Best Shots Reviews: IRON MAN 2.0, DETECTIVE COMICS, More

War Machine Gets an IRON MAN 2.0 Upgrade

Greetings, Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! Our fold has grown by two this week, as we welcome Aaron Duran (of the awesome site Geek in the City) and newcomer Shanna VanVolt to our team. Want some more reviews? You got it, over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's see if war truly is hell, as we take a peak at Iron Man 2.0


Iron Man 2.0 #1

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Barry Kitson, Kano, Carmine Di Giancomenico and Matt Wilson

Lettering by Joe Caramanga

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

For the past nine months, everyone's been betting against Nick Spencer.

From the lowliest blogger to Brian Michael Bendis himself, people have been wondering how long Spencer's winning streak would last. And who wouldn't? The guy has had a rise in comics that can only be described as meteoric, and unlike most creators, Spencer has had the introspection to keep releasing new products that have been singularly better than the ones that came before.

And look at his output. Existence 2.0 was a fantastic opener, Infinite Vacation is looking to be quite ambitious, and he's helped make T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents into one of the most consistently good comics that DC Comics publishes. He's a nice guy, and more importantly, he's a smart guy, and he's going to be a player in comics for just as long as he wants to if he keeps it up.

Which is why I hate saying this — Iron Man 2.0 #1 is the issue where Nick Spencer finally stumbles.

He's had a heck of a streak, but this opening issue actually shares a weakness with Matt Fraction's flagship title with Tony Stark — lacking a strong focus on the central character and his premise, we're treated instead to an introduction that feels more self-indulgent than savvy.

For me, when I'm looking at a first issue, my questions are this: What makes this run different from the previous runs? What's the writer's take on the main character, and what is their place in the greater Marvel universe? Nick Spencer talked about asymmetrical warfare in an October interview on this very site — and that's a fascinating concept in and of itself — but that theme doesn't make it anywhere in this first issue. Instead, close to half this book is setting up the villain — which, if we were able to draw some motivation or characterization, might not be such a bad thing, but all these people talking doesn't endear you to the character.

Which is too bad — because the introduction, while not the flashiest thing in the world, shows that Spencer still has a real knack for nailing a character's voice. Seeing Rhodey and Tony Stark banter back-and-forth as they take on Blizzard is reminiscent of the second Iron Man film: "I hope they make you do push-ups," Stark snarks. I get the premise — working for the military, Rhodey is acting as the devil you know against Tony Stark's civilian aspirations, rather than proliferate the Iron Man tech to less scrupulous people. I get that — but Spencer does this as telling rather than showing. Who is James Rhodes? How have his experiences as a cyborg, as a military man, as Tony Stark's wingman, how have these things shaped him? These questions remain unanswered.

Now, a lot of people have taken umbrage to Barry Kitson only drawing a little bit of this book, owing to a bout with pneumonia. But you know what? Outside of a little bit of stylistic dissonance compared to the cartoonier Kano and Carmine Di Giandomenico, Kitson's absence isn't a book-killer. You can only tell an artist to conjure up mood so much before you have to lay it on the material — there's a lot of exposition here, but there's not a whole lot of world-building to strip-mine. I will say, however, that Matt Wilson's colorwork feels just a bit too muddy for this material — it'd be fine if War Machine was fighting in a gritty desert battle, but when the suburbs are drenched in olive drab, it gets a little too much.

I'll be honest in saying that I was surprised to not like this book. I figured "Nick Spencer" + "War Machine" would equal a real thematic upgrade for the Iron Man mythos, focusing on the ever-changing nature of war, and one man's relationship to it. Instead, this feels like a tie-in, a book that needs to read like Iron Man in order to gain a readership. Ironically, if that continues, it may mean this book's downfall — if Iron Man 2.0 can't stand on its own two feet and show us what it's really about, this upgrade might be more trouble than it's worth.


Detective Comics #874

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

I've been wanting more of the Commissioner Gordon storyline since Snyder took the writing helm on this series and started including it as a back up feature. While I'm enjoying Detective as a whole, it's the Gordon feature that I find myself craving month to month. It's just that good. As Jim and James Jr. meet in a coffee shop, Jr. opens up about where he's been and the discovery that he's psychopathic in nature, oh — and he's planning on applying for a job with Leslie Thompkins. The issue cuts to Bats and Robin further investigating the abundance of endangered animals and encountering a yakuza type gang.

Scott Snyder's got a knack for storytelling as we've seen as he's become more and more prevalent over the past year. His dialogue between the Gordons, as uncomfortable as the topic of psychological issues in one's child can be, flows naturally. The fact he can go from that to the action scenes without jarring the flow of the book is further testament to his talents. The aspect that really makes this issue on of the books you should be reading is Francesco Francavilla's art. Taking on pencils, inks, and colors — the book is visually phenomenal. Invoking thoughts of Darwyn Cooke's simple line style, he takes the art to another level with his use of colors. The scene with the Gordons is exclusively a warm color palette and while no terribly shocking revelations are made — the abundance of reds and oranges give it a very dangerous and ominous tone. Calling back on that palette in isolated Batman scenes carries the look through the issue and makes for a comic that I found myself looking back at after reading, just to further admire the visuals.

Sometimes you get a sense that a writer is having a great time writing a book, and Snyder's run on Tec certainly has that feeling. He's not shying away from getting into the inner workings of the title character, nor from bringing a man who's always deserved more attention to the forefront of the storyline. We're not too far into his run for you to catch up on the latest with Bats, and with Gordon — and I can't recommend enough that you do. This is one of those runs that is sure to be a hit, should it be released in trade form — but if you wait that long, you're doing yourself a disservice.


Who is Jake Ellis? #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson

Art by Tonci Zonjic

Published by Image Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

As a format, there are few genres comics can't handle. While most people instantly recognize superhero action; that is by no means the limit. Comics tell tales of personal drama, noir crime, humor, biography, and even the occasional trip into steampunk samurais fighting cowboys in the Pacific. There are a couple where the four-color format takes its licks, horror and thriller are those genres. Both for similar reasons. In comics, it is nigh impossible to surprise anyone when all it takes is a micro glance to the right. Quicker than a forum troll can yell “spoilers LOL,” the whole damn story unravels. While I've all but given up on the hardcore horror in comics, I still pick up a new thriller or espionage book if it catches my eye.

Not only has Who is Jake Ellis? caught my eye, but it yanked me by my collar, pulled me in close, put a 9mm to my head and proclaimed “hang on buddy, we're going for ride”. A staple of the thriller genre, Jake Ellis is a man with a muddled past. He's haunted by dreams of pain. He's wanted by every legal and not-so legal agency on the planet. And the only folks with answers want him dead. His edge? Jon Moore, an all-seeing, all hearing shadow man that keeps Jake on step ahead of his enemies.

In issue 2, writer Nathan Edmondson finds the perfect balance between furthering the primary story and offering quick glimpses into Jake's extremely checkered past. It is a credit to his plotting skills that the even in the flashback sequences, moments when we are absolutely certain Jake will survive, Edmondson keeps the reader tension high. He also deftly avoids a tired trend in the thriller genre. Every character isn't a walking Elmore Leonard just waiting to drop some cooler than thou line. Each character has their own unique voice. From the French cop that only exists to catch the reader up to speed or the poor grunt CIA agent, Edmondson's dialogue makes these characters real people. Although none of that would matter if the banter between Jake Ellis and Jon Moore wasn't compelling.

This isn't buddy cop talk from your NBC police procedural of the week. Jake Ellis is genuinely frightened and running for his life, and you can feel it with every conversation he has with Jon. Acting like a far more rational version of Tyler Durden, Jon Moore plays it cool and at times frighteningly distant as he keeps Jake Ellis alive. Even when the danger ramps up, Edmondson maintains Jon's calm dialogue with a hint of something awful looming in the distance. Reflected wonderfully in a rare quiet moment where Jake finally confronts Jon. To which his shadowy counterpart replies: “I just think. I have no memories, no real ideas... but I do have thoughts. And I can't understand me any more than you can”. Whatever connected these two characters in their past is nothing compared to what their future holds.

As much as I enjoy the writing, it is Tonci Zonjic's art that truly makes Who is Jake Ellis? stand out from the spinner rack. His art is deceptively simple with heavy lines and muted colors. Where many artists would go for an overabundance of detail to drive the tension, Tonci chooses the exact opposite. His lines are perfectly clean and you feel every punch when the action ramps up. In a comic this dialogue driven, Tonci also knows how to draw you in close and show you the worry on Jake's face. You are truly pulled into this book and the art keeps you interested with the characters of Jake and Jon. I first discovered Tonci in Marvel's girl-driven book Heralds and found myself wishing he'd land on a titled better suited to his talents. Who is Jake Ellis? is that book. Reminiscent of David Mazzucchelli's work in Batman: Year One, Tonci is the perfect artist for this comic. Filled with deep shadows and focused lines, Tonci and Nathan are truly partners in this book.

There aren't a lot of thriller comics on the stands right now, and few are worth your $2.99. Even if you're coming in on issue 2, both Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic bring you up to speed and leave you wanting for more. When the second character opens with the simple question, “Are you listening?”, you better believe it. I'm listening, reading, and wanting for more; in no short order, you will want to know Who is Jake Ellis? too. Go catch it.


X-23 #6

Written by Marjorie Liu

Art by Will Conrad, David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez and John Rauch

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

The mark of good science fiction is the way in which it can take an abstract, futuristic concept – like, for instance, human cloning on a massive scale – and present it in such a way that it illuminates very real questions about the nature of humanity in the here and now. With X-23, Marjorie Liu has consistently achieved that balance as Laura Kinney, a clone of Wolverine raised in untenable circumstances, attempts to reconcile her past, her existence, and the nature of her own personhood.

The masterstroke of this latest issue is the interweaving of Mr. (and Miss) Sinister, the center of all thorny clone issues in the X-Men universe, with Laura’s story. Through Sinister’s presence, Liu is able to extend her musings on the nature of the human soul while simultaneously giving artists Will Conrad and David Lopez the chance to draw their fair share of both adrenaline-pumping action and unsettling emotionally-charged confrontations.

Little has been done with “Miss” Sinister since the character’s introduction a few years ago, and it’s never been entirely clear how much she exists as her own person and how much she is simply the new host body for Mr. Sinister’s psyche. This issue seeks to answer that question by presenting Miss Sinister – Claudine – as a woman who agreed to allow Sinister to enter her mind but was unprepared for the way he would go on to dominate her thoughts and her body. Now, she’s fighting for her very survival, eager to protect the autonomy of her own soul. But her willingness to do so at the cost of sacrificing someone else – X-23 – to the same fate ultimately proves that she’s much less human than she’d like to claim.

Laura, meanwhile, proves her own humanity through compassion, particularly her desire to save the clones of a young girl named Alice who Miss Sinister has been using for experimentation. Laura still doesn’t entirely believe that she’s a person worthy of her own autonomy, but through her choices and actions in this book it’s become increasingly clear to the reader that she very much does have a soul – and that that soul is going to help her rise from the trauma of her past, once she realizes it’s there. Expressing that sentiment to Laura herself, if somewhat ineffectually, is Gambit, in perhaps one of his most likable appearances to date. Gambit, like Laura, has a past full of violence and regret, and his parallel journey toward redemption is used effectively here as he’s compelled to help Laura the best he can, striking a balance between using benevolent trickery to protect her and letting her figure out for herself what dangers lie ahead.

Conrad’s art is much the same as it’s been throughout the run, solid if not flashy, but the real treat here, art-wise, are the pages drawn by David Lopez, best known for his Hawkeye collaborations with Jim McCann. Here he proves himself capable of drawing much more than archers and spies, and his X-23 in particular is a great visual mix of teenage willfulness and the insecurity of a person who was never effectively socialized. Colorist John Rauch also deserves credit for utilizing a consistent color palette that gives the issue a cohesive visual style despite the different artists.

X-23 #6 is far from a jumping-on point, coming as it does at the end of an arc, but Marjorie Liu’s compelling, consistent writing and this issue’s intriguing last page reveal are both good indicators of great things to come for the book and its protagonist. I’d urge anyone with any amount of curiosity to check out the next issue, and discover the strengths of what has quietly become one of the best solo books in Marvel’s catalogue.


New York Five #2

Written by Brian Wood

Art by Ryan Kelly

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Vertigo

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

New York Five is not an easy book to read, which is a strange thing to say about a title that originated in the young adult Minx line and features as its characters five young women in modern New York City. Brian Wood, after all, writes books every month about a harsh Viking past and a dystopian American future. In comparison, a book about college students shouldn’t even register on the pain meter. Yet by making these girls feel so very real, by exploring their inner lives and the things that happen to them – both the choices they themselves have made and the circumstances over which they have no control – Wood and collaborator Ryan Kelly have produced a comic whose mundanity is as heartbreaking as the most painful issues of Northlanders or DMZ.

The greatest success so far of New York Five, as compared to its Minx predecessor New York Four, is its greater willingness to spend time with each of the girls individually instead of focusing primarily on one of them. With issue 2 we get a closer look into the lives of Merissa and Lona than we’ve ever had before, highlighting the forces that have made the girls into the young women they’ve become. Merissa’s story is particularly heartbreaking, as we see just how hard she works to maintain her college life and uphold her cool, carefree image in the face of a difficult home life in which she is the only caretaker of her disabled mother and brother. While Merissa has always been the most “adult” of the girls, seeming older than her years particularly in her interactions with men, readers now see the flip-side of that accelerated adulthood, the burdens she’s borne that have made her grow up so rapidly.

Lona, on the other hand, continues to engage in self-sabotage on a massive scale, stalking her professor in a misguided effort to work out her anger about her poor grades. While Lona’s past, which includes parents with high expectations and a history of being able to coast by on little effort, helps to explain her current behavior, it doesn’t excuse it, and the introduction of Lona’s boyfriend, whom Lona has known since childhood, serves as an excellent device to illuminate that explanation/excuse difference. Since Lona has been as much a mystery to the other characters as she has been to the reader, the presence of a character who really does know her is immensely helpful for defining her characterization, and I look forward to seeing where Wood will take that new angle in future issues.

Ren and newcomer Olive have relatively little to do in this issue, having only one brief – and, compared to the rest of the book, bright – scene each. While I applaud the broadening of Wood’s character focus, minimizing these characters is a smart way to prevent the book from becoming scattered or delving too deeply into misery. After all, there’s misery aplenty in the life of the fifth character, Riley. While the Riley of New York Four was largely the victim of others’ machinations and her own sheltered upbringing, here she begins to make some of her own decisions, decisions that harm both herself and those she loves. The choices she makes in this book are painful to watch, especially considering how sympathetic she’s always been, but they also feel like a natural progression of the story from the first volume and her attempts to handle her relationships with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, the manipulative and repulsive Frank. I can’t say I like that progression, but it’s undeniably fitting, and I trust Wood’s writing well enough to follow it through to its conclusion.

The writing, though, is only half the book, and failing to discuss Ryan Kelly’s art would be an oversight of epic proportions. As his collaborations with Wood on New York Four and Local have proven, Kelly is the undisputed master of capturing the subtleties of character, emotion, and setting that define Wood’s quieter works. Many sequences in this book are entirely or partially silent, and it’s up to Kelly to convey the panic attack Merissa attempts to stave off as she talks to a doctor about her brother’s condition, or the wretchedness of Riley’s morning after as she thrusts her face into the sink. These scenes are complemented by Kelly’s unbelievable attention to detail in his backgrounds and settings. He draws every brick in the wall and every dirty dish in the sink, bringing the New York of the series’ title to brilliant, vibrant life even in the absence of color. With his info-captions and place-specific plot points, Wood has clearly set out to make New York a character unto itself in the book, much as he did with all the cities in Local. But it takes Kelly’s art to carry that characterization, like the girls’ characterization, to fruition.

As a four-issue Vertigo miniseries, New York Five is the kind of book many will choose to pick up in trade. But if you have the chance to pick up the individual issues, I implore you to do so. This is an excellent book, and far too good to be saved for later.


Justice Society of America #48

Written by Marc Guggenheim

Art by Scott Kolins and Mike Atiyeh

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

I never thought I'd enjoy Justice Society of America as much as I have been the past few months, but there it is — in certain ways, it feels like a little bit of a time-warp, eschewing widescreen sensibilities for a more old-school, yet stylistically rebellious manner.

I've said this for months, but I'll say it again — Scott Kolins is the man. He's starting to veer a little more cartoony — Mike Atiyeh's painterly colors aren't bleeding quite as much as before — but he's starting to channel Howard Porter linework with some really solid panel layouts. The look on Mr. Terrific's face when he shows how far his intellect has really gone — "I can't read" — is really haunting, and the way that Jay Garrick just explodes off the page shows how much potential for coolness this team has.

And that artwork, in a lot of ways, elevates a story that won't revolutionize the genre (or the team), but at least gives ample time to check in with the usually unwieldy lineup of the JSA. Marc Guggenheim gets in a lot of good moments with Jay Garrick — who comes off as a force of nature — to Obsidian, whose almost criminal lack of judgment ends on a really poignant note. "He took on the whole JSA," Todd thinks, as he gets pounded by the ubermenschen known as Scythe. "What was I thinking?"

I think part of the appeal I have for this series, in a lot of ways, is that the creative team delivers a product that is more than the sum of its parts. Guggenheim knows how to get out of his own way and to just let Kolins go crazy with the artwork — and Kolins' edgy artwork clashes wonderfully with Atiyeh's "serious"-minded colorwork, giving a really iconoclastic package that you don't see just about anywhere. Given the JSA's role as elder statesmen of the DCU, the unexpected approach is just icing on the cake.

That's not to say that there aren't things that could be improved in this book — the last page spread, for example, will work fine as a trade, but has zero set-up in this individual issue — and the deep characterization isn't quite there, outside of the various tricks and traps that Guggenheim has set up for our heroes. But quality and consistency is what has been keeping Justice Society of America afloat, and while this issue occasionally falters, it still does not disappoint.


Gotham City Sirens #20

Written by Peter Calloway

Art by Andres Guinaldo, Ramon Bachs, Lorenzo Ruggiero, and J.D. Smith

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Click here for preview

After a string of disappointing issues, THIS is the kind of story I've been wanting from this series. In the first part of this "Hell Hath No Fury" arc, Harley has decided it's time to kill the Joker and is on her way in to Arkham Asylum. Equipped with only a nail, marbles, a flower, and a crowbar it is clear that as insane as she may be — Harley has thought this plan through very clearly and knows exactly what she needs to see her plan come to fruition. She may be crazy, but she's damn smart about it. As she employs each of these items to her purpose, she explains the back story of how she knew to use them and we see her life as a therapist as an effective means to now manipulate those she treated and obliterate them as obstacles in her journey into Arkham.

Peter Calloway's narration of Harley's thoughts bring a true duality to this character. He's played up her quirky nature so much in previous issues — but right from the start in this issue we have insight to Harley's deep, dark, villainess side. This is a Harley only issue, without so much as a mention of Catwoman or Ivy. While I'm sure they'll enter the story further into the arc, Calloway doesn't muddle the story with trying to incorporate their characters as well. There's not much dialogue in this issue, and Calloway seems to have hit his stride in writing the innermost thoughts of Harley Quinn. Pair that with the art style of the book, and we've got an issue of Sirens that feels very different than any others. The recent art team is joined by Ramon Bachs, and that seems to have made a world of difference. This script has allowed the art to really tell a story, and I'm really impressed with the untraditional two page spreads for each of the characters Harls is taking out. Rather than traditional paneling, we've got circles, flower petals, even the crowbar. The team didn't shy away from trying something different and in this case, it definitely works.

The issue trails off with Harley still making her way to Puddin,' with one weapon left to take out the head of security. If what she does with that one little nail is anything resembling this issue, I'll be singing the praises of this series again. Definitely a good jumping in point, take a look at the issue if you've been curious about the series, or if you're like me and were previously disappointed.


Star Wars Legacy: War #3

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema

Art by Jan Duursema

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

I am a 35 year-old geek. I grew up within the shadow of George Lucas. I begged my parents for the toys, I played all the games, and like all big dorks I still work movie quotations into regular conversation. I even understand good ol' George isn't writing Star Wars for people like me anymore. Like it or not, Lucas writes Star Wars for kids and anyone looking for a darker or more adult Star Wars won't find it on the screen. Thankfully, there is Dark Horse Comics and the Star Wars: Legacy series. This gritty Star Wars series by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema takes place 120 years after The Return of the Jedi is the dark galaxy we adult fans wanted. Or, at least it was. After drawing to a rather hasty (and truth be told, unfulfilling) ending at 50 issues, the adult Star Wars universe returns with Legacy: War! Alas, this mini-series can't seem to shake the same pitfalls the latter portion of Star Wars Legacy suffered.

As the opening scrawl claims, the galaxy is at war. The Sith are calling the shots while the forces of the True Empire and Galactic Alliance find themselves unlikely allies against the Dark Side. Cade Skywalker, the one-time Death Stick addicted descendant of Luke Skywalker, continues his obsession with killing Darth Krayt and his army of fully tattooed Sith servants. Promises are made and broken. Some ships blow up. Body parts get slashed in red and blue flashes. Someone moves to fulfill their destiny. And yes, someone has a really bad feeling about something.

John Ostrander is a gifted storyteller, his work on Suicide Squad shows his talent at crafting a labyrinthine plot. That was one of the reasons the opening arcs within Star Wars Legacy worked so well. However, in a book like Legacy War, his multiple story points simply get lost in the mix. I don't honestly care that Cade Skywalker's Jedi uncle and Imperial aunt are forced back into their respective military responsibilities. If you read the original Legacy, you already know their history. If not, four panels aren't going to make up for it. This is war. Sides have been drawn. It's time to let Cade, the Jedi, Sith, and all the other players take it to the mat already! Even Ostrander's usually strong character work is faulting in Legacy: War. When Cade's Imperial turncoat mother simply reappears after her certain death in issue 2, her explanation of survival as well as the parental reunion is rushed and very lacking. I know war is chaotic, but when a shedding a single tear is enough to wrap up 50 issues of emotions, the reader just feels cheated. Better to simply leave it out.

Taking double duty as co-writer and pencils, Jan Duursema has really grown in the Legacy series. His characters feel richer in Legacy: War and his panel design is far more dynamic that in issues past. In earlier issues, Duursema seemed more interested in showing off all the new ships and sexy Sith midriffs. Thankfully, Duursema focuses on the characters and really brings out their subtleties. In a series packed with so many characters, this was a wise choice and one that I hope continues as Legacy: War comes to its painfully rushed and sloppy conclusion. While the battles are few and far between, especially for a comic titled War, Duursema does a good job keep the fighting fluid and well-paced. You get a good sense of the fighters strafing the skies and lightsabers slicin' and blockin'. 

Reaching the halfway point in a 6 issue limited series, I can already tell this final tale in the most original Star Wars saga since the Thrawn trilogy won't reach a satisfying conclusion. A victim of pacing, both the action and dialogue suffer greatly. Like I said in the opening. I love Star Wars. It holds a special place in my life. The movies inspired me to dream and create my own tales. While I've long since moved beyond letting that world drive my actions, I still like to revisit the galaxy far, far away and hope for solid escapist entertainment. Star Wars Legacy: War suffers from the same malady weighing down most Star Wars stories these days. Good set up. Lots of potential. Poor execution. But, like all long-time fans, I'm in it for the long haul. I just don't think I can recommend the trip to others.


Power Girl #21

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Sami Basri and Jessica Kholinne

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

After a brief break from reading this series, I jumped back in at this issue and I'm glad I did. It doesn't take much arm-twisting on Booster Gold's part to convince Power Girl to leave finding Blue Beetle to the JLI, and she takes off to see who else she can get to remember Max Lord's tyranny. First on her list? Dick Grayson, in a rather amusing, though unproductive, exchange involving an attempt at sports metaphors.

Meanwhile Starrware Inc. is still reeling from their massive financial losses and the consummately supportive Nicco makes an unsuccessful but endearing attempt to save the work of their scientists. Dr. Ophelia Day, CEO of Day Work Industries makes her debut and sets the tone for her to be a formidable professional pro. After a poignant flashback to Power Girl's last conversation with Ted Kord, Bruce arrives to aid her in convincing Dick that Kord was murdered.

Basri's art is hit and miss for me through this issue. The first page consists of five excellent panels showing mistakes PeeGee has made over time, and had my hopes up that I'd finally get to see her in full force through the rest of the book. I turn the page, and there's a three-panel double page spread — with identical images of Power Girl in two of them. The duplication doesn't end there, as the book repeatedly depicts talking heads that vary little in position or expression, if at all. Now I do realize that part of that blame lies in the writing and lack of action, and for as talented as Basri seems — it seems as if his true potential is not being tapped into.

As underwhelming as the action may be, this issue really pushes the story further. Winick's been playing this Max Lord angle since he took over the series and it's a relief to see Power Girl finally making some tangible progress toward his demise. I'd be happier if it didn't involve crossing over into a book I don't read regularly, but Winick and DC win this time, and I'll be picking up Generation Lost to see how it concludes.


Freakangels Volume Five

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Paul Duffield, Alana Yuen and Kate Brown

Published by Avatar Press

Review by Scott Cederlund

If you're like me, there are some comics that are a chore to get through. Every word or every panel are just one more obstacle blocking you from getting to the end of the book when you can get up and go get a ham or bologna sandwich. On the flipside, there are books that you don't want to end. With books like these, I'll find any excuse to prolong getting to the end. A simple chore like walking the dog or taking out the garbage puts off the inevitable final page and final panel. That final page is a conclusion that you want to put off as long as possible. You don’t want to say goodbye to these characters for the time being. For me, that book that I never want to end is Freakangels Volume 5.

This latest volume of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s web series turned into a graphic novel series feels like a turning point. Since the beginning of this series, the Freakangels have been constantly under attack, believing their opponent to be one of their own. In this new volume, the fractured group begins to come together as they start to truly understand the extent of their power. Six years ago, they caused a massive geological shift and now most of London sits underneath a few feet of water. Now, as they begin to understand just how powerful they are, the experience six years ago may look like nothing compared to what they are truly capable of doing. As their understanding brings them back together, they also begin to see that they are under attack but don’t know by whom.

Paul Duffield’s clear, concise line carries a lot of weight and emotion. Using an open, airy four-panel layout, he gives Ellis’ script a lot of room to move around and breathe in. Over the course of the series, Duffield has had to be the foundation of the story, providing Ellis a solid base to tell his story. In Freakangels Volume 5, Duffield cuts loose, creating a new and exciting visual feeling for the story without losing the foundation that he has built. Beginning with a long monologue by a character previously shot in the head, Duffield keeps to his four-panel layout but just barely. Four panels aren’t enough to contain this character’s near-death revelatory ramblings as his story is so large and grand that it can’t be contained. Duffield draws Luke, the headshot victim Freakangel, expanded beyond the simple four lines of the panel. The foundation is there but Duffield knows that this scene isn’t grounded and needs to be larger than other parts. Part of it is how the moment is full of itself there, as Luke feels like he’s had a revelation and is seeing things his counterparts can’t but it is a large moment in the story as we begin to put the pieces together and figure out just what the capabilities of the Freakangels are.

There are other, similar moments in Freakangels Volume 5, where the artwork becomes more revelatory and crucial to the story and functions more than just illustrations of Ellis’ script. Through imagery and color, Duffield shows us that this is our world but that something is incredibly wrong with it. He can tweak the appearance of reality to create different reality that’s slightly recognizable but suitably alien to the look and feel of this book before now.

The long-form approach that Ellis is taking to scripting Freakangels shows off just how great he is at building characters and capturing their voices. Like Transmetropolitan or Planetary before it, Freakangels gives Ellis the room to work on these characters, to build each of them and establish who they are. In this new volume, we really see how they may not like one another but that they are closer than brothers and sisters and that there are some bonds that just can’t be broken between people. Ellis has created a world of hope and possibility but it requires the Freakangels working together and doing it quickly. They may be the only allies that they have left. With the room and space that he has in Freakangels Volume 5, Ellis shows just how witty his characters are and just how good of an ear for dialogue he has, neither of which shows up in his shorter works.

Whether it’s the 7 day wait for online editions or the months long wait for the collected volumes, Freakangels isn’t a series I look forward to getting to the end to. I don’t want it to end. Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield have created a group of characters that argue and bicker as much as any old group of friends. The world, for all intents and purposes, ended six years ago when this group unleashed their power on the world but Freakangels Volume 5 shows us that their story is far from over.

Pellet review!


Star Trek: Infestation #2 (Published by IDW; Review by Jeff Marsick): The zombie infestation of the IDW universe continues here, having already run through two Transformers issues. So far, the Star Trek chapters have been the best part of this overachieving effort. Kirk and Company, on the zombie over-run planet Calibus VII, discover that the plague’s outbreak was caused by a well-intentioned scientist looking to infuse robotics with a modicum of humanity, all in an effort to create the perfect android. And he probably would have pulled it off, too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling vampire vixen, Britt, the infestation instigator. Some quick thinking and ingenuity on Spock and McCoy’s part create a short-term solution, but with the issue’s end, the matter on Calibus VII is by no means over. It will be interesting to see if IDW brings the Enterprise back for a revisit in the future. A solid effort by Scott and David Tipton providing words and Gary Erskine, Casey Maloney and Luis Antonio Delgado on artwork. Star Trek fans should definitely get this.

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Cinderella: Fables are Forever #1

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Shawn McManus

Colors by Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC/Vertigo Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Chris Roberson already did most of the dirty work to bring Cinderella out of Fabletown and into her own realm of spydom in Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love. In this first issue follow-up of the spin-off series, Cinderella: Fables are Forever #1, he is able to come out of the gate with Cindy running on her own two feet.

Chrissie Zullo's cover sets the stage for our high-action, Bond-esque heroine. Bikini-clad, gun-toting, bandolier-belted Cindy is starkly accented against a background of damp Russian bell towers. It made me ready for her to spring into action. However, I was disappointed with the odd pacing of the last series. From Fabletown with Love seemed to take a long time to set up, jolted the reader through time arbitrarily and had awkward romantic scenes lacking in both chemistry and depth.

Happily, this time around, Roberson and crew share the energies of Zullo's vivid cover. The tangents through time still occasionally feel forced. Some are abrupt asides and backstories, which distract the reader instead of enriching the plot; i.e. a harrowing tale told by a supporting character, Ivan Durak, which attempts to depict 100 years of Russian history on one full-page layout (and manages to say very little about who the guy is). But the main parallel storyline—the cheekier, more spy-like one set in 1980s Russia, shows promise for contributing to the pacing and story by letting the cross-time rivalries of immortals weave together, forming the present crisis.

These time jumps are when artist Shawn McManus and colorist Lee Loughridge really have to pull their weight. McManus seems to be blessed with a gift for clothing characters, selecting outfits that appeal to their personalities and points in time. Cindy's hot-pink fish-scale mermaid-shell bikini seemed atrocious until I remembered, oh yeah, the Eighties. However, his gifts in fashion styling don't necessarily help in character consistency. The art seems pudgy at times, giving the look to Cindy one minute of a ballerina, the next as a hockey player. McManus' facial expressions pull the characters through so that, while it may not look like the same person every drawing, you at least know what they are thinking. Loughridge steps in to compliment by giving different palettes to time periods, and a lending a good sense of dramatic lighting to McMannis' expressions.

But maybe it is not just the art that gives a lack of definition to Cindy. Roberson has done what he needed to do to pull Cindy out of reliance on the soap-operatic relationships already established in the parent series, but she is still searching a bit for her distinct voice. She is definitely no longer the bitter vapid ex-wife of Prince Charming, but she does not yet possess the quick cool confidence befitting a secret agent. "Fabletown with Love" saw her paired up with strong cocky Aladdin, causing her to play a bit like the side-kick girl-who-can't-stop-falling-down, in her own series. In this new adventure, Roberson has paired her up with a weaker guy, letting the princess take control of her own situations, her own closet of guns.

The improvements from his last foray with Cinderella make me think that Roberson is on the right track.  He pulls out a new promising Fable nemesis in Cinderella: Fables are Forever #1, getting the action rolling. With the amount of life that has been pumped into Cinderella and her amazing wardrobe, I'll be picking up the next issue to see how she shapes up. Maybe, if she can become the suave female equivalent of the spy who influences her titles, I'd be ready for more, perhaps “the Fable who Loved Me,” or “the Farm is Not Enough?” I don't even know how she likes her martini yet.

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