Best Shots Comic Reviews

Happy Halloween, Rama readers! You dressed to the nines in your capes and cowls? I've got my Sexy Editor costume on (homemade, natch), and that means it's time for some Best Shots reviews! Your team of crack reviewers has you covered, with a handful of the week's biggest releases! So let's kick off with a doozy, as we look at the final issue of the Spider Island saga in Amazing Spider-Man...


Amazing Spider-Man #672

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Karl Kesel and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Click here for preview

There's an image in Amazing Spider-Man #672 that really stands out to me, that really hit me that this was one of the best endings for a Spidey event that I can remember in years. Just imagine Peter, his torn mask revealing a wide grin, as he uses his wits to save not just the girl, but all of Manhattan. "I'm going to save everybody!" he shouts. And that's when it hit me:

Dan Slott just landed the dismount.

I'll admit that the concept of Spider Island was never the most intuitive idea in the world. Visually, Spidey is such a distinct character, how would translating that across a number of enemies work? Would the theme — that Spider-Man is an important character, not just a good hero, because of the personality and integrity of Peter Parker — be enough to justify the thin, even goofy high concept? I think the answer is largely "yes": There are plenty of fist-pumping moments in this final chapter, for both Spidey and his supporting cast, as Slott has moved all his pieces into the right position.

Considering that this issue is a direct continuation from Rick Remender's issue of Venom, aside from a slightly disjointed start, Slott's script kicks back into high gear when we get back to Peter, Kaine and Mary Jane. If you've seen the cover, you have a bit of a hint of what Spidey and his old flame might get into here. It's action, but it's character-driven action — while Slott's double-page spreads do feel a little bit dense, he's got a great sense of humor about it, especially with lines like about Mary Jane getting an immunity to the spider-infection from all the years they "shared a toothbrush," or perennial D-lister Gravity freaking out about how "every time this many heroes shows up, someone always dies! Usually a third-guy-from-the-right like me!"

And artist Humberto Ramos is really nailing it with this issue. His jagged, ultra-cartoony linework is incredibly kinetic, and I love the design that he gives characters like Venom, or even Kaine. While I'm not particularly thrilled with the way the Spider Queen ended up looking at the end of the arc, watching the heroes fight her is a treat to watch — the moment where Spidey is grinning atop the Empire State Building is the highlight of the book, and I love the moment where Kaine gets to have his moment in the sun. Colorist Edgar Delgado also does a great job at balancing out the timing and mood of the issue — keep in mind, it's supposed to be in the evening, during the climax of a war zone in Manhattan — while still managing to make all the artwork clear, and to keep everything popping. There's a lot going on here, and while the layouts aren't revolutionary for his standards, Ramos makes this book look stylish and fun, and keeps it from being too angst or dark.

In general, Slott, Ramos and the rest of the Amazing Spider-Man team deserve some real kudos, as they've created an incredibly consistent series that has turned into a really great event comic. And those are rarer than you'd think. The secret is that Ramos is the exact right fit for Slott's tone as a writer — and even more importantly, Slott had something to say with this book. Dan Slott believes in Peter Parker. Dan Slott knows not just that Peter is one of the greatest heroes of the Marvel Universe, but he also knows why. While the final blows do require a little bit of prior knowledge to really make sense — even going back to Issue #600, which could now be considered Slott's "first" proto-issue of Big Time — if you can get over the mild deus ex machina feeling, you're looking at one of the best comics to come out this week. Just a fantastic read all around. 


The Flash #2

Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Lettered by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Barry Allen's sophomore issue might not be the instant slam-dunk that the first was, but it's still pretty amazing to see Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato take on The Flash. Considering this is only the second comic they've ever published as writers, their enthusiasm seems contagious, as they're discovering Barry Allen and his potential at the same clip as their readers.

Oftentimes, I think writers and readers alike get jaded with the original concepts of these characters — The Flash has super-speed, do you need a higher concept than that? Manapul and Buccellato's reaction is really refreshing, as they simply take a new angle on Barry's powers: namely, the ability to think fast, and to act on it. Because these two are directing the visuals as well as the actual scripting, the pacing feels truly organic, as they're able to pack in just enough action to drive the story essentials through. It's not just good storytelling, it's fun storytelling.

And the art? Talk about amazing. It's some of the best in the relaunched DC stable, showing a level of ingenuity and investment that leaves much of its competition in the dust. When Manapul and Buccellato are on, they are freaking on — not only do they know how to compose a page with their panels, but they have a great sense of environment, making everything from a car to a falling flower interact with the scene at hand, really drawing you in. Buccellato's colorwork really classes up Manapul's cartoony lines, giving a real painterly vibe that softens Manapul's pencils and really gives a wonderful sense of control between energy and ambiance. Just lovely.

That said, this book isn't perfect — in particular, it starts off a bit slow, using a lot of distance shots and lacking some of the big visual set pieces that the first issue knocked your socks off with. The actual voice of Barry also still feels a little loose, a little slangy for my tastes, not really feeling too deliberate with a philosophy or a point of view. That said, Manapul and Buccellato are more concerned with the experience of reading the comic, rather than playing strictly to the letter the rules of dramatic structure.

And maybe that's the best way to describe The Flash: It's an experience. So often these days, comics feel like a writer's game, with everyone overlooking the one thing that makes comics special: the art. Manapul and Buccellato are a bright, striking reminder of what is really important, and why these characters have lasted as long as they have. Instead of trying to one-up everyone on concept, they simply hunker down, mine the core ideas of Barry Allen, and show just how interesting "simple" can look. If you're not reading this, you're missing out on the best the New 52 has to offer.


Avengers Academy #20

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Tom Raney, Scott Hanna and Jeromy Cox

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

The kids aren't all right — but Avengers Academy is right where it needs to be. If you've been only a casual reader, this book already wins points for "importance," delivering a satisfying read that has clear repercussions for the team moving ahead. But what I think Avengers Academy really thrives on is the human elements of these superheroes, that sort of soap-operatic structure that has become passé in a widescreen world.

Maybe I'm overstating the point here, since it's becoming so rare to see characterization take point over action, but Christos Gage's script reminds me just a bit of those magical old Chris Claremont X-Men scripts, where the team changes and evolves and struggles and grows. You get why Veil needs to take a break with the time she has left — you get why Speedball and even Justice make some surprising moves in the aftermath of Fear Itself. It all feels extremely organic, and it's a testament to Gage's abilities that he can make you care about these characters so much. Considering how surface-level and disjointed the main Fear Itself storyline felt, it's these sorts of reaction issues that actually help justify the crossovers in the first place.

Tom Raney's artwork, while occasionally a little wonky with the details, also really draws out the emotions for this book, with Jeromy Cox's colorwork helping balance out the sad aspects of these goodbyes with the potential that lies ahead. Hank Pym, out of everyone, gets Raney's best work — he looks genuinely concerned for his students, with some great body language as he leans up against an entire building. There's one page in particular, where the students and staff react to one cast member's big decision, that's a real showcase for Raney's expressiveness, especially a panel of the still-faced Mettle that is absolutely heartbreaking. There are a few missteps with the details, likely due to some crossed signals with inker Scott Hanna — there's a panel where Giant Man looks basically cross-eyed, and all those wrinkles along Veil's eyes make her look more like a drug addict than someone scarred by war — but in general, he adds to the story rather than detracts.

To be honest, Fear Itself as a crossover never really worked for me, mainly because the story wobbled between unfocused action and just telling us the characters were scared rather than showing us. Avengers Academy, on the other hand, gave us a reason for why these kids were acting the way they were. What good is a superhero against this kind of destruction? What if you've only got a little bit of time left? And if you're trying to mentor the next generation of costumed crusaders, how do you keep yourself from failing all of them? These aren't questions with simple answers, and I really enjoy watching Christos Gage and company wrestle with them every month. This story isn't an ending, it's a new beginning for what might be an even stronger era for Avengers Academy. If Gage can keep his concept as focused as it was these past 20 issues, I can't wait to see what he's got up his sleeves next.


Aquaman #2

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Click here for preview

Is it too much of a pun to say that, only two issues in, Aquaman is already floundering?  Seriously, though, I really wanted to like this book.  By rights, Geoff Johns relaunching Aquaman should be an artist painting in his best medium, but most of the Geoff Johns cleverness is left at the door, and instead he's really letting loose with all the things that people criticize him for the most: hackneyed dialogue, indistinct character voices, and oceans of gore.  It would seem that this is an ideal assignment for the man who has come to define DC Comics, to redefine a much-maligned but fan favorite character with a much needed consistency, and a more concise origin, but Johns seems more focused on making the people who dislike Aquaman feel OK about reading a book with his name on it than in cultivating a mythology around a character with so much real potential.

About seventy percent of the last two issues has been spent on ignorant surface dwellers maligning and belittling Aquaman, only to have him soldier on while we are shown that, "no, Aquaman's not a joke!  If you think about it, he's actually kinda cool, amirite?"  It's almost like a response to the legions of comic readers, and members of the general public who have been Seth MacFarlane'd into thinking Aquaman just talks to fish and feels sorry for himself.  When I'm reading Aquaman, I'm being given a hard sell, and I'm not buying it.  Which really stinks, because I'm OK with embracing the goofiness, I'm OK with poking fun at the orange and green costume, but I am not interested in having to be convinced that it's OK to like a character whose title I've already bought.  Don't show me Aquaman is cool by showing that the haters just don't understand, show me he's cool by telling a good story, and having him do something awesome.

Aquaman himself counts as a barely-there sort of presence, merely a catalyst to call to mind all the various Super Friends jokes that have been made over the years.  There's no depth in him, other than to show that he's I guess kind of selfless because he'll stop bank robberies and pay for fishsticks in gold doubloons even while be harassed by people who are either hipsters or fishermen.  I don't know what part of the country this is in, so I'm not sure which it is.  Further, he's overshadowed by his romantic interest Mera, who time and again sets alight the page with such gems as, "How it works, is I control the water." and "They should be bowing before you... They need to be educated, and I am happy to do it!"  I think if Geoff Johns could've gotten away with just writing a comic about Mera going around and intimidating all the bullies who pick on poor Aquaman, that's all we'd get in this title.  I mean, it's already the bulk of this issue.

When Aquaman and Mera aren't capturing our ignorant, land-lubbing hearts with vacant stares and misplaced rage, they are investigating the brutal murder of a whole fishing village by monsters whose only thought seems to be of eating fishing villages.  And by investigating, I mean Aquaman tries to be cool while Mera explains that she's pretty badass, and she'll fight with brutal violence because that's what you do when you are faced with monsters.  It's a lazy plot, but the villains have the potential to be interesting and exciting, if they weren't being dragged down by Geoff Johns's inability to express horror without gore and cheap violence.

If there's a bright spot to this title at all, its Ivan Reis.  Aside from some missteps, like a lighthouse that simply looks like any suburban home from the inside, Reis captures the characters with ease, and sets the stage with the monsters to great effect.  His work isn't outstanding, but it's solid, and easy to read, which is a boon when the book has been saddled with such an abysmal script.

There's really not much else to say about Aquaman.  I was on the fence with the first issue, but I was willing to forgive the overselling of the character if this issue kicked into gear.  Instead, this issue spends just as much time trying to convince people that it's OK to like Aquaman instead of actually developing a character I'd like to read.   I almost couldn't have hated this book more, except for Ivan Reis's entirely readable art.  "Readable" isn't enough to rescue this title from drowning, however, and so I guess I'll just wait another five years until after this book has failed, and someone else thinks they know how to make people like Aquaman.


Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #4

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Raulo Cáceres and Digikore

Published by Avatar Press

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Captain Swing is one of Warren Ellis’ more high-concept ideas. The series is like a reworked steampunk story, which substitutes electrical-powered devices for steam-powered ones. The story plays around with the 19th century British folklore character of Spring-Heeled Jack, combining him with the fictional character of Captain Swing, which was the name signed on threatening letters sent during the Swing riots of 1830. The character is then recast as an electrical pirate - the captain of an electricity-powered galleon that flies through the skies of London.

It’s a very rich canvas, onto which Ellis paints an intriguing story involving Freemasons who have gained command over a meteorite imbued with mystical powers, which they intend to use to suppress the masses. Swing and his cohorts don’t intend to see this happen, and so seek to steal the stone, and give it people. The story also plays off a lot on the differences between the newly formed Metropolitan Police Force, and the Bow Street runner, with the story’s protagonist being a “peeler” called Charlie Gravel (perhaps a reference to Ellis’ other Avatar series, Gravel?).

This fourth and final part of the series is an action packed issue, with the pirates seeking retribution for the death of Swing, last issue This leads to a showdown with the “moon man” who killed Charlie’s partner in the first issue - a bizarre and grotesque creature, imbued with strange powers from the meteorite. Sadly, the issue ends a bit anti-climatically, as the pirates never get their hands on mysterious meteorite, and things are last feeling a little bit unresolved. Despite this shortcoming, the issue is still highly enjoyable, and contains some great dialog, some strong characterization, the realization of some of the characters’ individual goals, and a nice poignant scene between Charlie and Polly, who he formed a bond with in the last issue.

Raulo Cáceres is a Spanish artist, who has worked on several of Warren Ellis’ previous Avatar Press releases. His artwork on this series has exhibited amazingly intricate and detailed linework, with some beautifully precise design work on all of the strange technological wonders that have featured throughout the series. Ink wise, Cáceres favors very heavy blacks, in most places this works to his benefit, but in some scenes this makes the art feel a bit claustrophobic and unappealing. Cáceres has a very strong handle on anatomy, scenery, and backgrounds, but I find that faces are a bit of a weak point for him, and it feels like he inks too much in the way of detail lines on his characters’ faces, which makes them look a bit dark and ugly. I’ve heard it said that the more lines you ink on a character’s features, the older you make them look, and this certainly seems to be the case hear. One of the more interesting things that Cáceres gets to draw in this issue is the “moon man” mentioned in earlier issues. The creature that we are shown is a hideously obese behemoth of a man, with metal braces all over his body, making his flesh bulge out grotesquely. In the middle of his belly is implanted a devices that hold a piece of the meteorite, and has some strange pipes venting steam off from some unknown process. It’s pretty disturbing stuff, and I’ve left some of the finer details to keep the review SFW!

The coloring on the book is attributed to Digikore Studios, and in my opinion is the weak point of the book. The whole color job looks obviously digital, and really lacks subtlety. I really dislike many of their color choices, and find that flesh tone used is way too pink, blood looks really fake, and all of the light and electricity effects look like bad Photoshop effects. It’s a real shame, because it makes the final artwork a bit off-putting, and I think Cáceres’ art would have looked much better in black & white, or would have benefited from a good colorist.

One final thing I should mention is the beautiful design work on the book. The comic has a great looking cover dress, and throughout has a monologue by Captain Swing, which is presented on antiqued journal pages, featuring some wonderful 19th century line art depicting a number of strange electrical contraptions. It’s a really nice touch!

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #4 is a great final chapter for one of Warren Ellis’ more unique creations. For the most part the book is very beautiful, and features some nice production design.

Pellet review!


Power Lunch — Book 1: First Course (Published by Oni Press; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):
If you know anything about J. Torres and Dean Trippe it is simply that they love comic books. Their collective love for the medium in this delightful helping from Oni, that only is for all ages, but has an important message without being considered "preachy". New kid on the block Joey (pardon the pun) is considered the new weird kid at his school. The news actually comes from the "old" weird kid, Jerome. Yet Joey is hiding a secret, one he tries to tell Jerome about: when he eats colored foods, he gains a different ability. Trail mix gives him super speed, bubble gum gives him incredible jumping abilities. I'm talking like Golden Age Superman leaping powers here. Now the villain here is a bully, aptly named Bug, that tortures the boys until Joey decides to use his powers to teach him a lesson. This book is just perfect for new and older readers alike. Torres' story is simplistic, but seriously enjoyable. It contains heart that most books miss out on these days. Trippe's art, cartoony in a style that has echoes of Darwyn Cooke, is equally pleasing. His style has always intrigued me and fits something like this like a glove. As mentioned there is a subtle message about nutrition, but without winks and nudges to the audience. Trying to find that book suitable for somebody that loves great all-ages comics? Give them a hearty a course in Power Lunch.

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