Greetings, Rama readers! Team Best Shots is back from the weekend, with a ton of new releases for your reading enjoyment. We've got the latest from Marvel, DC, Image, Dynamite, and much more! Want some more back-issue reviews? Check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a look at the origin of a fallen hero, as Erika takes a look at the latest issue of Captain America and Bucky...


Captain America and Bucky #620

Written by Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko

Art by Chris Samnee

Colors by Bettie Breitweiser

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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One of this comic’s many charms is its newcomer-friendliness. Writers Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko have practically laid out the welcome mat with Captain America & Bucky #620, an absorbing origin story that sidesteps origin story triteness. It’s also beautifully illustrated, which is no surprise. This book had me at “Chris Samnee.”

Told from Bucky’s perspective, the first chapter of the five-part "Masks" storyline traces his path from misguided military brat to hero. It isn’t a happy beginning, but Brubaker and Andreyko don’t belabor the psychology behind Bucky’s behavior. Doubly sucker-punched by tragedy, Bucky punches others often and revels in a good scrap. He’s endearingly naughty one minute, frighteningly hot-tempered the next. Bucky is a sympathetic character, but the writers don't shy away from his flaws.

This is where Samnee’s compelling art elevates the story. Each panel is a self-contained story, and several show Bucky’s angry satisfaction as he clocks an opponent. Blood and spittle dot the page, and his smile is unsettling, especially during one particularly savage thrashing. Remorse quickly follows, and it’s clear that he’s ashamed of his short fuse — especially considering the way it worried his departed father. Fortunately for Bucky, his dad’s Army colleagues find a much better outlet for the angry young man’s gifts: rigorous combat training and a special assignment.

“Of course, you know what came next,” Bucky says.

On the off chance that you don’t know, Samnee shows you through vivid illustrations of Bucky’s transformation and his awe of Captain America. Seen largely in newsreel footage, the Captain occupies his future sidekick's thoughts as he climbs ropes, fires rifles, and crawls past barbed wire. Samnee has a way with facial expressions, and his distinctive style gives the book a sense of time and place. Bettie Breitweiser’s colors are subdued, but they they fit the serious tone and have an appropriately vintage quality. Good as the story is, the art makes it a richer, more memorable reading experience.

Even if you have minimal interest in this character, Captain America & Bucky #620 is a rewarding read that will have you looking forward to the next four issues.


Detective Comics #880

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Jock and Dave Baron

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

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The last issue of Detective Comics felt like a bit of a drawn-out set-up. Ignore it. Detective Comics #880 is where the current story arc really takes off. Scott Snyder is doing what he does best: tension. Throw in a fantastically creepy Joker, and you’ve got a solid issue and taste of the best this title has on offer.

Snyder's run on this title is justifiably getting a lot of praise. Gotham City is used as a major character in the book; with Batman often sidelined. The Gordon family has been expanded, with a bad seed of a son coming home to roost on the almost stereotypically honorable Commissioner. And then there’s the Joker, who in this book is heavily drawn from Heath Ledger’s movie portrayal. With Dick Grayson often left out of his own book, Snyder is delving into an intense element that is part of every superhero story: the world they are trying to save. To his credit, Snyder is doing it without getting too continuity-heavy, allowing the reader to pick up issue by issue of the long running Detective Comics.

Detective Comics #880 balances the action and the set-up expertly. It is clear that Snyder and crew are building up to the big “DC September initiative,” but this issue has enough of its own ups and downs and smoke and mirrors. Snyder and Jock give us a great Joker for Dick to play with, in both tone and depiction. He gets into Batman's brain and dances around, producing the same manipulations within the reader. The pages where the two interact are like the gods of Good and Evil struggling with each other while the real story plays out on the ground: with Jim Gordon playing father and gumshoe and ex-husband.

Jock's art duties on this one add layers to Snyder's script, and some brutally forthright gore. He draws Batman as stoic and distant, almost static, contrasted with the insanity of the Joker and the way that insanity has seeped into the streets of Gotham itself. The first page shows Jim Gordon grappling with a labyrinthine city in the rain, trying to save the day, but getting there a little too late. And he adds to Snyder's tensions of relationships not with unnecessary words, but things like close-ups on hands. But where Jock really shines here is his ability to pull the reader into the characters' own different insanities; insanities that are not often pretty, but always engrossing.

However, Synder often takes too long to establish relationships, then harps on key points too often after they are established. What makes for good solid one-off issues here — and this is one of them — makes for a bit of a redundant run. This issue, read alone, is dynamic and full of surprises. When taken into context of the series as a whole, most of the wind has already been taken out of the sails. But Snyder still treats things we’ve already seen as reveals to such a point that I feel like I shouldn't bluntly state what happens in this review or I'd be spoiling it. The truth is, Snyder is the one spoiling it. My sense is that like I could read every fifth issue of this book and get the same thrills.

In short, if you haven't been reading Detective Comics lately, come on in, the plot is hot. And every issue is almost better without a backstory. If you have been reading it, Snyder continues to deliver the dark Gotham City and tortured Gordon family replete with tension and mystery — the same ones, that are still good, just not as fresh. Word is that the two artists that have been trading off lately —Jock and Francesco Francavilla — are going to be working together on the next one, which should be even more of a treat for the eyes. All in all, Detective Comics #880 is a worthwhile read.


Amazing Spider-Man #666

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Stefano Caselli and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

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Amazing Spider-Man #666 serves as the prologue to Spider Island, the crossover that will be running through this series as well as various minis over the next few months. If you've wandered away from keeping up with Spidey, this is the perfect point to come back to the series. This issue does a great job of reestablishing the status quo for both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, as well as putting the pieces in place for this new chapter in the ongoing Spidey saga.

I'm a huge fan of the voice that Slott has established for Spider-Man as a character. Right from the opening pages, as our hero dispatches two thugs with fists and quips, then banters with the cops and bystanders, you instantly understand how deeply Spider— Man cares about his city — a trait that will no doubt be tested in the months ahead. Likewise, it's very refreshing to see the character admired by the population and somewhat content in his personal life, which establishes just how much he now has to lose.

Slott also takes time to show us the supporting cast, from standbys like Jonah Jameson and Aunt May to new additions like Peter's current girlfriend. Skillfully interweaving moments with each of them with the events of Spidey's day, Slott sets the table for the upheaval to come, reminding us where everyone is and what they're up to. These interludes also build outward, starting with Peter's friends and work colleagues and moving into his allies in the superhero community, ably demonstrating the web (ha!) of relationships centered around Spidey. By emphasizing these themes of community and connection, then introducing the slow build of mysterious events all over Manhattan and the return of a classic Spider—villain, Slott helps us understand what's at stake for not only Spider-Man, but all of those he cares about.

I was equally taken with the work of Caselli and Gracia, who are one of the better art teams on ASM in recent memory. Caselli's style — fluid, dynamic and detailed without being busy — seems a perfect fit for the urban landscapes and high—flying acrobatics of the series. Every member of the cast has their own look and physicality, and remain consistent in those traits across the board. Caselli brings the same energy to a sit-down meeting at City Hall as he does to a fight with Hydro-Man, and his ability to sustain that tone and tempo regardless of what he's drawing has earned him a fan in this reviewer. Gracia's colors are the perfect complement, further actualizing the visual reality that Caselli has created.

I've only been an intermittent reader of Amazing Spider-Man since the events of Brand New Day, but I've got to say that Slott and his team are really clicking right now. Whether you're a perennial buyer of all things Spidey or have been scared off by one too many deals with Mephisto, I'd encourage any fan of the character to pick this up and take a look.


Butcher Baker, the Righeous Maker #5

Written by Joe Casey

Art by Mike Huddleston

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

In Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker #5, Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston are obviously talking about the nature of superheroes in almost the same way that Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Frank Miller were talking about it back in 1986. In fact, Casey is obviously trying to merge the voices of Moore, Miller and Howard Chaykin, taking their approach to heroism back then and revisiting with 25 years later to see how far we have or haven’t come. Butcher Baker remains a pastiche on the patriotic hero the same way that Moore and Gibbon’s Comedian was, he is past his prime just the same way that Miller’s Batman was and he’s as anti-heroic (or anti the general idea of heroism) as Chaykin’s Reuben Flagg or Shadow was. While Casey isn’t as revelatory as those auteurs were, he is a needed voice now and again, throwing back in our faces our blind reverence of our superheroes.

The first issue of Casey and Huddleston’s series showed up a hero that America thought it needed; a hero who would do everything that we couldn’t. Of course, that hero was old, retired and coked up beyond belief but the thinly veiled Republicans that set him on his destructive course would have held his “experience” in higher esteem than his own personal debauchery. The character they introduced us to was fueled by drugs, righteousness and the American dream which he had lived and beat years ago. And now he was back for more in America’s darkest hour! It was an adrenaline filled comics the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a while.

The issues since then, including this latest issue, show us a different Butcher Baker. His “one last job” of the first issue has turned into a mess that four issues later he is still trying to clean up. In this issue, Casey gives us a sadder and reflective Butcher Baker, one who maybe wished that he staying in his retirement haze. Like Moore, Miller and Chaykin before him, Casey shows us that maybe our heroes have to change now and again, that they can’t be the same heroes of our childhood or at least, we can’t approach them the same ways. Instead of assimilating the golden and silver ages and deconstructing them, Casey is deconstructing the deconstructionists, pulling the Comedian and Miller’s old Batman apart to find out how and why they ticked.

More than just comics, Casey is going after some kind of Americana too. He may be picking on 1980’s superheroes but there’s no denying that he has some kind of fascination with Smokey and the Bandit as well. While Butcher Baker is battling many of his enemies, the true counterpoint to Baker is Arnie B. Willard, a rural sheriff who owes more to Jackie Gleason than he does to Commissioner Gordon. Arnie is the Law and just another aspect of authority that Casey and Huddleston seem to be going after in this book. Now he gains some kind of cosmic awareness and connection to Baker. Their stories are linked in ways that aren’t entirely clear yet as Arnie is the wildcard in this book. This police officer has become the uncertain factor in Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker #5 just as the Comedian or Batman were the unknown factors back in Moore or Miller’s hands.

If Casey is trying to channel Moore and Miller, Huddleston is channeling an artist that both of them worked with; Bill Sienkiewicz. Like Sienkiewicz, Huddleston believes that there is no limit to the comic page. It can be black and white. It can have flat colors or it can be fully painted. The only consistency is Huddleston’s artwork is how it isn’t consistent. It may not be consistent as different panels on the same page can look completely different but it’s all unified by Huddleston’s underlying style. Like Sienkiewicz’s work on Stray Toasters or Elektra Assassin, Huddleston allows his art to serve the story, changing how he adds color or how he inks a particular figure depending on what is best for the story. He opens issue #5 with five and a half pages of a similarly painted style for an extended scene but from there, Huddleston takes Casey’s story and makes it a visual hallucination of color and artwork that tells the story rather than just merely drawing pictures around Casey’s words.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #5 is a superhero comic book that has something to say about comic books and superheroes. It’s about the comics we read growing up and by “we” I mean me, Joe Casey and everyone in our generation of fans who discovered comics could be more when in the hands of great creators. No matter what we may say now as we try to be cool, hip and edgy, we all ate up Miller, Moore, Chaykin, Baron, Rude, Starlin, Veitch, Totleben, Moebius, Ostrander, Truman, Wagner and all of those guys like there was no tomorrow. When we talk of the “golden age,” that was ours and that’s what Casey and Huddleston are trying to homage in this book. 


The Mighty Thor #4

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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It's become a truism that you can't just print a straight-up fight comic in this day and age. You need characterization, build-up, theme, sharp dialogue, a whole laundry list of things to make sure that the book is accessible, exciting, and part of a larger whole.

But every so often, someone prints a comic like The Mighty Thor #4, and blows that argument to smithereens. It's Asgard versus Galactus, mano a intergalactic mano, and Matt Fraction and Olivier Coipel create an absolutely stunning riff on that iconic Thor vs. Silver Surfer story of yesteryear. The people in this book don't talk — they bellow. They don't walk — they soar. They don't just trade punches — they hit each other with the force of a planet. This is a clash of titans, baby, and you feel every single hit along the way.

In a lot of ways, this was exactly the kind of comic that I was expecting when I first heard about this series coming out. With just about any other set of creators, I'd call this action figure fighting — Fraction's already gotten the exposition out of the way, and aside from a couple of amusing sideplots with Loki and Volstagg, the rest of this book's pages are devoted to some epic combat. Watching the Silver Surfer get nailed with Mjolnir and return the hit in kind with his board, that's a moment that's going to push a lot of readers' buttons, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. And one of the reasons it all sticks? Fraction shows he has a really deft touch with fight dialogue: "You want to die on Mars?" Thor asks, looking scarier than he has ever looked. "I have no problem killing you on Mars…"

But this book wouldn't work without Olivier Coipel. It just wouldn't. He's the new A-list, the new top game from the House of Ideas, an artist that combines widescreen aesthetics with a beautiful, sketchy expressiveness. But that doesn't stop him from stepping up his game with his composition, as he just knows how to pick the perfect shot for the fight, really bringing a striking choreography to a space-borne Thunder God as he hurtles toward a giant intergalactic predator's head. Colorist Laura Martin seems to be working with slightly lighter skin tones, which decreases some of the depth of the previous issues, but her bold uses of gold, purple, blue, and silver are really breathtaking, as it's made undeniably clear that we're fighting on a whole different arena.

There's no other way to say this — this book is the goods. In a week with a lot of great releases, The Mighty Thor comes back with a hammer, bringing in a ton of action without regret and without error. This is pure superhero goodness, and if you're looking for the best fight scene you'll see all month, pick this book up, and do it now.


Warlord of Mars: the Fall of Barsoom #1

Written by Robert Place Napton

Art by Roberto Castro

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Shanna VanVolt

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The modern Barsoom-iverse is expanding. Has Dynamite left Edgar Rice Burroughs back in the dust of the planet he created? Not quite yet, it seems. This latest addition to the rapidly growing Warlord of Mars family, The Fall of Barsoom, contains the spark that has made Dynamite’s series storm the comic world: imagination.

Specifically, Edgar Rice Burroughs' imagination. One of the shrewdest things Dynamite has done is hew as close as possible to the original, and while Burroughs never wrote a standalone book in Barsoom’s past, he left plenty of nuggets for writer Robert Place Napton to build from. Most notably, in the second and third books of his Barsoom Series (and scattered in notes throughout the others) Burrough’s hinted at Barsoom’s ancient history. Napton cleverly reverses the narrative, taking what were flashbacks in Burrough’s books, and spinning them into a pre-history of the days before John Carter ever laid eyes on the Red Planet.

There is a tone and ingenuity in Napton's writing for most of this first issue, and overall, this is a pleasing and well-told tale from the old pulp master's mind. Napton needs to tread carefully though: after a well-handled first half of Fall of Barsoom #1, the narrative falls apart a bit in a battle scene. The problem is that without John Carter, there is no one to narrate for us. Part of the appeal — if not the genius — of these Warlord of Mars comics is that Carter’s voice, originally serialized in pulp magazines, is just as illustrative as the pictures. Without that distinctive Civil War-era twang, Napton loses a valuable tool, and the book loses a lot of the flourish.

It’s worth reminding folks that these books, like others drawn from Burroughs' works, are somewhat confusing. They are anti-modern: Burroughs wrote for speed and money, and pulled these books together in as little as two months. He was not writing for the continuity-craving, immortal-protagonist-loyal, nit-picking audience of today. The originals were not about building tension between known characters over long periods of time, as comics are today, but all plot and action, with a new twist and turn around every corner. In other words: Burroughs threw a lot of stuff at the reader to keep things exciting and paid little attention to the details some of us obsess over. Many people since ERB have tried to map his world, trying harness that imagination in borders and pinpoints and maps, with varying degrees of success. I’m not sure you can. So, keep in mind that Fall of Barsoom is a modern linear interpretation of scattered hints about the devolution of a Martian society from a serialized book written around 1913.

That is not to say that the Barsoom mythos suffers from a lack of details. ERB loved to scatter random tidbits in his texts that were sometime contradictory. But he was very effective at immersing a reading in an alien and magical world. That immersion is something missing from this first issue. It stems back into the lack of narrator. Without someone telling us the story there are fewer details. Gone is the front introduction about where and who our players are, and absent are the little charts and illustrations of specificities and minutiae. Napton and Castro have the advantage of pictures to show this alien technology, but it is an advantage not fully taken.

That said, Castro has a hard job. There are four different races on Barsoom here (plus one emerging mixed-race), and he does well to differentiate between them, and put them in a thriving before-the-fall-of-Rome like culture. The scientist main character in this issue almost mimics a punk rock protagonist from the nineties, which is odd at first, but makes for an interesting person to follow. Add gas masks and pimped-out go-carts to the soon-to-be-barren Martian landscape, and you get an aesthetic not too far from Max Max or Judge Dredd’s post-apocalyptic milieu. It is, after all, a society on the verge of collapse. Castro's failing is that he does not push this aesthetic further. The pencils are there, but the colors and the inks need to pop more, and many of the careful outlines get lost as the foreground and backgrounds blur together.

The success or failure of this series will rely on whether Napton and Castro can continue to stretch their own imaginations. Forget about consistency and continuity and keeping the world intact, instead, do what Burroughs did and tell me a tall tale. This is a set up issue, and, if you know your Barsoomian lore, you have a rough idea of where these dueling tribes end up in 100,000 years. But how the road wends is entirely up to these comic book creators — Burroughs only gave us snippets. And good pulp is all about the details.


Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples

Lettering by Sean Phillips

Published by Icon

Review by Scott Cederlund

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have set up a bit of a puzzle with the title of this volume of Criminal, “The Last of the Innocent.” You see, in previous volumes of the book, it’s been easy to know who the title character was. We knew who the sinner was or who the coward was or even who the dead and the dying were but who is the last of the innocent? It’s certainly not Riley Richards, the lead character who is far from innocent as he plans out killing his cuckolding wife. It’s certainly not Felicity either, as her marriage to Riley only fills some kind of necessary space, even as she finds pleasure elsewhere. Is the innocent Freak, Riley’s best friend who Riley betrays when it falls into his plan or can it be Lizzie, the childhood girl next door who has grown up to remain the girl next door? Are there any real innocents in this world that Brubaker and Phillips have created? They set up this simple question in the title of the book and two issues into the series have yet to provide an easy answer.

In the first issue, Riley figured out what he needed to; he needed to kill his wife and then all of his troubles would go away or so he thought. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2 is about carrying out that plan, about plotting the steps so carefully and carrying them out so meticulously that nothing would lead back to him. Of course, the plan requires two morally questionable acts like betraying his best friend and killing the woman he once thought he loved. And Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2 is undeniably a love story, as Riley is in love with the memories of the small town that he grew up in and the people he knew when he was a teenager. That love does not include that same town now or the people his friends grew up to be.

Actually the simple answer is that this is Criminal and there are no innocents, no matter how pure anyone seems. There has to some small bit of corruption in everyone's soul, whether it is an obvious sickness like Riley's, a debilitating one like Freak's, or an unseen one like the secret that Lizzie has to be hiding. If she gets to be the "innocent" of this story, she would surely be the first one that Brubaker and Phillips have included in this story. She may even be innocent now, but how long can that last before she is sucked into the repercussions of Riley's actions?

Brubaker and Phillips depict Riley’s love of the past by showing it in the nostalgic Archie style flashbacks and we get more of the conflict between what the past actually was and how Riley’s memories color it. Phillips and colorist Val Staples never let us fall for the idealization of the past. Sometimes it looks as bright and colorful as a four-color comic should but then there’s always the shadows and hues that Staples has that gives this book a lewd undercoat. Phillips’ style is always present as well, whether in the naturalistic present day or in the Archie like past. Phillips and Staples need to maintain that consistency so you can believe both are parts of Riley’s existence even one may be real and the other is just hazy memories.

It would be easy to fall in love with a past that looked like Riverdale, where Principal Weatherbee was waiting each day to dispense knowledge and discipline and where the hardest choice to make was Betty or Veronica. And that’s exactly what teenage Riley’s choice is; Betty or Veronica? Lizzie, the girl next door, or Felicity, the debutante in training who would also be a step up the social ladder for Riley. In this issue, Brubaker gives Riley one of the best lines about their relationship: “But what else would you expect with a guy who tries to please everyone... and a girl who has no idea what she wants?” You have to read that line as being Riley’s point of view and maybe take its accuracy with a some hesitation but that’s how he pictures his Archie/Veronica relationship with Felicity. Maybe neither of them are guilty... but neither of them are innocent either. 


Venom #5

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Tony Moore, Crimelab Studios, Tom Fowler, and John Rauch

Lettering by Joe Caramanga

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

What's funny about Venom #5 is that Flash Thompson's alter ego is barely seen in this book, aside from a perfunctory introduction to mark off his action quota. But that doesn't stop Rick Remender from making this not just my favorite issue of the series, but probably my favorite comic he's ever written. I think the reason for that is because finally Remender has dug into his hero a little bit, as we he delivers a character piece that shows why Flash has the drive to be a hero… and the temper that might turn him into something worse.

To be honest, that empathy is something that I think was missing from the first three issues, and was only starting to come to the surface last month — but from the moment you see Flash wheel himself into his apartment, and the anguish on his face as he hears a worried voicemail from his mother, that's when you finally start to connect with the guy. Thompson is trapped — he's trapped by his father's alcoholism, he's trapped by the rage and love that drove him to become a Midtown High superjock, he's trapped by the suit that struggles to control him.

That's some compelling stuff, a lot more compelling than the high-concept craziness of fighting in the Savage Land. Of course, that doesn't mean Remender is writing without any sort of continuity threads, but he lowballs them, giving the readers a nice little nod. When Flash has to find his father in any one of the hundreds of bars in New York City, he doesn't call in his girlfriend, Betty Brant — he wants to protect her from the Thompson—brand craziness. So what does he do? He calls in Peter Parker. And it's amazing how great of a supporting character Peter is, the irony of their dual identities aside — Spidey has always been an influence on Flash's character, and it's a nice touch to show that the wallcrawler's alter ego might steer our antihero as well.

As far as the art goes, I really like the way that Tom Fowler uses shadows to conjure up an oppressive mood — it's not quite as effortlessly expressive as Tony Moore, who draws a short fight sequence with the Human Fly, but Fowler proves to us that what we can't see is ultimately as important as what we can. It's fill-in-the-blanks, let-your-imagination-fill-in-the-horror kind of storytelling, and he brings some flourishes that show you there's plenty more underneath the surface. There's one page in particular, transitioning from Flash's apartment to a crowded city street, that has such a nice touch to it, moving from a broken voicemail light to a streetlight. Simply gorgeous.

Who is Flash Thompson? Who is the new Venom? I'll be the first to admit that Remender didn't quite answer that question his first few issues, preferring to let bullets and crazy supervillains do the talking. But this issue here, this is the issue that's going to pick up converts. Flash Thompson is a compelling character, but no one really knew which angle to look at to make him sing to readers. But this issue is the start of something really great.


Undying Love #4

Written by Tomm Coker, Daniel Freedman

Illustrated by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman

Published by Image Comics

Review By Jeff Marsick

This highly under-appreciated series from Image continues as John and Mei defend themselves against an onslaught of vampires shape-shifted into murders of crows. Who knew they could do that? For that matter, who knew those symbols on a Chinese calendar were actually magic charms and not just fortune-cookie fodder? That's a key factoid to keep in your melon the next time you want to keep a few hundred demonic types from knocking down your door. This chapter also sees the reappearance of Shen, the foxy shapeshifter (pun intended) from issue one who lets on to John that there's more to Mei's story than she's letting on, and she's near overdue to tell him.

Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman have here a dark and moody yet undeniably romantic monster tale that spins the vampire model on its axis to show a side not yet excavated. Coupling it with Chinese mythology and backing it against the mysterious Chinese underworld results in a story that is gripping, intense and riveting. The story isn't just man versus monster with girlfriend in tow. It's not just vampires done John Woo-style. It's a love story light on the mush and heavy on morality. John could have cut bait and run on Wei a dozen times since he's met her; after all, this girl's got baggage, but he remains loyal, fighting for her, putting himself in harm's way on purpose. He's a knight in tarnished armor and she's his undead Guinevere. It's no wonder Warner Brothers optioned this pitch, and this issue is Exhibit A as to how cool it would look on the big screen.

Undying Love and Who Is Jake Ellis? are arguably the best books Image has put out this year, and for anyone who says it's all been seen and done in the vampire genre, I would gladly put all four issues of this book in your hand with a snarky, "Oh, really?" I can't recommend this book highly enough.


The Vault #1

Written by Sam Sarkar

Art by Garrie Gastonny and Sakti Yuwono

Published by Image Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

They say there are only so many stories to tell. Perhaps that's why you hear folks complain “that was such a cliché,” whenever they read or watch something they don't like. Well, here is the dirty little secret of storytelling, even in the stories you truly love, they're also littered with clichés. They're called that for a reason, the stories and events, when done correctly just work. Shoot, even the opening of this review is one big cliché of modern reviews. You know, giving a long-winded and slightly pretentious intro to a review when I simply could have introduced The Vault from Image Comics like this: The Vault isn't anything new. It's chalked full of clichés. It's also pretty dang fun.

The Vault revolves around Dr. Gabrielle Parker and Dr. Michael Page seeking fortune and glory within the Oak Island Treasure Pit. It's always fun when books reference real locations, it puts a spin of realism that helps ground the story. Something The Vault needs when the opening page reveals an astral battle between the angelic forces of heaven and the demonic hordes from hell. Right about then, I found myself wondering if I'd wandered into some Top Cow comic with its never-ending religious overtones. (Not that I mean any disrespect, that just isn't my style of book anymore). From there, we're pulled back into the real world with scientists, engineers, investors, and all other manner of human looking for buried treasure.

Within a few pages, we learn a storm is coming, both literal and fiscal as the dig is low on funds and a hurricane bears down on the workers. Enter the rich, if slightly untrustworthy backer that not only has the funds, but also has shiny new equipment. From a basic storytelling stance, writer Sam Sarkar isn't breaking any new ground here. Still, his handling of the different characters and how they act under pressure makes the story work. It also helps that Sarkar did his homework when it comes to underwater excavations. It brings that slice of realism that adds to the overall tone of the book. Realism you need when the final page reveals itself to you. Again, you can almost see the ending coming, but the characters and dialogue help keep your interest just enough. These aren't people here for the good of mankind. For all their noble claims, everyone at the Oak Island Pit is there for money and when they discover something less, and yet more, we all hell is going to break loose.

For my money though, the real star behind The Vault are artists Garrie Gastonny and Sakti Yuwono. Penciller Gastonny draws both highly realistic people and gorgeous backgrounds. Far too often with comics involving “regular” people, they can start blending together and losing detail. Not so in The Vault, each character has a distinct look and real facial expressions. I know that doesn't seem like much, but having read dozens of “event books” these past few weeks, it is nice to read panels that don't involve every person screaming their lungs out. Gastonny's pencils remind me of Invincible Iron Man artist, Salvador Larroca, with the smooth lines and obvious separation between characters and background elements. Sakti Yuwono's colors only add to the wonderful line work. Yuwono's colors also help bring out the wonders that characters discover deep within the Oak Pit dig.

Buried treasure. Desperate people. Ancient battles. The Vault isn't anything you haven't seen or read before. However, Sarkar and Gastonny tell the story well and end with just enough questions that you want to pick up issue 2. I know I will.


Fly #2

Written by Raven Gregory

Illustrated by Eric J, Michael Garcia

Lettered by Crank!

Published by Zenescope Entertainment

Review By Jeff Marsick

Click here for preview

Raven Gregory ups the ante on a couple fronts in this second issue of his creator-owned series. Our protagonist, nice guy Eddie Patron, has taken a hit of the drug called Fly and exhilarates in the resultant aerial capability it affords. Frolicking at altitude is cool and fun, but once the Peter Pan moment peters out, Eddie is worn, his body exhausted. Fly clearly isn’t a funshine drug, it’s something more insidious, with two-thirds of the ramifications of its use well below the waterline. We get a glimpse of the demon in the depths when Eddie rushes off to save Danielle, a girl he’s sweet on yet really hardly knows, from the incestuous intent of her father. That last page splash says it all, what Eddie’s about to become, and there will be no turning back from here.

That plot alone and the quality of Raven’s writing make this a worthy book to any pull list. But Raven goes further by adding another thread, juxtaposing the present with the past to really set the hook in the reader. We’re witness to a vicious super-type who kills mercilessly, who seems bent on tearing through anyone associated with Fly. Somewhere down the line is a collision course between Eddie, Danielle and this mysterious killer and when the smoke clears, the picture ain’t gonna be pretty.

Eric J. once again does a terrific job of drawing a cartoony look for the events in the past, implying an innocence that exists there, contrasted against a sharper, more industrial look for the scenes in the present and the grim hopelessness inherent therein. Credit Michael Garcia on colors for helping to sell the moods, lighter palette for the past, a decidedly darker one for the present. I, naturally, favor the dark and gritty looking scenes, and think these two guys are a terrific team who would do an interesting Punisher or Batman book.

I said last time that Fly isn’t your typical boy-gets-powers book and issue two further cements that sentiment. If you’re looking for something different, something exceptional, you should be reading this book.


La Mano del Destino #1

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by J. Gonzo

Published by Castle & Key Publications

Review by Aaron Duran

There are 3 universal truths to geekdom. Evil Dead 2 is the greatest movie ever made, Jack Kirby drew the best Silver Surfer, and Luchadores are the original superheroes. Each and every one of those statements are true and anyone that argues, well, they're wrong. I love Luchadores. Not in an isn't it fun to drink PBRs and watch old Santo movies ironic way. No, I mean I genuinely love those high-flying heroes of the ring. Long before I ever started collecting Batman or the X-Men, I would stay up late at night and watch bad videotapes of mighty heroes doing battle in bright costumes and garish masks. And yes, by every definable way, these masked legends truly are superheroes and super villains. The only problem? No one makes enough Luchador comics these days, so you better believe I leapt at the chance to read and review La Mano del Destino.

The story is very simple, as the great stories often are. Our hero, a lone champion of honor and glory fights for the people. Seeing injustice in the ring, he leaps as his heart demands. Treason. The powers of the vile Rudo overwhelm our hero. It is not enough that they defeat him. No, they take his power. They take his honor. They take... His mask! Thankfully, creator J. Gonzo knows enough of the myth of Lucha Libre, that even within the pages of a mere comic, he does not show this most heinous of crimes. Just the suggestion of such dishonor is enough to fill the reader with rage and hopes that our hero shall rise from the shame! Okay, so I'm being a little over the top. But you know what? That's the pure and unadulterated joy you feel when you read La Mano del Destino. This is four-color action and adventure at it's finest. As I said, they story is simple enough. Shoot, anyone that's played a couple hours of Street Fighter or Tekken knows the plot. Fighter dishonored. Evil rules the day. An offer for redemption. Lets get it on!

His first comic, designer and tattoo artist J Gonzo pens a vibrant and wonderful world. His art shows a love for many styles. His use of facial expressions reflect traditional American cartooning, with each character having a very distinct face, in or out of a mask. When an action scene kicks in, you can see Gonzo using speed lines and color for impact, suggesting a Manga influence. Finally, his color work and panel design clearly shows his love for traditional Mexican folk art. On many occasion, characters break into other panels and even reach out to pull the reader into the page. Everything in La Mano del Destino leaps off the top rope with gusto.

This is old school style comic book fun. Even the pages feel like they were ripped straight from the Silver Age with their newsprint feel and smell. This is the first comic from J Gonzo and I can't stress enough, if you love over the top action of pure Luchador glory (and why shouldn't you), this is a title you must read. Perhaps it will awaken the hero within and you too shall don the mask and take to the fight! Jefe and his army of evil are waiting!


Skyward #1

Written by Jeremy Dale

Art by Jeremy Dale, Steve Downer

Lettering by Thom Zahler

Published by Kablam!

Review by Amanda McDonald

Upon seeing the cover for this creator published book from G.I. Joe artist alum Jeremy Dale, I thought "oh how cute, a boy and his dog book." Well, I guess one could describe it that way, but it was only a matter of pages before I realized this book has a lot more meat to it and a great potential to develop into a well executed coming of age tale for main character Quinn.

This book starts out sweetly enough, with young Quinn out fishing with his extremely large and burly father, Corin, and their dog, Jack. Dad is physically a caricature of the manly man, to the point that he evokes thoughts of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. However, the similarities are only on the surface level, as Dale efficiently develops this character as a caring father and devoted husband. As the story progresses, readers learn that Dad has a history and his nemesis arrives for a visit. Herod is villainous and flanked by slog riders that proceed to do a great amount of his dirty work. Through this heartbreaking and fast paced series of events, the young boy ends up on his own with only his dog and a mysterious sword.

The art in this book is solid. Dale creates expressive characters and each panel is consistently detailed. The level of work the creator has put into this story is evident merely in the well developed plot and character exposition, but seeing the level of visual talent he adds to the book really pulls this book together into something that is truly an enjoyable read. The style has a animation sort of look that appeals to young readers, and while the book has some violence -- it's necessary to the story and not shown graphically.

If you've got young readers around, you may want to share this with them -- but only after you've read it yourself, because it's just that good. This serves well as a first issue and tells just enough story to show that there's a great tale on the way, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next, in hopes that it continues to showcase creator Jeremy Dale's talents. Skyward is currently available via Dale's web site and at convention appearances, but well deserving of a spot on your LCS's shelves.



Written by Aaron Alexovich

Art and Lettering by Drew Rausch

Published by Antediluvian Blasphemies

Review by Aaron Duran

You're supposed to start your comic with a hook. Something that grabs the reader when they're flipping through titles on the spinner rack. Something that compels them to put down their hard earned money, read your title, and hopefully tell they're friends. The rule doesn't change simple because the comic forgoes the paper and goes all digital. Well, having Charles Darwin travel through time in a “Bathysphere” certainly counts as a strong hook. And that is exactly how Eldritch by Drew Rausch and Aaron Alexovich begins. From there, it's all quick cuts of evolution and a quirky cute / smart woman screaming “We're sending a rocket straight through your stupid face!” From there, things get a little confusing and creepy, but no less enjoyable.

Anya is that woman. She is a woman of science and provable fact, it doesn't matter that a single discipline can't maintain her focus in college. She is a woman of empirical knowledge. Her younger brother? Yeah, not so much. Her polar opposite, he lives in a world of folklore and spiritualism. He loves all that which is intangible. Their two lives collide in the most, well Eldritch of ways when he slices off chunks of his finger and a tentacled thing-that-much-not-be comes slithering out. Like I said, confusing, but all kinds of fun. And from there? Well, to be honest, to tell more would simply take away from the chaotic tone of the book, and would only confuse you more. This is truly a case of you need to read to understand, or at least enjoy.

Writer Aaron Alexovich has the tricky task of balancing the extremely dense and confusing story with a cast that has a shorter attention span then cat on a case of Red Bull. Characters bounce from conversation to conversation, mixing in one non sequitur with another pop culture reference in a pace that can be a little hard to follow. There were times I wondered if Aaron was more interested in slipping in a joke than telling the story proper. However, when the jokes work (and that is often), you don't really mind that it's literary filler. Fun is fun and the quixotic nature of the comic guarantees you'll get pulled right back in.

Drew Rausch's pencils and inks are a perfect match to Aaron's chaotic writing. One moment, Drew draws a seemly calm setting, but like the moment before a storm, he explodes onto the page! Readers that miss titles like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or Squee by Jhonen Vasquez will find a kindred spirit in Eldritch. Characters twist and morph as the story demands. Considering this is a tale of science and magic mixing in the most mundane of suburbia, Drew's twisted style of art only adds to the bizarre enjoyment. There were some technical issues in the comic. A few times I found myself wondering who was talking next or where my eye was supposed to got. But, those are forgivable mistakes from a newly published small press title. Everyone has some growing pains and this title is no different.

Eldritch won't be to everyone's taste. It is chaotic and all kinds of off-kilter. But, if you find yourself watching an old copy of Invader Zim or old school Tim Burton flicks and asking if there is anything new... Yeah, there is. It's called Eldritch!

Pellet Review!


Executive Assistant Violet #1 of 3 (Aspen Comics; Review By Jeff Marsick)
: This addition to Aspen's Executive Assistant line of books is pure fun and Violet is probably the strongest character yet. Beautiful yet lethal Violet finds herself working for a Hollywood has-been who is set to punch above his weight class by taking over his father's chemical corporation. The guy is three-parts sleazy to one part moron and Violet would be forgiven, perhaps even celebrated, if she offed this guy. But that's never a good business model, so she has to do her damnedest to keep him alive when a special ops group comes a-calling for his head. The story races from the jump in fifth gear and while the dialogue gets campy at times when Marc Andreyko tries too hard to bring the funny, the action sequences are well done, drawn by the always impressive Pop Mhan and colored by John Starr.  Finishing the issue leaves you in want for more, which is a good thing. This is a solid formula Aspen's cooking up, and Violet is surely not to be missed.

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