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 new releases for you, including books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and BOOM! Studios! Want some more? We've also got a ton of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off with the DC event series grabbing plenty of headlines this week, Flashpoint…Flashpoint #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): After pushing us into the deep end of the pool last issue, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert take a more leisurely trip through the twisted world of Flashpoint, and it definitely allows the reader to appreciate this brave new world a little bit more. In a lot of ways, this is some of the tighter plotting that Johns has done since Sinestro Corps War — we get through Barry Allen's conflict with Thomas Wayne, and we even get a new goal: Get Barry's speed back. I'd argue that in certain ways, the real scene-stealer of this issue is none other than Wonder Woman, as letterer Nick J. Napolitano provides a nice visual effect for the Lasso of Truth. Andy Kubert excels in widescreen presentation, and his action sequences in general look so fast that it almost gives the reader whiplash. I personally enjoy his small moments of expressiveness, as well, as Thomas Wayne seems nearly overjoyed that in another universe, he died so his son could live. That said, sometimes the overarching seriousness is a disadvantage, such as the last few pages, which become so over-the-top that it's hard not to find it a little (unintentionally) chuckleworthy. Still, this book definitely feels like a blockbuster, and taking time to meet this world's various denizens is a treat in and of itself. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Colin Bell; Click here for preview): Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to their acclaimed crime book with a wholly different tact, in that on the whole it reads completely unlike a crime book. Instead, it lulls you into a false sense of security until the very last panel reminds you of the title’s noir inclinations. The signs are there and it has the hallmarks of noir throughout: addiction, betrayal, rich dames, and death all play their role, but for the most part it concerns itself with a man leaving his city and coming home to his old small-town stomping grounds to visit his sick father. It’s a book about growing up and what you leave behind, and the subsequent desire to return to a more innocent time of your life – themes that will resonate with readers moreso than any other previous issue of Criminal will have done before I’d wager. It’s without a doubt writer Brubaker’s most personal work, and the direct and palpable emotion of it all just makes the book a compelling read from start to finish. Artwise, from cover to back Sean Phillips makes the book sing, with his lurid, pulpy painted cover and gleefully retro Archie-like flashbacks as he switches styles to portray the protagonist’s earlier years. Hands down, this was the best book I read all week and is strongly recommended. Wonder Woman #611 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): One of the most frustrating things about this comic is its inconsistency. An issue or two will offer well-written plot developments and character growth, and then it begins meandering. Even with a (kinda) interesting “what if” reveal, this entry wasn’t as engaging as issue #610, which had action, unexpected flourishes, and a sense of humor. Plus, I’m over the Morrigan. They’re generic supervillains, and their leader has a generic objective: Bring Diana to the dark side! That’s too familiar a setup to get excited about. Still, I have to give credit to artists Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansica, whose pencils are very strong. The Elseworlds-like visuals near the end, featuring some guest appearances from JLA members, are pretty doggone cool. Who knew Diana looks great in military green? However, I hope the story finds its way back to the promising path it was on, and reaches a satisfying conclusion. Amazing Spider-Man #663 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): The thing that stands out the most to me about Amazing Spider-Man #663 is the fact that it represents a real shift in art style for Guiseppe Camuncoli. Or I should probably say, the way we see it. Camuncoli is a beast of composition and design, and in this issue, he teams up with a surprising inker: Klaus Janson, as opposed to his usual inker, Onofrio Catacchio. The result is an interesting mix, as Janson's inks run so light, I almost didn't realize it wasn't Camuncoli himself. It's a very different look for for Camuncoli, one that visually feels a little too loose for my tastes… but you know what? When you've got a talent like that, you're going to try to see what works and what doesn't. I will say that Dan Slott's story in this issue feels particularly satisfying, even as it continues to next issue; I love the idea that Slott keeps bringing up these frequent questions that Peter has had ("What do I do to make money?" "How do I balance my heroics and my family?") and continues to tease us before giving us a different — and altogether comforting — answer. The one downside to this issue? Slott does set up a mystery, but it then takes it away so fast that it'll likely be jarring even when he brings it back. He's already got a lot of compelling characters in this book, ranging from Anti-Venom to Mr. Negative, that the possible return of another supporting cast member doesn't get the love it deserves. Still, even if it's a jarring new look, I applaud Marvel for trying to stretch this superstar's strengths — this book still rocks. Hellboy: The Storm #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics.; Review by Kyle DuVall)So here it is, the big one. Hellboy vs. The Queen Of Blood. The lead-up has taken 3 volumes (Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, The Storm) and if The Storm doesn’t delver, it certainly won’t be because of a lack of narrative groundwork. The build up has, indeed, been exquisite and now... so far so good I guess, but after the long road writer Mike Mignola has traveled to get here, will 3 issues truly provide enough space to explore the destination? The Storm’s first chapter certainly has drama and atmosphere in spades, its hard not to get excited about Hellboy and The Queen finally mixing it up, and penciler Duncan Fegredo’s art is not only atmospheric but incredibly lush, with eye-mugging details even in the monstrous crowd scenes. His staging of the epic heroic moments is even grander. Still, having Hellboy get through the Queen’s gauntlet and mixing it up with her all in the first issue does have a bit of a rushed feeling. On the other hand, once the smoke clears and the whole 4-volume epic is done, reading this conclusion as part of the tremendous whole may be quite different. Time, and the next two issues, will tell.
Shinku #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): There's an image in the first issue of Shinku that shows you it means business — a motorcyclist in red, a katana bared, and a vampire's head popping off with a powerful, bright explosion of blood. It's these kind of images that make me particularly excited for what comes next, as Ron Marz and Lee Moder give you plenty of reasons to like this samurai vs. vampire story. Moder has this fluid, almost animated style that's reminiscent of Amanda Conner or Ryan Stegman, but with just a hint of a sharper edge. Marz is a writer who's definitely a team player here, and he knows that he's got to give some money shots to justify some of the longer bits of exposition here — it's definitely a more subdued beginning than one might expect, with one in-your-face page of violence and another gory battle told in flashback, but it's a calculated gamble based on the strength of the artists. Inker Matthew Waite is an interesting choice to play off Moder's pencils, giving the inks just a hint of a brittle line, and colorist Mike Atiyeh is a freaking powerhouse, turning Shinku into a powerful red engine of destruction. Ultimately, this book doesn't quite tip its hand as far as theme is concerned, but considering the easily-addictive genres Marz and Moder play around with in the story, that high concept may be enough for now.
Heroes For Hire #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Colin Bell) Click here for preview. There’s banter and quips a-plenty as this issue sees the culmination of a three issue guest-spot from Spider-Man, and it’s always heartening to see writers with a good sense of what makes Peter Parker’s sense of humor work. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have managed to slot Spider-Man into their established Heroes For Hire format without it ever feeling like a stunt, and at the same time given us a fulfilling issue of wall-to-wall action while still building the mystery that’s been present since the start of their run. Eight issues in and to date I still never put down Heroes For Hire feeling anything less than thoroughly entertained. Maybe you can chalk it up to Brad Walker’s solid pencilling with a knack for dynamic action poses, or the book’s habit of throwing out only-in-a-comic-book concepts such as demonically cursed weaponry or dinosaur-fight gambling dens, or perhaps it’s just that I’m tightfisted and I feel like I’m getting value for money with the rotating cast of street-level heroes, whose solo books I’m too cheap to pick up. Whatever the reason, I’ll happily keep coming back for more Misty Knight and Paladin adventures, and this issue is a good example of just how much fun the book can be.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #23 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): There is not terribly much to say regarding the storyline – but the book holds steady to its form of showing and telling at the same time. Even twenty-three issues in, I still can’t make up my mind as to whether or not that notion totally works for me, though I particularly like it when the text box placement works in juxtaposition with the dialogue. Parker’s art remains moody and somehow imbues a great sense of world-weariness within every line. His panel choices are apt, and his compositions are immaculately laid-out. There’s a precision and focus to his work that he has been progressively amplifying over the course of the adaptation. One of the unique qualities about the series is that the pacing is primarily determined by the reader – it’s all in the way you choose to digest what’s put in front of you. If you’re so inclined, I actually recommend reading it some with Bach or Charles Ives playing. David Mack writes a moving text-piece about his relationship to Dick’s work, and his work adapting Dick’s story “A Tale of Ants and Sheep (The Electric Variety): The Electric Ant.” It’s a tremendous glimpse into the creative process, and is a most welcome addition. Either way you look at it, this is probably one of the most ambitious prose-to-comic adaptations yet produced. While I am looking forward to seeing how Parker renders the story’s conclusion – I am more curious to see what story will be afforded the same treatment next.
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Kyle DuVall): The concluding issue of Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, puts a consistent cap on a series that made its title character a supporting player in a cool horror story that would have played out better as a stand-alone horror western sealed off from the Hellboy Continuity. Issue #4 also suffers form a final hour in a rush of explanations, a common blunder in horror stories that make an otherwise admirable effort to maintain atmosphere over shock. Holding back answers and dribbling out mysteries slowly is very effective, but when this technique is used, plotters need to make their pacing elegant. Giving away all your secrets in the first act is no good, but neither is blasting them all out at the last minute. Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever rushes the admittedly macabre answers to its mysteries in a cramped sort of epiphany that loses a lot of its atmosphere in the narrative race to the final pages of the series. Likewise, John Severin’s art looks a little rushed as well. Although his melding of queasy tactility and primitive grotesquery has been dead on for this book, reminding the reader of nothing less than dime-novel western illustrations drawn by a madman, the visuals here are less compelling, and the storytelling a bit less dynamic. Somewhere in the pages of Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever is a truly outstanding Horror-Western, but as a Witchfinder/Hellboyverse story, its simply above-average.
Dracula: The Company of Monsters #10 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): In this issue, Kurt Busiek’s modern take on Dracula (with scripting by Daryl Gregory) goes the route of all sturm und drang, all build-up to a final confrontation. On the road to this showdown, we have more cloak-and-dagger maneuverings, clandestine late-night meetings, ancient rituals given a modern edge, and a dollop of macabre humor – in short, what one would expect from a horror story that is more about mood and frame-of-mind than it is about things that leap out for a quick scare. Flashbacks are used to show our main character, Evan, as he delves into vampire arcana. This not only paves the way for a huge plot revelation, but also provides a clever way of getting bits of exposition and information in without it becoming a relentless info-dump. Damian Couciero’s art is well-served by Stephen Downer’s highly-stylized color work, which ultimately makes the moments of violence seem more startling and more weighty than any obscenely detailed viscera ever could. Couciero’s framing ratchets up the tension in several sequences – and he and Gregory’s scripting work well together at providing catharsis and payoff for each scene. There are many clever moments to be found, but the stand-out to me was a confrontation that ended in an all-glass room. The punch line to the scene is darkly wry, and it is the high-point of an issue that is more about getting the pieces into place for a Wagnerian finale than it is about creating or resolving any storylines. Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!