Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, breaking time and space with the Best Shots Team to bring you tomorrow's reviews, today! And we've got a doozy of a column for you this week, with a handful of some of the hottest books to come out tomorrow, including the latest from Marvel, Image, Dynamite, Aspen, and 12 Gauge Comics! Want some more back issue reviews? Hit us up at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's kick off the column and salute the flag, as Ed Brubaker teams up with Steve McNiven with the new relaunch of Captain America


Captain America #1

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

He may be more than 70 years old, but Captain America still packs one heck of a punch. While Ed Brubaker's previous iteration of the title was a slow burn, the newly relaunched title is as kinetic as it gets, with the Star-Spangled Avenger leaping, diving, dodging, and most importantly, throwing his mighty shield. The result is a series that has far more urgency than it has in quite some time.

A lot of that has to do with Brubaker writing for his artist — in this case, Civil War alum Steve McNiven. McNiven, for lack of a better phrase, is an A-lister's A-lister. His work is action-packed and widescreen, and you can see how much he's grown even since Old Man Logan: In particular, there's a sequence where Steve is chasing down an assailant, and seeing the inset panels really cranks up the speed and agility of our hero.

And that's a good thing — this is definitely a brand new day in terms of tone as well as visuals. This is the most straightforward I've ever seen Brubaker write, and that's a double-edged proposal: It's exceedingly accessible for a post-movie crowd, even if it ends up losing some of that braininess that had so defined the previous run. Where he exceeds is that he really helps define Cap's abilities — namely, that there's more to him than just a shield — giving our hero plenty of opportunities to beat the ever-loving tar out of some national enemies.

If there's anything that doesn't work with this book, it's the overall plotting feels a little insular, with a figure from Steve's past that I'm not sure will appeal to either new readers or many diehards. That said, this feels more like a calculated risk that will pay off in the long run rather than in the here-and-now — once the Captain America movie comes out, people will know Steve as a World War II fighter, and will come to expect his wartime compatriots in the whole mix. But as a standalone issue, it probably would have been better to streamline the characters just a little bit more.

While it's not a perfect first issue, I'll say that Captain America is a movie-inspired relaunch that's looking to be every bit as compelling as Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man. The history is laid down quickly, and this is an issue that makes no apologies for eschewing crazy high concepts and electing to just watch Cap do what he does best. Considering Steve has been out of the suit for so long, that kind of celebration is long overdue, and with such fantastic art from McNiven, Captain America is definitely a book to watch.

Hickman Takes Flight with RED WING
Hickman Takes Flight with RED WING

The Red Wing #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Pitarra and Rachelle Rosenberg       

Published by Image Comics

Review by Colin Bell

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since Jonathan Hickman last launched a creator-owned series. In this time he’s reinvigorated the Fantastic Four, and stealthily redefined both S.H.I.E.L.D. while creating a whole new secret history of the Marvel Universe. He doesn’t play by halves, and the big ideas that he’s becoming known for are prevalent throughout this book.

The Red Wing is an amalgam of hard science fiction and cinematic summer blockbuster. On the surface it tells the story of pilots fighting a war across time, and this allows Hickman to throw imagination-capturing visuals at the reader, one after another . Dinosaurs fly alongside ships, alien war machines wreak havoc on Paris (fast becoming this year’s city to be seen destroying in conjunction with Fear Itself), and the whole book takes place in the future. How sci-fi is that?

This issue mainly deals with a lot of set-up, introducing The Red Wing themselves and establishing a few ground rules of time travel. It’s a brisk and exciting read, well-paced with equal amounts of exposition and time-traveling action, never leaving you feeling like you’ve just been the victim of an info-dump. It’s capital F Fun, and will manage to satisfy the casual reader who likes an explosion or two, and the ardent science fiction fan who likes their stories to have a bit of substance behind them,

Whereas Hickman’s last time-traveling comic Pax Romana told a big idea in a way that some mainstream comic readers may have been put off with, his choice of artist for The Red Wing makes the book accessible to all. Nick Pitarra has been making subtle noises with his recent work on S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity and a showing in Astonishing Tales a couple of years back, and hopefully with The Red Wing people will start to sit up and take notice, because I could stand to see it a lot more.

Pitarra uses the confines that comics present him with to his advantage, and the way he plays with panels is beautiful. Ships leap from time to time in a downplayed manner, as they pop out of the confines of a panel to straddle two time periods divided by gutter. It’s simplistic, and an ingenious shorthand in place of the flashes of light, portals or wormholes that we’ve come to associate with traveling through time. Elsewhere, again using a panel per time period, he allows the ships to disregard all notions of being confined to a panel and gives us a frenetic dogfight across time. Most notably, there’s a bravura sequence where one unfortunate pilot and his ship succumb to the ravages of time, and they deteriorate in time with the collapsing panels that present them, in a two-page splash that is just something to behold. All of these examples indicate a talent that’s putting a serious amount of thought into their work and one to keep an eye on.

There’s a cliffhanger that introduces a last-minute additional plot to the book, and it’s one that will definitely be bringing me back for the next installment. I’d be very surprised if The Red Wing didn’t work its way to being one of my favorite books of the year by its conclusion.


Loose Ends #1

Written by Jason Latour

Art by Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi

Published by 12 Gauge Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

“Hey, the first issue of Loose Ends is a pretty great comic, and – especially if you’re a big crime fiction, or Southern Gothic fan – it’s definitely well worth your time and hard-earned simoleons.”

What’s that? I need another several hundred words? Okay, fine. How about this:

Loose Ends is very well written and very well drawn, with inventive uses of panel layouts. The layouts themselves look traditional on first glance, but it’s in the way the information is broken down within panels, and the relationships between them – as they create “windows” into the world of the story that make them remarkable.

The comic embraces its southern setting, and uses it as a crucial part of the storytelling instead of as a mere colorful backdrop. Writer Jason Latour provides artfully naturalistic dialogue, and he handles that hardest of things – patois – without going overboard and veering into the unintentionally comic. The art by Chris Brunner has a gritty, simplified style – he manages to get a lot of information into a minimum of lines, and that proves to be a great asset to the look of the book. Rico Renzi’s color work is stylish and stylized, aiding the narrative by clearly delineating the present day from the myriad flashbacks contained within.

Latour leaps back and forth throughout this issue, providing background information on our lead character – a fellow by the name of Sonny Gibson – while we see him in his current state of disillusionment. That mood and notion is carried forth through the rest of the issue, as we see the events and decisions that have led him to his present situation. It’s done well, with a clarity and concision that carries everything forth with a restless, relentless momentum.

Thematically, the story belongs to the same noir world as Detour or Out of the Past, dealing, as it does, with a lone figure – Sonny – returning to old stomping grounds, with a questionable history. The characters smoke, drink and discuss their pasts with a weary detachment. The present day framework details the happenings at a dive bar Sonny used to frequent, and his encounter with a woman from his yesteryear. The customers at the bar are appropriately degenerate, and it leads to a startling climax that is brought to life through a series of panel breaks and well choreographed action that has a chaotic feeling, and emphasizes grime and blood – not elegance or style. It is also, in one key moment, surprisingly funny, in a demonstration of the drunkenness of the combatants.

Interspliced with Sonny’s return are the glimpses into his past. Latour ingeniously creates a parallel story involving drug running – which spirals out of the flashback. The plotting is taut, and the characterizations provide tantalizing glimpses into who these people are, and what they want out of life.

Brunner admirably keeps Sonny looking disheveled and tired – with a gaunt face, and hollowed out eyes. His other figures are equally distinct looking, and his flashback scenes have an obscured, pointillist quality, aided by the monochrome color work. His compositions favor high-contrasts (again, supported by the exemplary coloring), utilizing shadow play and silhouette to great effect. As I mentioned above, the panel layouts are worked into the art to great effect – cutting up scenes into panels-within-panels, and creating a mosaic aesthetic. It works marvelously.

Being a “Southern Crime Romance,” as the cover so aptly bills the magazine – the effects of the crime and violence have the sensation of coming from a place other than man – the aftermath of the bar-fight has a moment of poetic inevitability, as though forces greater than the characters are at play, and fate – that cruelest of all forces – is going to have a hand in matters. It’s a grandly romantic idea – and the exploration of the nature of unexpected consequences and unintended tragedy is something that allows the book to resonate on an emotional level. It’s a gritty, grounded work, telling an interesting story about characters that may not be able to escape the traps they have set for themselves. The milieu feels true and real, and there’s an undercurrent of dark humor that lurks beneath the bleakness. There is a great confidence in the storytelling here – both writer and artist know precisely what they want to do, and know how to get the maximum effect from the work – whether it’s through a telling piece of dialogue overheard by another, or a single fly flitting by a person’s head. Every piece adds up, creating an undeniably strong atmosphere – built on clearly fallible human beings. It’s very highly recommended by the likes of me.


Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #3

Written by Mark Andrew Smith

Art by Armand Villavert and Pommes

Lettering by Thomas Mauer

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

At Gladstone's, the children of all the world's most villainous are given exhaustive instruction on the best means and methodologies by which to conquer the Earth. They bone up on magic, super-science, physical combat and the like. But their schooling is effectively pointless. They'll never get the chance to apply those lessons in the real world.

That's because Gladstone's graduates will basically walk with degrees in make-believe. And they won't know until the last day.

Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert's awesomely charming series is about super-powered high schoolers. Don't let the familiar setting fool you, this is the most original super-book since Mark Grayson first became Invincible. And like that standout Image series, the genius of Gladstone's School for World Conquerors is that the book is built around a lie parents tell their kids.

The spandex-on-spandex crime in this world is little more than a sport, and it's a fixed one. The good guys and bad guys have an understanding; as long as the baddies play by the rules, and as long as they make the “heroes” look good in the occasional highly-publicized and viewed bout, they are left to their own devices. They are little more than wrestling heels. Nobody is doing any world conquering. Yet.

Gladstone's is irresistible. It doesn't try at humor- it achieves it with ease. The two apparent main players, Kid Nefarious and Martian Jones, are more high school everymen than villains, and their innocent hijinx plays in real contrast to the power struggle going on in the world around them. If Gladstone's succeeds by one single measure, it is tone. Smith's script is ebullient but dense, capturing a wide array of characters and building out a full world. Villavert's artwork is deceptively simple and emotionally versatile, like a Pixar film by way of Tim Burton. The Pommes coloring is also exceptionally strong, bounding between a green-and-blue hue for the innocent schoolyard scenes and red-and-purple for the more sinister ones.

It is basically understood that in order for an original superhero/ villain book to succeed in the comics' market, it needs to be superior to its corporate counterparts. It needs more character, more verve, a better hook and stronger, riskier art. In this, Gladstone's School for World Conquerors reigns triumphant.

So maybe it's not a fixed fight after all.


Lady Mechanika #2

Written and illustrated by Joe Benitez

Colors by Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Josh Reed

Published by Aspen Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Lady Mechanika, you were worth the wait.

It’s been months since the last issue published, but writer/artist Joe Benitez abundantly rewards Lady M.’s fans for their patience with a meticulously illustrated, story-rich installment. There’s also no loss of momentum. Even newcomers should be able to jump in and follow the storyline without much difficulty.

The story itself is about 20 pages, but Lady Mechanika #2 feels heftier. Benitez has heaped each page with his signature art, which is full of Steampunk detail. This is also a dialogue-heavy book that drops more hints about the title character’s origin and the human-mechanical girl who died in issue #1.

Mechanika is confronted almost immediately by her archenemy Captain Winter — aka Katherine — who had such a memorable cameo in the last issue. These two have a complicated history, and they engage in a verbal joust that is ruthlessly cutting and funny. Winter mocks Mechanika’s outfit. Mechanika reminds the one-eyed redhead that she’s lucky that she can even see it. It’s an entertaining show, but Winter reveals that she’s capable of far worse than withering one-liners.

However, Mechanika is more interested in finding out what happened to that doomed young woman who, like her, who was subjected to flesh-metal fusion. There is ominous talk of “The Engineer,” a mad genius rumored to have conducted the experiments. Mechanika’s foggy memories of imprisonment and torture suggest that The Engineer’s unholy research was only the tip of the iceberg.

With “The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse” arc, Benitez has laid the groundwork for a potentially grand story. Even the supporting cast is memorable. Mechanika’s friend Mr. Lewis, shown alone with his drink and broken heart, provides an unexpected and touching character moment.

Colorist Peter Steigerwald and letterer Josh Reed are essential members of Lady Mechanika’s art squad. The colors change to suit the story’s progression: industrial gray and brown, appropriate for a night scene in the Ministry of Health underbelly; warm autumnal tones in early evening moments; sky blue and soft green for daytime. Reed uses beautifully old-fashioned lettering for narration and internal monologue.

Whatever the circumstances behind the delay, Lady Mechanika #2 delivers a captivating reading experience. I predict that once the issue hits shelves, all will be forgiven.


The Green Hornet: Aftermath #4

Written by Jai Nitz

Art by Nigel Raynor and Inlight Studio

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Deniz Cordell

Click here for preview

There’s something to Jai Nitz’s storytelling methodology that is marvelously entertaining. Perhaps it’s in the way he even makes his caption boxes exhausted after a while – punctuating a series of them with a well placed “Whew.” This kind of self-reflexive humor is a difficult line to toe, as, if taken too far or approached from the wrong angle, can easily deflate the book, seeming too precious for its own good. Nitz avoids that pitfall by parsing out such moments throughout in an even-handed, sometimes sparing fashion. He continues to use caption boxes to his advantage, creating small textual portraits of the characters as they make their appearances in his story – ensuring that the audience is kept abreast of who’s who, and what the goings on are, while fitting in sly asides and one liners. The general tone is a comic action story – and Nitz keeps to that, offering gags, fisticuffs and Perry Mason-esque twists at every corner.

It’s very different from Nitz’s work on Kato: Origins, which is also energetic and entertaining, but which takes itself with a modicum of seriousness that allows for that story to feel attached to its time and place. Now, though, in our era of ironic detachment, Nitz ably taps into that style and feel with this book - its frivolity is tempered by some nastier moments, such as an early monologue by Plungkhen – the ostensible villain of the piece, which straddles that area between the funny and the mean-spirited with aplomb. It works quite well, and there’s something James Bond-ian about Plungkhen’s bald Blofeldesque head, and his constant taunts and jabs at his kidnapees.

I did not see the recent Green Hornet film, so I’m pleased to say that familiarity with the movie is non-essential to one’s ability to follow or derive enjoyment from the story.  This final part roars along at full speed, piling complications and situations on until there’s nothing to do but have a narrative release. A particular standout sequence involves the Hornet informing the police of the plot so far. The news darts about between parties, each in a different locale, with a different attitude. How that single page pays off is surprising, and ultimately cleverly constructed.

Added into the mix are two policemen masquerading in “superhero” costumes. With their surplus of pouches, giant claws for arms, large guns, and wraparound masks – with fabric that seems to defy the laws of gravity – they’re clearly a parody of the utilitarian/over-the-top hero aesthetic of the nineties. One of the cops attempts to come up with a pithy catchphrase makes for a nice running gag throughout – and again, Nitz proves himself an expert at delivering appropriate payoffs to each strand.

The fight sequence runs rather long, but Nitz and artist Nigel Raynor find ways to keep the action varied, and integrated with little bits of character dialogue. Raynor’s work is splendid – stylistically, his figures evoke the springiness of J. Scott Campbell, but Raynor brings a thicker line to his work. His layouts in the fight scene use canted panels and angles to fine effect – mimicking some of the cinematographic tendencies seen in current action pictures. The work is a little exaggerated, a little cartoony, and it makes sense given the take on the material.

The issue ends with a series of double-crosses and twists that happen so quickly that it too takes on a somewhat comic dimension. This is tempered by a moment of sudden violence where humor is supplanted by madness and jeopardy – even while some of the dialogue is ostensibly humorous. It’s actually an effect that works well, given the nature of the sequence, involving two crooked policewomen trying to bargain their way to freedom.

The dialogue is snappy, the quips fly faster than the kicks at some moments, and the Hornet and Kato are given enough to do, though it’s clear that Britt Reid is still learning how to handle his heroic persona in the book. The supporting cast is given enough to define their inner lives, and the relationship the Hornet has with the press and police is given some time to develop and expand, as well.

All told, this is definitely a Green Hornet that’s attuned to a current audience – unlike Matt Wagner’s gangster-noir take, or the Kevin Smith/Phil Hester/Ande Parks more superheroically tinged work. The Green Hornet: Aftermath is more interested in jokes than sincerity, but it still takes the time to make sure that the reader understands and cares about the situation. The writing and art are well suited to each other, with well-rendered action sequences that are legitimately exciting; and plotting that could have easily lent itself to a story of great seriousness – but, I must say, I’m glad they decided to go the other way. 

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