Greetings, Rama Readers! The Best Shots Team has plenty of reviews for your reading pleasure, including the latest releases of Wonder Woman, Avengers: Children's Crusade and Prison Pit! So let's get cracking with Scott Cederlund, as he takes a trip to Gotham City in the newly-relaunched Batman #1...
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Batman #1 opens asking the question, "what is Gotham City?" Batman tells us that its citizens have many answers to that question; "damned," "cursed," "murderous," "Two-Face," "Killer Croc," and even "the Bat." The answer, for us, is much easier than that. Gotham is its creators. It's Bill Finder, Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane. It's Carmine Infantino, Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. It's Jim Aparo, Don Newton, Doug Moench and Frank Springer. It's Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. Gotham City and its heroes have always been defined by the writers and artists who have worked on the books, so Batman #1 gives us a new answer to that question. Gotham City is now Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who begin their run on Batman by showing us what Gotham was before, and showing us a dream of what Gotham could be.
The first thing you notice about Snyder and Capullo's Gotham is its villains. Even before we see its hero, we see its villains and the worst Gotham has to offer. Even facing down the likes of Professor Pig, Scarecrow, the Riddler and Two Face, Snyder and Capullo's Batman allows himself a moment to smile and say to himself, "There's no place like home." They open with a bang, Batman against almost all of his villains in a royal rumble that most comic creators would have saved for a conclusion to their epic storyline. Snyder and Capullo open with that, showing Batman against the world. The opening shows that Gotham is a city of villains and heroes; a city that the best men in it believe is worth fighting for.
Snyder quietly lays out a huge agenda for his Batman. His Batman is a superhero, a detective and, perhaps most importantly, a dreamer. In the opening, we see Batman as a hero, facing down his own eclectic rogue's gallery. His villains define him and his city as much, if not more, than his costume and his gadgets. Batman is also a detective, and the end of this issue shows that as Snyder sets up a grisly murder and an equally grisly mystery for Batman to solve. These are the two aspects of Batman that most writers usually concentrate on, but Snyder wants to make Bruce Wayne as much of a hero of Gotham as Batman is.
Wayne begins his initiative to revitalize Gotham the way we've seen real cities do. He wants to life Gotham out of its past and out of its own demons and create the city it should be. Snyder shows Batman as a dreamer, but as a dreamer who has the wealth to possibly make those dreams a reality. It's similar to Grant Morrison's "Batman, Incorporated" idea, but where that was still about saving the world through super heroics, Snyder wants to show us Batman as a possible community leader, at least in his Bruce Wayne role. It's large, ambitious and it shows Batman working in a different sphere than we're used to seeing.
Greg Capullo's art is what the art in superhero comics should be; it's stylized and lively. It's energetic and moody. It doesn't look like reality, but Capullo makes it all work. He perfectly captures all of the parts of Snyder's story and shows those different aspects of Batman as the hero, the detective and the dreamer. With Glapion's inks and Plascencia's colors, Gotham is a dark and scary city, but it's also a city full of promise. The way Capullo sells Wayne's dreams make them seem like more than dreams, but then he shows us a grisly murder that may have its own ties to the Dark Knight and his own family. Snyder and Capullo sell us the ideal, but then shows us that Bruce Wayne's own house may not be in order, so how can he possibly create the Gotham of his dreams?
Gotham is a city of dreams, but it's also a city of madmen and murderers. In the span of one issue, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo show us everything Gotham City is and everything it could be. Batman #1 is as much about Gotham City as it is about Batman, Bruce Wayne or anyone else living in it. More than almost any other city in comics, Gotham City is a city that's defined by the creators of its stories and their own views of Batman's home. Gotham is now the city of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. The city is in some pretty good hands.
Avengers: Children's Crusade #7
Written by Allan Heinberg
Art by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay, Dexter Vines and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Allan Heinberg is on a crusade. Namely, to rehab the Scarlet Witch. But is he doing so at the cost of telling a story?
That's what kept going through my mind reading Avengers: Children's Crusade #7, a book with so many characters and so much ground left to cover that it couldn't possibly fit in 22 pages without short-changing something. But in certain ways, this story feels more telling than showing, and even Jim Cheung drawing four teams of Earth's Mightiest Heroes can't totally save the day.
In a lot of ways, this issue's overt mission — retconning the Scarlet Witch's decade-long crimes of murder, betrayal and de-facto genocide of the mutant race — puts Heinberg in his own way. In many ways, he's positioning characters like Captain America and Cyclops not based on established characterization elsewhere, but pushing them where he needs them to be to create the Great Superhero War that fanboys everywhere have dreamed of since they got their first action figures. These scenes are quick and to the point, but have an appeal that does warm even this jaded reader. But ultimately, you sober up and realize that these scenes are self-indulgent, with Heinberg not really earning them as much as offering them as a mea culpa. After all, he's got more important fish to fry.
Namely, the Scarlet Witch's redemption. Or, barring that, a sort of Green Lantern: Rebirth-style hand-wave that says the atrocities linked to the Scarlet Witch weren't her fault, it was the result of machinations elsewhere, of powers unknown. It's a reverse-character assassination, even if the Scarlet Witch has been more interesting as a looming threat than she ever was as a potentially omnipotent heroine. And this is where Heinberg's writing feels more disappointing — he has his creations, the Young Avengers, as sort of our eyes and ears to all this fighting, but the characterization feels flat, a victim of cramming in so much else in this script. I used to love these characters — now all they do is stand and debate what's right. Whatever happened to relatability?
Of course, Jim Cheung is the saving grace of this book, and I could seriously watch him draw the Avengers and the X-Men forever. I feel bad for him, because while artists like Olivier Coipel are getting some serious praise on regularly-released books like The Mighty Thor, he's getting largely overlooked on a book that's much more sporadic. But when you see the two double-page splashes of the X-Men giving the Avengers a death stare, it's pretty incredible to look at. Cheung's figures are boxy and clean, just producing a really iconic and just plain striking look at Marvel's biggest characters.
But even with the art looking this good, you have to have something to hold it all up. Heinberg has the conversationalism of Bendis and the outright verbose exposition of Geoff Johns, but the impetus for this story is so on-the-nose that it's hard to get invested. Right now, this is just moving from Point A to Point B, and the characterization and joy that I know Heinberg has for these characters is just absolutely lacking. I know he loves the Scarlet Witch, and I hope her return to the fold is worth it to him — because her return is draining the life out of what could have been an incredibly cool story.
Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Amanda McDonald
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Even before news of DC's relaunch, Wonder Woman was making headlines. Or rather. . . her wardrobe was making headlines. Let's just get it out of the way now -- this WW is dressed in a much more classic costume, sans pants. I tried to get on board with the last arc of the series and just couldn't really get into it. It had nothing to do with the character's costume, it just really didn't feel accessible to me as a new reader.
That has all changed.
In this newest incarnation of WW, we are greeted with Cliff Chiang's distinct, heavy lined style, depicting a true warrior on the cover. Writer Brian Azzarello leaves no room for debate — this Wonder Woman is true to her roots as an Amazonian warrior. But wait. . . where is she? Azzarello doesn't rush the story along and we don't actuallly see Wondy until the halfway point. Now that isn't to say that we don't see any action up until that point. The book kicks off with a bang, multiple deaths, and mythological references as it sets up the story of young Zola, centaur type creatures invading her home, and the exposition that her father figure is none other than Hermes. One thing leads to another and a magic key is thrust into her hands that transports her directly into Diana's bedroom in London. As Diana and Zola return to her home, the story progresses as we find out more about the unnatural world Zola has been living in.
Chiang's art does full service to the WW that I've been hoping for. This isn't just another fishnet clad superheroine who uses feminine guiles to her advantage. She's huge, and strong, and vicious in fighting for Zola's protection. While the story Azzarello has set up is strong, the art that shows the story play out is a highlight of the book. I do have a concern that Azzarello's heavy use of characters based in mythology may steer readers that are unfamiliar with the mythos away, however it's really only a minor concern. I'm by no means brushed up on my mythology, but enjoyed meeting Azzarello's take on the characters. A prior knowledge may increase enjoyment, but lack of certainly doesn't make the story any less accessible, as the characters are well developed as their own entities. The stretch beyond the world of just the DC Universe sets this book apart from others and showcases the author's talents. Matthew Wilson's color palette and Fletcher's lettering mesh the whole book together, and it is one of those books that's easy to enjoy for the sake of the storytelling without any major distractions that take you out of the world you're submersed in.
With so many new books out there, it's hard to know just which ones to try and which to ignore. This debut issue is a great start to what I hope will be one of the stronger books in this relaunch.
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Eddy Barrows, J.P. Mayer and Rob Reis
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
As much as I enjoyed Dick Grayson’s stint as Batman, it’s great to see him rocking the Nightwing unitard again. He wore the cowl well, not only excelling at a job he didn’t ask for, but also keeping the world’s mouthiest sidekick in line. However, from that first image of him leaping and tumbling onto a moving train, it’s obvious that Dick is back where he belongs: In his own book and doing things his own way.
Nightwing #1 isn’t fancy or high-concept, but with the exception of one moment, it’s an enjoyable read that gets the job done. It re-establishes the character, sets an interesting conflict in motion, and leaves the reader wanting more.
Writer Kyle Higgins brings the reader up to speed via Nightwing’s internal monologue, and it moves the story along well. Having successfully played the Batman role in one of Gotham’s darkest hours, Dick is even more secure in his heroic abilities. As he puts it, his mechanics are now “flawless,” and when he starts doing an effortless, acrobatic ninja number on a blade-wielding murderer, it’s hard to argue with him.
Past and present collide when Nightwing’s traveling childhood home, Haly’s Circus, comes to town. Though his parents died under the big top, Dick’s memories of his time as a Flying Grayson are happy ones — and he still revels in the joy of taking the trapeze for a spin. Higgins conveys Dick’s optimism and resilience in spite of the horrible things he’s seen, and it’s those qualities that make the character so appealing. Because this is Gotham City, we know it’s only a matter of time before something sinister intrudes on a pleasant reunion.
Nightwing #1 is bookended by some intense action sequences, but it’s the quiet, character-defining moments that give the book its charm. Instead of hanging his costume in a bulletproof display case like his mentor, Dick tosses it onto the floor after a long night. He’s more at home in an apartment in a seedy neighborhood than a penthouse, and he’s still got a thing for redheads. Higgins provides enough information to give newcomers a sense of the character and his history without piling on backstory details.
Illustrator Eddy Barrows has a heavier style than I'm partial to, but this is a good-looking comic overall. His splash panels are energetic and eye-catching, and he knows how to deliver an action scene. But while I expected there to be some bloodshed, the heavy gore in one particular panel shocked me. It's not just the illustration that's jarring. When a masked hitman appears and puts two cops’ lives in danger, something about Dick’s reaction seems way off for someone with so much experience fighting violent criminals. He makes a tragic miscalculation and then appears to just shrug it off. Unfortunately, this brief but significant storytelling misstep took my enjoyment of the book down a few pegs.
But that doesn't mean I won't be back. Nightwing #1 may not be the most groundbreaking of the New 52, but there is more than enough promise in Higgins’ first outing to merit a second read.
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Of course Selina Kyle would get the blogosphere all kinds of catty.
Yeah, you've probably heard about Catwoman, with all the hubbub about the last few pages. I know, big shocker, Batman's original femme fatale getting busy with the Dark Knight. But despite all that you may have heard — despite all the controversy, despite all the blog posts (both reasoned and not), despite all the flaming by association with Red Hood and the Outlaws, a legitimately wrongheaded, unpleasant read — you might be surprised to hear that Catwoman is a tautly-paced, easily accessible, and most of all fun first issue.
That's right — I liked it. You wanna make something out of it?
The thing about this book is that Judd Winick and Guillem March have a set direction, a set style, and I actually admire that they commit to it so much. Catwoman is a sultry, sexy cat burglar, and so having that emphasis on the sex appeal isn't exactly a crime for this particular character. And don't get me wrong, March definitely isn't drawing for realism — he's drawing curves so dangerous they could wreck a Maserati, but in certain ways, his exaggerated torsos and hard angles remind a lot of Tim Sale minus the overwhelming shadows, spliced with some of the sheer expressiveness and smart detailwork of David LaFuente. So when people discuss the opening pages — where Catwoman, clad in a red bra, pulls on her leather jumpsuit as she runs from a hail of bullets — I see it less as titillation and more of the establishment of tone, both visual and storewide. It's action, it's speed, it's sex. When you finally see her smile as she dives out of her apartment window, you know: That's Catwoman.
And those sorts of qualities are what Winick delivers throughout the book. Plenty of people have compared this book to Alias, and there is very much that kind of TV pilot feel to it. And what a great pilot it is — Catwoman is one of those characters that most people have at least a passing familiarity with, but Winick lays out the plot and feel of the character very early on. On the run from henchmen unknown, Selina needs a new gig, and fast — so boom, Winick's already got her in a Russian club, wearing a "costume" that would make most strippers blush. But again, this is where you have to admire Winick and March for committing to the tone, and to their take on the character: Selina doesn't have a problem with using sex as a weapon, so why be surprised when she's draped across a doorway, flashing her bra at a Russian crime lord? It's brash, it's over-the-top, and it's certainly not for everyone, but it's also not something you're likely going to forget.
But every rose has its thorn, and this kitty doesn't land without a scratch, either. Everyone's mentioned the last few pages, where Catwoman gets it on with Batman himself. And here's the thing: I don't find the idea to be a terrible one — because seriously, you're really going to have the original comic book supervixen get turned down in her first issue? And who else are you going to find, you think new readers are going to care about Slam Bradley? — but the execution is definitely more than a little wonky. March's anatomy isn't exactly what you'd call "realistic," but he does not make the dismount a particularly smooth one, with some weird composition (and Batman's never-ending abs) seeming more awkward than sexy, not so much leaving anything to the imagination as much as looking not anything like the real thing. It's not so much a war crime as many of my counterparts elsewhere have been saying, but it does mar an otherwise stellar read.
No matter what the others might say, Selina Kyle has been a woman who knows what she wants, and in that regard, the creators behind Catwoman are unapologetic in following suit. This is a fast-paced action book that's got a strong visual style that, yes, leans heavy on the sex and even heavier on the visual spectacle. Guillem March is one of those artists who is going to be criticized not based on flaws in his style, but because of his style itself — and that's a shame, because I see him as an artist who's really stepping up his game and really digging deep into this character. But here's hoping that he and Judd Winick have the courage to stay the course and keep moving forward, despite the haters: even with its flaws, Catwoman is bold enough and sassy enough to make me hooked.
Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #2
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Brad Anderson
Letting by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Zack Kotzer
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The world can be bad, but the world is worse in the Ultimate Universe. Here a fictional nation, SEAR (Southeast Asian Republic) has knowingly subjected their own people to mutation in hopes of winning a yet-to-initiate arms race. It has not gone well for them or anyone else, and now it’s time for Clint Barton to clean up the mess.
There’s a slight wandering sensation in Ultimate Comics Hawkeye. The first issue was flashback heavy, which is a little more sparring in the followup, though SEAR seems to be in a far more desperate situation than we last saw, not to mention some new details that struck a little sudden. But there’s a reward that balances out the hiccups, an origin of Hawkeye’s joining of the strange world of superheroics sprinkled with the machismo badassery that comes so naturally to a younger Clint Barton with a pen in his hand.
Sandoval’s art is tight, but Tarragona’s ink work deserves a lot of acclaim. It’s very clean and precise, sharp with consistent attention to perspective to draw your eyes in. It’s not dramatic or heavily stylized, but it is very good. Similar awards to Anderson’s colour work, which is strong and nicely balanced, action scenes glow and gush prominently with a fine eye for tones. There’s a spread of calamity where all these well working elements meld together, it’s warm with the shrapnel of man and machine gliding about, evoking the feeling of stillness regardless of a still image.
Hawkeye’s Ultimate outing isn’t as provocative or engaging as other Ultimate ventures, but it’s still got fun it it’s step. Aside from Clint's origin it is clear that some of the more interesting material, such as the actions of the People and Barton’s eventual clash with an explosive little girl, are being withheld for a future issue (and given the brevity of this series, I’ll bet you a nickel it’s the next one.) It’s no bull’s-eye, but the arrow doesn’t stray too far from good.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Blond
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Zack Kotzer
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
It’s fair to say that DC will be under a lot of scrutiny for this onslaught of new-first-issues. The faults and flaws will also, likely, overshadow any of the good that comes out of this. There’s some good reason for that. There are a lot of anxieties from a lot of fans over this entire gesture. Will this make characters feel more contemporary? Will this ruin characters we have grown attached to? With so many new titles, will any of them feel rushed or half-baked? Not to mention, and this one is a real hot-button, with a noticeable lack of female writers will DC comics begin to feel like a juvenile boy’s club? Not all of them, so far, but there is one, yes this one, that will be renowned as the conglomerate of all those fears. Yes, Red Hood and the Outlaws is the nightmare scenario, paranoia realized, and if you found yourself attached to Roy Harper or Starfire in the past, please, clutch those memories tight.
Jason Todd had been an inconsistent character in the past, the years leading up to the new universe saw him rapidly bouncing between levels of bad-rogue and complete psychopathy. If Red Hood and the Outlaws is to be his new standard, Lobdell wants you to know that Jason Todd is a thrill-seeking, globetrotting, gun-slinging vigilante of sorts, a bad boy amalgamation of what you may recognize from Burn Notice or the new A-Team, hanging by the shoreside cabana until the call of duty comes along.
This is fairly standard direction, but also boring. And that’s the best of it. Harper, in this action savvy, free agent diagram, is the dopey side-kick twice forsaken. He’s been in trouble for bad friends and has now aligned himself with the Red Hood so that the story may have a surface puns and jokes can bounce off of. So that’s bad, let’s get to the worst, which you may have already heard grievances about.
Calling new-Starfire a slut sounds crude, but it’s nonetheless scathing to call her a tall, tanned living bikini libido. The recent Catwoman rooftop debacle has a lot to do with personal taste, but there’s not really anything here to defend. The percentage of things that come out of Kory's mouth that don’t refer to knocking boots is less than the amount of her body covered by clothes. I want you to understand something, comic book readers on the internet, because going by some of your recent e-comments I’m concerned you may have some misunderstandings about the relationship between sexuality and story-telling and what some of us are really complaining about.
Sex certainly belongs in comics, even superhero comics if it works. It’s a huge drive of our real-world lives, so it’s completely decent that it be present in fictitious characterizations. But, like people in the real world, there are varying degrees sex drive, and very few people outside the world of pornography constantly discuss and practice ad nauseum. It’s not an offense to be offended by sex in a comic, that's on you, but if it's truly chauvinistic and shallow then that's on the creator. Narrative is not made on the backs of characters who are either whores or eunuchs. Starfire can’t remember the names of anyone she’s ever slept with, her sex appeal and her cold cupidity for copulation is all we’ve been given for her new debut. And that is why this is worryingly boy’s-club like, she resonates like a pre-teen fantasy, your memories of all the late-nite scrambled softcore films you bragged to your lunchtime chums about. Stranger yet that Bobbie Chase and Katie Kubert were handling editorial duties.
The art is a little grotesque too, though the reasons are far more mundane. The cover, which is also done by Kenneth Rocafort, is actually very nice, with dynamic and buoyant colours. The interiors is a whole other story. The first page is the messiest, the line work is frantic, patchy and inconsistent, while the colours, especially facial details, is caked like overzealous makeup. The scratchy line-work consistently winds down the further into the book, but it still maintains the look of doodles over cleaned compositions.
It’s just sad, overall. These are the characters now, not an ill-fated story arc, not a double-backing side story. This is the new Roy, this is the new Kory. Jason becoming a new character week to week isn’t a recent development, and with any luck his new partners will be able to learn those powers.
Prison Pit: Book 3
Written by Johnny Ryan
Art by Johhny Ryan
Lettering by Johnny Ryan
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Johnny Ryan is an alternative cartoonist who is best known for the underground hit Angry Youth Comix, the Internet sensation Blecky Yuckerella, and his regular strips in publications such as Vice. In the tradition of such luminaries as Robert Crumb and Peter Bagge, Ryan’s humor is often highly subversive and satirical. It’s worth mentioning that Ryan’s brand of humor is not for the easily offended, so keep that in mind if you look at picking up this book.
Prior to Prison Pit, Ryan’s comics typically consisted of gag strips that lasted anywhere from one panel to several pages in length. While his strips often featured a recurring cast of characters, there was no real continuity between strips. Prison Pit is therefore Ryan’s first attempt to create an ongoing comic with a continuous narrative. With this format change also came a change in style to a much darker brand of humour, where the laughs are provided not by lewd gag jokes, but more via the absurdity of the situations the characters find themselves in, and the insane level of the violence.
The story of Prison Pit involves a nameless man being sent to a desolate prison planet, for crimes of which we are not made aware. Our protagonist, who we shall call “Cannibal," looks something like a psychotic wrestler, complete with tight black short, knee pads, and in place of a mask his face is veiled in blood. Throughout the first two book of the series Cannibal has had to battle for his life against countless formidable and unusual opponents, has lost an arm, been subjected to unnameable horrors, and been forced to commit heinous acts of atrocity.
This third book of the series opens with the introduction of a new character, who appears to be seeking vengeance on Cannibal. No sooner has he arrived on the planet than he meets four natives who pick a fight with him. What follows is pages and pages of the goriest violence you have ever witnessed. Aside from some great witty banter between characters, this is a book of very few words, with Ryan instead letting his artwork do all of the talking. While about 90% of the book is taken up by violence and gore, the genius of the book lies in Ryan’s sheer inventiveness, which means that things just don’t play out how you’d expect them to - every action has unforeseen and bizarre consequences, and even when you think they should be dead, characters have a tendency to mutate into even more hideous forms. Towards the end of this über-fight sequence, events take such an odd and grotesque turn, that you might find yourself slightly worried about Ryan’s mental state. It’s not all violence though, and with this instalment we get the first hint of a deeper mystery, as the enigmatic newcomer is seen praying to a strange prismatic sigil. Meanwhile, miles below the planet surface, Cannibal discovers a space ship with an eerily familiar shape. Aboard this ship Cannibal experiences some of the weirdest going on yet, which lead to a cliff-hanger ending that will leave you desperate for the release of book 4!
Johhny Ryan’s artwork on Prison Pit could be described as cartoonish, but to be honest it’s better described as looking like the insane doodling of a madman, as found etched upon the walls of his padded cell - I would not be surprised to find out that this book was ghost-written by Charles Manson! Ryan’s linework has a loose and visceral feel to it, a look which is topped off by inks that look energetic and have a sketchy quality to them. Ryan draws gore like no one else, and his creature designs are the stuff of nightmares - one of the monsters in the latter part of the story makes Cthuhlu look like a character from a children’s story! Perhaps the creepiest thing in the whole book though involves a scene where several prismatic shapes float in the air and combine together to form a robotic creature - it’s hard to describe, but somehow Ryan makes the event seem incredibly creepy, and somehow unnerving!
Prison Pit: Book 3 is a comic unlike anything you’ve ever read before - the plot is outlandish, and the artwork is violent, bloody, gory, and completely unapologetic in it’s brutality. Prison Pit is Johnny Ryan’s Magnum Opus, and with this volume he’s added interesting new elements, which hint at great things to come.
Birds of Prey #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz and Nei Ruffino
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Amanda McDonald
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The Birds are back! Oh wait. . . well, some of them are back? Oh wait. . . well, one of them is back. Another fan favorite makes a brief appearance, but she's busy being Batgirl again. As the team of Birds of Prey is reformed in the new universe, this debut issue introduces us to just two of the members — Black Canary, and the newest addition, Starling. Yes, the cover shows four females but don't hold your breath waiting for the other two to show up. Author Duane Swiercynski doesn't dive right in, but slowly dips our toes into the waters and introduces a story in which we see Canary and Starling dealing with (and eventually trying to protect) a nosy reporter curious about their intentions.
Before we learn anything of the relationship of these two women, we see them in full force action fighting off a gang trying to take out the nosy reporter that has been tracking them. Jesus Saiz's art shines here as he doesn't skimp on detail and expression or backgrounds in these busy action panels. The whole scene plays out like a great action flick, but sadly like most action flicks there's not a whole lot of character development going on. That said, what little there is — I do like. While these two ladies are definitely sexy, they're also characterized as highly intelligent. . . and highly dangerous, setting this BOP team up to be a little more morally ambiguous. We've got Starling, covered in tattoos and giving a bad girl vibe from the first pages of the book when she drives a car right into a church -- and Black Canary, fresh off murder accusations. Ruffino's one of my favorite colorists out there right now and this book is a great example of her talents, creating a consistent palette that doesn't overshadow or detract from the pencils and inks that Saiz has so tightly composed.
This was a fun read, and I'll probably give a couple more issues a chance to see how the other team members come into play, but I was definitely disappointed that I'll have to wait to even meet those other players. It does have a pretty intriguing cliff hanger ending that gives me a hunch that Swierczynski has a lot of cards he hasn't played yet. Add to that the solid art (not going to lie, these ladies are very nice to look at, but not overly sexualized) and it's a book that is at least worth flipping through or picking up for a few issues to see the true team dynamic of the new Birds.
Captain Atom #1
Written by JT Krul
Art by Freddie Williams II and José Villarrubia
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Many new readers may not have heard of Captain Atom (or may confuse him with the Atom), but the character has existed since 1960. Originally having a home at Charleston Comics, the character moved over to DC in the 1980s after Charleston folded. Perhaps most famously, the character was used by Alan Moore as the inpiration for Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen. Captain Atom’s powers are nuclear-based, and enable him to absorb and manipulate almost infinite amounts of energy. This ability puts him on a par with such DC heavy-hitters as Superman and Martian Manhunter. The character has starred in numerous short-lived miniseries over the years, and has been featured in countless incarnations of the Justice League. DC also tried moving him over to the Wildstorm Universe for a time, and even tried making him into a super-villain. However, the character never quite seemed to work right. One of the problems with the character is that he’s just *too* powerful, which means that he ends up overshadowing every character he stars alongside, and means that writers have to keep creating ludicrously powerful villains for him to go up against.
The character’s absurd power level is one of the first things that is addressed in this debut issue, as writer JT Krul introduces a flaw into Captain Atom’s powers, which means that using them too much could kill him. It’s a decent hook to open with, but sadly, it’s about the only good thing that the story has going for it. Unfortunately, the issue reads like an average superhero comic - consisting of about 75% action scenes, and 25% scenes introducing the cast of characters. Throughout these action scenes Krul uses excessive exposition as the character narrates exactly what is occurring in panel, and then he ruins the character scenes by poorly attempting to scientifically explain Captain Atom’s powers. The dialog in the issue is average at best, and in some cases include maddeningly lengthy scientific discourse that runs into several speech bubbles. The character's inner monologue is equally poor, and at one point the character tells the reader that just he explained to someone what had occurred in the previous scene! Perhaps most odd is the fact that running through the story is a counter, which appears to be counting up - to what, we are never told. Perhaps this was a conscious effort on Krul’s part to generate mystery, but I doubt that most readers will care by the close of the issue.
The saving grace of this book is the artwork. Freddie Wiliams II’s linework here is a lot more interesting than the all-ages look that he’s favored on some of his recent DC work. The art doesn’t lack detail, but in many cases instead of drawing every intricate element of an object, he instead draws only the outline and one or two details, letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. This approach carries through to his inking, where he uses heavy blacks and a bit of negative space to give the impression of an objects shape, rather than just going over his pencils in black. Williams works digitally, but the art still has a organic look to it, and you can see details like individual brush strokes in several places, which is a nice touch.
José Villarrubia’s colors here are, as always, second to none. He utilizes a wide pallet to make color choices that always seem to match the scene perfectly. There are a few obviously digital light effects used, and while I’m not usually a fan of Photoshop effects, I think they fit pretty well here with the overall feel of the artwork.
The most striking aspect of the book is how they have made Captain Atom stand out so starkly from his surroundings. It looks like Williams has loosely pencilled the character, and then instead of inking him, Villarrubia has gone over the pencils to give him a dark blue outline. The character’s base color is a glowing light blue, which Villarrubia has then added detail to with darker shades of blue. This gives the character a painted look that stands in contrast to the rest of the artwork.
Captain Atom #1 is a very pretty comic, with some interesting artwork that you don’t typically see on a superhero book. However, the issue is let down by some less-than-stellar writing. Unfortunately, this looks like another unsuccessful attempt to reboot a character that never quite seems to work well in the DCU.
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Alex Konat and Beth Sotelo
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by Aspen
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
What do you do when you're trying to get people to follow a character they've never met before? In the case of Fathom, the answer is — just keep swimming.
That's a bit of a glib way to describe this book, but ultimately, Aspen's heroine is all about forward movement, pushing ahead like a shark, knowing that if it stops, it stops dead in its tracks. Considering Scott Lobdell is getting quite a bit of attention on another one of his books — I'll let someone else get into that one — it's actually a bit of surprise to read this book and actually get a strong, even likable heroine. It's not a slam dunk by any means, but as someone who never really got into the politics between the nations of the Black and the Blue, I actually surprisingly enjoyed myself.
I think the big thing about this issue that got me going was the fact that it started off with a real bang. Seeing Aspen Matthews zoom past a submarine as a dynamo of living water really sold the character to me, just as a visual concept — she's fast, she's powerful, and she's got two-thirds of the planet to fight you with. Considering how tough it is for Aquaman or the Sub-Mariner to keep a series going, that's the sort of hook you want to establish early. Lobdell admittedly doesn't get too deep with Aspen's characterization, but I like the plotting and I like the exposition, which gets dropped fast and without too much self-consciousness.
Alex Konat, meanwhile, really surprised me. I'll admit, when I saw the first page, I saw someone who was way too rough to fit into that traditional Aspen house style. Well, another page into it, I was dead wrong. I really like his use of composition, as he gives Fathom a really acrobatic style, particularly as her body curves like a wave as she dodges bullets. There's an intensity to her eyes that you almost might miss at first, but when you notice it, it really gets you invested in what could have easily been action-figure fighting.
Now, this book isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination — occasionally, Lobdell opts to hit the reader over the head with the exposition, and it would have been nice to get some more nuanced characterization beyond what we might already imagine. I don't quite know who Fathom is yet, but I have a sense of what she's capable of. She's got plenty of power and plenty of potential, and if Lobdell can keep harnessing the wonder of her abilities, this series could be something special.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!