-consciously noir tone. Guest artist Emanuela Lupacchino draws some beautiful figures and splash pages, complimented by Matt Milla's bright colors, and the accuracy of her anatomy is a noticeable strong point. X-Factor is such a solid book month in and month out that it's often hard to find something exceptional to say about it, but more comics should aspire to this level of consistent greatness.


Elephantmen #28 (Published by Image Comics; Reviewed by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview): Maybe it’s been the erratic publishing schedule but something about Elephantmen hasn’t felt right for the last 10 issues. The rotating artists and the loss of the evocative coloring have diminished a bit of the visual luster this book had under Ladronn, Moritat and Boo Cook. Elephantmen #28 regains a bit of that luster as artist Axel Medilin and colorist Gregory Wright mesh better this issue than they have previously. Medillin gives these beastial characters great expressions and emotions on their faces, whether it be a sadness at what they’ve been or a determined anger as they fight for their lives. To believe in Richard Starking’s story, you have to believe in characters like Hip Flask and Ebony Hide and Medillin makes these characters real, having a past purpose that weights heavily on them. Like many other past issues of Elephantmen, this issue shows the prejudices and plain hate that the Elephantmen have to face while contrasting that against some of the past events that led to that hatred. While the action and character stories in this issue are good, when viewed against the whole series it feels as if Starkings is stuck, spinning his wheels while trying to find the something to latch onto and carry the story forward. We’ve read about the war, how no one loved the Elephantmen but Savannah and how even today, they’re used by people who have real power. When the series was starting out, repeating those themes gave the book a sense of world building; now it gives the series a sense that it doesn’t know where it’s going or, if it does, it doesn’t know how to get there. I kind of trust that Starkings has a plan for this book but I just wish that he’d start moving toward that plan a bit brisker than he has been.


The Killer: Modus Vivendi #5 (Published by Archaia; Review by David Pepose): If there's ever a book that'll wow you based on sheer confidence alone, it's The Killer. Luc Jacamon's designs aren't ultra-stylized, but the more you look at them, the more you're entranced. And Matz really plays up the character of the nebbish-looking Killer, giving him such a sophisticated interior monologue that makes him a total badass. "They told me to sow chaos, to spread terror. I'd give 'em their money's worth." There's a sense of foreboding swirling around our hero's exploits, as images of crocodiles seem to pop up at the strangest times. There's also a real sexiness to the storyline here, as our hero doesn't just kill people, but is also a bit of a player in his own right, sleeping with a handler who might just be leading him astray. So much about this book is propped up by stellar design here — the moody color work, the uncomplicated design, the philosophical dialogue — I can't recommend this book enough. Picture international intrigue narrated by the Most Interesting Man in the World, and you've got The Killer in spades. Read it. Read it now.

What have you read so far this week?

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