Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots Team has grown by one today, as we excitedly introduce our newest recruit, Brian Jenkins! And that's not all — we've got a ton of this week's biggest releases, including the opening of Spider-Island and the conclusion of Detective Comics. Want some more back-issue reviews? Check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, get your Spidey Senses a-tingle (is that too soon, Pete?), as we take a look at chapter one of Dan Slott's latest epic…


Amazing Spider-Man #667

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas, and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

This is the Spider-event we've all been waiting for.

You'd think that genetically altered bedbugs would be a goofy high concept — I know I did when I heard about Spider-Island. But I also believe in Dan Slott. He's a man who's lived and breathed Peter Parker for years, and it's clear that he's playing for all the marbles here. And as accessible, fun, and character-driven as this opening chapter is, Slott succeeds in scoring one heck of a knockout.

The reason for all this? Theme. In an era of Batman, Inc. and a growing constellation of Captain America and Iron Man characters, few creators can satisfactorily answer the question: If you duplicate a character's concept, how do they remain unique? That's where Slott works his magic: Peter Parker isn't about the spider-powers. He's about the responsibility.

Of course, having a clean conscience isn't going to help Peter win a fight — at least, not yet — and that's where this first chapter kicks into overdrive. We meet all of Spidey's supporting cast — which, when you think about the Avengers, the Future Foundation, Cloak and Dagger, Shang-Chi, Madame Web, as well as Aunt May, Carlie Cooper, and Mary Jane Watson, is a lot of people —and we see how in over his head Peter is going to be. What makes Peter Parker so popular, aside from the webs and tights? We're going to find out.

Artwise, Humberto Ramos is an excellent fit for this rowdy, kinetic book. In terms of layout, he's a great fit for Slott's dense scripting: Peter gets knocked around quite a bit in this issue, and the fact that Ramos is able to make each hit rumble is perfect. Occasionally, the inking from Carlos Cuevas gets a little rough — there's a scene with the Thing where his arm doesn't quite make sense — but on the whole, the duo do a great job in making all these various Spider-Men look dynamic and different. The emotional side is where Ramos really wins, as we see the look in Peter's eyes when he's suddenly concerned he gave his girlfriend a "spidery-transmitted disease."

Despite all of his successes, Spider-Man hasn't been a character that's really headlined a major, successful event. Clone Saga notwithstanding, Spidey's best adventures have always been character-driven arcs, rather than concept-driven events — think "Kraven's Last Hunt," not "The Other" — but that's why Dan Slott was born to write the character. He can have his cake and eat it, too, because Spider-Island is a story that's all about what makes the Webhead tick. As far as opening salvos go, it's hard to find a story that's as strong as this one.


Detective Comics #881

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Jock, Francesco Francavilla, and David Baron

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

One of the rarest things in superhero comics is a solid conclusion. But with the comic that helped start it all — Detective Comics — Scott Snyder and company have landed a great dismount, 881 issues later.

Of course, Snyder's story hasn't quite gone that long, but he definitely has been playing the long game with James Gordon, Jr. In that regard, Snyder has made some real progress toward one of the big unanswered questions of the Batman & Robin era of this series — namely, what makes Dick Grayson the man for the job, besides the fact that he was the only one there? Giving Dick a foil — hell, Commissioner Gordon's son — to fight against is something that helps. And in that regard, Snyder does something surprisingly subversive: Dick Grayson may be the hero here, but it's really James Jr. who is the main character of this story, as we follow his twisted thought process, and we learn a little bit about what makes him tick.

But this wouldn't have worked — couldn't have worked — without Francesco Francavilla. With all due respect to his artistic colleagues, Francavilla is the heart and soul of this issue, really blowing it out of the water with his sense of mood, emotion, and color. I just love the little details he puts in his work, the scratchy shadows he puts underneath James Jr.'s eyes. It's downright spooky how effective he is, even as his old-school lines give a sort of vintage feel. The fact that Francavilla does his own colorwork is even more astounding, as he uses reds, purples, and grays to great effect, evoking the drama of the Batman: Year One palette without being self-conscious.

That's not to say that Jock and David Baron doesn't also bring some thunder here — it's just not at the same level. Jock is all about the bodies and objects, with Batman's cape swooshing around like a black demon independent of the Dark Knight himself. It's an unnerving sort of jagged style, which fits the slasher-esque content of this book to a T. Where I think Jock's style doesn't work as well, however, is with the faces — these faces seem glasslike, unsympathetic, and doesn't quite have the sort of clean ambiguity that Francavilla has. There's a sequence at the end that comes off as appropriately scary, but part of me wonders if the execution could have left you guessing a little bit more.

The other thing that I think holds this issue back is the fact that, at least to me, Dick Grayson still doesn't quite have a full characterization yet. James Jr. has plenty of page time devoted to his reasoning and mental evolution, but I would have loved to have seen Dick make more choices, rather than just be his enemy's opposite. That's not something that's been just Snyder's problem — that's been Dick's problem since Bruce Wayne was shunted through time — but at the same time, it's the one puzzle piece that wasn't put together, that could have made a really striking image of this era of the DCU.

But where the hero is somewhat nebulous, Snyder has succeeded in his central premise — namely, that Gotham City is a creature all its own, one that creates monsters specifically meant to fight the good. It's a frightening concept. And it's one that makes me feel extremely hopeful for Snyder's upcoming adventures with the Caped Crusader.


Hellboy: The Fury #3

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Scott Cederlund

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Who is Hellboy?

That’s the puzzle that Mike Mignola has been trying to solve for just shy of 20 years and, in the end, it comes down to whether Hellboy is his father’s or his mother’s son. While it has looked like Mignola has been writing about Hellboy trying to prevent his own hand being the cause of Hell on Earth, Mignola’s lofty adventure story can ultimately be boiled down into Hellboy being like all of us who don’t want to grow up to be either their mothers or their fathers. Oddly enough for a creature that was born before World War II, Hellboy: The Fury #3 concludes the story of a boy becoming a man as Hellboy battles to reject other’s ideas of who he is so he can be his own man.

The irony about that is that the final issue of Hellboy: The Fury is about the big battle; the world-saving, destiny making battle as Hellboy fights for the world and for his own soul. Over the course of years, Mignola has built these macro and micro stories that are perfectly enmeshed in each other so when it comes to this moment, Hellboy’s battle exists on multiple levels. He’s fighting to save the world but he’s also fighting to save himself, to establish that he’s not just a chess piece to be used by these cosmic forces in whatever game they play. Over the course of Hellboy: The Storm and Hellboy: The Fury, he’s accepted what he knows about his true parents but, in the end, he’s decided that it doesn’t matter. So much of Mignola’s story has been about Hellboy constantly being disappointed in the answers to the questions he’s asked but now the character has finally gotten to a space where the answers weren’t nearly as important as the journeys and self exploration that the questions took him on.

In the end of Hellboy: The Fury, even though he’s battling a gigantic dragon, Hellboy is not Superman or Batman; he’s not a superhero. For all of the prophecy and destiny that hangs over the character, Mignola ultimately makes him a man. Hidden somewhere deep in the narrative lineage of Hellboy is a bit of Pinocchio as Hellboy has always wanted to be a real man and, like Pinocchio, he always was even if he just didn’t realize it. Since Hellboy: The Seeds of Destruction, we’ve been following the story about someone growing up, maturing and leaving behind their childhood. Mignola just chose to disguise that story behind a person who looks more like a monster than a person.

For this last movement of stories, Mignola put aside his own artwork and had Duncan Fegredo drawing it, which was a puzzling-at-the-time move but makes a lot of sense in hindsight. Fegredo has taken Mignola's artistic concerns about shadow and form and given it a character and humanity that has been missing from the book before. Mignola is a great storyteller but his Hellboy was always more about the magical and the spectacle. Essentially drawing Ragnarok, Fegredo brings feeling and emotion to Hellboy that Mignola can’t. His art is more lifelike than Mignola’s. His Alice, a woman that Hellboy rescued years ago who is now in love with him, is a lovely woman thanks to Fegredo. While she’s been touched by Hellboy’s world, she is that link to normalcy and humanity that Mignola and Hellboy have been looking for. She’s Hellboy’s link to the real world that he has always been missing and Fegredo draws her as this pure, perfect and normal person. She’s the ordinary in an extraordinary world but she makes Hellboy the man that he is. At the end of the world, Fegredo gets to firmly plant the story in the real world with Alice and all of her love for Hellboy.

It’s a mistake to read Hellboy: The Fury #3 and think it’s an ending. It’s the closing of a chapter that Mike Mignola has been writing for the last five years, Hellboy’s search to define himself as something other than what other people and forces wanted him to be. While it looks like he’s moving toward a happy ending for Hellboy, Mignola manages to find a somewhat shocking (if it hadn’t been ruined by pre-release hype) way to continue Hellboy’s story in the future. Just when you think they big guy has found some peace and happiness, Mignola with Fegredo quite literally pull the heart out of the story. We now know who Hellboy is and more importantly, he knows who he is. Now Mignola has to figure out how to get him home.


New Avengers #15

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramangna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

'Rama Review: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

This is awkward to admit, but... I love Squirrel Girl. She is an apt Lost Generation superhero. Denied the opportunities of self-advancement, there is no longer a clear cut path to superhero-dom. Just to make ends meet, she has to take the job she doesn't want and is overqualified for. Sound familiar, 20-somethings? Sure, she is kind of a freak, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and talking to varmints, but no one has ever really given her a chance. In New Avengers #15 Bendis and Deodato spotlight the angsty repressed talent of the marginalized Squirrel Girl, and show that the kids getting paid one person's hourly wages to do three peoples' jobs are the unsung heroes of our time.

Created in 1992 by Steve Ditko and Will Murray, Squirrel Girl almost immediately turned into a bit of a joke character. Now, Bendis makes the reader give Squirrel Girl some serious thought. While I often find Bendis' writing a bit too chatty and cheesily emotional, it works in New Avengers #15. This issue is basically just a reality show in which Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl) has chosen to work in the Avengers mansion, and have her life, taped. Several pages contain sequential panels of Doreen giving a confessional-like narration of her hopes and dreams and how they never really factored in nanny-duty for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Honestly, I probably only forgive that cheese because our whole generation has similar hopes and dreams: being respected, joining a superhero squad, and getting people to stop staring at our giant squirrel tails. And it is an accessible gambit for those of us who have come of age in the heyday of the “reality” show. Oddly, throwing a ridiculous interspecies minor-hero into a manufactured-reality plot device stolen from cheap television (“the confessional”) actually makes Doreen into an empathetic character.

Bendis then counterbalances this emotional torque with a genuinely fun book. New Avengers #15 supposedly will play into the Fear Itself arc, but you'd never know it. The Avengers putz around waiting for peril to befall them, sparring between themselves to “keep limber”. While Iron Fist vs Adamantium Fist is fun for a lark, it is not the most serious subplot. There are some dangerous surprises at the end that put the team in said peril to facilitate the over-arching narrative, but mostly it is just an ode to Squirrel Girl.

Deodato comes in right on tune with Bendis' serenade to the former Great Lakes Avenger. He brings a depth to Doreen Green's features as she pours her heart out to the reader. His complex display of emotions also sets the new under-employed class apart from their employers: she is awkward, unsure of herself—but simultaneously a bit cocky, idealistic, and supremely disappointed in her status as lesser-hero. Deodato gets all of that on her face in a tight chiaroscuro. He handles perspective and layout compellingly as well. With pages reading like voice-overs, the reader experiences the book from Squirrel Girl's perspective, which is a prescient one for anyone who is trying to do their best despite their disillusionment with what they had been promised the world held for them. Also, Deodato's squirrels are really awesome: close up, attacking, in formation... man, I love squirrels.

At the end of New Avengers #15, Squirrel Girl is a bigger hero than before. She doesn't get to live her life's dream full time. She is going to school, clocking in as a superhero nanny, and saving the world from robots and bad guys. No fame. No riches. No respect. She is doing her bosses' jobs and then some, all while being belittled and coddled and not taken seriously. And she is trying her darnedest to be grateful for the job that she has, and give it the best she's got, even if it is not the one she hoped for. Therefore, I give New Avengers #15 a hearty recommendation with the full disclosure that Squirrel Girl speaks to me like she spoke to Monkey Joe, as a squirrel friend and a comrade. I know some people find her annoying, but they can go store their nuts in other trees.


Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Sean Phillips with Dave Stewart

Published by Icon

Review by Brendan McGuirk

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's a tale as old as time; high school guy can't decide between two lovely ladies, and when he finally makes a decision, it turns out to be the wrong one. So then, after years pass, hostilities grow, and the past looks all the sunnier, he decides he's got to kill the woman he's with to get back with the one he should have chosen.

Criminal stories are just the best.

To have a discussion about Last of the Innocent without mentioning Archie is impossible. The archetypes and relationship dynamics of the Riverdale bunch are the inspirational foundation of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' murderous tale of blood in Brookview. But The Last of the Innocent doesn't focus on these familiar faces with the purpose of bastardizing or sullying the trademarked image of the jalopy-riding gang; its ambitions reach further than that.

As was the case with Bad Night, Brubaker and Phillips are using comics to talk about comics, but not the way their superhero peers do. This isn't about creating an excuse to fill an empty void left open by a plot hole, this is a rumination of how and why comics became what they did.

It starts with the title. Last of the Innocent is obviously a callback to Seduction of the Innocent, the well-known book by Frederic Wertham that led to the censorship, the Comics Code and the aw-shucks values of the Silver Age of comics. While Archie predated the Code, its rose-colored brand of stories blossomed under that regime. But life, at least in Riley Richards' Brookview, was never that innocent.

Brubaker and Phillips use straight-line cartooning to demarcate flashback sequences, but when they whisk away to that far-away time, they make a note to jerk the reader out of the comfortable, G-rated world they've been conditioned to associate with it. The hungry, ne'er-do-well best friend is revealed to be a stoner. The bitchy rich girl acts like an actual bitch, who cheats and manipulates. And the boy who can't decide what he wants is little more than a cypher. Brubaker and Phillips know how jarring is is to see these clean-drawn teens discussing sex with the vulgarity that real teens do, and they use that discomfort to remind the reader that mature topics were not created in the 21st century. Sex has always been implied in every teen romance, but there was a time when people were trained to pretend otherwise in the name of posterity.

Pretending is what makes a world make-believe. And this latest Criminal arc is brutalizing that make-believe.

Riley Richards is no Archie Andrews. Felix Doolittle is no Veronica Lodge. Freakout isn't Jughead and Liz Gordon isn't Betty Cooper. But that's how Riley remembers the world of his youth. And it is that simplified memory that gives him the agency to do whatever it will take to remedy the mistakes of his earlier years. 

The method of the murder, an optic-bound icepick, is a callback as key to the story as the simplified art sequences. The harrowing image of a needle closing in on an eye is probably the one most infamously associated with the horror EC comics that convinced Wertham, then Congress, then the comics' industry at large that it was the negative influence of graphically explicit comics that was driving America's youth towards delinquency. If only the kids could look at nice things, where everyone respected authority, and played nice, and enjoyed the occasional hijinks.

That is what The Last of the Innocent is rejecting. Not the comics that represented “playing nice,” those it is citing reverentially. No, it is the supposition that malice and contempt can be contained by denial that this Criminal arc is savagely refuting.

Brubaker and Phillips are masters of this craft. In Brubaker's world, crime never comes easy. Even the hardest roughneck is forced to battle against his own conscience and reconcile his actions. Character's guilt fosters a delicious sort of paranoia that reminds us that no crime goes fully unpunished. And no one is just one thing. Phillips has mastered the shorthand of those shaded, guilty faces of the lowlifes and the rueful ones of the wronged. Its depth and tone proves to be the perfect compliment to the flashbacks' flat world, and serves as a reminder as to how adulthood raises the stakes.

Last of the Innocent is steadily making its case as the finest of great crop of Criminal stories. Its familiarity only makes it all the more gripping, and best of all, it means something.


Batgirl #24

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Art by Pere Perez & Guy Major

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I rarely do this, but I stopped in my tracks and read this book in the parking lot of my local comic shop. My very first review for this site was the first issue of this series. This book has had ups and downs, but the ups have been significantly more substantial. Reading this final issue was bittersweet, as I really do not want the series to end, but as a fan — the ending did not disappoint.

Now, if I was writing a review of the series — I would have to just cut and paste the word "love" over and over and over. But that is not the point here. As an individual issue of a comic, does it hold up? Yes. Yes, it does. Now— if I never read a single issue of this series of course I wouldn't totally know what's going on, and it would be a bit silly to pick up a series with it's final issue. One of Miller's strengths as a writer is his ability to construct the story in a way that includes continuity, but never overwhelms the reader with the need to brush up on the universe before each new issue. This arc has forced Stephanie to infiltrate Gotham's underground to her deepest level yet as she finds herself facing off with her father at Blackgate.Prison. Loose ends are tied up and we flash to see the future of Stephanie Brown.

Miller has written an ending to this story, but left this character open to future options. As we see Steph's current adventures, take a trip into her mind, and see her future — the book flows flawlessly. The dialog is natural and not over worked. Artist Pere Perez steps in and his illustrations tell as much of the story as the text, the goal of all comics. This issue is heavy on splash pages, and Perez's style conveys the story cleanly and thoroughly. Dustin Nguyen aces the cover, managing to include practically every character we've seen through this 24 issue run.

In these issues we've seen Steph grow as a character and as a young woman. We've seen her beat the bad guys and turn to Barbara Gordon for guidance. All in all, the book has had some pretty heavy themes. However, there is a trademark sense of fun to this book as we see Steph as a Blue Lantern (and Damian in red, with a mecha-Babs in green). There's travel to storybook lands, 1944, and a college graduation. This book really has a lot going on, but the Miller and Perez team makes it work. I've got my fingers crossed that this isn't it from them.

If you never took a look at this series, definitely consider the trades. This has been one of the most consistently strong Bat-books and Miller and Perez deserve all the attention they can get.


Vengeance #2

Written by Joe Casey

Art by Nick Dragotta and Brad Simpson

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Jenkins

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Click here for preview

There’s a good chance that if you decided to pick up Vengeance #2 at your neighborhood comic shop, you did so after thumbing through Nick Dragotta’s dazzling neo-retro art work. Dragotta’s work here harkens back his days on X-Statix; some of the depictions of the beady-eyed, large foreheaded young heroes and villains feel downright Kirby-ian. Everything you see in this issue feels both refreshing and comfortably familiar. Unfortunately, no amount of snazzy visuals can make up for Vengeance #2’s confusing and convoluted story telling.

Vengeance #2 follows four distinct storylines as we continue the exploits of the listless Teen Brigade, a group of neophyte villains calling themselves the Young Masters, a third unnamed team lead by both the young and old Night Hawk, as well as a secret mission Red Skull once undertook at the behest of Adolph Hitler. You have to admire writer Joe Casey’s gumption in trying to tackle so much in just twenty-two pages, at times it feels like this comic has more threads than an afghan blanket. Unfortunately, we’re two issues in and I still don’t have the slightest clue where this series is going, never mind what any of this has to do with the concept of vengeance. Casey seems more focused on exploring his central philosophical idea – the ambiguity between good and evil in the 2011 Marvel universe – than spinning a good yarn.

As you might have figured out from Gabrielle Dell’Otto’s striking cover art, Casey is employing the images of former iconic Marvel villains as a motif for exploring the moral complexities these young superheroes and villains must explore. All the villains that appear throughout this series are mere shells of their former nefarious selves. In issue #1 we encounter the mighty Magneto as a chaperone for the sex lives of young mutants. In this issue we get a glimpse of the shriveled corpse of the Daredevil villain Bullseye, a kind of museum piece for the morbidly curious Young Masters.

I was willing to cut the series some slack on the first issue given the number of storylines Casey was juggling. Despite some dynamic action scenes featuring Dragotta’s fluid but simple style – most notably the dizzying fight between the stranger guarding Bullseye’s corpse and the Young Masters– it now appears that we are left with a story that feels perpetually stuck in neutral with no particular interest in shifting anytime soon.

There’s an ennui that pervades the Vengeance series that’s almost certainly intentional. Both the Young Masters and the Teen Brigade are perpetually bored and lost. Casey is interested in exploring how these youngsters can possibly tell good from evil in a world filled with shifting allegiances and motivations; where villains can redeem themselves seemingly overnight and where heroes are more concerned with their own personal agendas than working toward the public good. Coloring by Brad Simpson plays with this motif of black and white, both in the teenage In-Betweener that joins the Teen Brigade as well as the mysterious femme fatale guarding Bullseye. This all makes for an interesting thought experiment to ponder, but I’m not sure it makes for a particularly gripping story. I mean, if the characters can’t seem to come up with a reason to care about the conflicts they find themselves in, why should I?

Many will laud Casey for trying something new and innovative in superhero comics and I can’t say I’m unsympathetic to this idea. It’s likely that years from now, the Vengeance series will be remembered for introducing new conventions to comic book storytelling –conventions such as the use of mediums like text messaging as narration boxes. It’s hard to deny that Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta have offered up a series unlike any you will read this year. The old Klingon proverb tells us that vengeance is a dish best served cold. Unfortunately, for all the new and innovative ideas this series has going for it, Vengeance #2 leaves me very cold indeed.


Batman: 80-Page Giant 2011

Written by Eric Hobbs, Troy Brownfield, Matt Brady, David and Jennifer Skelly, Guy Major, Caleb Monroe, & Joe Caramagna

Art by Ted Naifeh, Thomas Nachlik, Cristina Coronas, Eric Nguyen, Geoff Shaw, & Joe Lalich

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 7 out of 10

The 80-Page Giants from DC Comics are always an issue I look forward to. Sure, the $5.99 price is a little steep, but as the title suggests, you get a lot of comic and it's a great way to see new talent taking their stab at a character.

Intervention – Focusing on Bruce Wayne's influence on a recovering addict, Influence is an interesting take of the other aspect of the Dark Knight. Eric Hobbs writes a tale that reminds me of some of the more heavy-handed morality issues from the Denny O'Neil era of Batman. Still, I like his take on Bruce Wayne as a stronger force for good in Gotham and not the flighty wallflower. Artist Ted Naifeh pencils highly expressionist faces and does a good job of showing the shifting emotions between the charitable Bruce Wayne and the angry Batman. There were a few moments I found a little uncomfortable, primarily the sexually suggestive scenes between Bruce and Jade the recovering addict. Still, I knew what Hobbs and Naifeh were going for. Even if they didn't hit it perfectly, there is potential there.

Short Straw – A tale about a covert group testing new equipment and skills against Batman. I really dig the setup to this one, each year a suggested government group attempts a robbery all under the guise of attracting and testing Batman. I like what writers Matt Brady and Troy Brownfield lay out for the reader and does what I think these 80-Page Giants set out to do. First, they plant the seed of a fun new villain or story arc with this covert group. Second, they do a good job of showing Batman as a force of nature that no amount of training and equipment can stop. Thomas Nachuk's art isn't quite up to the story. The fight scenes have good energy to them, but the entire short is hampered by extremely dull backgrounds. Now, I understand the bulk of the story takes place in a vault and on a rooftop, so there isn't much one can do. Still, the dull backgrounds take away from an otherwise energetic and exciting story.

Unspoken – I know what writers David and Jennifer Skelly, as well as artist Cristina Coronas are going for. Alas, I think the wordless tale falls just short of their target. Writing about the complex relationship between both Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and their alter egos is a well-traveled road. That doesn't mean you can't try something new, I'm just not sure this one works. I think if artist Cristina refines her work just a little more, this story would work as a stronger narrative. As it stands, most of the complexity is lost in rather rough lines. Still, I see her potential and hope we see more from her.

On the Waterfront – Victor Zsasz gets his own Harley Quinn. Sort of. I like the setup, even if it is a little cliché with it's Bizarro Florence Nightingale plot. Like Short Straw, I do wish writer Guy Major had more pages to show Dr. Amanda Reeve's descent into madness. As it stands, they story moves a little to fast for me, but even with the limited pages, Major writer a tight little horror story. I like the chaos behind Eric Nguyen's art in the story. There are a few times when the line work gets a little sloppy, but I think that's more an element of Nguyen wanting to cut loose with the insanity on the page. A pretty forgivable slip-up given the theme of the story. And, so help me, I love the final punch from Batman. Good stuff.

Danger Drive – This short is all about the art. Peter Pachoumis reminds me of an early Neal Adams with his body structure and very energetic panel layout. There is a real sense of movement to his art and no one is every truly standing still. While that can get a little distracting and tiring over time, in this incredibly goofy short, the art plays. Terrance Griep sets an interesting premise in pitting the Riddler against the Question on the set of the Jeopardy! inspired Imperiled! (Oh DC, how I love your pseudo corporate trademarks). The story was just too goofy for me. Look, I like me some camp and can even enjoy it in my Batman stories from time to time. Danger Drive just felt like too much, and even worse, the Question was simply there because they needed a hero to arrive. Pitting two “inquiring” character is funny, but ultimately. shallow.

Fearless – Another setup story from writer Caleb Monroe. I like the idea of a character that physically cannot feel fear. Monroe does a good job of spending the full story setting up this new villain, only to show on just what level Batman operates on. Geoff Shaw's art has good movement and shows his understanding of negative space. His art is one of the standout performances in this issue. Good proportions and great energy. Can't wait to see more of Geoff's art.

One Lock, Many Keys – Batman and Solomon Grundy inspires an (assumed) autistic child to speak. I don't know how I felt about this story. Joe Caramagna wants to tell an inspirational Batman story with a decidedly darker tone. I get that, and some of the best Batman tales work that way. The suggestion that placing a kid in mortal danger at the hands of Solomon Grundy can fix what years of loving parents cannot just rubs me wrong. Perhaps had Caramagna had more pages to flesh out the child and his family, the story would have worked better on me. Joe Jalich does a great job of capturing the bigger-than-life images of Batman and Grundy. Both hero and villain are intense and frightening, and show just how small they make the citizens of Gotham. His art weakens a bit when a cape isn't around, though you can see his art improve within the story.

Not perfect, but they never are, this 80-Page Giant does exactly what it's tasked to do. Introduce new and old readers to new talent and new stories within the Batman universe. With only one or two misses, this one is worth the $5.99.


The Stand: The Night Has Come #1

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa 
Art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

Lettering by Joe Sabino 
Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Jenkins

'Rama Rating: 9 out 10

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Randal Flagg doesn’t feel fine. In fact, he’s downright cranky. The Dark Man is losing his cool and possibly his mind too. So sets the backdrop for the beginning of the sixth and final chapter of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Mike Perkins faithful and fantastic adaptation of Stephen King’s apocalyptic classic, The Stand.

In The Stand: The Night Has Come #1, Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins offer us three brief vignettes detailing the fate of the spies that set out from the Boulder Free Zone. We begin the issue following the kindly old Judge Farris’ ill-fated mission to infiltrate Flagg’s territory from the Oregon border. We then follow the dedicated Dayna Jurgens as she keeps up her seductive ruse of Flagg’s aide-de-camp Lloyd Henreid. The last vignette brings us up to speed with the blissful Tom Cullen, who is closer to danger than he realizes. All three vignettes serve to remind us that in this final chapter war, death, and destruction are just around the corner.

Aguirre-Sacasa’s pacing feels brisk but never rushed. The story telling is tight, the dialogue simple and laconic. In these three short vignettes we learn how terrible life has been in Vegas for the Ageless Man and his followers. In the brief time we spend with Judge Farris and Dayna Jurgens, we get a real sense of the tolls their respective missions have taken on them. When both those missions turn south, it feels like these two characters we never knew all that well have reached the long awaited and cathartic ends of their journeys.

Perkins’s work only occasionally deviates from his realistic, no-nonsense style. When he does wander into the fanciful or stylistic, it’s to show us the Dark Man in his many terrifying forms. Flagg’s many changing appearance (crow, flaming eyeball, demon, and man) serve to remind us of his frantic loss of control. The most memorable panels here are surely Flagg’s attack on his bumbling disciple Bobby Terry. We see his mouth morph into a terrifying convex drill of teeth as Perkins subtly transforms Flagg’s feathery hair into actual feathers. This scene is teased by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin Flagg’s iconic cover art showing Randal Flagg’s mouth as a Charybdis of teeth. It’s spooky and cool and everything a King fanboy should expect from this stellar creative team.

In The Stand: The Night Has Come #1, Aguirre-Sacasa is showing us Randal Flagg at his most dangerous: panicked, erratic, and losing his cool. His minions no longer follow orders. His words no longer guile or terrify. Worst of all, he knows there’s one spy whose mind he can’t read, one spy operating right under his nose, one spy who threatens everything he’s built.

When The Stand: Captain Tripps first appeared in 2008, many fans had assumed that we would be getting something akin to Marvel’s adaptation of the Dark Tower series — half familiar stories told in news ways or new stories told in a familiar universe. What we got instead turned out to be a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the original novel and its characters. The Stand: Night Has Come #1 perfectly sets up the tone and mood for the story’s violent and redemptive final act.


Will Eisner's The Spirit #17

Written by Howard Chaykin, Paul Leitz and Will Pfeifer

Art by Brian Bolland, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and P. Craig Russell

Lettered by Rob Leigh and Galen Showman

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In its black and white glory, the three stories that make up The Spirit #17 perfectly illustrate how there is no one way to tell a good Spirit story.

Chakin and Bolland's first story covers a city crime full of beauties and betrayals, very in line with many of the most beloved Spirit stories. Bolland's work is phenomenal; lush but minimal and realistic without sacrificing kineticism. With just a few passion mentions, Chakin manages to generate a real character for Central City through its people and its workings. The Spirit himself is debonair and competent, like a domino-masked Don Draper. The story wraps up tightly, but not without a few twists and turns in its short pages.

Levitz and Garcia-Lopez also bring the focus on Central City, this time through the eyes of a (once, but now less) common newsstand operator. Brenner is the sort of man that once made up the lifeblood of the American city, only as he grows older he sees its character evolving, growing colder with the winter, and threatening to leave him behind. His Central City is a hearty thing, and for him The Spirit represents its best. The harsh city gets the best of him, though, and this chapter's sad poignancy is also a fitting tribute to Eisner's lasting brand of introspective comics. The muted, ink-washed look that Garcia-Lopez plays well against the snowy backdrop, and perfectly captures urban grime.

Russell and Pfeifer's close is the most experimental of the bunch. A romp through an art gallery and a conversation about art's history and value is a charming way to appreciate what Eisner and the Spirit have meant to the world of comics, but just as important as its intellectual merits is its commitment to whimsy. The Spirit is meant to be a fun character, and here, as he destructively fumbles his way through some of the finest and most well known fine art humanity has produced in the pursuit of a lowly criminal, he is. Russell balances the ludicrousness of the premise well on the page, as one janitor patiently lectures another on art and artistry while the Spirit's chase gives a visual metatext. Pfeifer plays well to the highs and lows of art and culture, implicitly giving thanks to Eisner for his contribution to comics as a form.

As was revealed with the work of his later years, Will Eisner was never overly interested in masked crimefighters. For him, the character of The Spirit seemed to be an ends to a means — a means he would eventually realize and be recognized for. But for readers and creators and everyone else, The Spirit was a celebration of the vast everything that comics can be. In that, The Spirit #17 is a loving farewell to this iteration of the character and the series, and a promise that what makes it great will never be forgotten.

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