Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rocking reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of rapid-fire reviews for your reading enjoyment, including the latest books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Archie and BOOM! Studios. Want some more back-issue reviews? We got you covered, all at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off today's column with a look at Peter Parker's last stand in Ultimate Spider-Man…
Ultimate Spider-Man #159 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If it wasn't for one little wrinkle in the life of Peter Parker, I would argue that this issue is suffering from enormous decompression, being the sixth issue in a row with the banner — but Brian Michael Bendis also knows how to twist Peter Parker's life, and the fallout from this "Death of Spider-Man" issue has me intrigued. That all said, however, this is a very loosely structured fight sequence, and choreography isn't always Bendis's strong suit. Mark Bagley manages to make the most out of it, with the energy blasts and explosions looking suitably big, but he's much more at home with the emotional beats, particularly when Aunt May and the rest of the neighborhood weigh in on this supervillain battle royale taking place down the street. That all said – while I recognize the necessity of this particular fight, I think the buildup has been so lengthy to get here that the momentum is lost, feeling perfunctory rather than engrossing. There's a little bit of progression besides the here and now that I think will have some very interesting affects in Spidey's life — if he makes it that far, anyway — but I can't help but find this issue to be just a little bit light.
Flashpoint: Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): The thing I see as tripping up this book is that Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager is such a niche book that readers have likely already picked up the second issue of Flashpoint, which tells us in just a few pages what Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Bennett end up telling us in 20. Aside from giving us Deathstroke's motivation to sail the Seven Seas, there's not too much extra in this book — we meet the team and see Deathstroke kick some piratical booty. Unfortunately, Joe Bennett's artwork, even with John Dell's inks, feels a little too rough with the details and a little too cramped with the layout to really score a knockout. Fight sequences are all about composition and choreography, and things like Deathstroke slicing through a guy's neck to the point where the head starts hanging a bit feels like an attempt to shock you that isn't detailed enough to stick the landing. I imagine that with all the hubbub for Flashpoint, Palmiotti was probably playing it safe to make sure that readers had all they needed to get into this book — unfortunately, the redundancies kill the momentum of the book. Now that the setup is over, however, I'm hopeful that the next few issues of this miniseries will start to pick back up.
Morning Glories #10 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): As has been the theme for the past few issues, we get a closer look at a particular character. This month belongs to Jade. Her many layers are revealed with brief, but bright highlights on the other characters. I love Casey’s defiance, Pamela’s crazy, Hunter’s heart, and Ike’s punchy one-liners; all are present in Morning Glories #10. While Nick Spencer consistently delivers solid character stories, the dilemma I see with Morning Glories since about issue #3 is the gross anticipation of payoff that hasn’t come yet. A good mystery can be thrilling, and the intricacies of the story so far have kept many a reader hooked … myself included. But, the infinite head-scratching can be frustrating. While I found myself perplexed yet again, there were several moments in this issue that were very satisfying. I think grand reveals could be gleaned, but digest it slowly and bust out the first trade for reference. You’ll be well served to pay close attention to the language Spencer uses, and when he uses it. As always, Joe Eisma delivers his stylized, innocent beauty in a diabolical world with extra-credit points in this issue for some brilliant uses of color by Alex Sollazzo. At this stage in the game, Morning Glories is not for the uninitiated, but continues to be a powerful and enthralling read.
Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund, Click here for preview): Adam Warren's Empowered series of graphic novels has walked the line between exploitation and satire as the curvy lead character's power seems to be a cross between getting tied up at every possible opportunity and having her uniform rip in the most suggestive areas. Warren has always teased more than he's shown, knowing that his reader's imaginations are far more lewd than anything he could actually show. This new special, focusing on Maidman, a crime fighter who runs around wearing a French maid's outfit as his uniform, seems rather tamed compared to Warren's usual fare. While Warren has his fun poking at the sexuality of superheroes who run around dressed as animals (could he be right that this borders on bestiality?) and anime fan service pointing out how Maidman's outfit is perfect for panty shots, this comic is disappointingly light on the tease and really doesn't have of anything beyond the story. Maybe we should be looking at superheroes comics the way that Warren presents them in this book, as a fetishistic genre that's really goes no deeper than the innuendo but Warren doesn't even make a convincing case for that. For a book that has seemed to have fun with sex in the past, this book feels too tamed and watered down. The raciness isn't there and the battles too conventional. Empowered: "Ten Questions for the Maidman" just doesn't go far enough with its story or its innuendo.
Deadpool #38 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Why am I reviewing the oft-overexposed Deadpool, you might ask? Probably because it is really damn good. Last issue had a great epiphany for the character, and Daniel Way is taking that insight to its logical conclusion — if you want to end it all, what better way than to tick off the Incredible Hulk? Way gives the over-the-top violence some real meaning in this issue, which believe me, is not something I was expecting to say. Considering how similar fight sequences can become in this talkier day and age, there's one moment in particular that wowed even me, where Deadpool is hit harder — and farther — than he has ever been hit before. Bong Dazo, meanwhile, is a great fit for these two characters, as Deadpool's body language is only surpassed by the rippling muscles and distorted grimaces of the Hulk. Considering all the debris and machinery that gets totaled in this issue, Dazo knows which details will work and which ones can be tossed, and that's to this issue's benefit. I know the common perception is Deadpool is mindless slapstick, but seriously, pick up the last issue, then pick up this one. It may be crazy, but there's a method to Daniel Way's madness.
Kevin Keller #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): As Riverdale’s first openly gay teen, Kevin Keller became a huge star in the Archie universe overnight. He was so popular that he landed his own book, and it's a winning comic that gives readers more details about his background. Writer/artist Dan Parent balances the serious and the silly, showing Kevin's transformation from middle school ugly duckling to swan. I chuckled at Parent's illustrations of Kevin in all his newly handsome glory, complete with a set of perfect, gleaming teeth and a trail of admirers. His best friend Wendy is hopelessly smitten at the outset, but Kevin officially comes out to her while people watching at the mall. Turns out he's got crushes of his own, and their names are David and Scott. I enjoyed the exploration of Kevin's home life, and his personal story meshes well with an oh-so-Archie slapstick subplot: While prepping for a July 4th parade, Jughead serves Veronica a heaping dose of smartphone-era embarrassment. (Jughead must really have it in for Miss Lodge. When Kevin when he first arrived, Juggie decided not to tell the poor girl that the object of her affection was gay.) Kevin is a natural, thoroughly likable addition to the Archie Universe, and I suspect he'll be a fan favorite for many issues to come.
Blue Estate #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Deniz Cordell): Blue Estate #3 had me hooked from its delightful recap page, which, in its gleeful embracing of convolutions, reminded me of the opening credits from the TV series Soap. Viktor Kalvachev and his very talented team have a story to tell, and damn it, it’s not their fault if you can’t keep up. The book looks and sounds like a gritty 70s crime picture – its violence and brutality is fast and visceral, drugs are bandied about with abandon, and there’s plenty of that cynical, nonchalant humor that so epitomized the genre. Close-ups are used to great effect, particularly in an opening sequence that – like Altman’s The Long Goodbye (one of my very favorites) moves from humor to horror on the turn of a dime. The panel layout is immaculate – from its wider compositions to the use of a twelve-panel grid later in the book – there’s variety and visual acuity on display that’s clever, but never calls attention to itself. The visual storytelling is clear and moody, and – even with four different artists – the book maintains a unified look. Almost every page is suffused with smoke rings and trails of cigarette smoke – and the effect employed lends them a three-dimensional effect, creating some nice lighting and shadow effects. The scripting is gritty and given to moments of poetic effectiveness. The characters, even the reprehensible ones, are fascinating to watch, and have their own unique qualities. There’s a pulse here and rhythm that is just right for a story like this. This is hypercharged pulp; an exercise in gleeful excess, and comic book noir for those who grew up reading Chandler, Spillane, and MacDonald. I loved it.
Netherworld #2 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Vanessa Gabriel) Click here for preview. “And this comic book doesn’t give a $@#!” is Bryan Edward Hill’s proclamation in his letter to the reader’s in Netherworld #2; a worthy commentary on comics, and a true statement about Netherworld. Hill & Levin play their aces for Netherworld #2. It’s an unapologetic and in your face gauntlet which honestly surprised me. This issue throws you right into the heart of the story. The reader can immediately decide whether they are all in or … out. There are some interesting twists to classic mythology, and if this issue is an indicator of what is to come, then there will be more. I still find the roles of main characters, Madeleine and Ray, bordering to close to trite for comfort, but patience may be a virtue where Netherworld is concerned. There are moments where Tony Shasteen’s art really wows, and other’s where it looks rushed. He achieves some beautifully ominous background scenes, as well as striking close-ups, but there is some inconsistency in between. Dave McCaig’s color work is much improved in issue #2, and serves the story well. Cheers to Top Cow on accessibility. You get a who’s who and what happened so far, which makes jumping head first into Netherworld a breeze. P.S., the cameo in the arcade will make you smile.
Red Robin #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): With all the hubbub about the DC relaunch, one has to hope that there's a place in the mix for Marcus To, because he's the reason why Red Robin stands out from the pack in the already-crowded Batman line. One of the cleanest linesmen in the DC stable, To makes the choreography of Tim Drake fighting against a horde of assassins look smooth, stylish and altogether animated — he's one of those artists that really is a pleasure to watch, and that charisma has paid off well for this book. And it's a good thing, too — this is not one of Fabian Nicieza's more accessible scripts, and those who might not know Tim's mission or his relationship with people like Patience, Lonnie or the mysterious figure at the end of the book would otherwise get left in the dust. Thankfully, the sheer production values of this book are more than enough eye candy to keep you satisfied, and while this isn't the best issue of Red Robin I've seen yet, there's enough talent on these pages to keep me invested.
Savage Dragon #171 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund): Eric Larsen's Savage Dragon #171 has a Marvel aesthetic with an indie sensibility that focuses on two sons. One is the son of the hero, of the Savage Dragon and is trying to walk in his father's heroic footsteps. The other, Thunderhead, is the son of a super powered henchman who could never make that much of his life. Both sons and fathers are different people but it's amazing how Larsen shows how similar they are, particularly the sons. Larsen also seems much more sympathetic to Thunderhead, who seems to be a more genuine character than the Dragon's son. Larsen's art in this issue looks easy and fun. It looks like Larsen has fun drawing in a way that too many other artists don't. Each page is exciting and pure as Larsen gets out of his own way and lets the story happen. He's a natural storyteller as there doesn't appear to be much effort put into the book yet the story is tight and well done. While other artists may have labored over each and every panel and each and every expression, Larsen slaps it on the page and moves on. That goes a long way to creating a smooth flow to the story. Larsen's enjoyment of his work shows on each page.
Starborn #7 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell): The real attraction in this issue of Starborn is the dynamic artwork, which encompasses and veers through a variety of styles with grace and facility. The first page alone offers up everything from a Ben-Day-dotted childhood to riffs on James Bond and Speed Racer. It’s a well-executed glimpse into the daydreams of youth, and the more monochromatic reality of life. The art team puts together a visually surprising package – and colorist Mitch Gerads work throughout is stellar – lending energy and dynamism to the elegantly streamlined art from Khary Randolph and Matt Scalera. Chris Roberson’s story offers some surprising developments for those who have been following the series – and the opening scene touches upon some of the themes and notions that are common in Stan Lee’s work – mainly the weight of responsibility upon those who bear it. Roberson’s script keeps the action moving with the two story-strands, and provides each of them equal weight. There’s an abundance of suspenseful moments, including a standoff in which our two heroes are powerless to act. He also reveals story developments that could easily have been hyperbolic in a more intimate fashion – befitting the notion that although the scope is cosmic, Starborn is really about Benjamin and Tara, and their relationship with each other and the universe. The book continues to be a smart space-opera with compelling artwork. Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!