Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team. We've got a ton of rapid-fire reviews for your reading pleasure, including looks at work from DC, Marvel, Avatar and BOOM! Studios. Want more? We've got you covered over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's check out the international mano-a-guano fisticuffs in Batman, Inc.!
Batman, Inc. #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): While I've been all in favor of the past three issues, Batman, Inc. #4 takes Grant Morrison's love of Silver Age history and takes it way beyond what I think most readers can stomach, fracturing the narrative and stomping on the brakes for what had been a smooth, streamlined relaunch. As he tries to weave in the story of the original Batwoman Kathy Kane, Morrison ends up bouncing from place to place, creating a jerky kind of read that keeps you scrambling more than it keeps you entertained. New DC exclusive Chris Burnham, meanwhile, gets points for ambition, but it's clear why he was brought onto the team — his style evokes a number of different Bat-artists, ranging from Frank Quitely to J.H. Williams to Yanick Paquette and even Guillem March. But the problem with all these shifting styles is that it doesn't quite coalesce, feeling a bit more inconsistent than I think he'd hope. Still, this is the kind of book that I think only the most diligent of Batman readers could follow, and for this one in particular, it still felt like it was a little bit more trouble than it was worth.
FF #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): Jonathan Hickman may have done the impossible, or, at least, the fantastic. He's taken Marvel's first family back to a point where they haven't been in years, maybe even closer to the true spirit of the book than Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's still excellent run on the title. Killing the Human Torch may have been a gamble, but it looks like it's paying off in spades. The addition of a few new cast members really injects some livelihood into this title, and brings back that vibe of family tension. The vibe of this book is all in the title — Future Foundation. It's all about moving forward, bringing in the new, and being in charge of what's next. I'm not sold on the uniforms yet, but Steve Epting sure does a lot of convincing work in these pages. And man, that last page is a doozy! Must read!
Supergirl #62 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Great book. This is just a great freaking book. I feel bad for James Peaty and Bernard Chang, who likely had their thunder stolen with the departure of Nick Spencer, because this duo has taken the ball and really run with it, creating an action romp with mystery, emotion and a ton of well-placed guest stars. Peaty has a real knack for character, whether its Supergirl freaking out over seeing Kryptonian tech being used against her, or Damian Wayne eye-rolling at how "proletarian" Jaime Reyes' day-to-day life is. Meanwhile, Bernard Chang has a really crisp lifework that, while occasionally being a little bit brittle, really allows for some nice character design and expressiveness (and works really well with colorist Blond to boot). Seriously, I hope that when Peaty and Change leave this book, that DC gives them a shot at the Teen Titans, because their grasp on DC's teen heroes — as well as the structure of the mythology that makes them tick — is really worth seeing again. At any rate, with this creative team, it's clear that Supergirl is the unsung heroine of the DC Universe — give her a chance and pick this book up.
Ultimate Spider-Man #156 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; Click here for preview): Without question, when history writes the tale of comics, Brian Michael Bendis will go down as the definitive writer for Spider-Man. Sure, there have been some missteps in he and Mark Bagley's run on Ultimate Spider-Man; but as a rule it's been the only consistently fresh take on an icon. It makes sense that with the Grim Reaper looming over Peter Parker's head, it's Bendis and Bagley calling the shots. The calm has passed and with Ultimate Spider-Man #156, things are getting dangerous and deadly very fast. Bendis' conversational style really shines in this issue, be it between Peter and MJ as they discuss the future. Or, between Spider-Man and Captain America as they discuss the future. Indeed, all this foreshadowing points to an uncertain future, and when the violent break out of the Sinister Six happens, I can't help but think Peter's days really are numbered. In issue 156, Bendis really has found the perfect balance of character interaction and blockbuster style action. Having Bagley back as the primary artist is a good thing. Bagley's art is as strong as ever, he brings a sense of calm and familiarity outside the costumes, and thrilling action once the spandex goes on. Not that the previous artists since the title relaunched are lacking (indeed, the more Chris Samnee, the better). But, having some artistic consistency will help tell a more focused story. Death in comics has become something of a joke lately. Still, this is different. The Death of Spider-Man is building to something else, something we rarely see in comics: Growth.
Uncanny X-Men #534 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): This arc of Uncanny X-Men, co-written by incoming writer Kieron Gillen and outgoing writer Matt Fraction, has been one of the high points of the book in recent years. With issue 534, the arc comes to an incredibly satisfying conclusion, tying up both the “fake mutants” plotline and the conflict between Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw. Emma's solution to the Shaw problem is both creative and horrifying and one of the best depictions of telepathic misdirection I've ever seen, conveyed in a way that manages to trick Shaw without confusing the reader. But it's the A-plot about villain Lobe and his release of a mutant flu coupled with selling mutant powers to the rich that really hits home. The X-Men have always existed as a metaphor for minorities and the oppressed, and the plot here serves as an apt metaphor for cultural appropriation: Lobe's rich and privileged (and largely white) customers want all the “cool” parts of being a mutant without taking into account any of the oppressions. This issue smacks them in the face with the truth of the matter, while simultaneously allowing the X-Men to be the competent heroes they've always been in their very best moments. On the art front, Greg Land's overly photo-based style remains unchanged, but credit should be given to colorist Justin Ponsor, who does a particularly lovely job of creating the illusion of translucence in Emma's diamond form and Pixie's wings. Though it's sad to see Fraction leave the title, this issue is a strong farewell, and the book is sure to be in good hands with Gillen at the helm.
Neonomicon #4 (Published by Avatar; Review by Aaron Duran): Alan Moore has been in a strange place lately. His blending of sexual symbolism and Lovecraftian mythos makes for interesting reading. What he started in The Courtyard now comes to an end in Neonomicon issue 4. I will be honest, I've enjoyed the run, but it hasn't been easy. Alan Moore hasn't held back when it comes to overt violence and sexual trauma. In Neonomicon, you can't claim he's been holding back. Yet, this final issue feels lacking. Special Agent Marril Brears survived her encounter with both the Lovecraft themed cult as well as her beastly “savior”. What is most frustrating in Neonomicon #4 is how Moore chooses to wrap up the tale, or at least the nuts of bolts of the plot. What started as an esoteric journey into Lovecraft's view on sexuality turned into a rather tedious police procedure. The agent gives a statement, SWAT kicks down the door, gunfire, and a rather simple good versus evil wrap-up. Jacen Burrows art works very well when he's penciling ancient gods and mystical symbols. Alas, in this final issue, his art looks rather static and his people a tad stiff. He has a few moments in the book to let his imagination flow onto the page, but for the most part his work only functions as a vehicle for talking heads. I have no doubt that Moore will return to this world of Lovecraft and all his creations. I only hope the continuation of this tale starts better than Neonomicon ended. The potential is there.
New Mutants #23 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): The surest sign of a good crossover is the distinctiveness and forward momentum of each individual issue. Some crossovers stall forever, stretching single scenes over several issues and that convey no new information and prevent the story from moving along. But with Age of X, Mike Carey has written a story that has changed and grown with each issue, opening new windows onto the mysterious dystopia at its core and adding progress to the journeys of its central players. While previous issues focused primarily on Rogue's discoveries, this issue reveals that Magneto is not the callous dictator the reader and the characters had presumed, and has in fact been forming his own resistance movement with Kitty Pryde. With Rogue and Gambit now on his side and Charles Xavier rescued from a comatose state, Magneto is set to bring down the unknown forces of corruption and put the world back as it's supposed to be. Meanwhile, Steve Kurth's detailed, expressive art complements Carey's writing and provides welcome continuity with Clay Mann's character designs developed in the issues of X-Men Legacy, another positive sign of crossover cohesion. At a little over the halfway point of the crossover, this is exactly where the story should be: with some questions answered, and others just beginning to be asked. After this issue, and its intriguing last-page reveal, I'm ready for whatever the remainder of the story might bring.
The New York Five #3 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel : I have quickly become very fond of The New York Five. Not quite 20somethings taking on college and the city is melodramatic in a CW TV show kind of way, but that actually makes it great. At that age, where anything seems possible and lasting consequences are only just making their debut; these ladies are all faced with the proverbial fork in the road. Brian Wood takes you into the machinations of their youthful minds and reveals their layers in subtle and interesting ways. The moments with the therapist add to the voyeuristic tone, and my compassion runneth over. None of that would be possible without the remarkable art of Ryan Kelly. He beautifully defines each character, and emotion abounds in his art as you follow their respective struggles. But the real gem is Kelly’s background detail. I find myself pausing and enjoying his rendering of the East Village, Washington Square, The Strand, or some non-descript bakery. It is all skillfully drawn, and undeniably New York. Wood is the peanut butter, and Kelly is the jelly. Together, they make a sweet comic.
Osborn #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): It's no slight against Kelly Sue DeConnick's writing of Norman Osborn to say that I wish this miniseries were instead called Winters. While the titular hero and his delusional psychosis have imbued the story and all of its characters with purpose, the real star of this issue, and the whole mini so far, is plucky reporter Norah Winters. Her dedication to the truth (and willingness to jump into dangerous situations without quite thinking them through) have led her deep under the sea into a pit full of the most dangerous human beings on the planet. Yet despite a lack of any fighting skills, powers, or any other sign of physical strength, Norah has refused to give up her investigation and displays no outward fear, defiantly writing “crazy talk” in her notes when transcribing Osborn's wild proclamations. Her characterization has become more layered with each issue, and Osborn #4 features a particularly nice one-page sequence depicting her relationship with religion throughout her life. DeConnick has given this character a deep complexity of the kind that's very difficult to achieve in a 5-issue mini, and I find myself wishing DeConnick's Norah could be the star of a new Front Line series. But in the meantime, it's enough to watch her (stunningly drawn by Emma Rios, especially in the religion sequence) play her role in the complicated plot DeConnick has concocted. With only one issue to go, all of the mystery, subterfuge, betrayal, and suspense are about to come to a head, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.
Dracula: The Company of Monsters #8 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): There's just something about this book that's naturally charismatic. Maybe it's the smooth, almost animated artwork by Scott Godlewski, given some truly vibrant colors by Stephen Downer. Or maybe it’s the easy-to-grasp menace that Kurt Busiek and Daryl Gregory give, as there's danger behind friend and foe alike. Even for those who haven't been reading this series, this is very easy to get into, as Busiek and Gregory deliver some smartly evolving action, as we see why Evan is critical to both sides of the bloodsucker-versus-bloodsucker fight. For those who haven't been reading, the stakes might be a little difficult to follow toward the end of the book — and to be honest, many of those people might expect to see more Dracula in this book — but just as far as pure spectacle and absolutely beautiful artwork, Dracula: The Company of Monsters is one of BOOM! Studios' most underrated gems.