Best Shots Advance: WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN, INC. HULK, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Can't wait till tomorrow to learn about this week's releases? Neither can we — so get ready for your Tuesday helping of advance reviews! Let's kick off today's column with a trip to Westchester, as the wildest X-Man of all takes a bold new direction in Wolverine and the X-Men...


Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Wolverine. He's the best there is at what he does. And what he does…

…Is teach?

Snikt, snikt, bub, class is in session, and who'd've thunk that the Ol' Canucklehead would clean up so well? Despite the heaviness of X-Men: Schism — and regular readers of this column will know I did not particularly like how that series turned out — Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo have delivered a fun, funny, and downright charming first issue of this all-new, all-different School for Higher Learning.

To me, I think the big win for Wolverine and the X-Men is that Jason Aaron has finally hit the right comedic balance, after some somewhat overdone attempts over in the main Wolverine book as well as Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine. Part of this has to do with pairing him with the right artist: Chris Bachalo doesn't just have an edge to his linework, but his cartoony, exaggerated features really helps play up the lightness of this script, tapping a very human, almost sitcom-style tone in Logan, Kitty and Hank's new venture. The result is a story that exudes possibility and optimism in a way that I haven't seen since Joss Whedon's first issue of Astonishing X-Men. To be honest, I'd say that it's even brighter — and that's a good thing.

For regular X-fans, you're going to see a lot of cameos and reintroductions that will cause a lot of grins, whether its green blob Doop manning the front desk or Hellion and Glob Herman smirking at all the girls who decided to come to Westchester with them. While there aren't helpful, Fraction-esque captions saying who does what, those with a passing knowledge of recent X-history will still have plenty to enjoy. If you were expecting a trip to Claw City, you might be disappointed in Wolverine — but to be honest, we've seen that before, and we will see that again. What we're seeing here is character-driven storytelling, and watching Wolverine struggle as a fish out of water — the original homicidal loner now has to run a school? — is such a wonderful, almost inevitable evolution for the character. He has to be responsible. It's not a great fit for him, but it makes for a fantastic time for us.

Chris Bachalo, meanwhile, gives this book so much panache that it isn't even funny. I love the colorwork that he gives the school, a futuristic, almost otherworldly purple that shows this ain't your typical boarding school. The body language that he gives his various characters — particularly Hellion and Glob Herman, who are the epitome of mischievous kids — is just so fluid and engaging, and it really adds that human resonance that so many superhero comics are lacking today. All the characters are introduced with a wonderful image or sequence, and Bachalo's quirky style is just enough to show off all the crazy designs that these various X-Men have accumulated over the years. This is like techno-Hogwarts, but nobody looks as plain as Harry or Ron or Hermoine. These kids all have something to give, both visually as well as emotionally.

If there was one thing that I think keeps this book from perfection, it's the obstacle that all comics have, just by virtue of their page count — what could have made this book perfect is if it didn't end on a cliffhanger, if this "pilot" episode was done-in-one, giving Wolverine a chance to resolve his problems early. But you know what? I'm still going to be checking out the second issue of this book with some real gusto. There is a world of potential within this unlikely school, and if you thought Utopia was a bit too serious, you'll find Westchester to be a brighter, breezier fit. As far as first issues go, Wolverine and the X-Men passes with flying colors. Enroll now.


Incredible Hulk #1

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Marc Silvestri, Michael Broussard, Joe Weems, Rick Basaldua, Sal Regla and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Jason Aaron is in a weird position his week, in the fact that he's got two of the biggest books to come out of Marvel. In that regard, he has to compete with himself, and he's got to lose sometime. While I think Wolverine and the X-Men is one of the best single issues he's written in a long, long time, I feel that Incredible Hulk pales in comparison. This book may start out strong, but this relaunched story of the Jade Giant doesn't quite have enough muscle to grab you.

Much of this, sadly, has to do with the artwork. Even though he's a pioneer of design, Marc Silvestri's army of inkers don't quite give enough definition to the pencils, which combined with Sunny Gho's gradient-heavy colors means that the artwork doesn't quite have a lot of pop to it. Even in a two-page spread of the Hulk knocking out a tremendous beast doesn't quite feel like the right shot — even though the Hulk is supposed to be the strongest one there is, the action beats just feel a little too small. That said, where Silvestri does succeed is in the emotional moments — I love the expressiveness he gives the typically identical Mole People, and the humanity behind the Hulk's eyes, the wry smile he gives this unlikely sanctuary, really is a highlight of the book.

But the story is really the important part, and that's where I think this issue feels a little too decompressed for my liking. Tonally, Jason Aaron feels so similar to predecessor Greg Pak, down to the Hulk brooding in isolation, being adopted by a group of outcasts that cannot begin to understand his angst. The first few pages do read like poetry, examining the morality of power in this all-too-brutal food chain. Unfortunately, Aaron isn't able to continue that poetic side, as he has to get to the actual plot — which, eh, having the Hulk fight robots again? That hardly feels original. Once we get to the greater conflict, it doesn't feel that much more compelling — maybe it's because Aaron has to compete with Greg Pak's ultranaturalistic take on Bruce Banner, but any sort of comic that pits Bruce versus the Hulk feels played out to me. I don't believe either of them are in the wrong.

The real question I have about Incredible Hulk is a question I've had about Aaron's work in the past: Namely, what is he trying to say here? High concept craziness might look sharp — and he is working with the same man who drew the wonderfully designed New X-Men crescendo "Here Comes Tomorrow" — but the Hulk is a more sparse character, visually. This issue seems to retread that same sort of "Planet Hulk" vibe, but doesn't quite add enough to make it something singularly Aaron's yet. Considering the level of competition in this marketplace, if you don't get a strong enough handle on the concept — which requires exposition and enough plot to at least give us a hint of where we're going. Aaron's first issue ends really where the first twist should have taken place. This book doesn't quite have the visual or thematic oomph to make it memorable yet — but that said, maybe once the Hulk has something to smash, Jason Aaron will find something to say along the way.


The Beauty #1

Written by Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley

Art by Jeremy Haun and John Rauch

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Imagine if something like AIDS made you look perfect. Skin blemishes gone, thinning hair restored, and fat just melts away. Also imagine that people willingly get infected with "the Beauty". Thus sets the stage for Top Cow's Pilot Season entry, aptly called, The Beauty.

This is more of a crime drama than Top Cow's usual plate of supernatural offerings. I could easily see this as a cop drama in primetime, but for now, I'll easily settle for page and paper. Though it's not really hard to imagine that hard with the lengths people go through to appear beautiful and spend enough money it could cover the national debt of Libya, but to actually infect yourself, that takes it to a whole new level. The mild setback of the STD is a constant fever, but compare that the danger of going under the knife seems almost worth it. There's even a Beauty Task Force (I'm almost looking for this show to be on Bravo any day now) that attempts to investigate Beauty-related incidents, especially like the one where we see in the opening. Beauty may have a higher price than they suspect.

Agents Foster and Vaughn are the protagonists here that show us the lengths that people go to to try and infect themselves. Even raiding a Beauty sex club, which sounds a whole lot more appealing than horrific bareback parties I've heard stories about from my friends in public health. Vaughn also is suffering with the disease, but she did not ask for it, and by the end of the issue, we see that the Beauty is spreading a lot more rapidly than originally thought.

It's an interesting premise and Top Cow alums Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley set the stage for a series that mirrors real world implications. Though I have to say that after Artifacts I expected more out of Haun. I felt I was just turning page after page of talking heads. The story didn't suffer from it, but at the same time it could have been slightly better, but the detail on what he does have is a great example of his talents. John Rauch's muted and moody color scheme fits perfectly with the environment and adds to the overall tone of the book.

It's a great mystery that has a lot to offer, and gives the readers something to think about even after they've finished the last page.

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by James Harren, and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The latest Abe Sapien miniseries returns for its second and final chapter, with an action-packed issue that provides readers with some satisfying answers to the many mysteries outlined in the opening chapter of the story.

The issue starts off slowly, with a prologue about the bureau sending Salvatore and Hellboy to search for the whereabouts of Abe, but it’s not long before the story is deep in supernatural horror territory, with some deliciously creepy scenes that may be some of the eeriest and unnerving that Mignola and Arcudi have put together yet.

Mignola and Arcudi put together a gripping script, which consists of mostly dialogue, with a bit of expository narration that explains what happened all those years ago, to create the bizarre situation than Abe finds himself in. It’s simple but effective storytelling, which has become the hallmark of the Hellboy Universe book. Even though this series was only two issues long, the story doesn’t feel rushed at all, and feels to have run its course at just the right pace. Those who have read previous Abe Sapien minis will be very pleased with the ending, which shows how far Abe has come as a B.P.R.D. agent over the years, and how he’s now able to handle himself without assistance from Hellboy.

James Harren’s linework on the issue is incredibly meticulous, and he brings to life every intricate detail of each scene in stunning fashion. The script throws a lot at him here, but he handles it all deftly, ranging from bright and optimistic scenes in the bureau, to dark and dingy scenes in the basement of a mansion, where Abe languishes upon the corpse of a gigantic rotting demon. These latter scenes really let Harren flex his art muscles, and create some truly horrific creatures, and let loose on intensely gory scenes. Once you see the battle between Abe and the lumbering ogre woman, you’ll know what I’m talking about - it lasts nearly half of the book, and she just keeps coming, even after Abe has filled her with bullets and hacked her head off. Horror fans will be wincing and laughing at the ridiculousness as they turn the pages.

Harren’s inks on the issue favor heavy blacks, as is fitting with a comic of this nature. His inking really brings his penciled artwork to life, with a number of great techniques that add further dimension to the art, and breath life into each scene. I particularly like the way Harren treats background blacks and shadows - sometimes he just fills them, while other times he lets his brush strokes shine through to add texture, and in some places the blacks look almost splattered, which adds an extra touch of creepiness. There is abundant use of force lines going on in the issue, which really helps generate the sense of movement in the action scenes, and makes the fight scenes look highly dynamic.

Dave Stewart’s colors on the book are pretty magnificent looking. I’ve said so many positive things about Stewart’s color art in the past that I’m sure readers of my reviews probably think he’s paying me, but it’s honestly very hard to fault his work in most cases, and this book is no exception. Horror/supernatural books are where he seems most at home, and you can tell he’s having a blast here, bringing every gory detail to life with eye-popping colors.

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #2 is a great comic, featuring a gripping story, a smart script, and some wonderfully horrific-looking artwork. Fans of Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. will find a lot to love in these pages.

Dead Man's Run #0

Written by Greg Pak

Art by Tony Parker and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Josh Reed

Published by Aspen Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the comic book industry fighting against sales anemia, you have to wonder how much bang you have to give your reader's buck. Unfortunately, I don't think Aspen quite has the ratio down — in an era where DC Comics is holding the line at $2.99, offering a 12-page comic (with some additional backwater) for $2.50 sounds like an awful lot for what is essentially just a teaser trailer. Which is a shame: Greg Pak definitely seems to have an intriguing premise on his hands, but I don't know if this half-length zero issue is necessarily the best way to show it off.

The good behind this is watching Pak stretch himself as a writer — he's typically been known as either a comedic writer, or someone who gets really into the nitty-gritty of fantasy and science fiction. Dead Man's Run, on the other hand, takes a darker, almost horror-ridden vibe, and it really does suit Pak's methodical pacing and story sensibilities. That said, the one problem is that we're not actually following the story's main protagonist here, and because Pak only has 12 pages to work with, he's barely got enough time to introduce the premise, a prison that basically houses Hell itself. It's a cool idea, and we have the inklings of some feelings for some of these characters, but the end result ultimately feels like part of an anthology book, rather than something that's supposed to stand on its own two feet.

What's a bit more hit-and-miss is the artwork. Tony Parker definitely isn't the type you'd expect when you think of the traditional Aspen house style — instead of the cartoony stylishness, he's got more of a lumpy, non-flashy feel, almost like early Mike McKone. It's tough to really root for the book because there's not that many images that really stand out. That said, the production work behind this book does look pretty sharp — Peter Steigerwald does make the colors sear with reds and oranges, almost flashing the artwork off the page, while Josh Reed makes for some nice lettering, particularly with an otherworldly benefactress whose dialogue just looks gorgeous, with a smooth white text on black balloons.

There's definitely some potential for this spin-off of prison breaks and Dante's Inferno, but I'm concerned that a lot of people are going to look at the art or the price and immediately turn around. That's a problem with packaging, rather than necessarily execution, but the problem is certainly there. If this were a free book, or even a $1 book online, I think there would be a lot more heat behind Dead Man's Run. On the plus side, there's still a second chance, with issue #1 — but it does make this zero issue feel a little redundant. 

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