Dear DC: Our Unsolicited Advice

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Looking for help on what to buy this week? Best Shots has you covered, with a dozen rapid-fire reviews of this week's biggest releases! With books from DC, Marvel, Image, IDW and BOOM! Studios, your favorite team of crackshot reviewers never sleeps. So let's start off with some real action, with the third issue of the relaunched Action Comics...


Action Comics #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Just to start off with, anyone who saw the cover credits and said, "aw, man, Gene Ha? Why can't Rags Morales draw the whole thing?" will find themselves in good hands, as undeserving as they might be -- the division of labor between the two artists is extremely organic, as Ha draws the first rendition of the planet Krypton in the New 52. It's as alien as you'd expect, as writer Grant Morrison gives a real sense of urgency to the destruction of Krypton, even if it somewhat tamps down on the overall mythic scale of the random, yet tragically avoidable meltdown of yesteryear. What's fascinating is that this issue barely has Clark Kent's jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing alter ego in it at all -- Morrison really is focusing on Clark's status as a crusading reporter, and while the world he's building does feel a little stilted, a little bit melodramatic and almost noir-ish in the face of the real thing (how often do the Metropolis PD go through Clark's apartment? How often does Clark thumb his nose at them? Do people often think reporters are in cahoots with vigilantes? How often does Clark get beaten up, so that nobody starts questioning him heavily over it?), I think it's an interesting change of pace. Clark's side as a journalist has always been underplayed, and there's a lot of stories that could be told by examining why he's picked that career path. This is a bit of a breather issue after the last two, but it sets up the next threat with menace and gusto -- all we need now is a clearer mission statement, a real "a ha" thesis for the new Man of Steel. If Morrison can recapture the same sort of thematic lightning he did during All-Star Superman, he won't just have a hit on his hands — he'll have a classic.


Amazing Spider-Man #673 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): What a super-cute epilogue. Now that the Spider Island saga is over, Dan Slott continues to reshape the Spider-Man universe, reshuffling characters and fixing some loose continuity ends that most readers probably even forgot were there. But that's what a good custodian of mythology does, and to be honest, out of every writer in the industry, I don't think anyone cares about his or her character as much as Dan Slott cares about Spider-Man. And in this issue, Slott gets to sublimate that kind of affection through the eyes of New York City, as Spidey finally gets at least a little bit of the credit he's always deserved. (Side note, however: Reed Richards has clearly maxed out his stretchable powers to become the biggest toolbag in New York City in this issue. Seriously, Reed, would it kill you to give someone else in the Future Foundation some praise on television?) Moving from cast member to cast member, Slott gives Spidey some nice beats to work with, but I would argue one misstep takes place here: Carlie Cooper. You can probably guess what happens with her in this issue, but I think there needed to be a longer sequence with her, and less of an extended sequence of everyone realizing that after they transformed back into humans, no one was wearing any pants. But scenes with Kaine, Mary Jane (and in particular, Dr. Strange -- that's a doozy) really crackle, and you can feel the potential for all these characters for storylines ahead. It's a light, breezy kind of epilogue for a light, breezy kind of event, and you know something? It all works fine for me. Keep 'em coming, Dan, and I'll keep reading.


Detective Comics #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): We're a few months into this new Detective Comics from writer / artist Tony Daniel, and I'm still not sure this is a book I want to keep reading. Batman continues to face off (sorry) with the newest Gotham freak, the Dollmaker, a villain that splices together bodies to create all new works of art and thugs. The story has potential, but just doesn't feel all that fresh and new to me. The cliffhanger ending of Issue #2, with a supposedly dead and stitched Commissioner Gordon had little impact. And, opening with the same image still left me cold. We all know that isn't Jim Gordon, and while you assume the good guys will win in the end, the journey should at least have some excitement and mystery. Perhaps that is what is bothering me the most about Daniel's run as the writer on this book. Much of it reads like stories I'm all too familiar with. I already know what happens when Batman faces someone with a Hush like obsession. We all know that little girl trapped in Ragdoll Dollmaker's house is more than what she seems. And, even with the way this issue ends, I've got a real good idea where Joker will make an appearance. Daniel's art, while not quite as great as his work on Batman RIP, is still the highlight of this book. Very few pencilers know how to draw that uncomfortable close up and make it work. When Batman's face takes up half a page, Daniel sells the heck out of it. His Batman is tireless and intense. I just wish the same could be said for the book as a whole. Detective Comics is a marquee title that is only half way there.


Fear Agent #32 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): I’ve been reading Fear Agent since way back in 2005. I went in the comic shop one day, and the storeowner recommended me this new comic starring an alcoholic spaceman, and the rest, as they say, is history! It’s been a long journey, the series has shifted publisher, and suffered from a few delays, but Rick Remender finally delivers the concluding chapter of his sci-fi epic. I don’t want to give anything away, but after the depressing times that Remender has put Heath through recently, our hero finally gets the ending that he deserves, but it’s pretty bittersweet. Remender puts together the perfect finale, and brings things full circle with a key scene from earlier in the series, recast in a new light. The last page of this comic will send a shiver down your spine, and bring a tear to your eye. It’s kind of a shame that Tony Moore wasn’t able to handle art duties on this arc solo, but Mike Hawthorne and John Lucas do such a good job complimenting his style, that it’s hard to tell the art apart from earlier issues. Everyone involved is operating at 100% here, to bring the series to a fitting conclusion. Fear Agent #32 is an amazing finale to one of the best sci-fi comics of the decade!


The Rinse #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Gary Phillips has steadily backed off the throttle on this series ever since issue one and it's become relatively Midnight Run in its harmlessness. Our money launderer sans égal, Jeff Sinclair, is on the verge of his biggest score but he's got to evade not only gorillas working for the mob boss who wants his money back, but a tenacious female IRS agent as well. This issue gets a little too cute at times with Sinclair evading the heat all cocksure and cozy like a Stephen J. Cannell character from the '80s, so much so that you can almost hear the Mike Post soundtrack running in the background. It's too kitschy a noir tale, especially when it has to share the shelves with the likes of Criminal and Stumptown where it suffers from comparison. Marc Laming's art is still the draw here, simply fantastic work reminiscent of Michael Lark and Sean Phillips, even when it's occasionally drowned out by the darks of colorist Darrin Moore. Overall, it's not a terrible book, but I wish it had more teeth and walked a little edgier. I'm hoping in issue four the story will break out of its trot and start to run.


Witch Doctor #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The debut title by writer Brandon Seifert and artist Lukas Ketner has been a grand little run for a twisted reader like me. The forth and final issue in the miniseries has the daunting task of wrapping up the previous story as well as leaving us with a desire for more. Recalling how Morrow and Gast dealt with The Patient From the Black Lagoon in front of a mystical malpractice board was a deft choice by Seifert. While we the readers get to enjoy the creepy insanity of the Great Old Infections; Seifert also acknowledges the critics that claim the book tries too hard to be smart in the guise of malpractice suit. In one fell swoop, Morrow tells off both the critics within and without the book. Does it come off as a wee bit smug? Sure it does, but that's exactly what I've come to expect and love about Witch Doctor. Ancient horrors mere mortals can't even imagine are but a bump in Vincent Morrow's vastly superior intelligence. And, as was the case in each previous issue, Ketner's gorgeous visuals put this book over the top. His creatures ooze with unsettling malevolence, while somehow maintaining a human familiarity. All his characters, from the rather normal Eric Gast to the unspeakable horrors from the pits, are gorgeously expressive. Every facial movement and tic comes through the page. If I had one complaint, it's one that has followed the series as a whole. There are times when Ketner's art feels flat. While there is plenty of detail, many of the action scenes lack a real depth to them. Whether this is due to experience on Ketner's end, or a continual underuse of colorist Andy Troy I don't know. Still, when my only real complaint is more akin to a matter of personal taste, then I think you have a winner on your hands. I'm glad we're seeing teases for a one-shot in December. Keeping these characters and this demented little world locked away after 4 issues would be a real crime. I need another visit.


Villains For Hire #0.1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): I love stories like this. Stories where you gather some solid B and C list characters and make them rise as something greater. It worked beautifully over in old DC with Secret Six and hopefully the not-quite-as-flawless-anymore Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning can make it work here. Misty Knight is getting her under ground Heroes for Hire organization back together. Following a seemingly unrelated series of crimes, Abnett and Lanning do a good job of highlighting each new Hero. Not only that, but they also reveal a potential weakness in each character, something I am certain we'll see exploited in coming issues. Renato Arlem's pencils aren't breaking any new ground here. They are certainly functional and help tell the story, but I found them lacking in excitement. A running brawl on a subway between a new Stilt-Man and Black Panther should have had more chaotic energy. Instead, it was just a few one, two punch panels and out. There are similar issues with colorist Jay David Ramos. Like Arlem, the work feels a little rough. I understand the bulk of the action takes place at night and in dark tunnels, but when someone like Daimon Hellstrom pops in, you should cut loose with some colors. Still, they had to cram a lot of content into the #0.1 issue. With a fun Ocean's 11 style “we got beat to know how they can get beat” tone throughout the book, Villains For Hire is fun and fast read.


Animal Man #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Brrrr. Travel Foreman, this may be the best comic you've ever drawn. Creepy, distorted and altogether unsettling, Foreman is going for the jugular in this third issue of Animal Man, and as he hits his stride he makes for a particularly memorable read. Writer Jeff Lemire may have ditched the more human side of Buddy Baker -- namely, his status as a hipster superhero icon, which I thought was pretty interesting in the first issue -- in order to build up the mythology of the Red and its Totems, but in this case, it winds up being a case of writing the right content for the right artist. Seeing Buddy's face twist into a weird orifice of teeth and eyes is one of the more memorable images I've seen this week (in a week where there already has been a lot of horror and gross-out images), and Foreman's scratchy lines make even ordinary characters have a real menacing edge to them. While I do wish there was a little bit more focus on the characterization of Buddy, this issue makes perfect sense, focusing on the threat he will have to face. With some extremely memorable artwork, Animal Man keeps clawing his way to the top of the DC Comics food chain.


Infinite Vacation #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Nick Spencer. Just… jeez, Nick, what the #$@! is wrong with you, man? I've seen some messed-up comics in my day -- and I've read a lot of them -- but I think Infinite Vacation #3 might take the cake for the most screwed-up, depraved, and disturbingly imaginative comic I've ever read. Gah. Did we jump to a parallel universe where this book was being published by Avatar Press instead? As Spencer introduces the main villain of the piece, he makes The Walking Dead look like My Little Pony, as we see a side of Mark that is so far gone from actual humanity it makes you want to just jump in the shower as soon as you put the comic down. Just think of what a deformed homicidal genius might do if he had a knife in his hands and you chained in his basement, and that's the kind of nightmares that Spencer is playing with here. Christian Ward probably draws the best scene of his career in this issue, as he gives this bad guy a weird purple hue, a sign that he's not just not from around here, he's downright evil, sucking away any ambient light like a human black hole. That sequence is plenty worth the wait, but what does slow down the third issue of Infinite Vacation is that the actual storyline with Mark himself is a little bit convoluted, and so it does take awhile to get re-acclimated and reinvested in the main character, not to mention the screwy technology powering the storyline. That all said, when the comic hits, it kicks like a freaking mule. I say this in the best possible way when I say that after this issue, Nick Spencer and Christian Ward need some serious professional help. Hell, I'm scheduling my therapy appointment right now.


7 Warriors #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Reviewed by Erika D. Peterman; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): That Francis Manapul sure can draw. It's a good thing, too, because his elegant illustrations are by far the most memorable thing about 7 Warriors #1. Writer Michaël Le Galli's story, translated from French, certainly doesn't lack for ambition or a cool concept. It takes place in 6th Century Libya, where a queen has chosen seven elite, female warriors to escort her son from their war-torn kingdom to safety. These fearless women are the best of the best, and one can't help but be reminded of a certain community of Amazons. You want spice? Right off the bat, 7 Warriors presents readers with some serious skin — and there’s more where that came from. Manapul's artwork brims with exquisite details, especially in the opulent palace where much of the story takes place. Christelle Moulart’s rich, warm colors heighten the beauty. Unfortunately, cheap-looking lettering and huge, distracting speech bubbles compromise the book’s visual sophistication. 7 Warriors also suffers from an overload of tedious dialogue and a storyline that, for all its swashbuckling adventure, feels stagnant. That's a shame, because the potential for a satisfying epic is so apparent in the art. The narrative never quite rises to the occasion.


The Goon #36 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Like a classic Scooby-Doo episode, this issue of The Goon guest stars a real life celebrity, in the form of Roxi Dlite, who was crowned the 2010 Queen of Burlesque. Roxi ends up in town while she’s on the run from the (real life) Pontani sisters, and it’s not long before the “Drinkin’, Strippin’, Smokin’ Machine” is butting heads with The Goon and Frankie. Eric Powell packs this fun issue full of everything you could hope for in a Goon story - sex, violence, explosions, theft... and an old woman getting peed on! The plot is hilarious and Powell’s dialogue will have you laughing out loud. Having a celebrity guest could have come off really awkwardly, but Powell executes the appearance so perfectly that you don’t have to have any idea who Roxi Dlite is to enjoy the story. As always, Powell’s artwork is top notch, with fantastic linework and amazing inking. The look is finished off with a lovely coloring job from Dave Stewart. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a center spread pin-up of Roxi Dlite? It’s hot stuff! The Goon #36 is another great issue of one of the funniest books on the shelves.

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