Best Shots: UNCANNY X-FORCE, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! While I was recuperating from my trek back yonder, the Best Shots Team proves that reviews never sleep — with a bunch of this week's big releases from Marvel, DC and Top Cow, there are plenty of opinions to check out. Want some more? Just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Scott kick off today's column, with a look at the third issue of Uncanny X-Force...


Uncanny X-Force #3

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Jerome Opeña and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

In Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender has put together a very cool team. Unlike some of the other, more traditional X-Men teams, the characters in this book have a swagger to them. These are all characters, who at one time or another, were designed and used by writers and artists just for their coolness. Wolverine is obvious but remember when Jim Lee first drew the ninja-incarnation of Psylocke or when Rob Liefeld first introduced Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth, in New Mutants? Or when Morrison, in his subversive run, introduced Fantomex as a later-generation super soldier? Or when Angel traded in his feathers for metal bladed wings? These are the characters who were banked on to be intriguing, mysterious and hot. And now here they are, on one team fighting one of the most ambiguous X-villains, Apocalypse.

Uncanny X-Force #3 is a step back from the first two issues. Where those were full of witty banter, quick characters and some sexy art, the third issue is one giant fight as X-Force battles the new Four Horsemen of Apocalypse on the moon. With the characters trapped in a one long fight, Remender does not have the room for the flourishes that he had in the first two issues. He kept things moving quickly in those issues so why does this issue just sit there, lumbering along during the fight? To keep the fights going, Remender has to drop a lot of the character interaction and witty banter that made the first two issues so much fun. The little character moments, with two or three of them playing off of one another, are mostly abandoned here or relegated to mere strategy exposition, moving the fight along but having almost no character in their words.

Visually, this issue starts off strong, with a brief introduction of each of the new Horsemen, their histories and their powers. Jerome Opeña and colorist Dean White make these look like old, warn filmstrips, faded out and scratched up from years and years of use. The remaining pages tend to blend together, playing to neither artist’s strengths. As we watch X-Force fight, this feels like just another X-Men comic and another fight. Most of this is due to the dark coloring of this issue. Thanks to the setting of the moon, there’s little light or color for White to play with. He gets some opportunities but too much of this book feels monochromatic and shapeless. It exists too much in the shadows, not giving the reader any real way to get into the story.

The strength of the first two issues of Uncanny X-Force was the variety that Remender, Opeña and White were able to put in there. A variety of characters and dialogue. A variety of art, locations and action. A variety of colors, subdued and bright when the story needs it. After the opening two delightful issues, Uncanny X-Force #3 is a big set piece issue, big on action but small on development.


Green Lantern #60

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Shawn Mole and Rod Reis

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

With the Flash possessed by the Parallax entity, it’s up to Green Lantern to offer himself up as a host once again for Parallax; to sacrifice himself to save his friend. This would be... what? The third time that Hal Jordan has been possessed by Parallax? I don’t know if that makes his sacrifice a noble gesture or an unbelievably stupid and narcissistic move. Most of Green Lantern #60 involves Parallax-Flash trying to psychoanalyze Green Lantern, to discover what Green Lantern is afraid of and what Green Lanterns wants in a post-Blackest Night world. It’s amazing that a issue that’s so much about Green Lantern shows just how little this book is about Hal Jordan anymore.

Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern started out with Rebirth and the redemption of Hal Jordan. That was the story that Johns was telling up until some point after Sinestro Corps War. Since then, Green Lantern has become about colors. It’s about Red and Green and Yellow and Orange and Blue and Purple and Black and White. It’s like that old Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic, just without the social commentary. “I’ve been reading about you... how you work for the blue skins... and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins... and you done considerable for the purple skins!” Does that seem familiar in any way?

As one of the strong backbones of the DC Universe, Green Lantern has to be about the universe now more than it has to be about the character. The past few issues have read more like a team book, with Green Lantern leading a team of ring-slinging allies on some mystical quest. Maybe Johns wants Green Lantern to be King Arthur, with Sinestro as his Lancelot and the other colorful Lanterns as the round table. There’s a certain amount of sense and order to that, with Green Lantern as the stately king, the one all the others bow down to.

So, this book is about rings, Corps, super heroes and entities but it misses big time on one thing— where is Hal Jordan? In the current unending cycle of events, Geoff Johns has effectively taken Hal Jordan out of the book and substituted in a masked character. Even the Flash possessed by Parallax, which could have been an interesting exploration of his fears after his own rebirth, does very little other than run around, looking oddly jaundiced. The costumes and their adventures have overtaken the characters and their development in Green Lantern #60.

Inker Keith Champagne adds a strange slickness to Mahnke’s pencils, keeping the definition and action but losing the coarseness that makes Mahnke a great superhero war artist. Green Lantern is essentially an intergalactic cop story and Mahnke gives that story a unique grittiness that’s not too often associated with the character. Champagne is a classic inker, with a very clean and flowing line and that’s not what Mahnke’s strength as an artist. By using the clean line, Champagne takes the rough edge off of Mahnke’s pencils.

Trapped in this long cycle of stories, it feels like Green Lantern has lost its way a bit, becoming a story about the story rather than about the characters. Geoff Johns is telling this big, cosmic story that should be built on characters but it’s just become built on past stories; ones he has read and ones that he has told himself. Green Lantern #60 is another chance for Johns to tell us why Green Lantern is a hero after Green Lantern: Rebirth, as he selflessly or stupidly offers himself up again to the Parallax entity. We’ve seen this before and fairly recently, too. It’s time for Johns to find another way to show what a hero Hal Jordan is.


Captain America: Man Out of Time #2

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel, and Frank D’Armata

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Mark Waid knows how to retell a superhero origin story – he more than proved that years ago with Superman: Birthright. He also knows how to write Captain America, as evidenced by his excellent runs on the title in the late 90s. So it’s really no surprise that Captain America: Man Out of Time #2, which continues Waid’s retelling of Cap’s Silver Age revival, is an excellent comic.

What stands out to me most about this comic is the way it manages to update Avengers #4 in a way that both incorporates the Silver Age plot points and make them seem less ludicrous. Even the D’Bari “broccoli person” who accidentally turns the Avengers into stone statues doesn’t seem so strange here, because Waid sets up a situation where everything in his world is as strange to Steve Rogers as a space alien would be. Since this comic takes place in the late 90s rather than the mid-60s, much more has changed since 1944, and Steve’s confusion on that front is perfectly executed.

The setting in the late 90s is also significant. Most superhero origin retellings place their stories in the ambiguous “now,” as if the characters just became superheroes the month the comic was released. While these can be great stories, they tend to signal their out-of-continuity status with flashing lights and fail to serve the real purpose of an origin story: explaining how the hero came to be, before the years of superheroics that the audience has been reading. Waid takes advantage of Marvel’s sliding time scale to place Steve’s defrosting in the late 90s, a little more than 10 years ago, and the details – larger cell phones, boxier computers, plainer websites, and a reference by Rick Jones to it being “the cusp of the 21st century” make the date clear. It was actually disappointing, considering that level of detail, to see a shadowy image of the president that was clearly Obama; since the rest of this issue makes the late '90s date so obvious, I’ll chalk that up to an artist mistake.

Waid also succeeds in keeping the Rick Jones plot of Avengers #4 intact while both acknowledging and justifying its weirdness. In the original issue, the way Steve Rogers cheerfully clings to Rick, imagining him to be Bucky, is borderline creepy, a creepiness not fully acknowledged by the text. Here, through Waid’s story and Jorge Molina’s art, we’re able to look at Rick through Steve’s eyes – quite literally, as he superimposes images of Bucky over this 1990s teenager, just as he imposes other 1940s images over modern scenes, like a hospital. Steve is a traumatized man who has just lost absolutely everything, and his grief leads him to shut down in disbelief, imagining himself to be dreaming, much like the protagonist of British TV show “Life on Mars.” Waid handles that grief and trauma exceptionally well, while also giving hints – as when Steve throws his shield, bouncing it off about 10 different things before catching it – that he is still, at heart, a competent superhero who will ultimately overcome his trauma and save the day.

The issue has a few weak points. At times Waid seems to go a little too far in the direction of “this world is so new and weird” – a man who grew up in tenement housing in 1930s New York City wouldn’t exactly be surprised to hear people speaking other languages with their families, for example. The art also varies wildly from page to page; while the layouts and action sequences are all great, some of the details, especially on faces, become almost grotesquely exaggerated, which I chalk up to the awkward combination of Jorge Molina on breakdowns and Karl Kesel on finishes, which changes the usual penciller/inker dynamic. And while Frank D’Armata does a great job distinguishing between Steve’s 1940s sepia/grayscale visions and the more colorful reality, his murky, overly shiny colors have never been my cup of tea.

Overall, though, this issue represents a fantastic example of an origin story done right, and I can’t wait to see how Waid will handle the rest of this thoughtful, decompressed retelling of Avengers #4.


Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2

Written by Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl

Art by Cameron Stewart, Karl Kerschl and Nadine Thomas

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Honestly, I have no idea what the Assassin’s Creed video games are like. Until checking Amazon just now, I didn’t even know that there was more than one of the games and a history that was being developed there. And thanks to Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl, I don’t need to. In Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2, Stewart and Kerschl continue the story of Nikolai Orelov, a member of the Creed who in 1908 was charged with destroying a Russian energy experiment. Stewart and Kerschl counter Orelov’s story that that of Daniel, a modern day man who has visions of Orelov’s life as a member of the assassin’s sect. How Daniel is connected to Orelov and the sect is the question that no one can answer.

As the second part of a three issue miniseries, Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2 moves quickly through both stories. Stewart and Kerschl have written and drawn an issues that’s heavy on mood and action but light on character. We know enough of Orelov and Daniel to know that Orelov is a honorable soldier while Daniel is a troubled and dangerous man. Now the extent of the series is to find out how honorable and how troubled they are.

A number of years ago, Warren Ellis tried his pop comic experiment with books like Red and Tokyo Storm Warning. These were quick, 3 issue miniseries that were designed to quickly capture and express some zeitgeist of the past decade. The succeeded to varying degrees and, for Ellis at least, the format quickly fell by the wayside. Grant Morrison picked up the format a bit more successfully with Seaguy and We3, adapting to the quick, down-and-dirty writing that the format required. A couple of years later now, Stewart and Kerschl are using the format again and it fits their story perfectly. Would it be nice to have more room to learn about these characters, to find out more about what makes them tick? Sure but it’s not needed. Their story has just enough room for that kind of stuff as the work it in around the action.

Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2 is also a gorgeous looking book. The blending of Stewart and Kerschl’s art creates a nice, simple and pleasing style. You can see touches of both of their styles and it would be easy to assume that Stewart is penciling the book while Kerschl is inking it. Their work methods are a bit more organic than that as they’re really jamming together on the page, passing it back and forth to work on different parts of the page. Some parts come out looking more like Stewart and others like Kerschl but there is still a synergy of their styles on every page.

Yeah, it’s a comic based on a video game and those are hardly ever good things but Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2 is the exception to that rule. Stewart and Kerschl are writing and drawing a great, fast-paced mystery story that’s full of action and intrigue.


Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513

Written by David Liss

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

"I will have to learn these streets, to understand their denizens as an ordinary man. You kept in touch with Hell's Kitchen as a lawyer...I have something a bit more humble in mind." — T'Challa

As a Daredevil fan, the announcement that Black Panther would be the heir to the Man Without Fear mantle I was a bit concerned. Not to say T'Challa is a boring or mundane character that would not be worthy or anything of that nature. It was mainly because it had just seem like a weird fit at first thought. However, as the issue progressed, it seemed more and more that the man formerly known as Black Panther is the proper guy for the job.

What it cuts down to is old school superhero stories with secret identities and a job that isn't really a job, but a front. With papers forged and created by Foggy Nelson, T'Challa becomes Mr. Okonkwo, from the Congo. He is the new manager for a local diner and immerses himself into the alter ego, but still prowls the streets kicking all sorts of criminal scum all over the place.

David Liss delivers promise to what make come from the former king with a great look at the character, but sometimes the words get in the way of the actions. Case in point, I don't need to know about what Vlad the Impaler can do while he is doing it. It's old school in nature, I'll give him that, but with a book like this, less should be more. The conversation between Matt Murdoch and T'Challa that opens the book is interesting in the aspect of why T'Challa chose to take up the mantle of guardian of Hell's Kitchen. What lies ahead for Matt Murdock still remains a mystery.

Francesco Francavilla comes on the book like a pulp hurricane, with his angled panel construction that shows the Panther's movements and definitely feels right for the character. I mean, he is an artistic powerhouse in this issue holding down the fort with pencils, inks and colors. It's something that I am looking forward to see more of.

First impression of this new "series" is good, but something still felt missing from the story. It still holds a lot of promise, don't get me wrong, but those weary fans need to give the book a chance and I'm sure they'll be won over in time.


Witchblade Annual #2

Written by Ron Marz and Matthew Dow Smith

Art by Tony Shasteen, Matthew Dow Smith, Matt Haley, J.D. Mettler, Jason

Gorder and Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

"This gift came to me so that I could serve our people. So that I could protect our people." — Tatiana, Witchblade bearer

The second Witchblade annual just isn't a standard monthly comic, it's quite the event. Three stories, three creative teams. All of them showcase different traits on what defines a Witchblade bearer, though they share that mystical nexus and some terrific stories come from it.

First story in the issue is "Stalingrad", featuring Witchblade of the era, Tatiana, who we have seen before in past back-stories and whatnot. Like Sara Pezzini, Tatiana is a soldier in her own right. A protector and sentinel who puts the people she defends first, even if it is the fate of a nation that needs her and her "gift". The first thing you'll notice is Tony Shasteen and J.D. Mettler's stunning photo-realistic art. It's not as gritty as, say, Alex Maleev as it comes across as smoother and natural. Mettler's muted pallet gives the pages a certain look that is rather unique this day and age

in comics. It works for the story and is a perfect match for Shasteen's pencils and inks. The backgrounds and environments are jaw dropping with the sense of detail. The buildings seem towering, the facial expressions convey genuine emotion from concern to rage that has you sucked in. Marz sheds a bit more light on Tatiana that brings a bit of closure to the character.

The interlude of the annual, features another former Witchblade wearer, and people of the hero, Joan of Arc. It's a bit brief, but connects the bearers of the Witchblade as Sara has dreams of Joan using the weapon in war against the English. At four pages long, it is there as a reminder that duty comes before anything to the women who have been anointed to wear the relic. The

art is standard, but it's something that doesn't have that much time to really go off and do its thing. Again, written by Marz, but with art by Matt Haley and Jason Gorder. The detail on the hair and armor isn't over done and gives a sleek look to Joan in battle. It's a sharp contrast to the previous story, but serves as a perfect in-between story.

Final story of the issue is something quite unique in how it's presented. It's mainly written as like an actual novel with bits of splashes of art here and there: character busts, or items being talked about, or an actual scenario. Written and illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith, "The Devil's Due" is

practically what you think of when you think of Witchblade, at least when you think of Sara Pezzini adventures. As told through an omnipotent point of view, Smith tells a story that shows all sides of who Sara is, and how she thinks. She's a woman, a mother, a cop, and a supernatural defender. The dialog is sharp, clever and insightful. The art is poignant and moves the story along with its use of the red, white and black splashed upon the pages.

Witchblade Annual #2 is a rare creation these days that packs a punch and brings depth to characters that sometimes get the cold shoulder from comic fans. It's refreshing and definitely worth a check out if not outright buy.


Strange Tales II #3

Written and drawn by Kate Beaton, Nick Bertozzi, Ivan Brunetti, Toby Cypress, Michael DeForge, Nick Gurewitch, Tim Hamilton, Dean Haspiel, Benjamin Marra, Eduardo Medeiros, Terry Moore, Harvey Pekar, Alex Robinson, James Stokoe, Ty Templeton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Click here for preview

I make no bones about my general preference for Marvel Comics, and Strange Tales is a great example of why that is. They continually show a willingness to take risks, and experiment with their characters. For the uninitiated, the Strange Tales series, now at the end of its second volume, invites prominent independent comic creators to play in the Marvel sandbox, drawing and writing Marvel's most prominent characters in any style they see fit. Often, the results are quite humorous, but other times, the stories can be even more affecting than Marvel's standard oeuvre. Sure, the stories are out of continuity, and therefore relatively low risk, but in an industry where multimedia expansion has companies growing ever more protective of their brand, it's refreshing that Marvel is willing to allow some less mainstream voices to interpret even their flagship characters.

Honestly, there's not a story in this issue that doesn't deliver something worthwhile; Terry Moore's opening "Thor" story is hilarious, and the art is charming, James Stokoe's elaborately drawn Silver Surfer tale is jarring and poignant, and Eduardo Medeiros's Spider-Man team up story is reminiscent of a slightly more hard-nosed version of Chris Giarusso's "Mini-Marvels." These three stood out to me, but my two favorite tales both centered on the Marvel property that, judging by the six collective issues of Strange Tales so far, is a favorite among indie creators: the Fantastic Four. First was Dean Haspiel's "The Left Hand of Boom," a story that brings in the Celestials, Woodgod, The Thing, and a game of softball with cosmic stakes. As insane as all of that sounds, it honestly wasn't too far off from some of the stories that showed up in Lee and Kirby's legendary run.

My very favorite story from this issue was Andrew Robinson's "Fantastic... Before!" It tells the story of a double date between a collegiate Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, and Ben's beautiful date and her homely but intelligent sister. Despite hitting it off over their shared intelligence, Reed and "Grub,", the girl with a "great personality," never manage to make a lasting connection, with their attempts at a second date thwarted by Reed's roommate, Victor Von Doom, and his failed experiments. The story is brief, but Robinson squeezes in humor, sadness, pathos, and even some bits of action into just a few pages.

Also of important note is the final story in the book, a subdued and quirky tribute to Harvey Pekar, written by Pekar himself, and illustrated by frequent Pekar collaborator and veteran artist Ty Templeton. The story is understated, funny, and exactly what you'd expect from the indie pioneer. Not much else needs to be said; it was a wonderful tribute to a fallen hero.

It's stories like these that make these collections truly worth it; the absolutely insane deconstructions of popular superhero myth, the wholly humorous trifles, and the occasionally brutal bits that really shine. Of course there are moments, and even whole stories along those lines in mainstream comics, but with the weight of continuity and a certain expectation of content, it's rare to get something truly moving in modern superhero comics. On top of that, innovative, challenging, and often avant-garde art makes for a nice package well worth the price of admission for anyone willing to take the chance. I truly hope that there is a third volume of this series, but moreover, I would really love to see some of these sensibilities take hold in mainstream comics.


Avengers vs. Pet Avengers #3

Written by Chris Eliopoulos

Art by Ig Guara, Chris Sotomayor, and J. Roberts

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

After two issues of a wary team-up, the “versus” in Avengers vs. Pet Avengers has finally come to pass. This issue sees the superheroes of the animal kingdom teaming up with a fleet of dragons against a whole passel of Avengers, and if that doesn’t entice you to read this comic, I’m not sure anything will.

Writer Chris Eliopoulos just keeps getting better when it comes to the Pet Avengers. Over the course of just a handful of miniseries, he’s really begun to develop a solid identity for this wacky team and for each of the players involved. Hairball’s snark is sharper, Ms. Lion’s dopeyness more endearing, Redwing’s pride more compelling. Lockheed, Lockjaw, and Zabu fill their supporting roles well – Lockheed in particular. And while I still can’t say I care much about Frog Thor (or “Throg” as the case may be), he serves his purpose as leader and master of exposition.

As for the Avengers themselves, Eliopoulos’ grasp is a bit weaker; Bucky hasn’t seemed to have much personality at all in the three issues in which he’s appeared (though the tiny metal arm of his frog form was a constant delight), and Tony Stark’s hyperactive, almost childish dialogue feels a bit off. But even here Eliopoulos has his moments of strength, particularly when Hawkeye and Ms. Lion each ask their respective teams, before charging into battle against each other, if they should really be fighting the other side. If this means that Hawkeye is the Ms. Lion of the human Avengers, color me self-indulgently amused.

Two things in particular stand out about this issue. The first is the art by Ig Guara, which really shines in the massive battle splash pages. Guara has a lot of characters to draw in action, more than half of them non-human, and he rises to the challenge ably – in fact, while his human faces are occasionally a bit wonky, his skill level at animal drawing is exceptionally high. His cartoony style, coupled with Chris Sotomayor and J. Roberts’ bright, shiny colors, fits the all-ages tone of the book like a glove, but Guara still manages to convey menace in his figures. Any artist who can make Ms. Lion look adorable with his little red bows in one panel and make Fin Fang Foom look intimidating in his purple underpants in the next deserves praise.

The second excellent thing about this issue is the way Eliopoulos sets up a communication barrier between the Pet Avengers and real Avengers. Once Tony, Bucky, and Thor are returned to their human forms, they can no longer understand animals, hearing only barks and squawks when the Pet Avengers speak. This allows Eliopoulos to construct the second half of the issue in a way that builds the maximum amount of suspense: while we see the Pet Avengers acting on every page, we only hear their conversations on the pages where we get their point of view, so discrete moments must be strung together piece by piece to build up to the conclusion. This is a brilliant device, and absolutely perfect for the types of characters Eliopoulos is using and the type of story he’s trying to tell.

So far, the dragons’ plan, which they’ve recruited the Pet Avengers to help them execute, is still unclear; readers will have to wait until the next and final issue to get all the answers. But whatever the dragons may want, and however the Avengers, Pet and otherwise, may react, I’ll be more than happy to absorb more of Chris Eliopoulos’ excellent all-ages writing and Ig Guara’s bewitching art.

Pellet review!


Birds of Prey #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): For the start of an arc titled "The Death of Oracle," I found this issue to be especially amusing. Mind you, not the part where Oracle is planning on faking her death of course. As all the Birds are back in Gotham, we see Oracle conspiring with Batman and Savant to convince the Calculator that she is dead, while the rest of the ladies hit the strip club to celebrate Dove's birthday. It all wraps up with Malice storming into the club demanding to know which of them is Oracle, and Dove commiserating she doesn't even like beer. It's this balance of plot advancement and light-heartedness that really makes this issue shine. With an ensemble cast that has so many differing personalities, Gail Simone has the opportunity to really let them play off each other, and I'm glad to see her do this in this issue. Up to this point the team has been fairly spread out, and definitively more about business than anything else. With a new art team, the book has a slightly different look, but it's not enough to be jarring or upsetting — and Nei Ruffino does a bang up job on coloring this issue.

What was your favorite comic of the week? What was your favorite comic of the week?

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