Best Shots Comic Reviews: HERC, BATMAN BEYOND, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews 04/11

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with your Monday reviews from the Best Shots team! We've got a ton of new releases for your reading enjoyment, including reviews for books from DC, Marvel, Image and IDW -- and that's just to scratch the surface. We've also got a ton of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's kick off the proceedings with Marvel's latest new series launch, as we check in with the no-longer-incredible (at least by name) Herc


Herc #1

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Neil Edwards, Scott Hanna and Jesus Aburtov

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Even though Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are continuing their association with the Incredible Hercules, this book could really be called "My Big Fat Greek Relaunch" -- outside of the title character, this book definitely feels like a different animal. Set on the mean streets of New York City, Herc is a little bit darker, little bit more continuity-heavy look at that most awesome of Olympians -- even if that means the relentless laughs are a little bit lacking here.

But in certain ways, the brand-new status quo means that Pak and Van Lente are able to break this first issue down into a largely reader-friendly package. Bag the continuity, even through the mega-arc that they ended in the recent Chaos War -- Herc, now depowered, has to find other ways to fight crime, utilizing an easy-to-follow arsenal of Olympian weaponry like the Sword of Peleus or the Helm of Hades that immediately raises the stakes with a quasi-Batman Begins-like vibe. Yet that new vibe also comes at a cost -- tonally, this is a very different read. When you see a man's arm cut off by Page Two -- no "BOOMKRAKAJAMMA" sound effects here -- this isn't a game. This is deadly combat.

Before I get too far into that, however, I have to talk about the artwork, which is absolutely the great triumph of this book. To say that Neil Edwards has leveled up with inker Scott Hanna and colorist Jesus Aburtov is an enormous understatement -- it literally looks like it was a different artist on board. If you weren't as impressed with Edwards' scratchy pencils and off-kilter faces during his run on Fantastic Four, you should absolutely give another look at Herc -- this is a solidly-built character who looks so defined in the first few pages that it's difficult to notice when Edwards and Hanna tone down the detail-work during some of the more conversational points later in the book.

Still, this book isn't perfect, and there are definitely some points of the book where it's clear that it's still finding its feet. Herc starts off with a bang, but the Greek god's finest superpower was that his humor made him so relatable. It was certainly the defining trait of Pak and Van Lente's original series, and a lot of it stemmed from slapstick and wisecracking -- but when your character can now get his head blown off by a stray round, you have to find other ways to get people to resonate besides watching him bleed everywhere. Pak and Van Lente's solution -- a jolly Greek restauranteur named George Michael -- feels a little too jokey, more self-conscious than the so-good-it-was-gold partnership between Herc and Amadeus Cho. The other thing is the last few pages, where a Spidey villain is brought in to challenge Herc -- Edwards doesn't quite have the sharp design that the character is known for, and so the menace doesn't quite come across.

All in all, I'm not quite sure how I feel about this new iteration of Herc -- despite the creators involved, this is definitely a different kind of book than the lighthearted, almost sitcom-esque tone of Incredible Hercules. It's a different kind of creative muscle for Pak and Van Lente, and it's absolutely the best showing that Neil Edwards has produced at Marvel. While I'm not 100 percent certain of how well this'll ultimately end up -- because in many ways, this has every single ingredient I could think of for a relaunch designed to draw in a new reader base, even if at the cost of what made Herc such a must-read for his niche fanbase -- this first issue of Herc is definitely worth reading, just for sheer chutzpah alone.

FEAR ITSELF Q&A w/ Fraction & Brevoort
FEAR ITSELF Q&A w/ Fraction & Brevoort

Fear Itself #1

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

Click here for preview

Marvel made good on their promise. At the end of their last event, Siege, all their titles took a for year off from any major crossover. Sure, there was Daredevil and Shadowland as well as the X-Men and all that vampire craziness. For the most part though, the Heroic Age was just that. A return to classic superhero storytelling with each book self-contained within their own title. Alas, comic companies do not sustain on one and done stories alone. Enter Fear Itself and the first comic event captained by Matt Fraction. Issue 1 opens with a protest in New York, with people angrily divided over a certain construction site in downtown. When the heated protests turn into a full blown a riot, the Avengers are inspired to act. Facing a crisis they can't punch or zap their way out of, they take a cue from FDR and propose all of America band together and rebuild Asgard. Within this spirit of the New Superhero Deal, Red Skull's zealous daughter Sin awakens ancient Asgardian powers hungry for revenge. Just as the world reaches a much needed moment of global stability, Sin strikes from the shadows and the gods literally leave humanity on their own.

Fraction does a great job of mixing real world concerns and fears with comic book sensibilities. In his script, the reader can easily recognize issues we deal with on a daily basis. From characters losing their homes due to the poor economy, to the above mentioned construction site in New York. Fraction makes the wise choice to not give an answer to these problems, at least not an any conventional sense. In a world populated by super-power humans and gods, it makes perfect sense they would offer to step up and help rebuild, both physically and emotionally. Yet again, the aura of fear still permeates across the land. Even with all the brightly colored heroes, Fraction mixes enthusiasm with trepidation. Everyone knows something bad is on the horizon, but when dealing with a group that's better suited to face danger head on; the fear is far more insidious. You can feel the tension building under the interactions between characters. Steve Rogers being disappointment in the American people, even as he works to help them. Iron Man uncertainly offering Stark Resilient as the national savior under his guise of typical bravado. Thor wishing to stand and live with the humans, even as his own father believes him to be bending a knee to pathetic apes below. The powder keg is packed and when the spark finally lights, we experience the very fear threatening the characters.

While Matt Fraction is stretching his storytelling muscle, artist Stuart Immonen might just be turning in the work of his career. In a word, the penciling on Fear Itself is simply stunning. Immonen's lines are masterfully crafted and deliberate. Each pen stoke exists to extend the story, nothing in the book goes to waste. His understanding of comics as a visual medium is apparent in every page. Immonen knows when to break panels and let the images run rampant. And yet, he also knows when to reign in the art and pull the reader into traditional panels. There really isn't any weak moment in his art. The actions scenes, of which there are many, are exciting, dangerous, and keep the reader glued to every moment. When the script demands Sin, Odin, or the Avengers take up a full page in the classic full-page pose, you never once feel cheated. We're reminded that there is power behind these iconic images, not just a way to burn page count. What you will find yourself catching on repeated readers, which Fear Itself does indeed warrant, is Immonen's facial work. These are real characters, with their ticks and movements. Intentional or not, it is fascinating that no hero ever makes direct eye contact with each other, as if they are constantly looking over their shoulder. It is only the villains that face life with their eyes locked forward. In a book all about fear, this bit subtly is wonderful.

Inker Wade von Grawbadger and colorist Laura Martin add to the blockbuster nature of Fear Itself. The colors reflect the various realms at work in the book, Earth and it's muted tones are a wonderful contrast to the bright and primary colors within Asgard. And yet, the bright colors of Asgard only bring out the deep shadows around every corner, like the danger that's about the strike. I know I sound like a PR agent for Marvel on this one, but when something works, it just works. Fear Itself is that book. Fraction, Immonen, and the rest of the team have turned in one hell of a debut event book. It doesn't matter if you are a longtime Marvel reader or only know these characters from movies, you will understand and enjoy Fear Itself. They've set the bar pretty dang high, here's hoping the next six can keep it up.


Batman Beyond #4

Written by Adam Beechen

Art by Eduardo Pansica, Eber Ferreira and David Baron

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Make no mistake, I think Batman Beyond has the potential to be one of the great gateways for DC Comics, to bring in new readers towards an industry that many are fearing is hemorrhaging interest. Which is why Batman Beyond #4 reads as such a curious experience to me -- even with a new art team on board, it's a curious tactic that Adam Beechen takes, focusing on a side character and some present-day DC continuity, rather than having the Batman Beyond suit actually make an appearance in this book.

For a lot of people, that'll be a dealbreaker already -- it's tough to focus on a supporting character and keep the audience's interest, and Beechen hasn't quite introduced Max enough in the previous issues to really hook us in. While there's certainly precedent for the "Legends of the Dark Knight" format that Beechen uses, it doesn't quite replace the high-flying future combat that we all know and love. Batman Beyond #4 is instead meant to be more of a character piece, to showcase a deal with the devil made to save the ones you love -- but at the same time, I think it's a little too sophisticated for the kid's audience, and not quite set up enough for the adults in the room. It feels a bit like a lose-lose situation.

Yet Beechen does succeed a bit more as far as the die-hard continuity crowd, the ones who wanted to know how Batman Beyond fits in with the present-day DCU, Dick Grayson, and even Batman Inc. Plot-wise, it's a fairly bold choice, having Terry try to cover for the now-outed Dick Grayson (even if it makes you wonder how Bruce Wayne hasn't been totally outed by this point) -- but at the same time, having Terry running around in the Nightwing suit feels like it's lacking the exact core concept that brings people to this series: Seeing Terry saving Neo-Gotham as the new Batman. Even if you count the original miniseries, taking away the costume so early in Beechen's run feels like a bit of a misstep.

The other downside to not having Terry in the black-and-red Batman suit is that it feels like Eduardo Pansica has the rug pulled out from underneath him. The fact that he doesn't even get to really draw the tried-and-true character -- instead drawing what is in essence Nightwing with wrinkled makeup -- feels like he isn't getting a fair shake. In general, Pansica has that vibe similar to Eddy Barrows, that overly round, not too-shadowy linework that doesn't quite knock you out of your seat, but is certainly clean enough to get the job done. That said, there are some certain basic that feel a little off -- namely, when the real Dick Grayson shows up. The man doesn't get a solid introductory panel to establish the character's basic design, which again -- missed opportunity.

Now, I've said several times that Ryan Benjamin hasn't been exactly my cup of tea as far as the art for Batman Beyond is concerned, looking just a little too rushed to get that animated style down. Having a new art team that feels more deliberate, more cinematic is absolutely a step in the right direction for this book… but at the same time, now it's the actual plot that feels lackluster. There's some real potential to draw in a ton of new readers with Batman Beyond, but issues like this don't quite measure up.


Blue Estate #1

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev and Andrew Osborne

Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and Robert Valley

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Blue Estate #1 knows exactly what it wants to be;  it wants to be Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake.  It wants to be L.A. cool, full of beautiful women and hard men who would kill for them or just plain kill them.  It wants to be hot and sultry and fiery like a powder keg ready to explode.  Most of all, it wants to keep you dizzy and disoriented, never giving you solid ground to try and figure out exactly what this book is.  This book wants to keep you guessing and it does a good job at that as the story and art never quite mesh to form the original story that this issue wants to be.

Kalvachev and Yanev’s story, with Osborne joining in on the script, reads like dozen of other L.A. crime stories.  There are people with power and those without it.  The Russian mob, transplanted from the cold avenues of Moscow to the sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles have a weak link in all of their schemes, one small operation which could bring the whole thing down.  Their muscle is an aging action-adventure star with a receding hairline who thinks that the pony tail he wears keeps him young and hip.  Then there’s his wife Rachel, a former co-star who asks too many questions when he shows up at this home with a stuffed bag and a job from his Russian masters.  Of course, this being L.A., the magical land of enchantment, she’s got her own secrets.  

Blue Estate #1 moves at a rapid pace, introducing a lot of characters and quickly establishing who they are, who they work for and what their own personal vices are.  In a slick move on the first page, they even tell you what Blue Estate isn’t going to be; it’s not going to be a Law & Order type story.  Kalvachev and Yanev aren’t going to go down that easy route but their route may not be much more difficult.  They’re more concerned about the story and the plot and hardly spend time on the characters.  The characters who are in this issue so far are stock noir characters, from the femme fatale to the rube who is going to be set up for a fall.  The story is what it is, cut and pasted out of dozens, if not hundreds, of other crime stories into a pastiche of the genre stories it draws its cues from.

While a lot of elements of the story feel familiar and cliched, the artwork is anything but.  Blue Estate #1 has four artists at work on it, from the slick and polished Robert Valley to the expressionistic Toby Cypress and Nathan Fox to Kalvachev’s shadowy, Mignola-esque pages.  Each artist is given a specific sequence and the book moves in and out of these sequences.  It’s fascinating to see how this has been put together, to see the artistic styles play off of each other. Cypress and Fox do the majority of the artwork here as their styles are fairly complimentary.  Valley works on the more “Hollywood” portions of the story, with tales of partying, drug consumption and movie making while Kalvachev introduces the story with his solid shadows and harsh lights.  Kalvachev’s coloring unifies the whole book, keeping lovely hues of greens, browns and yellows at the forefront.  This mishmash of art styles works wonderfully to match and bring together the stories’ broad approach to its characters and plots.

Blue Estate #1 is a playful book, taking its favorite plot points from so many L.A. crime movies and books and tossing them into the blender.  The story reads like a greatest hits of those movies and books so you’re better off checking your local library for crime fiction and discovering where all the plot points of this issue come from.  The book is saved by the art, a wonderful combination of four artists who pull the plot together and hide the weaknesses of the story with an ever shifting blend of styles that deserve more than the plot clichés that they are stuck with.


Secret Six #32

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Jim Calafiore and John Kalisz

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Perhaps one of the most overlooked qualities for Secret Six is that Gail Simone's sheer consistency with this title makes it difficult to really dig into. You can say that it's "good" so many times before it starts to lose its meaning -- and to be honest, what makes this issue different than the ones that have comes before it?

In certain ways, Simone's writing is almost reminiscent of a TV show, in the fact that every issue has the same hook, just with different circumstances -- instead of it being the acerbic doctor or the hard-bitten cop, Secret Six is about some bad guys who have their habits so well ingrained that it's hard not to get a chuckle. Oh, and a free-for-all in the pits of Hell.

But what sets this issue apart -- and what I think makes this arc better, if only by a small blip, than some of the others that have come before -- is the fact that Simone really takes a hard look at the character that had been seemingly resigned towards comic relief: Ragdoll. "I'm afraid," he cries, as we see the culmination of all that character development Simone has lovingly given him. "I'm afraid I'm going sane." In a lot of ways, this story is an example of continuity done right -- it's made abundantly clear why the formerly cuddly Ragdoll has gone stone-cold killer, and the return of an original cast member is just one more powerful moment.

Artwise, Jim Calafiore is another example of ridiculous consistency. In certain ways, his ambition actually exceeds his grasp -- he tries to pack in a lot of detail to these pages, such as a one-page fight sequence that touches upon almost every single member of the Six, while trying to pack in demons and a skull-laden background. While I think inker John Kalisz tries his damnedest not to get some of these pages cluttered -- giving the Six a particularly thick line to try to pop them off the page -- it becomes an example of packing just a little too much on one page. Still, as a designer, Calafiore has some great chops, with his hard-edged characters really fitting nicely for a battle royale in Hell.

But you're probably asking -- if Secret Six is so damned consistent, is there anything that differentiates it? Is there anything that's wrong with it? Perhaps. There are some cosmetic things that a little off -- namely, the self-conscious lettering for Etrigan's rhyming, which is a little groan-worthy to begin with. And in certain ways, the structure of this story feels a little episodic, cutting back between Scandal and Ragdoll's confrontation to subplots about Catman's father or Scandal's girlfriend getting kidnapped. Maybe the real issue is that the consistency of this book makes a lot of the issues blend together -- maybe that's the price for having the dial always cranked up to 11, is that eventually "11" loses its effect.

The stakes for Secret Six hasn't felt particularly cranked up in one direction or the other, and that's where this book actually skews more towards television than comics -- it's always, consistently good, or at least better than most… but at the same time, the tension isn't quite there. You know the Secret Six will scrap their way out of any situation, and even if someone dies, somebody else will take their place. This issue of the series is certainly a step up, if a small one, because of the way Simone subverts one of her best characters -- but is that enough? We like the characters fine enough, we chuckle at their jokes, but do we really care about the bad guys? Maybe that's what's missing in this book -- because while Secret Six is consistently good, it's also missing a certain knockout punch.


Heroes for Hire #5

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Robert Atkins, Rebecca Buchman and Jay David Ramos

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Click here for preview

Trippy and meta-fictional, Heroes for Hire is a rollicking feast of a series. Playing with themes that include mind control and uneasy romantic relationships, good old-fashioned hero versus hero action, and leavened by sides of creep, cool and lingering suspicion, the book is nothing short of a smash. Employing multiple heroes and an overarching meta-narrative that climaxes with the current issue, the book has been going 125mph in a 65mph zone since it kicked off. Most satisfying is that this issue, which could have offered a denouement, just kicks the book into a higher gear.

The gist of the book is simple: Misty Knight is “hiring” various Marvel Universe heroes to perform a series of dirty jobs. As mercenaries, these heroes sometimes seem more relatable to modern times than their entirely altruistic predecessors. These are masked crusaders just trying to make a buck where they can. They also don't have to pretend they like each other. Punisher, Black Window, Moon Knight, Paladin and Falcon all grace this issue, and Abnett and Lanning have done a good job showing the lone rangers' reluctance to work together. They have also done a good job at writing in the names of the characters into dialogue, so readers can follow along without having to know the topographical lowlands of the Marvel Universe.

Visually, the comic switches back and forth through dramatic situations, all through the terminal of a central operator. Instead of dragging the plot by continuously reporting back and forth, the ingenious visual reference to the ’80s cult classic film The Warriors lets Knight's voice play Soul DJ to the events. Frequent lips-to-microphone panels let you see the issuing of commands, a good visual for thinking more about her codename “Control.” This setup of connected points, dispersed on their own strands but centrally connected, fits the tone of the book perfectly.

Now comes Heroes for Hire #5, where we come to terms with who is really doling out orders. We finally meet the bad guy that has been lurking around the ends of issues — and he turns out to be truly awful and creepy. Any one of these hired muscle would probably take him out pro bono on account of his more heinous and annoying characteristics, which speaks well of the dynamic the writers have produced.

With all the abounding action and convincing villainy, there is still time enough in the series for some superhero seriousness. The writers weave in some tangled-love-muck with good balance, giving just enough flashbacks, details, and heart-to-hearts to establish motivations of the less-than-perfect good guys; without dragging the series into a farce of a soap opera.

Atkins' pencils and Buchmans' inks are serviceable to the good writing while not really standing out on their own. There is a good grasp of panels and dynamism therein, necessary to the pace set by Abnett and Lanning, but nothing really to write home about. The muscled figures and subdued backgrounds seem pretty by-the-Marvel-book which perhaps helps the series by lending a comfortable credibility to lesser-known heroes.

Heroes for Hire #5 turns out to be a sweet issue with multiple opportunities for Misty Knight to show why she remains one of the coolest characters in the Marvel Universe. With a rag-tag bunch of curmudgeonly heroes in tow, I definitely don't want to miss what happens next.


B.P.R.D: The Dead Remembered #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie

Art by Karl Moline, Andy Owens and Dave Stewart

Lettered by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #1 is about as blasé as a comic book gets. Nominally an attempt to flesh out pyrotechnic character Liz Sherman's background, this book instead feels like a work of compromise and ultimately, filler.

Mike Mignola seems to have a lot on his plate lately: he just finished up one B.P.R.D. story arc Hell on Earth: Gods, he’s in the middle of Witchfinder, and about to begin work on some new issues of Hellboy. So it's no surprise he teamed up with Scott Allie, his frequent editor, for this book. The stretch is starting to show, especially in this current issue.

In this first issue of three, things just aren’t weird enough. Instead of focusing on the paranormal aspects of a ghost story anchored in the Salem Witch Trials, the lens falls instead on Teenage Liz, recent and accidental murderer of her family. This would be okay if Teenage Liz were a fuller character — but she’s not. She is fussy and prone to tantrums mingled with prolonged resentful silence; but that is normal for a teenager. All the energy of the book is funneled into proving that Liz was a normal teen, without reserving some space for her to be an abnormal one.

Liz's depiction is not the only place The Dead Remembered #1 is reticent to push the envelope. The most awkward thing about this issue is not a gangly fiery youngster, but the setting. Very little in this issue, short of a pimpin' Cadillac, commits to it being 1976. The 1970s are a pretty iconic decade and just the flippant mention of Paul Simon and the subsequent flash of a monster magazine on one page doesn't sell it. Even putting Hellboy's early cameo into a cheekier outfit would have helped, but the issue just kind of toes the line in most respects, not allowing the reader to feel like they are in a different time for the Bureau.

I admit it’s not necessarily a bad line to toe. The Hellboy enterprises have been a pretty serious cash cow for Dark Horse, and a mediocre episode of a good TV show is better than bad TV. The Dead Remembered #1 could be Episode: The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development Babysits. Amusing, but not thrilling.

Moline's art is no more than acceptable. It’s not figuratively strong enough to be literal, nor disjointed enough to have its own aesthetic. He is no newcomer to the Hellboy world, and he fills in the pages just fine with its characters. He comes out with a wonderfully rendered return-to-creepy/gross/weird in exactly the last panel, but, by that time, well, the jig was up.

Allie said he was trying to reach out more to his Buffy audience with this take on Teenage Liz, feminizing a bit more that regular readers are used to seeing in Adult Liz. If this achieves his stated goal of gaining more converts to B.P.R.D.through the use of Liz as a relatable peer, ala Peter Parker, I say, good for him. But the fact is, by the time the issue hits the mark in the last panel I had kind of stopped caring. Maybe that is a testament to the issue for bringing out my inner indifferent teenager, but, more likely, it’s a problem the next issues of The Dead Remembered are going to have to solve.


Fear Itself: The Home Front #1

Written by Christos Gage, Peter Milligan, Howard Chaykin, and Jim McCann

Art by Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, Elia Bonetti, John Rauch, Howard Chaykin, Edgar Delgado, Pepe Larraz, and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

As far as I understand it, Fear Itself: The Home Front is the Fear Itself version of the “Front Line” stories that have accompanied the last few major Marvel crossovers. But while most of those previous miniseries were single-author tales about a single set of central characters, The Home Front is shaping up to have more in common with the recent Marvel anthology series like Age of Heroes and Nation X, which have featured different creators writing short vignettes about characters across the spectrum who are affected by a certain new status quo.

This is a smart move on Marvel’s part. Not only does it allow many different creators to play a part in building the story and give new artists the opportunity to prove their skills with short form work, it also allows for the construction of a truly world-spanning story. Fear Itself: The Home Front is the place for the superheroes and civilians who fall through the cracks of the main story to make themselves known, creating a sense of true unity in the Marvel Universe and granting even greater weight to the main Fear Itself story.

This issue starts off with a bang with the first of a seven-part Speedball tale that will span the whole miniseries. Written by Christos Gage, who has been writing Speedball with aplomb in Avengers Academy, the story is the natural continuation of the Speedball character arc that began way back in Civil War #1. Though he’s no longer wearing a masochistic metal suit and calling himself Penance, Speedball still hasn’t forgiven himself for the massacre in Stamford he indirectly caused – and neither, it seems, has the world, as exemplified by the internet message board posts Gage uses, to great effect, as a narrative device. To set his story in motion, Gage reintroduces the figure of Miriam Sharpe, whose grief over the loss of her son in Stamford led to the passage of the Superhuman Registration Act, and juxtaposes her continued anger with Speedball’s previously-unknown volunteering, in disguise, at the charity Sharpe set up in her son’s memory. When Speedball’s true identity is discovered, the fear-enhancing effects of Fear Itself take Sharpe and the general public by storm, leading to a cliffhanger that promises even bigger problems for Speedball in the future.   

The story stands out for the way it continues to question the role and perception of heroes in the Marvel Universe, even as Civil War becomes an ever more distant memory for most other writers and characters. The story successfully provides a realistic context for its political debates while still existing firmly within a science fiction world and following a narrative particular to Speedball’s character – no easy feat to accomplish. Mike Mayhew’s art, meanwhile, is a perfect complement: a stunningly photorealistic style that still manages to convey motion and expression rather than stiffness. Mayhew has drawn Speedball once before, in Sean McKeever’s Justice and Firestar story in I am an Avenger, and this feels like a continuation of that universe: a world where the superhero teens of the past have become very real adults with very real adult problems.

The middle of the issue is a bit weaker, starting with an Agents of Atlas story written by Peter Milligan. While it’s a thrill to see the Atlas characters living on, even without Jeff Parker’s hand behind them, Milligan’s characterizations feel a bit shaky, and the sudden romantic relationship between Jimmy Woo and Namora lacks plausibility or justification. Jimmy Woo’s characterization is the most discomfiting, as the effects of Fear Itself lead him to retreat more and more into a stereotypical 1950s persona that doesn’t seem to fit the particularities of the character. Elia Bonetti’s art is lovely and dynamic, however, and with three parts left to go I’m willing to suspend judgment until the story has progressed a bit more.

Also in the center of the issue is a one-page J. Jonah Jameson story written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. The story consists entirely of Jameson’s inner monologue as he takes a drink in his office, and while the characterization note (Jameson blames superheroes for the riot in Fear Itself #1) feels right, the entire page seems random and inconsequential, like the beginning of a story that will never actually be told.

Luckily, the issue bounces back at the very end with a Jim McCann story about the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, who in the last minutes before the Asgardians leave earth continue to cope with the stress the godly presence has had on the spirit, economy, and traditions of their small town. McCann does an excellent job of making a group of poor, rural non-superhero characters feel real and important rather than stereotypical canon fodder, and this story more than any other exemplifies the “Home Front” title, showing how the events of Fear Itself affect the lives of even the most theoretically uninvolved civilian. Pepe Larraz on art does a great job of capturing the feel of Broxton as first presented by Olivier Coipel, but his detailed cartooning makes its own mark separate from Coipel’s designs. McCann and Larraz work together to draw a distinct dichotomy between the citizens of Broxton and the invading tourists, and the end result is a very effective story about home, community, and the weight of history.

All in all, Fear Itself: The Home Front #1 is a welcome complement to the Fear Itself narrative, laying the groundwork for a few serial stories and promising a variety of additional perspectives to come. It may not be essential to understanding the main crossover, but as a comic book unto itself, it’s well worth buying.


Love and Capes: Ever After #3

Written by Thom Zahler

Art by Thom Zahler

Lettering by Thom Zahler

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

It's tax season, and I have a recommendation: to make the process of filing your taxes much smoother and more enjoyable, imagine that your accountant (or your H&R Block representative, or the imaginary person behind TurboTax) is secretly the world's greatest superhero. That's the day job, after all, of Love and Capes' The Crusader, a.k.a. Mark Spencer, the greatest superhero, accountant, and husband in the world of comics. And in the third issue of the current miniseries, as Mark and his bookstore-owner wife, Abby, attend Abby's high school reunion, Abby's former classmates would be just as surprised as you would be to discover the superheroic truth behind the mild-mannered accountant they've just met. When it comes to people's secret lives, you just never know where the truth might lie.

But the secret lives of Abby and Mark are old hat for Thom Zahler and longtime Love and Capes readers at this point. What's truly new and fresh about this particular issue is the shift in focus from the protagonists to the secondary characters: Abby's sister Charlotte, Mark's best friend Darkblade, and Mark's ex (and Darkblade's current girlfriend) Amazonia. While Abby and Mark are off at the reunion, Charlotte and Darkblade, who have become good friends, do some catching up at Darkblade's mansion before being interrupted by Amazonia – who didn't realize the two were so close. Zahler excels at showing the realities of human jealousy without turning characters into sexist caricatures, and here he successfully expands upon Amazonia's insecurities and some of the bumps in the road to happiness in her relationship with Darkblade without turning Charlotte and Amazonia into shrewish rivals.

Zahler has a way of making characters come alive no matter how little screen time they have, as evidenced by the page of development devoted to relatively new book store employee Jason, the intriguing hints sprinkled throughout about the secret life of Darkblade's housekeeper Mrs. O'Lonergan, and the tidbits we learn about Abby's former classmates at the reunion, including an ex-boyfriend. But despite his talent at fitting characterization into even the smallest spaces, it's still a real treat to see him devote so much attention to the book's regular supporting characters, who could easily hold down a spinoff book of their own. It would be so easy to turn the characters into two-dimensional archetypes: a slightly-less-brooding Batman, a slightly-vain Wonder Woman, a flighty younger sister. But Zahler has imbued these characters with depth and pathos, and it's exciting to see that depth pay off in a fully-realized subplot.

Zahler's art is as impressive as ever, as he continues to express serious and believable human emotions through the distinctive, exaggerated features of his cartoons. His keen eye for fashion is also on display, particularly in the opening scene where Abby's adorable and professional skirt, boots, and sweatervest/blouse combination serve as an emblematic personality contrast with Mark's more casual t-shirt and jeans. And while this issue is lighter on the pop culture references than usual, it's always a good idea to read Zahler's “about the author” piece at the front of the comic, which he rewrites for each issue and is always hilarious. This month it's done in the style of the opening narration of TV's Castle, and it remains impressive how easily Zahler can fit the details of his life into an endless assortment of clever formats.

Though I'd encourage anyone interested to start at Issue #1 of the series, or at least Issue #1 of this current IDW mini, Love and Capes is the kind of self-contained, comedy-beats-on-every-page comic that can truly be picked up at any point. If anything I've said sounds the least bit intriguing, give this issue a try. There's nothing else on the market that's this charming, funny, compelling, and meticulously put-together, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

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