Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your daily dose of Best Shots reviews? We sure are! So kick back and enjoy the show, as Pat Hume takes a peek at the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men...
Uncanny X-Men #2
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Jorge Molina, Rodney Buchemi, Cam Smith, Roger Bonet, Walden Wong, Frank D'Armata, Rachelle Rosenberg and Jim Charalampidis
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
I think Sinister has been underutilized.
There, I said it, and I don't feel bad about it. Do most people associate Sinister with all that was indecipherable about the X-Men of the '90s? Sure. Did his original design come off like something out of a overambitious Marilyn Manson video? Absolutely. I submit, however, that in the right hands, any character is redeemable, and Sinister has a lot going for him. A shadowy presence that has haunted the lives of the X-Men, and Cyclops in particular, for decades, Sinister should almost be the anti-Xavier, someone whose knowledge of the mutant genome has turned him inward to the secrets of existence rather than outward to the sociopolitical landscape.
And that's the Sinister that has shown up in the inaugural arc of this new volume of Uncanny X-Men. Sinister using the power of the Dreaming Celestial to remake the world in his image is both the kind of grandiose scheme that we should be seeing from one of the X-Men's top nemeses, as well as the kind of threat that the flagship title and team should have to face. There's no subtlety or innovation about what Gillen is doing here, and that's what makes it work. Cyclops and his "Extinction Team" are meant to be on the same level as the Avengers, to stop the big threats, and Sinister's invocation of the near-Biblical might of the Celestials is about as big a threat as they come.
Even in the midst of these grandiose goings-on, however, Gillen finds time to let us know that character matters to him. He hasn't just assembled these particular mutants because of editorial fiat or because he thought they'd look cool together. The Extinction Team have personalities as powerful as their mutant abilities, and everything from Emma and Hope's contingency plan to quips from relative newcomers Namor and Danger shows that Gillen cares how these characters think and interact with one another. He's laying the groundwork for some interesting dynamics as time goes on, and I look forward to seeing where they go.
If you'll direct your attention to the top of the review, you'll note that there are nine names credited on interior art. I assume this has something to do with the two-page flashback to Sinister's younger years. Regardless, the art is consistent throughout, if a little flat. Even on the opening splash and what should be a few other money shots later on, I didn't get the sense of motion or dimensionality that I look for in action-oriented books like this. Body language was somewhat lacking as well. This might just be an instance of too many cooks spoiling the broth, which hopefully won't be as much of a factor going forward.
Gillen and primary artist Carlos Pacheco have taken on a great deal in rebooting Uncanny. The X-universe has changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and anyone who stepped away from reading comics for a while would have very little idea what was going on in this book. It's clear, however, that Gillen and Pacheco intend to swing for the fences and see what happens, an attitude I can appreciate. Gillen has a lot of big ideas, and once his and Pacheco's styles begin to gel a little more, I think this could be a great standard-bearer for the Regenesis era of X-Men comics.
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso and Patricia Mulvihill
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Brian Azzarello is known as the crime guy. One hundred issues of a crime book and various other crime and noir projects will do that to a guy. He's also the guy who wrote a very meta textual Doctor Thirteen story that ran concurrently DC's 52 and painted Mark Waid, Greg Rucka's, Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns the evil architects of the universe that were wiping old, great obscure DC stories and characters away. Spaceman #2 falls somewhere in between those projects with Azzarello writing about man-made space colonists, a world that doesn't want them and the kidnapping of a celebrity kid. Orson, a simple man designed to withstand the heavy gravity of Mars, spends his days dredging the sea for junk that he can sell and finds a missing girl that everyone is looking for.
There's a sing-song quality found in Azzarello's dialogue. In 100 Bullets, He strung together slang so that read like some post modern poety. In Spaceman #1, it was not slang but his futuristic new-speak that created the sound of music. After establishing how different the future was, he pulls back on the made-up dialect and keeps the dialogue simpler and more sparse in this issue. Spaceman #2 is Eduardo Risso's showcase so Azzarello builds the tension within Orson, a man who is so out of place that there may actually be no place for him at all, through the dangerous situation that he’s in rather than through the quirky dialogue.
Spaceman #2 gives Risso the opportunity to riff without the words getting in the way with pages where the storytelling is given almost wholly over to the drawings. This includes a violent three page sequence where we see a different, brutal side of Orson, who’s been a gently giant up until this moment. Risso uses a variety of techniques to tell this story. Some panels are clear and crisp while he throws in these little fuzzy elements. The flashbacks to Mars are like that as Risso uses a thinner line and rather than doing his usual heavy shadows, he uses cross hatching that makes the story actually feel like it is taking place on a different planet.
Risso's artwork shimmers thanks in part to Patricia Mulhivill's coloring. The greenish-orange hues she bathes Risso's artwork captures the haze of the evening, creating this time that isn't day and isn't quite night. It creates a dreamlike atmosphere that allows Azzarello to switch back and forth between the present of Orson on the boat and the past where an accident on Mars that nearly killed him. Risso's art supplies the sweet melody to Azzarello's dark tune.
It's a collaboration that's constant but the result for Spaceman is something different than what we've seen before. While its obviously the same creative team that created 100 Bullets, every aspect of the book feels different than that conspiracy story. Spaceman #2 shows that we should expect the new out of our comics. Of course you can recognize thew work of Azzarello and Risso in these pages but this looks and feels nothing like any of the stories that the’ve done before this.
Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist #1
Written by Eric Trautmann & Alex Ross
Art by Daniel Indro, Alex Ross, and Slamet Mujiono
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
‘Zeitgeist’ is a new Flash Gordon series, co-plotted by Eric Trautmann & Alex Ross, which reimagines Flash’s origin, and reboots the series to add the character to Dynamite’s ever-growing list of classic and pulp properties.
Thankfully Ross & Trautmann decided not to go contemporary with their reimagining, which could have been tacky (though I don’t include the 1980 movie in this category, which is all kinds of awesome). Instead they decide to keep the story in the 1930s, and set it against the backdrop of the burgeoning Second World War. Ming the Merciless has an agent on Earth, who has rebelled, and decided to claim the planet for himself, and so Ming decides to punish the Earth by triggering a multitude of “natural” disasters. The US government sends Flash to Switzerland, to enlist the help of fringe scientist Hans Zarkov, and on the way he bumps into DoS researcher Dale Arden. When the pair meet Zarkov their adventure really begins.
In terms of plotting, I really like the approach that the pair took, and think that it was a nice touch mixing it in with WWII. It’s pretty obvious that Hitler is Ming’s agent, but it still works, nonetheless. Inevitably, the plot involves a bit of comic book science, but they don’t try to get overly technical with it, and keep it feeling quite pulpy. I also like the fact that, as is shown at the end of the book, this is not just a story about Flash and co. going to Mongo, but also of some infamous residents of Mongo coming to Earth.
The script for the series is written by Eric Trautmann who does a wonderful job of contemporizing the storytelling, while staying true to the story’s pulp origins. By this, I mean that he takes the more modern approach of telling the story without the use of heavy exposition and extensive monologue, and instead allows the artwork to speak for itself, and keep his script to mostly dialog, with some light exposition imparted through Television broadcasts. At the same time, he keeps the language used feeling very authentic, with characters speaking in a very 1930s fashion, and using many sayings and slang words native to the period.
The artist on the issue is Daniel Indro, but Alex Ross is attributed with being the art director. I’m not completely clear on what this means, but I assume it means that he did a lot of the character and technology design. I imagine his job stopped just short of doing layouts, but I definitely felt a bit of his influence in the composition of some of the more grandiose pages, and in the panel layouts, which are much more interesting than the standard grid approach.
Daniel Indro’s pencilling has a very intricate look to it, which borders on photorealism. Every panel is filled to the brim with minutia, and he pays great attention to detail on all of the complex machinery and imaginary technology that he illustrates. I would describe his inking as being “brushy” - by which I mean that he uses nice wide brushstrokes, and instead of just filling blacks digitally, you can see his brush work on full display in his shading. I’m a big fan of this approach to inking, and think that it adds a lot of texture to the artwork, and also enhances the pulp feeling of the book.
The book is colored by Slamet Mujiono seems to attempt to emulate the painted look of Alex Ross’ artwork. For the first few pages of the issue, this approach works rather well, and enhances the photorealistic look of the artwork. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t hold throughout the book, and in a lot of places, it feels like he is using too dark a palette, and uses way too much red for Caucasian flesh tones. In some spots, this makes pages feel a bit muddy, and the characters look like they’ve just come out a really hot shower.
I don’t often mention lettering in reviews, but I wanted to draw attention to the work of Simon Bowland on this issue, because his work constantly impresses me. He makes great font choices, and places his bubbles perfectly in every panel - so they least interfer with the artwork, and also lead the reader’s eye from scene to scene, which is important in a book with non-standard panel layouts. He uses different bubbles borders to differentiate between speech and TV broadcasts, and highlight’s yelled panels with a thick red border. It’s great attention to detail, which makes the action much easier to follow.
Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist #1 is a brilliant reimagining of the classic character, which revitalizes the property while staying true to its pulp roots.
Red Skull: Incarnate #5
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Mirko Colak and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Monsters aren't born. They're built. And Greg Pak sure knows what makes them tick.
It's been a slow burn for Red Skull: Incarnate, with none of the flashiness or action you'd expect of a superhero-inspired comic. Indeed, that horrific Skull mask only makes the cover of the book, as Pak analyses the pure human ugliness that swept through Germany in the build-up to World War II. It's not always stylish, it's not always easy to follow — it's not even always logical — but there's something about Incarnate that still sends a chill up my spine.
In a lot of ways, Pak portrays Johann Schmidt as something of an anti-Amadeus Cho. Sullen to Cho's brightness, outright abusive against Cho's snarkiness, Schmidt moves through this book like a shark — you never know where he's going to move next, only that it will end in bloodshed. That's what defines the future Red Skull, and is Pak's quiet triumph of characterization: Johann Schmidt isn't evil because of what the war did to him. He's evil because he doesn't think it's gone far enough — that he's only just begun to get his hands dirty.
Now, here's where things get tricky. The art, in a lot of ways, runs counter to what you'd think a Red Skull origin story set in Nazi Germany would go — Mirko Colak in a lot of ways has a similar style to Mike McKone, with few shadows and flatter, slightly cartoony faces depicting some pretty awful stuff. While I think that would likely turn off readers craving a more atmospheric, dramatic-looking character piece, Colak has plenty of chops to spare here. He's a very cinematic artist, which plays well to Pak's strengths as a filmmaker, with Colak angling his "camera" to great effect, particularly when Schmidt makes his fateful final decision. And in particular, Colak is very sharp with his expressions — Johann has a smirk about him that is so unnerving, and really hammers home how dangerous this kid can be.
That said, any Johnny-come-latelies might be pretty well lost as far as this book goes — while Johann's dark side is particularly apparent, the big climactic moment of this book won't have nearly the full impact (or logic) if you haven't read at least the second issue of this book, not to mention many of the alliances between characters will be confusing at best. And the other critique is a matter of taste I alluded to before: In a lot of ways, Pak has created his own Johann Schmidt out of whole cloth, so expecting any sort of superheroic history or any of his atrocities as Hitler's super-soldier aren't addressed here. Those gorgeous red covers as all you're going to get of Captain America's nemesis.
It's not always easy to follow, but the long trail down the slippery slope rarely is. Is every villain the hero of his own story? Somehow, I doubt that Johann Schmidt sees himself that way. He's ice-cold, power-driven, and he's not afraid to spill blood to get there. Red Skull: Incarnate isn't a loud book, but it is a scary one. Perhaps that's even more telling: you'll never see it coming.
Rust, Vol. 1
Written and Illustrated by Royden Lepp
Published by Archaia
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
What do you get when you take Astro Boy, splice him up with The Iron Giant, and put it all in the aftermath of a robot war? You get Rust, a gorgeous, stylish, breathless book from animator Royden Lepp and publisher Archaia. With strong characters and even stronger action, my only regret when I put this book down is that I felt it ended too soon.
Considering how this book was marketed for kids, I was really astonished by how deep — and yes, occasionally dark — Lepp made Rust. Jet Jones isn't a high-flying superhero, but a surprisingly haunted figure with some secrets of his own. Robot soldiers in a war from yesterday evoke their own terror without gratuitous bloodshed, and the violence between Jet and a giant robot is just as tense and hard-hitting — heck, probably even more so — than most of what the Big Two are producing.
It's also a heck of a lot better. Because Lepp's cartoony, occasionally scratchy style belies some real humanity going on underneath. Roman Taylor, our protagonist, dreams of something more than than his slowly disintegrating farm. Jet has a secret. There's plenty of speed to Lepp's linework, but it's the quiet moments, the still beats that stick with you the longest. Even though it isn't nearly as polished-looking, I couldn't help but think of this book as having a Pixar sort of ethos — it's all about being thoughtful with your images, about creating emotion. Rust does that, and does it well.
And I hope that that is protection enough. When I said I felt this book ended too soon, I meant it — because of the languishing pace of this book, by the time it's over, we feel like we know these characters, but they haven't really gone anywhere yet. Forgive the blasphemy here, but if this book was a monthly, that sort of slower build could be forgiven — but this is a $25 graphic novel, with the second volume not even on the solicit boards yet. Will readers feel burned by the lack of plot development, or will they stick around for the long haul? I hope the answer is yes, because even while the journey feels short, Rust more than proves its mettle.