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 enjoyment, including books from DC, Marvel and Top Cow! Want some more? We've got your back all at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's see what Tony Stark has to fear in Fear Itself, as Teresa Jusino checks out Invincible Iron Man…Invincible Iron Man #504 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Of all the Fear Itself tie-in stories, only Invincible Iron Man seems to play to our fears as well as those of the characters. Matt Fraction seems to have reserved all the really good stuff for his own title, which I don’t begrudge him. I’d do it, too! In issue #504, Tony goes to Paris to investigate the unidentified object that fell there, and sees that everything, including the people, has been turned to stone. Fraction never lets us forget that those stone figures are people, not statues, and watching Tony Stark remind himself of this as he battles He Who Is No Longer Grey Gargoyle is absolutely chilling. Both Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca tell a heart-pounding story that starts with some wonderful character work between Tony and Pepper and ends with the unthinkable happening. Larroca’s final image of Tony standing atop a pile of rubble - rubble that is actually a pile of human remains - is frightening both to Tony and to us. There is also the very real sense that Tony is in danger, and this, too, is a testament to Larroca’s ability to impact the reader on a visceral level through his work. The Iron Man suit always looks like it’s carrying a human being, and we see pain all over Tony’s face. Fraction and Larroca are a perfect team, each playing to the other’s strengths to create a comic that is consistently affecting and astounding.
Batman: Gates of Gotham #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston): Wow! This is the Bat-Book I've been waiting for! Scott Snyder's run on Detective Comics fell a little flat for me, but teaming him up with Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy seems to be the Golden Ticket. This issue doesn't spend much time introducing the concept of Batman- you should already know who he is- but it certainly introduces the city of Gotham more than most may be expecting. This is shaping up to be a great companion piece to some of Paul Dini's recent work, emphasizing the role that the Wayne family (among others) has had in shaping Gotham since from its foundation. There's a bit of history, a bit of a mystery, and lots of fast-paced, punchy dialogue and characterization. Best of all, it's just Batman being Batman. Sure, it's Dick Grayson, but that shouldn't steer away even the skeptics when it comes to this book. Trevor McCarthy is a beast, falling somewhere between Scott Kolins and Dustin Nguyen in terms of linework and mood. Maybe DC cares about contemporary art after all. Do yourself a favor, and read this book.
Amazing Spider-Man #661 (Published by Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Amazing Spider-Man has been rejuvenated lately, because it’s been focusing on aspects of Peter Parker’s personality that have been long ignored. Um, he’s a genius, remember? Third in intelligence only when compared to Reed Richards and Tony Stark, and that’s just because they’re older. Great! Let’s give him a job at Horizon Labs, and suddenly he’s living up to his potential and there’s all this new storytelling potential. Issue #661 reminds us that Spider-Man was also a high school science teacher, a job he loved, and in a hilarious series of discussions he becomes the substitute teacher at Avengers Academy. Writer Christos Gage brings the funny, as well as an entirely new “great responsibility” for Spider-Man that ties in beautifully to the themes of irrational fear being explored in Fear Itself. Reilly Brown’s artwork is crisp, energetic, and wonderfully balances intimate character moments with action panels that pop. And when Spidey is telling his class that he couldn’t make more money off of being Spider-Man because his identity would be compromised, Striker has the best line when he says “Why didn’t you set up a limited liability corporation? Run it through some shell companies to hide the trail, and have them pay you under your business name. ‘Spider-Man, LLC.’ Problem solved. And you even save on your taxes.” Why, indeed? Issue #661 is as perfect an issue of a comic as can be, made all the better by a cute vignette in the back of the issue by Paul Benjamin and Javier Pulido showing us a day in the life of Spider-Man. Avengers #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): After a somewhat frustrating conclusion to the previous story arc, Brian Michael Bendis is back to doing what he does best in Avengers #13: putting his characters in a room and letting them talk. And talk. And talk. This issue is very Bendis, but readers who don't like his style presumably aren't reading his Avengers books anyway. For those of us who do enjoy it, this Fear Itself tie-in represents a real treat, an in-comic payoff to the prose interviews that have filled the back pages of Bendis' Avengers comics for many months. While the identity of the interviewer still isn't clear, here we get to see various Avengers settling down to their interviews throughout Avengers history, reacting differently to the idea according to their own particular personalities. All of that culminates in their interviews after the devastating first events of Fear Itself, to which none of them quite know how to respond – an effective way of demonstrating the gravity of the circumstances to an audience still settling into the Fear Itself world. Meanwhile, the scene of the Avengers announcing their rebuilding Asgard plans from Fear Itself #1 is here expanded and enhanced with a fun and frank conversation between Carol Danvers and Jessica Drew about their love lives. It’s a scene that emphasizes the humanity of these characters and the warm reality of their friendships, an important counterpoint to the bombastic world-spanning action of the main crossover. Though the comic is wordy, artist Chris Bachalo does his share of the heavy lifting, impressively managing to imbue motion, momentum, and personality into a comic that primarily consists of talking heads in tiny boxes. All in all, this is a strong addition to the Fear Itself story, and proof that when Bendis is on his game, his character work is unparalleled.
Supergirl #64 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): I've been digging this series even with the handoff from Nick Spencer to James Peaty, and while the conclusion to "Good-Looking Corpse" lives up to its name, that doesn't mean I can't be a bit disappointed with the direction of the plot. But let's start with the good — namely, Bernard Chang is a positively sick artist, and his clean, animated linework goes together with Blond's eye-popping colors like apple pie on the Fourth of July. There's a lot of action in these pencils — watching Supergirl slam Dubbilex into a wall has some real power behind it, and a two-page spread of his defeat is a stylish, trippy looking layout. But the problem with this story — which I'd argue undercuts his snappy dialogue and fast pacing — is the ending to Peaty's plotting. While Supergirl might get the last punch in, she ultimately isn't the one to save the day — there's a big green deus ex machine at the end, and it ends up undercutting the draw of this book: Namely, why is Supergirl the true leader of the next generation of DC heroes? While the art is great, and I truly hope this isn't the last we've seen of this impromptu teen team, I can't help but be a little disappointed in the conclusion.
Generation Hope #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): There's a full-page panel, halfway through Generation Hope #7, of teal-skinned Laurie holding fellow new mutant Idie high in the air, having lifted her away from the mind control of a mutant fetus. To achieve flight, Laurie has transformed her body into an alien form, her fuchsia hair streaming behind her, leathery wings protruding from her back and legs morphed into a feathery fish tail. It's a gorgeous image, and a prime example of two of the best things about this book: Salvador Espin's tight, imaginative pencils and Jim Charalampidis' strikingly vibrant colors. All of this isn't to say that the writing, by Kieron Gillen, isn't just as good. Generation Hope continues to be a compelling story of new characters trying to find their place as mutants and as heroes, and in this issue we get to see the characters working together as a unit to solve the problem of an unborn mutant who is using all of its power to avoid leaving the womb. The issue is full of great characterization moments, from Kenji's arrogance and Idie's rigid morality to Laurie's growing confidence and feral Teon's search for a way to contribute to the team. But it's the art in tandem with the writing that really sets this series apart, and readers can only look forward to Gillen and Espin's collaboration growing ever stronger as they continue their tenure on one of the best X-books on the shelves.
Last Mortal #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts): When an opening scene for a comic is a man committing suicide, it really sets the stage for the rest of the issue. The story is told through the point of view of Alec King, a good for nothing hoodlum that takes a job with his friend, Brian, to assassinate a mayoral candidate, Robert Callahan. However, when the job gets botched, Brian is killed and Alec is on the run. Faced with the guilt of Brian's death, Alec tried to kill himself, only finding out he can't die. Written by John Mahoney and Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik, Last Mortal comes across as one part noir, and one part mystery. The black and white art by Thomas Nachlik, gives off an Alex Maleev vibe that seems fitting for the story. I liked the gritty, etchy look to it. The story itself has me intrigued, but sometimes the dialog felt a bit flat, but provided a proper set up that left me wanting to be around for the second helping.
Ultimate Spider-Man #158 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): As we know from last month, Spider-Man was shot while saving Captain America, and there’s a lovely five pages here where we watch him come to terms with giving up being Spider-Man once he is inevitably outed at the hospital when he goes in to have them treat his wound. However, this issue belongs to Iceman and the Human Torch; not because of their superheroics, but because of their wonderful, hilarious conversation about getting girls when you’re a super-powered teenager. What makes Ultimate Spider-Man so special is Brian Michael Bendis’ natural way with teen dialogue and his attention to detail with his supporting cast. There are no “minor” characters. He doesn’t rely solely on the hero of the story to explore growing up and learning responsibility, but spreads the focus around to paint a full picture of what it’s like to be a teenager in a super-powered world. I’ll admit, I wasn't thrilled about Bagley's return, but his layouts are spectacular in this issue, and he packs so much feeling into the Spidey section of the story, particularly in one page that’s entirely focused on Spider-Man’s arm. I’m still not a fan of how he handles faces. It’s amazing, then, how much emotion he can put into a mask. Ultimate Spider-Man is gearing up to show us a side of Peter Parker’s heroism that we’ve never seen before, and from what I can tell, it’s going to be a great read.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): It had to happen sometime — the law of averages demanded that at some point, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents wouldn't be my favorite DC book of the week. It happens. For me, it's a matter of structure — this issue feels a little bit like an extended interlude through the first two-thirds of the book, but then follows up with a bit of an infodump that might have been better parsed out throughout the book. Don't get me wrong, Nick Spencer sets up a mystery for the character of Colleen, but it ultimately I saw the conclusion coming very early on. Artwise, it's almost like gorging — Mike Grell is a legend, but I think having him, Cafu and Nick Dragotta together means that visually, the one-two punch doesn't get enough traction to take a cumulative effect, instead feeling jarring with the back-and-forth. But the person I am going to praise the heck out of? Nick Dragotta, who slips into the 1960s style like a glove. I read this book twice before realizing that this was original content rather than a reprint — and that's a testament to how clean and versatile his art is. But still, this interlude is a little light for my tastes — but now that the setup is over, I imagine the next issue will take off once more.
X-23 #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): Following the high drama of the “Collision” crossover with Dark Wolverine, X-23 #10 is the calm after the storm, focusing more on quiet character moments than on action and violence. Of course, given that it's X-23, this “calm” still involves things like self-harm, accidental stab wounds, and vampire bites. But for the most part, this is an issue that plays to Marjorie Liu's strengths of characterization, featuring serious conversations between X-23 and Gambit, X-23 and Wolverine, Gambit and Wolverine, and, toward the end, X-23 and new guest star Jubilee. Wolverine has always had a habit of taking young girls like Jubilee under his wing, yet his treatment of X-23 has been distinctly less protective since her debut. This issue finally confronts that question, examining the differences between X-23 and Jubilee and the different ways Logan relates to each of them. It also features a lot of quiet Gambit moments, and Liu continues to make Gambit more likable, compassionate, and fatherly than he's ever been before. Sana Takeda's dreamy, manga-inspired art is a perfect fit for this story, and while her male character designs are perhaps a bit prettier than men like Gambit and Wolverine are usually drawn, this reviewer certainly isn't complaining. By enlarging X-23's ensemble and giving them a first issue to breathe and settle in, Liu and Takeda have succeeded in shedding new light on the title character's personality and inner struggles, setting the scene for the roller coaster ride that this issue's surprising last page surely foreshadows.
Hawkeye: Blindspot #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): In the last couple years, Jim McCann has shown us that Hawkeye has got a lot more of his own history than you might expect. Blindspot proved to be no different, showing us why Clint is a born hero, and moreso, why a guy with a bow and arrow belongs on the Avengers. The tropes of returning villains, long-thought dead siblings, and sudden illness may be a little soap-opera-ish, but what's wrong with that? It's super-hero comics! McCann drives this one home, making four issues feel like a full story instead of rushing or decompressing things too much, and Paco Diaz does a fine job with the action and acting to boot. The coloring has seemed a bit saturated throughout this book, but it's never muddy or distracting. All in all, if you're a Hawkeye fan, or just getting to know the character, McCann's work has been a great crash course in the arrogant archer's storied past. I can't wait to see where McCann takes him next!
Zatanna #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Oftentimes people talk about art being cinematic, but it's rare to describe writing in the same way. But Paul Dini's got it going with Zatanna, which reads like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer set in the greater DC Universe — or in other words, it's a TV paradigm set in a comic book format. And it works. Dini's biggest magic trick is the fact that he breathes so much life into the supporting characters, particularly the relentless Detective Colton and the demonic Brother Night. By the end of this book, you feel the menace behind Night's power, and more importantly — you care about Colton just as much as you do Zatanna. Jamal Igle, meanwhile, gives this series some real heft with the artwork — he's far from flashy, but he's got such a mind for drama, bringing in so much characterization with the design and gestures he gives each character. And this is all ignoring the downright clever portrayal of magic, and Zatanna's relationship with a fixture of the DC community. This issue reads like a great TV show — it's easy to jump into, easy to get invested, and packed with plenty of craft. Definitely a book you should check out.
X-Factor #219 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview): This issue mercifully closes the door on what may be Peter David’s weakest X-Factor arc yet. For the last year X-Factor has defined itself by brilliantly mingling its mutants with Marvel menaces outside the normal X-gene crowd. When it was revealed that X-Factor Investigations was going to get entangled with the Spider-Man family I was practically salivating at the possibilities. What would we see? Strong Guy vs. the Rhino? Madrox swapping quips with Spidey? What could be better? Well, what fans got, sadly, was little more than a cameo from the ol’ Webhead and the complete absence of heavy hitters from the arachnid’s rogues’ gallery. Is there a more cliché trope out there today than the ol' “the government gave us superpowers for illegal missions and now we’ve gone crazy and want revenge” routine? The arc also featured a gratuitous death fake-out and what may be David’s low point as a writer in his X-Factor run in the form of a clunky, momentum murdering diatribe on immigration and prejudice by Jolly J. Jonah Jameson that would have made Denny O’Neil blanche. This final issue does put the unfortunate arc to bed with some flair, however. There’s a fun scene where the immovable object named J. Jonah Jameson gets on the wrong side of unstoppable force Monet, and a wry little aside regarding what happens when two luck-based supers (Longshot and Black Cat) try to work together. There’s a good little scrap and David’s dialogue and handle on his cast are, as usual, sharp enough to shave with. Hopefully the next arc will bring the title back up to snuff.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!