Best Shots Extra: CAP AND BUCKY, More


Captain America and Bucky #621

Written by Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko

Art by Chris Samnee and Bettie Breitweiser

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

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It's often hard to find new value in what some would consider the "twice-told tales" of comics.  How many new perspectives can there be on Superman's origin, or on how Peter Parker learned that, with great power, there must also come great responsibility?  To that end, it's a little surprising to see how Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko have found new depth in Captain America and Bucky's all too brief partnership.  Marvel's own dynamic duo slogging through spy-rings and busting up domestic terrorists is nothing new, but seeing it through Bucky's eyes certainly puts the era in a new light.  Seeing Cap and Bucky interacting less as "hero and boy sidekick," and more as brothers in arms, not so far apart in age deftly illustrates what sets Steve Rogers apart from anyone else, even his own partner.  Marvel has done something brilliant in relegating Captain America and Bucky to a WWII period piece, evoking the successful film version of the character, making him accessible to those who've never read his adventures, and still making it feel relevant to longtime readers.

Ed Brubaker has touched on the propaganda driven perception of Captain America in the Marvel universe before, showing how Bucky's role evolved from being a boy wonder, into more of a black-ops specialist. Seeing Captain America and Bucky portrayed as corn-fed wonder-boys of American machismo and morale in USO newsreels juxtaposed against the all-too-real consequences of fighting a war is a stark commentary on even a modern perception of the "Golden Age."  It's certainly a good way to justify the disconnect between the glossy (though strangely violent) stories of the past and the modern day conception of how things must have actually been.  Marc Andreyko's contribution seems to be dialogue in many cases, where the voice of the characters gets a little more tongue in cheek than Brubaker often does.  It's a pleasing dynamic that brings an air of authenticity and nostalgia to the proceedings.

Chris Samnee is absolutely the best choice for this title.  His art is that hard-to-reach balance of timely and timeless, immediately recognizable in its comic book roots, and somehow still more contemporary than almost anything else hitting the stands.  There's so much personality in his simple lines, blocky spotted inks, and his creative use of negative space, that it's impossible not to feel immersed.  It's clear through his little touches how much he understands what's going on, such as his use of the Captain America costume from the old serial in the USO newsreel, or the way a surprised clown's tiny hat bounces off his head.  It's perfect blend of tongue in cheek nostalgia, and metatextual cognition that many comic artists often lack, suffering a disconnect in intent from the writer of whatever title they're chopping through.  Likewise, Bettie Breitweiser's moody colors are the perfect compliment to Samnee's lines, often evoking the perfect tone for a given scene.  There's a bit of a washed out haze to the book that tells the reader that it's more of a memory, or a flashback than a modern story, without coming off as heavy-handed or outright.

Honestly, the most winning thing about Captain America and Bucky is that it feels like the kind of book I could hand to someone not familiar with the source material, and they'd find just as much value in the narrative as someone who's been reading Cap's adventures for years.  The triumph and tragedy in the transformation of adulthood is not new; it's not even necessarily exciting, but it is relatable.  Skewing that journey through the story of a kid sidekick forced to confront the reality of warfare, violence, and grief without relying on the shock value of extreme violence or blown out gonzo storytelling is refreshing, and poignant.  The adult hero/kid sidekick story is one that's long been dominated by Batman and Robin, but Captain America and Bucky confronts the concept in a way that the latter never could.


Superman Beyond #0

Written by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz

Art by Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, and Chris Beckett

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

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Say what you want about Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz — they may be old school, but they sure know how to make an entertaining yarn. With an extra-large 30 pages, the duo's team up with Sal Buscema on Superman Beyond #0 has plenty of action, as well as a surprising amount of emotion, to show us the twilight years of the Man of Steel.

What works best about this book, surprisingly, is not so much the characterization of Superman himself — more on that later — but introducing an emotional arc for Armorgeddon, a sympathetic convict who loses his humanity in every way possible. DeFalco and Frenz work wonders with their pacing here, and before you know it, you're simultaneously rooting for the guy, while also wondering when the Man of Tomorrow is going to have to put him down. Combine that with some very real concerns from Superman — namely, how do you go on when your strength is fading, and almost everyone you've ever loved has been in the ground? — and you've got a nice set of parameters for this done-in-one story.

Frenz and Buscema's old-school artwork also really reminds us of what we're missing in today's stories. Yeah, there's that sort of over-the-top composition, including a nice homage to Action Comics #1 with an alien tank, but there's a lot of heart underneath Superman's baggy eyes, a look of wistfulness that goes a long way towards warming you up to what could have been a cold world. The alien scenes in particular are also a great proving ground for colorist Chris Beckett, whose use of blues and violets are just really beautiful. And the thing about Buscema's style? It also harkens back to the old animated series, with those hard angles and shadowy shots — again, it's not as visceral as the widescreen standards of the day, but the use of emotion, of layout, of simplicity, it's masterful.

The one thing I would say trips this book up is that DeFalco and Frenz actually do too good of a job humanizing the villain of the piece, at the cost of the actual title character. I can understand a father losing his daughter, so it's surprising to me that I couldn't really empathize as much with Superman's problems. He's not as strong as before? I have the feeling he'll live. Lois and his parents are dead? I'm not terribly surprised, so what new thing can we learn from it? I feel like some of the pages with the Justice League or Batman could have been cut, just to give a little bit more room to make us really resonate with this older, grayer Man of Tomorrow.

Yet even while the character himself feels a little nebulous, I love the fact that we get an accessible, fun, done-in-one story out of Superman Beyond #0. It's 30 pages, but you know what? If more comics read like this, I think you'd be getting a groundswell of support. This book goes above and beyond your expectations.


FF #8

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting, and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

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After a few issues of side story to re-introduce Black Bolt and the Inhumans, FF is back on track with the story of the many crimes of Reed Richards and his extra-dimensional doppelgangers.  This is definitely more of what this book should be; the Inhumans story was necessary, and read well, but I definitely missed regular series artist Steve Epting, and almost lost some of my enthusiasm for Jonathan Hickman's long-term story goals.  Now back to the main story of the Future Foundation, we find the team embroiled in a little family drama, a lot of major conflict, and a few big surprises.

The melodrama of Reed Richards teaming up with a host of his arch-enemies to defeat a group made up of alternate versions of himself is never lost in this story, and its that kind of high concept that really works to make this feel like the "Fantastic Four" book I've wanted and gone without until very recently.  It's nice to see Reed acting human, something that I think a lot of writers have a fear of allowing him to do, and to see him less as an insufferable nerd, and as more of an intrepid adventurer, more of a Doc Savage, or Indiana Jones.  The scenes between Reed, Sue, and Nathaniel Richards stand out, as the argument their having comes off as very convincing, and almost relatable if it wasn't based on super-science.

This is very much the prototypical issue of FF, and in that, it's exactly what I was hoping for.  It's very much a "back to basics" approach to the concept, which is ironic considering how far the team and the characters have evolved.  Its also very pleasing that the villains assembled to take on the cross-dimensional Reeds serve as more than window dressing, with each one receiving a moment or two in the story.  The inevitable betrayal at the issue's end was actually not what I expected, and I can't wait to see how it plays out.

This entire arc so far has seemed to serve as Jonathan Hickman's attempt to re-introduce the FF, their world, their villains, and their style to an audience that has largely been without a definitive take on the characters since the Waid/Wieringo run on the title.  The family dynamic between the core members of the team, their expanding array of children and protégés, and even their enemies is second to none, and seeing them all under a single banner for the first time only enhances that turmoil.  It's a treatise on the idea that, no matter what you expect from the first family of super-heroics, you're going to be surprised.   I only hope that Hickman isn't afraid to go even bigger, and more dynamic than he already has, as that's always been the way with Marvel's former flagship title.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1

Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Art by Kevin Eastman, Dan Duncan and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

I remember a combination of joy and disappointment in finding Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman's original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 on the rack of my local comic shop.  Back in 1984, it was the hot book. Now I barely know how I ever heard of it back in those unwired, pre-Internet age but I had heard enough about it, probably through Comic Buyers Guide or Amazing Heroes, to know it was the book everyone wanted and it was the book no one could find. And here it was, one warm afternoon that my dad had driven me to the comic shop, just sitting on the shelf.  I couldn't believe my luck as I grabbed it off the shelf and ran up to the counter to pay.  TMNT #1 was mine.  Unfortunately when I got home, I looked at it closer and realized that it was a 3rd printing.  The budding collector that I was back then was utterly heartbroken. First printings were where the money was at. Third printings were for losers like me who were always months behind figuring out what was hot.  And thus my own participation in the black and white boom of the late 80s began as I wasn’t about to let the next TMNT sneak past me. Anyone want cheap first printings of Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters?

Eventually my disappointment subsided enough so I could read Eastman and Laird's book. The heavy noirish and tough Frank Miller exposition applied to these funny animal comics was breathtaking. That first issue was such a mash-up of Miller's Daredevil and Ronin combined with a healthy visual dose of Looney Tunes and Disney, set in the ugly and dangerously lurid NYC before it was cleaned up was fun and showed us comics that we were already familiar with in such a bright light. It didn't take long for them to move beyond their obvious influences and start creating the story that would eventually be a multimedia empire. We've seen the TMNT empire rise and fall and become something not nearly as vibrant as those original comics.

Flash forward 25 years to today.  Eastman is back, writing and laying out the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, a reintroduction to the amphibian warriors and their story.  Eastman, co-writer and scripter Tom Waltz and artist Dan Duncan start over at the beginning, showing us these characters for the first time again.  They add a twist or two to the familiar story (the Turtles are only a trio when the book opens, Master Splinter isn’t just a smart rat who learned karate by watching his owner.)  In this day and age of relaunches and revamps of older characters, this book hits pretty much every point it needs to in order to remind us of who these characters are.

The real excitement in this book is just seeing the Turtles back in action again.  Working over Eastman’s layouts, Duncan gives the opening pages a thrilling vibe as the Turtles face off against a rival gang.  It’s fun watching these iconic characters in action again and not be reminded of the movies’ bad rubber suits or the cartoon’s simplified designs.  Duncan even has a bit of a European flair as some his characters look like they may have just stepped out of Juanjo Guardino’s Blacksad pages.  Duncan’s human-like animals have the same feel to them as Guardino’s does.  The writing and the art in the opening pages remind you just how much fun these characters still have in them.

It’s too bad that the book doesn’t carry on that sense of fun longer than the opening pages.  That original TMNT #1 decades ago is still a great book from beginning to end as Eastman and Laird just worked out every Frank Miller trope they could on the page.  They just kept it going and going and going.  In this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 Eastman and Waltz open with a bang and then settle in for what feels like a standard origin story now.  There’s nothing playful, rebellious or punk about the 2011 #1 issue like there was about the 1984 #1 issue.  Eastman and Laird’s will and creativity swept up the readers back then.  Now, Eastman and Waltz approach the story more carefully and planned, tossing out the creative abandon for a more measured and standard approach to their story.

The 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 still ranks as one of the best comics of the 80s as Eastman and Laird showed everyone how to do the stories they wanted to without having to work for Marvel or DC.  It was fresh, new, exciting and ground breaking.  Now it’s 2011 and we have another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, one that tries to capture the magic that Eastman and Laird discovered.  Eastman with Waltz and Duncan come pretty close to it in the opening pages of this issue and even adding to it as Duncan creates brutal and energetic pages setting us up to expect this action throughout the whole book.  Just as it looks like they’re about to recapture that old magic, they pull back and take it easy and safe as they fall into the trap of retelling the origin.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 is a tease; it lures you in with great action before showing you that it’s just a standard comic book.


Malinky Robot: Collected Stories and Other Bits

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Sonny Liew

Published by Image Comics

Review by Wendy Holler

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Malinky Robot is the quintessential indie comic. The stories of this trade edition reveal a near future city called San'ya, a place too familiar to be dismissed as futuristic and too strange to be entirely comfortable. The art is remarkable -- lovely and gnarled -- and the comic's sections have the subtle connective tissue of emotional storytelling. The comic does have plot, and this trade edition plays up those slim plotty elements nicely, but the comic's point lies in small, shared moments of perspective that highlight the lyric consistency of human nature. Malinky Robot is the real deal, the kind of book that should go not just on the must-buy list, but on the must-buy-for-friends list.

The five stories collected here are "Stinky Fish Blues," "Bicycle," "Karakuri," "New Year's Day," and "Dead Soul's Day Out." The stories have been published in other (though disparate) venues, so fans of the series should be aware that the sketches and guest gallery are the primary additions to this trade. The book is full color throughout aside from one section that is purposefully black and white, and the creepy grey silhouettes on the story headers are themselves worth the cover price.

The book's main characters are two street urchins, Atari and Oliver. Regardless of their chronological ages, Atari is the older of the two. Looking like a downed and down-on-his-luck pilot, Atari is the one with plans or a map or an idea about how to spend a windfall. Oliver is like an alternative universe version of Barnaby Shrew (from Steve Augard's Barnaby Shrew Goes to Sea). Oliver is enthusiastic and gentle-hearted, the vagrant who wants to be a pilot even when he admits that pilots probably need to go to school. The boys mostly take care of themselves, but they're also watched over by a collection of street philosophers, including bums, scientists, friends, and merchants.

The stories in this series are the day-in-the-life kind. "Stinky Fish Blues" follows the boys as they find a strange, rare fish and experience a power outage. In "Bicycle" the boy steal some bicycles to visit a friend in nearby Sanreo. "Karakuri" is the story of a helper robot, and "New Year's Day" is the tale of how that robot finds a new way home. Finally, "Dead Soul's Day Out" looks at how the boys find a large bill and the ways the money does and doesn't affect their day. The storylines are simple, but the individual scenes play out perfectly. Throughout the comic, small, uncomfortable disturbances like an odd smell dovetail with larger, more ominous threats like the fact that the boys aren't in school. At the same time, the characters fill their days with activities and people they enjoy, with acts that might seem slight but make all the difference in the world to the people involved.

The art is fantastic. Liew has a knack for turning mundane details into meaning. He makes Atari's cigarette smoke indistinguishable from the city's clouds, for example, which turns the act of smoking into something both romantic and ominous. In a brilliant section of "Bicycle," Liew adopts old Sunday comic strip styles to riff off their formats and his world. At other times, the characters interact directly with the panels around them, which should break the fourth wall and shock readers out of the story, but instead makes suggestions about how seen and unseen panels bind real and imaginary lives. The line art has the old fashioned future feel of a Miyazaki story, and the shading has the warm and faded look of watercolors. The art and the characters it portrays feel vulnerable and a bit worn, but also lived in and rich in detail.

Nitpickers can find small things to complain about. I can imagine letterers being frustrated at the refusal to use barred Is, for example, or editors grousing about the order of the stories, which favors real life publication over story-based chronology. These seem like decisions rather than mistakes, though, and they give the book a kind of familiar strangeness. The comic reads like something you've known all your life and also are seeing for the first time.

Malinky Robot is a story of gentle tragedy, a near-future sci-fi comic with heart, a buddy story with an impressive supporting cast. The design is brilliant, and the storytelling is resonant in all the best ways. There's little action or adventure, but the story has high art chops and Broadway accessibility. Check this one out; it's good.

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