Best Shots Rapid Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN, SPIDER-ISLAND

Best Shots Rapid Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN

Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for some reviews that strike like lightning? Best Shots has you covered with our Rapid-Fire Reviews, hitting the latest from DC, Marvel, Top Cow, Dynamite and more! Want some more back-issue reviews? Check out the Best Shots Topic Page! Be sure to tune in Monday for the big column and a big change, as well. And now, let's kick off with the final adventure (for now) of Batman and Robin...

A Surreal BATMAN & ROBIN Experiment
A Surreal BATMAN & ROBIN Experiment

Batman and Robin #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Very clever, David Hine. This standalone issue keeps you guessing, moving from a traditional fight comic (albeit against some fairly untraditional villains) to a bizarre, horrifying character piece — and you know something? The book trumps the odds and works. Much of this has to do with Greg Tocchini, who really was the perfect pick for this issue — Tocchini's work is just similar enough to old-school comic anatomy, yet sketchy and fluid in a way that'll make you question things. And when Batman, Robin, and Nightrunner are fighting in the French version of Arkham Asylum, a little bit of visual boldness goes a long way. What's great about this book is not so much the characterization, as much as the creativity of the threats that Hine throws at our heroes, with hypnotic suggestions, glass transmutation, and more being thrown into the mix. Structurally, this book just works — even though it starts a hair slow, it's got a great sense of pacing, a nice few hooks to keep you in suspense, and the ending is, well, pretty spectacular. The only downside is that character-wise, Dick, Damian, and Bilal doesn't get much depth — if it wasn't set in France, I'd have no idea why Nightrunner was even necessary to the story. But as far as deathtraps go, Hine has produced quite a beauty, with a truly compelling villain to put Batman and Robin through their final paces.


Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston): In what is, for me, a shocking turn of events, I hereby declare Spider Island: Cloak & Dagger the best book of the week.  I'm not a big fan of the characters; they seem to suffer from that syndrome that characters often get where no one really quite knows what to do with them, so they go through weird changes, and kind of fade into the background.  They got their powers from an experimental drug, no wait they're mutants, oh no they aren't...  You get the idea.  Anyway, Nick Spencer's script starts off a bit choppy, relying on a few less than stellar one-liners like, "Everything smelled like pee," but finds its footing quickly through the use of a dual narrative between both Cloak and Dagger's points of view.  Emma Rios is a revelation.  Her art in the first two pages is like a sleep-deprived Jim Steranko drawing '80's manga on a moving train.  Honestly, I can't believe this is the first time I've seen her work.  Rios alone is enough to make me wish for an ongoing series with this team, but it's Nick Spencer's keen grasp on the dichotomy of the titular pair that makes this book hit home so powerfully.  I can't recommend this enough, so don't let the "Spider Island" tag frighten you; so far it's only an excuse to get the characters on the page, not a burden on the storytelling.


Artifacts #9 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): The Survivor looks like he is well on his way to surviving the end of this universe, Artifact bearers are joining forces, and Jackie and Sara are still without Hope. It would seem that the Darkness is the hotness, and Sara and Jackie fall into each other’s arms ... and “bed” in the middle of some Mayan ruins. Artist Jeremy Haun draws sexy well, and it was nice to see intimacy and affection in my comic book. Comics featuring super heroes or mythical magic, like Artifacts, often center on conflict and battle. Ron Marz lets the big-hitters show a little heart on their ancient, magical sleeves. Snogging aside, Haun actually draws the entire issue quite well. He is an excellent fit for the Artifacts story. There is a nice balance of fantasy and grit in his pencils, and with so many characters involved; he’s not just a one-trick pony on proportions. Each character has a distinct look. He also manages three rather amazing splash pages and some stellar detail work on the backgrounds. More kudos to Marz for bringing the reader up to speed without wasting any story time or feeling like he is giving a tutorial. Something I find him to be talented at in all his writing, and it serves this issue swimmingly. I jumped right into Artifacts #9 and didn’t skip a beat. You could, too.


New Avengers #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick):
  Super-nanny to Danielle Cage, Squirrel Girl takes center stage in this chapter set against the backdrop of the Fear Itself storyline.  If there’s ever been a character I’ve never been able to take seriously, it’s Squirrel Girl.  But then, I’ve never read a story about her with Bendis doing the writing.  Turns out she’s surprisingly tough (and a little scary) against Wolverine, fearlessly goes mano a mecha on a Nazi war machine and makes it back to Avengers mansion just in time to resume her babysitting duties as the A-team is mounting up to fight the forces of Sin.  It’s the best written New Avengers issue in a few months (even if I don’t agree that an unfisted-Iron Fist would be kayoed by an unclawed-Wolverine so easily), lighter on the chatty and heavier on the action.  Mike Deodato, Jr. draws really good fight sequences here and putting some of them in silhouette is a nice touch.   It’s a well done issue and is ultimately a terrific spotlight on a character who clearly deserves some respect.  Read an issue like this and you can totally see Squirrel Girl headlining her own series (are you listening, Marvel?)


War of the Green Lanterns Aftermath #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose)
: I was pretty surprised that I enjoyed the last issue of War of the Green Lanterns Aftermath, but the conclusion of this story left me feeling more than a little cold. Tony Bedard had started this series talking about the costs of war, touching upon things like mourning, loss, regret, even post-traumatic stress, and while this issue shows the fruits of these conditions, it still feels a little too shallow to make any sort of statement. Instead, this is about rearranging the various players of the Green Lantern Corps, whether that means the budding relationship between Kyle Rayner and Soranik Natu, or seeing how company man Salaak deals with the increasingly cold demands of the Guardians. Unfortunately, this is where the marketing kind of hurts this particular product — we know the fate of Sinestro, it's been plastered out there for weeks, so this issue doesn't feel particularly suspenseful. Artwise, Ransom Getty and Andy Smith have some surprisingly expressive characters (particularly with a full-page head shot at the beginning), but the composition of panels doesn't leave much room for speed or movement. Considering the Green Lantern franchise is seeing the least amount of reshifting with the New 52, you can probably give War of the Green Lanterns Aftermath a pass till September.


Kevin Keller #2 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman):
Just when you thought it wasn't possible for Kevin Keller to be more adorable, writer/artist Dan Parent ups the ante with a sweet yet surprisingly serious continuation of the character's backstory. After a nicely done first issue that chronicled his comical journey from awkward middle-schooler to dreamboat, Kevin Keller #2 fleshes out his early years as a military kid living abroad. It's fitting that Kevin's audience of one is nosy Veronica, who appears to be fully recovered from her mad (and hilarious) crush on her new friend. One of the nicest thing about this series so far is the way Parent has sidestepped cliches while addressing some of the very real issues gay kids face in growing up. Thanks to a good relationship with his parents, especially his U.S. Army colonel father, Kevin's self-esteem is rock-solid. This being an Archie comic, it's unrealistic to expect too a deep exploration of homophobia. However, Parent does provide a look at Kevin's darker days of being bullied and how he coped — mostly by kicking ass in athletics and leaving his antagonists embarrassed. In one particularly moving section of the book, he comforts a younger teen who is suffering daily, and the boy's misery is palpable. "It gets better," Kevin tells him, paying tribute to the national It Gets Better project, which helps LGBT youth survive adolescence and envision a happier future. Parent's art is consistently appealing throughout, as are Digikore Studios’ bright, cheerful colors. Kevin has been a highly likable addition to the Archie universe, and I hope we'll see more of him in leading and supporting roles. Readers will enjoy this thoughtful, shamelessly sentimental story that's entertaining for all ages.


Vengeance #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston)
: Joe Casey's Vengeance continues to be an entertaining, if a bit disjointed, experience.  Casey seems intent on weaving many of the threads he's dropped in the last few years into a cohesive tale, pitting the Young Masters of Evil against a new Teen Brigade over the fate of a juvenile In-Betweener.  The commentary on the balance of good and evil, and the need for both, is a ripe, if a bit expected topic in the current state of the Marvel universe, where the good guys and the bad guys aren't always who you'd expect.  The added presence of the Last Defenders, who are keenly aware of the cosmic imbalance, has yet to gel correctly, and is perhaps the biggest outlying factor so far.  Nick Dragotta's art is much more consistent this issue; last issue's art was good, this issue's art is great, reminiscent of Ladronn's "Cable," and Mike Allred's "X-Force."  It may seem a little far-fetched that this mini will have a great impact on the state of affairs at Marvel, but it's a good read, and a fine commentary on the larger world of Marvel Comics.


Batgirl #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose)
: If there's one thing I want after this issue, it's to see more books with Bryan Q. Miller's name on them. He's not a perfect writer by any stretch of the imagination, but he adds to much in terms of tone and good nature to his work, and that goes a long way towards making Stephanie Brown the Batgirl we all deserve. Seeing Stephanie take on her father is a little bit abbreviated, but that's because he's only got a certain number of pages to have his cake and eat it, too — and by that, I mean Miller's got to wrap up the entirety of Stephanie's arc, and celebrate why she was a fantastic Batgirl. Pere Perez is the secret weapon for him here, as he draws the hell out of a sequence that is among one of the most beautiful I've seen at DC in quite some time. In just a few pages, Perez really illustrates the potential that we may never see from Stephanie Brown, and that sort of closure feels so good to see. That said, when you add in hallucinogens into a script, there's that concern that things are not what they seem, which gives a little bit of unnecessary distraction from Miller's end, but at the same time, this kind of enthusiasm is rare in comics. I'd pay to see more of it.


The Green Hornet: Year One #11 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Deniz Cordell)
: This magazine remains a thoroughly smart piece of pulp, with the slightest hints of superhero action lurking around its edges.  Matt Wagner creates a devilishly moody story that cuts back and forth between three storylines that dovetail nicely in and out of each other. From detailing the Hornet’s present sticky situation, Kato’s own grim fandango and mission to save his partner, and a flashback three months prior, with the reveal of the Black Beauty – the metered intercutting between the ideas keeps the pacing fresh and fast, and the momentum always moving forward.  Wagner’s dialogue is sharp and edgy, continuing to reap the riches from the milieu and time period.  There is a rather nasty torture sequence which serves as the centerpiece of the issue, rendered with proper grit and energy by artist Aaron Campbell.  The main villain of the issue is a delightfully rendered creature, and his despicable nature is brought out quite well by the creative team.  The characterization is to-the-point, and the fighting has a weight and force to it that is emphasized through its uniquely colored backgrounds (Carlos Lopez’s work is extremely fine here – bold, stylized, always eye-catching).  Even the issue’s conclusion wouldn’t feel out of place in a forties film, as Britt and Kato convalesce after their respective near-death experiences.  The scripting is engrossing, the art is perfectly suited to the style and milieu. The ingenuity of the characters under terrible circumstances is given center stage, and the set-up for a counterstrike at the end of the story ends everything on a decidedly more up-note than the events of the issue itself might suggest.  Highly recommended for those who love crime fiction – particularly any of the Race Williams stories.  It may well be the crown jewel of the various Green Hornet books – intelligent, violent, funny, and creating a genuine, relatable bond between our two leads.


Spider-Island: Deadly Foes (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston)
: Deadly Foes does an interesting job of introducing Spidey's two main adversaries right now, the Hobgoblin, and the Jackal.  Both are characters at the heart of previous Spider-Man sagas, one extremely popular, one much maligned, and now they've resurfaced to menace our hero in what is possibly his most bizarre adventure yet.  The first chapter of this book focuses on Hobgoblin, AKA Phil Urich, who is, in many ways, the anti-Peter Parker.  Dan Slott and Christos Gage's narrative deftly knocks out the characters long history in a few brief pages before pitting him against Randy Robertson in a battle for the girl of his dreams.  It's a fine story for what is basically a primer for the character leading into the larger story, and has a strange moment where Peter Parker, under the guise of the outbreak of Spider-Powers, shows off his wall-crawling abilities.  Maybe it'll come back up in the main title?  In the second story, we get to know the Jackal, the villain behind the dismal Clone Saga of the '90's.  Here he rescues his original Peter Parker clone Kaine from the grave he was left in at the end of the "Grim Hunt" story from a while back.  Oddly, he's then beset by a disfigured clone of Gwen Stacy wielding a sniper rifle, and a few clues are dropped as to the identity of the Jackal's mysterious benefactor.  All in all, it's a fine one-shot for those not familiar with the characters at play.


American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3 (Published by Vertigo; Review by David Pepose)
: Now this is what I'm talking about! While I was a bit hesitant in the first issue of this series, now that the setup is over, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy are tearing it up. Think of an Indiana Jones vibe mixed with vampires, as Felicia and Cash infiltrate a secret Nazi base filled to the brim with bloodsuckers. There's plenty of tension just in the concept alone, but Snyder also does a great job of injecting little bit of character into his heroes, making you question whether or not they're going to be found out — and whether or not they're about to throw caution to the wind and shoot a couple of vampires. Sean Murphy is also a great fit for this project, with his sketchy, sometimes inhuman lines — I love the body language and design he gives his characters, particularly when we see a vampire general with his shoulders scrunched in like a bat. There's some good setup here for the future, as well, but where Snyder and Murphy really succeed in this issue is that they don't forget about the here-and-now, either. If the next issue can be as good as this one, I'm totally sold.


Starborn #9 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Deniz Cordell)
: Khary Randolph’s art remains an absolute delight and joy – there’s a cel-like quality to his characters and brushwork, and as a result his panels feel more like individual frames from an animated film than anything else.  When coupled with Mitch Gerad’s crisp and bright colors, Starborn has a lively look that stands out for its energy and clarity.  Chris Roberson’s script combines wide-eyed wonder with a more tempered, modern sensibility to fine effect, as Benjamin not only recollects the relationship between his fiction and his new reality – but also finally meets the infamous “Kirk Allen,” (an alien dissident now living on earth as a science-fiction writer) noting “(I’m a big fan, by the way)” before carrying on with his real reasons for showing up at his cabin.  Randolph’s characters are expressive (witness a page where military leader Talon confronts Allen, while Benjamin observes in the background), and his staging is sharply laid out.  The plot cuts between Benjamin’s meeting – which pushes the story forward while recapitulating just enough that this issue becomes an excellent introduction for prospective new readers – and a band of marauding aliens making its way across Earth.  The final two-pages set up a brand new idea that seems to tie-in to the stories occurring in the other two Stan Lee books from BOOM!, which could play out in any number of ways.  This last moment also places the focus squarely and solely on Benjamin as he is faced with a new set of challenges that – for the sake of his (unknowingly) adopted home planet – he must face.  There’s a bit of acerbic humor, and Roberson keeps everything moving at a fine pace, while continuing to define and deepen the characters and their relationships with each other.  It is Randolph’s art, though, which helps Starborn stand out – bringing the script to a vivid, bold life.


Iron Age #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston)
: The best thing about Iron Age is the variety of creators that have thrown in their hand on the project.  This issue sees the legendary Louise Simonson taking on Iron Man and the Dazzler, as they fight to retrieve a piece of Doom's time machine from the Hellfire Club.  Simonson's narrative can get a bit dense at times, but her script is spot on.  The patter between Pierce and Shaw is droll and convincing, and Tony's voice is dead on.  Todd Nauck isn't my favorite artist, but he tells the story well, and isn't a turn off.  The second chapter, featuring a script by Rob Williams, and art by Roberto de la Torre, is a nice nod to the classic confrontation between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club, centering around that famous scene where Wolverine fights his way out of the sewers beneath the club.  The art on this chapter is more to my liking, but at times the blacks get a little too dense.  With one more chapter left in the story, this has been a fun mini-series with a great showcase of talent.  Well worth the read.


Godzilla: Gangsters and Goliaths #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Deniz Cordell)
: This is a steady, well-crafted book – wisely choosing to develop its human cast, finding the monstrousness that lurks within careful human decisions, while making the kaiju action the frame for this far more intimate, muted picture.  There is a purpose and function to the city-wide carnage here, and that plays up the unsettling nature of the giant monsters in a different fashion than usual.  Writer John Layman gradually places more of his cards on the table with the arrival of our titular monster.  It’s a moment that’s handled extremely well by artist Alberto Ponticelli – who also renders Godzilla with great panache – somehow capturing that “man-in-a-suit” look with ease and elegance.  The notion of Godzilla acting as the personification (or monsterification, if you want to be technical) of “chaos” – as a figure who only appears when things are out of balance – is a fine idea, and it plays extremely well within the fabric of this particular story.  The sequences with Makoto Sato and the Mothra Twins have a dinginess of aesthetic and an internal moral wrestling to them which lends a great deal more pathos to this sort of story than would be expected.  The characters are easy to get involved in, and the constant low boil and simmering of various character elements makes this more akin to a film like Tokyo Story than any of the Honda Godzilla pictures.  There’s still also some light humor, mainly happening in the recollections of Mothra’s attacks on Takahashi’s (a Yakuza crime lord) holdings.  Don’t be too fooled – this is a crime story, a story about humans who make their own trouble – the monsters just provide the decoration and, in their own way, commentary on the action.  It’s well done on all fronts, and the fact that the humans are so easy to invest in will make the inevitable monster showdowns all the more interesting.

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