Best Shots Advance Reviews: ULTIMATES, BIONIC MAN, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Best Shots has you covered, with a handful of advance reviews from publishers including Marvel, Image and Dynamite! And be sure to check out our back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's look at the latest chapter in the Ultimate saga, in Ultimate Comics Ultimates


Ultimate Comics Ultimates #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Esad Ribic and Dean White

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

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This is a book that should be so "ultimate," it has the word twice in its title. Jonathan Hickman, comics superstar. Esad Ribic, the next great widescreen artist in the industry, alongside Dean White, an iconoclastic colorist that everyone should watch.

So why does Ultimate Comics Ultimates #1 feel so ultimately forgettable?

The answer to that question isn't so much set-up — this series still could be a game-changer, especially with the potential of this creative team — but the execution. I'll be the one to say it: This is a surprising misstep from Jonathan Hickman, whose FF is one of the best team books on the stands today. But whereas FF feels dense and methodically paced, Ultimate Comics Ultimates feels extremely decompressed, introducing Nick Fury, Tony Stark and (just barely) Thor, all punctuated by things blowing all to Hell. While I love the voice Hickman gives Stark and Fury, I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on how this book gets clogged with exposition, where there are actually 31 balloons across a two-page spread, followed by a completely silent action sequence. It's jarring to say the least, and doesn't really resonate with me as a reader. It makes feel like, well, not much happened.

But let me step back for a second. While the actual story content feels a little bare-boned for my tastes, the art team is definitely working overtime to fill the gap. Esad Ribic has grown in a big way even since his stint on Uncanny X-Force, as he makes images of flying super-soldiers and Iron Man diving out of a helicarrier into something really iconic. (In particular, I love the little bit of sound effect lettering that gets thrown into the Iron Man scenes — I'm not sure if that's Clayton Cowles' doing or Ribic's, but it looks great.) The one thing about the art that I'm not 100 percent sold on is Dean White's colors — on the one hand, he makes these great dramatic choices with his reds and violets, but at the same time, I'm not quite sure what sort of vibe he's trying to set here. But regardless, that sort of painterly ambiance? That looks pretty cool, and gives this book a nice visual hook.

I guess the thing that doesn't hit me with Ultimate Comics Ultimates is just what happened here, on a content basis. Things blow up? Two Ultimates sort-of-kind-of get attacked? Tonally, this book does work — if you can't wait for the Avengers movie, and still feel a pang of longing that there isn't a longer Geoff Johns take on the team, this is the tone I'm feeling with Ultimate Comics Ultimates. That's a victory in and of itself. But tone does not equal story, and that's where I think this book is a bit of a missed opportunity. What exactly happened in this issue? Unfortunately, that feels so explosion-oriented that it forgets to flesh out the characters behind it. It might look great, but Hickman can't skate by on looks alone.


The Bionic Man #1

Written by Kevin Smith and Phil Hester

Art by Jonathan Lau and Ivan Nunes

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Regardless of  all the times I swore I was done with him, that his adolescent humor was now beneath me, the name Kevin Smith will still raise my interest. I can't help it. He is the geek-made-good. I like the guy, even when he misses in the most egregious manner, I just shrug and think “that's okay Kevin, better luck next time.” So, as much as I rolled my eyes when I read the Bionic Man solicit in Previews, you better believe I jumped at the chance to review the book when offered. Based on Smith's unused 1998 script of the Bionic Man, this comic follows the same by way of a movie path as his previous Green Hornet book. However, unlike Green Hornet, Bionic Man will stand alone and not as a comparison piece to a film. And yet, I can't help but compare Smith's Green Hornet to his newest work on Bionic Man.

Issue 1 is your basic origin story. Smith and co-writer Phil Hester need to introduce all the key players to this setting. While readers of my generation, and most pop culture junkies, all know about Steve Austin and the events that lead to his Six-Million Dollar status, we still need some form of intro. Smith and Hester do the classic teaser opening, running with the shadowy villain attacking the very laboratory that we all know will keep our hero cybernetically alive in the coming days. It's a tad cliché, but sometimes you just have to run with what works and this hyper-violent opening does indeed work. It's brutal with just enough dark humor to remind you that this is a Kevin Smith joint. The bulk of this issue revolves around Austin's domestic life and works as a foreshadow to all that he's about to lose. Interestingly, these scenes aren't at all dark and showcase one of Smith's real talents as a writer.

You can tell Smith injects a lot of his personal life into this updated version of Steve Austin. This is our hero as a family man, and might be the strongest element to this debut issue. Whereas Green Hornet felt a little choppy in it's opening issue, Bionic Man has no problem hanging out and letting you get to know Austin's world. Green Hornet read like a movie script, complete with cut scenes and quick camera angles. Bionic Man, on the other hand, reads like a proper adaptation of a film. This comic takes it's time and Smith's warm domestic banter between Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers is, for lack of a better term, cute. Although readers that were hoping Smith dialed back his potty humor will be a little disappointed. Most of the book still has the standard Kevin Smith bathroom jokes and sexual innuendo. By now, you're either a fan of his humor or you're not. I will say, gone are the awkward racial jokes that seemed so prevalent in the Green Hornet. Whether this has more to do with the lack of ethnic minorities in Bionic Man or not remains to be seen.

The book opens and closes with some decent action, and something tells me this is where Phil Hester's skill as a comic book storyteller came in. The brutal opening attack as well as the inevitable plane crash read like they belong in a comic. While the action in Green Hornet was fun, it still felt like someone took some storyboards and translated them to a book. These action scenes in Bionic Man make use of panel layout and line work that draws the reader exactly where they need to go. Which brings us to Jonathan Lau's pencils. The work Lau turned in on Green Hornet was definitely an early highlight, and such is the case with the Bionic Man. While this first issue isn't all that heavy in action, Lau is still able to bring some dynamic pencils to most of the pages. You can see the tension between the angry Army general and those dang civilian eggheads that have no respect for the uniform. I think Lau is exactly the kind of artist a writer like Kevin Smith needs. One that has a deep understanding for visual storytelling in both print and film. One moment Lau breaks down a fairly basic talking heads comic scene, only to break with convention when the action demands a truly cinematic feel. Ivan Nunes colors on the book do a great job of reinforcing Lau's pencils. While a tad bit muted in the domestic moments between Austin and Sommers, he really lets the color wheel fly once Austin gets into the jet. Again, a great mix of comic and cinematic storytelling.

Although this opening issue lacks as much action and intrigue as the first Green Hornet, I found Bionic Man a better read.  This is a comic that is comfortable being just that, a comic. As a team, Smith, Hester, and Lau have hit their creative stride with Bionic Man. If they can maintain the light-hearted tone of the source material, I think we'll all be making that daa-na-na-na-naaaa sound in no time!


Chew #20

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Disgusting. Bizarre. Absurd.

Brilliant. Beautiful. Anomalous.

Welcome to Chew #20, where Rob Guillory promptly gut-punches you with some of his most visually stunning splash-pages to date, almost as soon as you open the book. Our resident big-bellied antagonist, Mason Savoy had a side of blood with his chanterelle mushroom omelet and black currant tea, and it sent him into a four-day psychedelic stupor revealing revelations of the Chew-verse. What revelations? Well, I am not going to tell you all of the business.

I will say that Chew #20 is just as good as all the others, and John Layman continues with excellent story-telling in his conspiracy theorized kind of way. The dynamic duo, Tony Chu and Partner John Colby are off another FDA mission investigating a fanatical egg-worshipping cult. Doing what Layman does best; he takes events from the real world, and molds them into a hilarious, symbolic replica. Just swap baby Jesus for an egg. Booyah! Instant allegory. While Chew #20 festively explores fanaticism, the inevitably brash John Colby continues to be one of the most entertaining characters in the pages of comics. He delivers his darkly humored one-liners for the perfect counterpart to good cop Tony. Their antics make for some belly laughs.

Every issue of Chew shows Rob Guillory getting better and better at what he does, and he was already great. Chew #20 features several of the main characters as distinctly as ever with a wide array of expressions. He uses some interesting composition and spatial perspective that adds impact to the story. He also uses bright color and playful backgrounds for variation in tonality from panel to panel. I suppose out of context, his style could seem campy. But a cop mystery with murder, plague, prohibition, and all the other mischief that spills out of Layman’s head; Guillory’s stylized art maintains balance in the force, and makes it easy to laugh at cannibalism … or fanatical cults.

Chew #20 keeps things moving right along at a steady pace, and evolves and expands the characters making this chicken space odyssey even more intriguing. Chew continues to be proof positive that authentic creativity and being true your voice and style can make a great comic book … every month.


Loose Ends #2

Written by Jason Latour

Art by Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi

Published by 12 Gauge Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What a beautiful comic.

There are some books out there that thrive on story. Others thrive on spectacle. Loose Ends is one of those books that absolutely dominates with its artwork. The story, like the title, is fairly loose, but the execution is so phenomenal that you won't care. If more comics looked like this, we'd be living in a bolder, braver industry.

So if you don't know who Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi are, well, get on it, kids. Renzi in particular is a colorist so fantastic, the Big Two better snap him up for an exclusive — this "Southern Crime Romance" absolutely exudes confidence and mood, just awash with everything from sepias to the black-and-violet fog of the city. And Brunner just brings this expressive, cartoony style that is just jam-packed with detail and sheer character, whether its Cheri's high school awkwardness or the lightning that sparks when she and Sonny touch. It's cute, it's iconoclastic, it's got a real whimsy that makes the menace of this crime story even more effective.

Of course, if you're looking for something that's tightly plotted or even particularly accessible, well, this book might not be for you. Jason Latour writes like an Impressionist painting — it's not so much the parts of the whole that matter as much as the here-and-now. It just feels real, if that makes any sense, and there doesn't necessarily have to be an overarching Point-A-to-Point-B to justify that, in this case. Of course, people just walking in may want to check out Issue #1, just to make sure they're all caught up — the book may look beautiful, but there's definitely no recap to give you much in the way of context.

But at the same time, this isn't one of those books where you need to have a scorecard to get involved — and the sheer spectacle of the artwork means that you shouldn't even want to. Loose Ends is a book with some humanity and a weird sense of the alien — you might not know these people, but you want to. It's a whole new world, thanks to Brunner and Renzi, and it's one you shouldn't ignore.

In Case You Missed It!


Generation Hope #10

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Tim Seeley, Val Staples and Sotocolor

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The lackluster X-Men Schism has been an all too obvious attempt to shake up the ever changing status quo of the X-Men. Like so many big event stories, it feels like the goal of the story (the fracturing of the X-Men) has been the driving force of the series as all of the characters act like they have to act to get the story from point A to point B. Issue #3 of the X-Men Schism featured one of the series few real revealing character moment as Idie, one of the young X-Men in training, looks at a picture of the original X-Men, in their old, utilitarian outfits, and wonders why they're smiling. It is that difficult for this girl who's living her life segregated from normal, human society on an island of mutants to understand how anyone, particularly any X-Men, could be smiling when all they encounter is hatred and persecution.

Generation Hope #10 reveals more about this girl Idie as Kieron Gillen and Tim Seeley show us Idie and her teammates at a museum exhibit about the history of mutants. It's actually the same event from X-Men Schism #3 where she wondered how X-Men could be smiling. Idie is a young and scared girl. She thinks she understands why governments would arm themselves with Sentinels and why the world is afraid of mutants. They are dangerous and they are monsters. She's a monster or at least, that's what she believes. She has her ideas of how the world should be and she knows she does not fit into it. The exhibit of mutant history almost proves her beliefs for her. It's an exhibit of how and why the world fears mutants and that's all she can see. Either she is blind to anything that does not show how mutants have saved the world time and time again or, worse yet, there is actually no evidence for it on display.

In this issue, Gillen revisits the self-doubting fear that there may be something unnatural about mutants. In X-Men Schism, Idie has almost been set up to be the latest ingénue under Wolverine's tutelage. She may be the next Kitty or Jubilee but Gillen shows how she's so different from those other girls who were full of confidence and felt they had something to prove. Gillen even begins by telling us how this is going to end;  "It's four hours until I become a murderer."  He tells us where this story is going so this issue is about the journey to get there. It's not that this young girl murders someone but it's about why she commits these acts and how she views this world and life that drives her response to it.

For such a dark, personal story, Tim Seeley's artwork is quite crisp and bright. He shows the X-Men as normal, everyday characters, not as the dangerous monsters Idie seems to think they are.  Whether they look like any person walking down the street or whether they have blue skin or scales, Seeley approaches them all with an even hand.  His art feels livelier when it’s focused on Idie as she is the reader’s character in this book; we’re experiencing these events through Idie’s filter and Seeley’s strongest panels are when we see her eyes and her face, trying to some order to the world around her.  Other characters come in and out of the story; they have their moments but Seeley never makes them as alive as Idie is.  Those other characters wear the faces that Gillen writes for them in the story. With Idie, Seeley is able to show her reactions to other mutants, villains and the actions around her.  He’s able to show her discovering the world and discovering that she may just be the monster she thinks she’s capable of being.

Generation Hope #10 takes place between the beats of X-Men Schism #3 but Gillen and Seeley’s story has the heart and internal conflict that is lacking in the main event miniseries.  The best and most memorable stories in X-Men lore are the ones where characters learn about themselves and learn what it means to be different.  Gillen and Seeley take that idea and twist it as we watch a character who fears what she is and acts on that fear.  She acts because of that fear.  She isn’t a hero, at least not yet, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t learn how to be one.  Gillen and Seeley show the hard road that heroes have.  It’s not always easy and sometimes there may not even be a correct answer.  Heroes can become monsters but for Idie’s sake, we’ve got to hope that monsters can become heroes. 

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