Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Team for your weekly scheduled Rapid-Fire Reviews! We got books from Marvel, DC, Oni Press, BOOM! Studios and more. What else could you ask for? How 'bout a ton of back issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page? And now, let's kick off with Phil Hester's first issue of Wonder Woman...
Wonder Woman #605 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Wow. Wonder Woman plays an Xbox. It's a small detail, but it jumped out at me in the latest issue of Wonder Woman, where Phil Hester leaves his mark on the Amazing Amazon. In certain ways, Diana's characterization stablizes a bit here, seeming a bit like a rebellious teenager but with flourishes of the old Diana's poise and wisdom. For readers who have been scratching their heads about what to make of the cosmetically-changed character, it might not be the "best" possible direction out there, but it's a start. What I do like about this book, however, is that Hester gives Diana a reason for being a hero -- in many ways, it's her avenue of escape, her cure for isolation. That's a smart move, and it gives a little bit of rationale for upending Wondy's continuity and putting her in hiding. As far as the artwork goes, Don Kramer works best when he has room to maneuver -- the pages with more panels, however, start to lose some real detail. He does trip up a little with the facial expressions, however -- for some reason, Wondy has this weird half-smile that causes a nostril to flare up, and it looks just a little goofy to me. The overall direction of Wonder Woman might still be up in the air, but with Hester on board, everything at least is getting stable.
Superior #3 (Published by Marvel/Icon; Review by David Pepose): Why isn't Mark Millar writing Superman again? He certainly knows what kind of imagery makes the Man of Steel tick in the latest issue of Superior. Of course, if you're looking for deep characterization about what makes Superior tick, well, you're about two issues late on that score. Still, spectacle-wise it looks fantastic, and having Leinil Francis Yu on the artwork -- yeah, the same guy who drew Superman: Birthright -- means the parallels are obvious but still striking. This is very much the kind of cinematic comic that, when done right, will charm you despite itself. And the fact that Millar isn't -- at least not yet -- resorting to his more gross-out tendancies (I'm looking at you, Kick-Ass and Nemesis -- is worth checking out by that virtue alone. There are a couple of concerns here, of course -- namely, that this issue stands more on the shoulders of an icon rather than really on its own two feet -- and the last-page twist I'm hoping isn't going to have Millar retreading old ground. But there's a purity of purpose for Superior, a look at a force of nature channeled by the best of humanity. It's not essential reading by any stretch of the imagination, but it's nice to see Millar working on some big pictures.
Batman Incorporated #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Y'know, I could really get used to this. Grant Morrison doesn't stretch out this story by any means, instead treating readers to a rare two-parter that brings both spectacle and characterization to the globe-trotting adventures of Batman Incorporated. Just seeing how Morrison positions characters like Jiro Osamu -- the new Mister Unknown -- versus Batman and his partner Catwoman, it feels extremely organic, really giving some nice weight and support to the story. I shouldn't leave out Lord Death Man, either -- he's got a real crazy streak, and his power set is one that I'm surprised the Bat-mythos hasn't used yet. And Yanick Paquette, jeez, he's officially hitting his stride in this issue, particularly making Mister Unknown and Catwoman look fluid, shadowy, strong. I believe I said it last month, but in many ways, it feels like Batman is channeling a little bit of James Bond in this new series -- he's a self-assured bad-ass exploring exotic terrain, bringing a lot of charm with the ladies and even a sense of humor. Writers have ceaselessly plumbed the depths of Batman's character for so long -- really, since Batman: Year One -- that seeing him affect the world around him instead makes a fun change of pace.
Archie #616 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): Considering the polarized state of the nation, it's pretty gutsy of Archie to dip a toe into real-life politics. But does that result in a good comic book? Archie #616 turns out to be an entertaining take on misleading campaign messages and media spin. Things never get too nasty in Riverdale, but writer Alex Simmons manages to make a point by bringing in high-profile guest stars President Barack Obama and onetime V.P. candidate Sarah Palin. In "Campaign Pains: Part 1," Archie and jerk emeritus Reggie are running for student body president, and the redhead has an image problem. However, Reggie has mastered the art of smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric, bloviating during a debate about "meaningful dialogues" and "solidifying positions." Their respective campaign managers arrange some questionable press exposure to win the election, and that's where the heavyweights come in. Dan Parent's pencil work delivers the classic Archie aesthetic with modern touches (most notably Reggie's hipster hairdo), and Obama and Palin are instantly recognizable. Anyone expecting hard-hitting political commentary will be disappointed, but those who haven't read an Archie comic in a while will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe even charmed.
Zatanna #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): For DC Comics, Zatanna #8 is about as close to flawless as you can get with an issue. From Stephane Roux’s cover to Paul Dini’s writing and Cliff Chiang’s interior art, it sings with perfection. Dini and Zatanna are like peanut butter and jelly. He makes her shine with character, poise, and impeccable wit in the jump off of the arc, Pupaphobia. Who knew? Zee’s afraid of puppets! When it comes time to face a few of the little wooden menaces, she decides it’s time to “girl up.” HA! “Girl up” is such a great line! As stoked as I am that Dini is back on the book, I was not prepared for how floored I would be by the art. Chiang’s art is absolutely exquisite, jaw-droppingly beautiful. He draws Zee with such style and grace, and truly brings the magic to life in the book. The creative team of Dini and Chiang make Zatanna a force to be reckoned with amongst all the DC titles. If you have not picked up the book yet, this would be an ideal place to start.
Deadpool Pulp #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): This is a book I've always admired from afar, but due to the day-in, day-out nature of reviewing, somehow never managed to cover for Best Shots. With the final issue out, I decided to make that change, and it's a surprisingly deep read about the Merc With a Mouth. For so long, people have used Deadpool's schizophrenia as kind of a cheap joke, making him Bugs Bunny with guns -- but Adam Glass and Mike Benson actually dig a little bit deeper into Wade's split personality, and make it an actual organic part of the story. Laurence Campbell, meanwhile, is a case of an artist being absolutely, positively perfect for the tone and content of the story -- there's some real grit to his shadows that's almost reminiscent of Sean Phillips in Sleeper. The only thing that I think could have made this better was to draw out the tension between Deadpool's warring personalities a bit more -- it came as a little too easy for me. Still, this is a great, solid conclusion to a series that was too consistent to be overlooked.
The Sixth Gun #7 (Published by Oni Press; Review by David Pepose): The beauty of a book like The Sixth Gun is that while you might recognize the archetypes that Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt bring to the table, they also know just how to push them, to make them change and grow. Seeing Drake Sinclair already buckling under the weight of the cursed guns brings some real power to the mythology, and Bunn charms you despite yourself with a lighter, brighter gunslinger that may battle for Becky's affections. One thing about Bunn's writing that I think a lot of people overlook: The dialogue. He's got these little details to it -- "Not hardly" instead of "no" -- that really hammer home that this is a western, for the love of Pete. Brian Hurtt gets a little looser with his linework in this issue, but that doesn't mean he still isn't a fierce designer of characters, giving everyone their own distinctive style. Add some voodoo magic and a welcome change of setting -- New Orleans -- to the whole thing, and this is a great issue that not only acts as a coda to the last arc, but works as some effective set-up for act two. Bravo.
The Traveler #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): So I came back for more, even as I wasn't a huge fan of the first issue of The Traveler. And in so doing, I think I understand what my issue with this book was. It's not that there isn't enough room for story here -- there is -- but ultimately, this book feels more like a lecturer superhero, someone who tells the reader exactly what he's doing (and what everybody else is doing), at the expense of real characterization. And the characterization that Mark Waid does provide, well, it's not the most original stuff in the world, with the true-love-staying-afar reminding me a little of the movie Ghost. But -- even with the Traveler's penchant for shouting out exposition -- the issue certainly moves fast, and it seems a little more focused than the first issue. Artist Chad Hardin is part of the reason the book is on the upswing -- there's a cool moment where the Traveler is running up debris to get to his opponent -- but at the same time, he's got some issues with consistency in faces, with the Traveler sometimes looking like he's in his late 20s, to sometimes looking in his early 50s. It's weird, because I know Mark Waid has done better work, but this series isn't grabbing me.What'd you think of this week's books?