Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Team Best Shots is back, hurricane and all, with a number of reviews from this week. We've got Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse for you, and that's not all — we've also got plenty of reviews up at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off with a look at the sophomore issue of Frank Castle's latest series, Punisher #2


The Punisher #2

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Marco Checchetto, and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Joe Caramanga

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

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After the incredibly fun, but undeniably silly "Frankencastle" storyline that concluded the last ongoing Punisher series, Greg Rucka brings Frank Castle back to his roots, with a firmly grounded book that explores the "street-level" of the Marvel Universe.

Rucka chose to kick this story of in a very dark way, with a gang shootout at a wedding, causing casualties in the double digits. It was a bit of a shocker, but really set the tone for series, and let us know that this was going to be a very different type of Punisher series. In terms of tone, Rucka’s take on Frank Castle falls somewhere in-between the regular Marvel Universe version of the Punisher, and the Max Universe version of the character. I think this is a great spot for the series to occupy. Obviously the Max version of the character is very much no-holds-barred, and too much for the regular Marvel Universe, but there is a hint of that version’s grim determination here - the feeling that he would do anything it takes to accomplish his mission.

While the first issue only contained light hints to the fact that the book is actually set in the regular MU (or the 616 for the purists out there). In this second issue, things become much clearer, as we get the appearance of our first MU villain, in the form of the Vulture. However, while the story involves a super-villain, the comic remains very much a crime story, which is something that I think sets this series apart from other recent Punisher series.

Marco Checchetto is the artist on this title. I’ve seen his art on a few other Marvel titles, but his name has never really stuck with me before. Well, that’s all about to change, because he’s really stepped up his game on The Punisher, and has taken his work to another level. His linework on the book is very smooth, and yet highly intricate and detailed. He has a strong command of anatomy and posture. He also does some great work on the characters’ facial expressions, and you get a strong impression of what is going through their minds, just by the look on their faces.

Checchetto is inking his own pencils here, which has afforded him much more control over the final look of the artwork. To that end, he has inked the title rather darkly in most places, particularly the backgrounds, which makes many scenes look very dark and foreboding. This works brilliantly to elevate the noir feel that Rucka has given the book with his script. The colors on the book are by Matt Hollingsworth, whose work once again acts to accentuate the gritty feel of the story. This is accomplished mainly by the use of darker shades of colors, but also by a number of single-color panel washes on several scenes, giving the book a very stylized, noir look.

All in all this is a great creative team, working together in perfect harmony to produce a book that not only reads like a high quality street-level crime book, but also looks like one too. It’s hard to pick a favorite scene from the issue, because there really are so many great pages. I would put it at a tie between two. The first is a one-page splash where the bride from the wedding learns of the deaths of her husband and family - we get four panels looking in through her hospital window, as she writhes in mental agony on her bed. Theses panels are framed in black, with three roses in the corners of the page, which are dripping dark red with blood. It’s amazing composition! My other favorite would be the two-page splash from the end of the book, where the Vulture descends on Frank from the rafters. The Vulture has never looked so menacing, and the look on Frank’s face is one of surprise giving way to concern, as he calculates his response. It’s a priceless look!

In case I’ve not been clear so far, or you’ve just skipped through to the end (you know who you are!), I absolutely love this new series of The Punisher. The series kicked off with a devastating opening salvo, which this second issue has follow-up in senses-shattering fashion. While I have been loving all of Marvel’s "Big Shots" titles, I have to say that The Punisher is by far my favorite. I use no hyperbole when I say that this is the best thing that has happened to Frank castle since Garth Ennis got his hands on him!


Dark Horse Presents #1

Written by Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, David Walker, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Chuck Brown, David Chelsea, Neal Adams and Michael T. Gilbert

Art by Dave Gibbons, Angus McKie, Robert Love, Michelle Davies, Diego Simone, Carla Speed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee, Bill Mundron, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Jesus Aburto, Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Sanford Greene, Tyson Hesse, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, Moose and Michael T. Gilbert

Lettering by Thomas Mauer, Ken Bruzenak, Clem Robins and Steve Dutro

Published by Dark Horse Presents

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Dark Horse Presents defined what the modern anthology comic should look like and the latest incarnation of the series is living up to its legacy. Not every story is the next Sin City or Mask but Dark Horse Presents #3 shows that editor Mike Richardson still knows how to assemble a lot of talent between the book’s covers.

Treatment: Dave Gibbons' story takes a couple of potshots at reality television and police brutality, two easy targets. His story about televised police raids gone wrong (think American Gladiators meets Big Brother) is just too on-the-nose as Gibbons doesn't have the writing talent to make this anything more than an all-to-obvious satire of the culture we live in. From its veteran cop looking to make one last big impression to its rookie who can't keep his head down at the right time, Treatment is a pretty looking story but shows that Gibbons is a far better artist than he is a writer.

Number 13, Chapter 2: Robert Love and David Walker's feels the most like classic Dark Horse Presents with their story of a nameless boy, a three eyed girl and her father who lost an eye to an ogre. Love and Walker's immediately capture the charm and innocence of childhood in this post-apocalyptic world while building plenty of mysteries. Who is the boy? What has happened that ogre and three-eyed girls travel across the landscape? They leave it to us to ask plenty of questions as they build the backdrop of their story.

Finder: Third World, Chapter 3: Carla Speed McNeil Finder stories are just captivating as she masterfully walks the fine line between reality and fantasy. In this story, Jaeger meets an old woman who sleeps through her train stop and he helps her find her way to her family. It's a story about the wonders of the city and how age doesn't really separate us as much as we may think. In the three issues of this series so far, Carla Speed McNeil's stories have contained the most soul as she tells these wonderfully heartfelt stories of a man who's just trying to do the best he can. Hopefully these stories should inspire us to try to do the same.

Concrete: Everything Looks Like a Nail: Concrete becomes a police negotiator by hugging people he's trying to subdue. Really, that's it. This big, rock-like creature goes around trying to hug people so that the police don't have to pull out their Tasers. Sometimes it feels like there's a thin line between Concrete's issues and concerns and Paul Chadwick's and this story is one of those. It's less about Concrete and the other characters and more about how do the police deal with belligerent and potentially dangerous people. And it all comes down to hugs. Chadwick's story has an agenda but to be fair, a lot of his stories do but he manages to create thought-provoking stories around those agendas. With this story, his own thoughts and feelings about the story are too obvious and too much at the forefront, not giving the characters any room to come to their own conclusions about the use of Tasers vs. hugs.

Marked Man, Part 3: Howard Chaykin's story of a professional thief who has to leave his wife and kids to pull jobs is just a bit too slick for it's own good. Chaykin's writing and art is some of the strongest he's done lately as his main character Mark doesn't look or sound like a typical Chaykin protagonist. Mark is a working man, trying to balance work and family. Chaykin's work feels fresh as this is one of the few works of his that does not feel like it's trying to recapture the glory of his American Flagg!.

Red Tide Chapter 1: Jim Steranko's story just drips noir. Even from this opening chapter, you can see how this graphic novel has influenced everyone from Frank Miller to Ed Brubaker. What will be up for debate with this book is the term "graphic novel" as Steranko's story is really just an illustrated prose story. In a follow-up interview, Steranko challenges the idea that Will Eisner's A Contract With God is the first graphic novel which seems like a dubious claim since you could argue that Steranko isn't drawing a comic but illustrating a novel, which then brings the definition of "graphic novel" into question.

Indecisive Man: A fun and clever two pages as Indecisive Man questions whether he should save a man falling to his death

Murky World: The Sleepers: Richard Corben's art is timeless and his stories are still as nightmarish as they ever were. Trapped by a rickshaw driving giant, and then a guest of a dead mystic, Corben's character looks like he should be at home in this desolate world but he sees everything with the same horror and fascination that we do.

Rotten Apple, Chapter 2: Like Number 13, Sanford Greene and Chuck Brown's Rotten Apple feels like a comic we would have seen in the heyday of Dark Horse Presents. The tradition of DHP from back in the original days was that every creator was new and every story was a brand new discovery for the readers. Greene and Brown's story about a hunt for a lost artifact is wild and snappy, full of fights and just enough mystical mumbo jumbo to make every page it's own adventure.

Snow Angel, Chapter 3: The most puzzling story in the book is also the most intriguing as David Chelsea's stream of consciousness cartooning produces wonderful visual references to The Falcon and the Snowman and an honest-to-goodness snow angel that goes around saving people from jaywalking. It even includes a brief lesson about President William Henry Harrison, the President who had the shortest term ever. It’s difficult to tell how one page of this story connects with the next but Chelsea’s charming cartooning pulls you along from one scenario to the next.

Blood, Chapter 3: I’m still not too sure how Neal Adams is tying in Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilee and modern day shootout or even why he is but we’re watching him speed ahead at 150 m.p.h. and he’s daring us to keep up with the ideas he’s tossing out. He’s leading us somewhere and challenging us to trust in him. I don’t know if he’s earned it but Blood looks like it is one of those stories that will be ground breaking or a total train wreck and we won’t know which it is until we get to the end. It’s large, ambitious and looks like it could totally fall apart in front of our eyes. Until then, it should be a wild roller coaster ride.

Mr. Monster Vs. Oodak! Chapter 3: Every now and then you need comics that contain lines like “Ha! You think you’re the first tree monsters from space I’ve tangled with?” and we should be grateful that we have Michael T. Gilbert around to give them to us. His loving homage to the old Marvel monster comics (you know, the ones before Fantastic Four #1) is light hearted but has a gentle hand behind it as Gilbert shows us why those old comics are still so recognizable and fun.


Batman: The Dark Knight #5

Written by David Finch

Art by Jason Fabok, Sal Regla, Batt, Jaime Mendoza, Ray McCarthy, Greg Adams, Peter Steigerwald and Tony Aviña

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Click here for preview

It's tough reviewing books like Batman: The Dark Knight. There's a lot of potential for a standalone, continuity-free Bat-book, considering that even the post-relaunch Batman will likely still have ties to Batman, Incorporated. But at the same time, David Finch's long-delayed story is not the answer: coming off as unfocused, saccharine, and ultimately just wrong-headed, what's most frustrating about this book is that while it looks just fine, it's not even close to being what it could be.

I'll start with what works here — the art. Fellow Aspen artist Jason Fabok has the same sort of grit that Finch brought to the table, albeit with a bit of a cleaner line to all of it. Hitting the page with no less than five inkers, Fabok has that sort of hypermusculature and shadow that really works on a Batman book (not to mention works well with demonic characters like Etrigan and Ragman). It's extremely rendered, but it's got a discernible style to it — particularly a scene where Batman stands up against flames from Hell itself — and Peter Steigerwald and Tony Aviña's moody colorwork really helps set the tone of the visuals nicely.

But that said, all that artwork can't cover up some serious flaws in the story from David Finch. The first thing that grates is the ultimate fate of Dawn Golden, Bruce Wayne's childhood-friend-on-the-run — it just seems absolutely wrong-headed to introduce a female character like that just to become angst fodder for a male lead, especially when you're dealing with a character like Batman who already has plenty of emo fuel to begin with. The other problem is that Finch seems to get too involved with the character of Etrigan, to the point where he overshadows Batman in his own book. His conversion back to the side of the angels feels extremely convenient, but ultimately, since Batman doesn't exactly do much of anything in this book, it just feels like a hollow fight.

The thing that kills me about Batman: The Dark Knight is that with the prep time being this delayed, it's too bad some of the story fundamentals couldn't have been tightened up. Granted, DC's got tons on its plate right now — I'm looking at you, New 52 — but at the same time, the here-and-now needs some attention, too. There are already plenty of great Batman stories on these stands, but sadly this is not one of them.


Uncanny X-Force #13

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Mark Brooks, Scot Eaton, and Dean White

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Click here for preview

Since it's launch, Rick Remender has made Uncanny X-Force my only real required mutant pull each month. I've enjoyed the personal interaction Remender explores within Xavier's more violent graduates and friends. I mean, when Deadpool is the voice of moral reason, you've got one messed up and interesting team. For the most part, The Dark Angel Saga has been one heck of a run, and a much needed counter to the rather drab Deathlok story. But, as part three hits, so to does the dreaded mid-arc lull. The team in knee deep in the world of Apocalypse and faces a moral dilemma. Do they simply cut and run with the Life Seed and save Angel from becoming the next Apocalypse in our world? Or, do they stick around and help the world where Logan's one true love, good ol' Jean Grey, is alive and relatively well? Like I said, I don't have the strongest knowledge of the X-Men, but I've hung around this gang, and especially Wolverine, enough to know that answer. And, it bothered me that the guy leading the team and by extension, Remender, didn't.

Wolverine has always been a character that for good or bad, sees the big picture. There were even times when he seemed to be the only one that saw it. It didn't matter how many friends he had to leave behind, or even betray. If there was a job that needed done, you got Wolverine. He simply would not stop until the task was complete and the people that needed saving (and killing) were taken care of. I can hear you claim, “come on, this is Jean Grey, everything changes when you factor in Red.” Perhaps, but we're still talking about the character that killed the woman he loves in order to end her suffering. He sees the endgame of his actions and no matter how much it pains him, he goes through with it. So it struck me wrong when Logan decides to put his entire team and world at risk simply because he won't lose her again. Maybe Remender has a longer vision for this choice, but I don't see it. I've also grown a little tired of the Fantomex Maneuver. In less than a year, we've seen the team jump into battle and get slaughtered by an opponent that seemed to know each and every attack. Ha! Take that easily duped villain, you just fell for the Fantomex Maneuver! Prepare for a major butt kicking at the hands of the real X-Force. I know it's one of his main powers, but to use it so often kind of takes the bite out of it as a reader.

Mark Brooks and Scot Eaton team up on art duties to bring the book back on schedule, though I think we were getting a little spoiled by the bi-weekly release. Separate, Brooks and Eaton have an interesting art style that works well with this rather dark team. Together, the art is enjoyable enough but still feels a little off. Scot Eaton's art, while not necessarily as clean as Brooks, has an grit to it that lends itself well to this book. Everyone looks like they've been through a war, and considering the setting of the title, that plays well to the reader. Brooks' art is the exact opposite. A little too clean, and the characters feel slightly out of place. Some might say Brooks' art is heroic, particularly when set again the grim backdrop of the setting. But to me, it pulls me from the moment.

But here comes the real enigma. For all my ranting, I still enjoyed Uncanny X-Force. Even for all of its flaws, Remender, Brooks, and Eaton are telling an interesting tale. One where I'd like to think I know the outcome, but with Marvel's laissez-faire approach to character death these days, I don't. While I'm not looking for a bloodbath, I am fairly certain some folks on both worlds are in for some serious hurt once I read the final page. So, while not the strongest part of the Dark Angel Saga, part three does what all good mid point issues do. Cleaned out some chaff and got us ready for the big bad.


Batman Incorporated #8

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Scott Clark and Dave Beaty

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Click here for preview

One credit I will always give Grant Morrison. He swings for the fences each and every time. There is no such thing as the line drive base hit in Morrison's world. That isn't to say he knocks the literary ball out of the park each and every time. In fact, to continue this tired baseball analogy. He's the clean-up hitter. The one that scores, scores big for the team. Alas, for every grand slam that makes the crowd roar in excitement, there is the painfully ugly strikeout. The one where he swings with all his might, and all he hears is the boo and hiss from us fickle fans. I long ago stopped being a Grant Morrison apologist. I start every one of his titles with an open mind. Is this going to be another We3, or is it Final Crisis time? Batman Incorporated started with so much potential. It's another big concept born from the more light-hearted Silver Age of comics. Each month, Bruce Wayne would solve a crime somewhere in the world with a Batman (or Batwoman) of that country. Not perfect, but it was something Grant hasn't been in a long time. Fun.

I really wish that Grant Morrison had been around to write this eighth and “final” issue of Batman Incorporated.

Immediately, I knew I was in for something less than wonderful when I saw the art. I just can't get down with the shiny-round-pointy-faux-digital world...thing. Look, it's 2011. For almost ten years we've seen massive leaps in graphic technology in video games and computer animated films. The idea that in an all new, Wayne Industries powered Internet 3.0, we would all look like rejects from the Lawnmower Man is ridiculous. Both Scott Clark and Dave Beaty are far better artists than what we see on the page. Everyone looks flat and stale. Even worse, characters look like someone forgot to hit the Render button on their copy of Poser. Shiny avatar skins and energy lines do not make up for badly designed panels and haphazard pencils. There are red, blue, yellow, and black lines shooting all over the page. Perhaps this was done in an to convey the chaotic nature of a Batman and Oracle-Batgirl fighting off a swarm of living Zombie Worm Men in a virtual world. Well, it worked, because I have no clue what is going on. Really, the only element I found even remotely interesting was Oracle's Batgirl avatar. But even that potentially awesome image got buried in Morrisonism.

Speaking of which, I've been avoiding comments on the writing because I don't really know where to begin. This is Grant Morrison at his most annoying. Issue 8 reads like someone took that Grant Morrison Internet meme and decided to apply it to computers. “Digital Batman Slides into the Processor Ether and Battles with a Jungian Motherboard and its Electric Zombies.” There, I just wrote a Batman Incorporated issue, aren't I a genius? Alright, so that was a little snarky, but you get my point. This issue reads like a filler, one where Morrison knows he won't be able to tell his complete vision for Batman Incorporated, so he just tosses in some random Internet concepts and hopes for the best. To be honest, I don't see the point to this issue other than DC said there had to be one. We all know Oracle won't be around to protect Internet 3.0 in the new DC, so why even bother mentioning her? The reveal that Jezebel Jet is behind this cyber-attack isn't interesting or compelling at all. Indeed, she was the weakest element to Batman R.I.P., so to bring her back now as the title ends is pointless. Just like most of this issue. It's packed with bright lights that illuminate nothing and chunky tech dialogue masquerading as intelligent banter between hero and villain. In all, it's a textbook Grant Morrison strikeout.

Batman Incorporated started with such potential. Now it's just over. Or, at least until it's not. Again. At least I got to see Oracle kick butt one last time. I just wish it happened in a better book.


Graveyard of Empires #2

Written by Mark Sable

Art by Paul Azaceta and Matt Wilson

Lettering by Thomas Mauer

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

What makes Graveyard of Empires such a strong, if understated, book is the fact that Mark Sable doesn't give into the urge to turn this story into pure carnage. Just because the concept is zombies in Afghanistan doesn't mean you can't have some seriousness and some actual research behind it, and that's what elevates the execution past the original elevator pitch.

Structurally, Sable's got a good thing going here — on the very first page, you get the concept, it makes perfect sense, but as soon as he establishes that foundation, he digs deeper into the world our characters are living in. What are the concerns about working with Americans? What are troops' concerns with the locals, particularly in terms of bridging the language barrier? What's the kind of pressure you're dealing with when even a child could be holding a grenade? You can tell that Sable did his homework with this book, because it's not black-and-white by any angle.

Of course, the violence also gives the book a certain crackle. Certain artists are just made for certain projects, and Paul Azaceta is a great fit for this book. There's an unsettling nature to his craggy, geometric characters, as if anything could be hiding behind the buildings or fields — and just when you think it's safe, the pages suddenly explode in reds and yellows from colorist Mat Wilson. It's pretty effective visually, but it's not just the gunfire that works. I love the creepy, smaller moments, whether its a translator getting a little too familiar with a local boy, or the pulling and tearing of the body bags as someone inside struggles to get out.

Now, this book is solid as it gets, but at the same time, that sheer consistency will only take Graveyard of Empires so far. It feels realistic, absolutely, but it's also missing just a little bit of those fireworks, a little bit of that punch-you-in-the-gut feeling. This would have been a fantastic opening issue, just to get us in the mood, but since we're two issues in, I'd be very curious to see Sable really tear the roof off and give us a moment to really be in shock over. This book is solidly good — I'm hoping that next month, Sable and company really put pedal to the metal.


X-Men #16

Written by Victor Gischler

Art by Jorge Molina and Guru eFX

Lettering by Joe Carmagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Comics like X-Men #16 are kind of like the Ocean's 11 movies — it's not a deep read by any stretch of the imagination, but much of the appeal of this book comes from simply watching a who's who of characters just mingling. But instead of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Don Cheadle chumming it up for the cameras, we've got the X-Men and the Future Foundation teaming up in an exotic rescue mission, and it's one heck of a lot of fun.

To be honest, writer Victor Gischler's main strength for this book is that he keeps it moving like a water-skier, just bouncing from character to character and fight sequence to fight sequence. And for an unapologetic crossover-style book like this? That's the absolute right call. In particular, Gischler really excels with characters like Doom, the Thing, Wolverine, and Pixie — Ben and Logan have a nice moment where they take a new spin on the Fastball Special, a beat that's quick, to the point, and has some real panache. And Doom's snarkiness is just great, really adding some punch to the script: "I expected better hospitality, Cyclops. Even on your little pretend island kingdom."

And this sort of story also plays well to artist Jorge Molina's strengths. Stylistically, he has that sort of cool, boxy design that's has shades of Olivier Coipel, giving what could have been a throwaway story a little bit more juice. He's got a great sense of composition, particularly in the smaller action beats, like Doom flying off to reconnoiter solo, or Wolverine popping out his claws and getting ready to slice. The use of body type also works to Molina's advantage, particularly in a sequence where the stocky Wolverine and the goliath Thing are plummeting like ragdolls in the sky, while the lithe Pixie tries her damnedest to catch the two lugs. Guru eFX's colorwork also really helps with the production values of this story, looking incredibly vibrant, particularly with the blues and greens and violets.

Now, this book isn't perfect — the sequence where the X-Men and the FF have to find their quarry is a little heavy on the talking, rather than the showing, and to be honest, it does feel a little bit like the FF steal the show in the X-Men's own book, calling the shots and generally having most of the fun beats. (Especially Spider-Man in the introduction.) There are a few hiccups in the dialogue, as well — namely Wolverine name-dropping The Enemy Below, and the repeat requests of "Magneto, if you would do the honors" — but these are relatively minor quibbles.

Sometimes, books don't need to reinvent the wheel — they just have to remind you why you liked the original wheel in the first place. There's relatively little high concept for X-Men #16, but because of the sheer strength of the personalities of the characters, it's an incredibly entertaining read. With little fat and some great action putting these two teams through their paces, this is the most fun book with the main X-team I've read in quite some time.

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