Best Shots Extra: X-SANCTION #1, STORYTELLER, More!

Marvel Preview: AVENGERS: X-SANCTION #1


X-Sanction #1

Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by Ed McGuiness, Dexter Vines, and Morry Hollowell

Letters by A. Deschesne

Published by Marvel Comics

'Rama Rating: 7/10

X-Sanction is a bit of a tough nut to crack. It's arriving at a time when most Marvel readers are still shell-shocked from a summer blockbuster event that was more bait-and-switch than actual substance, and promising to be one of several chapters that will shape the state of Marvel's universe to come. It's something we've all heard before, and when weighed against the other books that are going on around it, and the knowledge of what's coming next, it almost feels like it was unnecessary before the first lines were put to paper. With the knowledge that, sometime next summer, Marvel's two biggest franchises will find themselves in all out war a foregone conclusion, it's hard to imagine what purpose this series will serve. In the years before bleeding edge coverage of comics was possible, there might have been a major impact in using a smaller scale story like this to create a moment of gasping realization when the last page could tease something like a battle between the X-Men and the Avengers. As it stands, whatever merit there may be in the actual production of this book, it's almost impossible not to pass judgment on the concept over the execution.

Jeph Loeb crafts a fairly taught script, doing his best not to stray into moments of unrelenting exposition, or over-wrought explanation, showing only that Cable was saved from the blast that supposedly killed him by- what else?- being pulled through time by his former ally Blaquesmith, and is held together only by the techno-organic virus that has spread throughout his ravaged body. With only around 24 hours to live (no matter in which time period he spends them), he discovers that the only way to save his own timeline is to stop the Avengers from doing... well... something... that will result in the death or disappearance of Hope Summers. It's a great premise, and one that almost builds its own tension. As with too much media these days, however, much of its hand has already been played before this issue even hit the stands. That's not to say there's no possibility of surprise- the Falcon's precarious condition proves that- but that whatever major consequences this book has, we have already been told how much they will matter, but shown that, in long run, they're really only setting the stage the next event whose consequences will be even more important, and set an even larger stage.

Maybe it's not fair to pass that kind of judgment on a title, rather than appreciate it for its own merits. The joy is said to be in the telling, after all, and there's a lot to like here. Ed McGuiness's work is fluid, and, though occasionally overblown, it's hugeness tends to fall into the blockbuster, energetic hyperbole category, more than the overwrought, over-rendered style of many artists these days. Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell are really the stars, though, as McGuiness's pencils wouldn't be nearly as vibrant without Vines' careful attention to detail, and balanced restraint, or Hollowell's vibrant, larger than life colors. Say what you will about Ed McGuiness's style; this book looks like comics ought to look. For his part, Jeph Loeb, as stated above, keeps the story moving and the information flowing in a way that's less like the first issue of a comic, and more like the pilot of a television show. His sense of nuance for the characters may not be the strongest in the industry, but he sets the stage with ease and aplomb.

I wish I could've lost myself in the story a little more, but there's not quite enough depth in Loeb's script to reach that level of immersion, and try as I might, I can't shake the feeling that I was only reading the book in the first place because I was supposed to, because to not do so would set me behind too far in the continuing saga of the Marvel Universe. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book- I did. At the same time, it's not a good feeling to think that you're obligated to be a part of something. Call it event fatigue, or whatever ever other angry-fan-coined term you like, but the weight that this story should've had just didn't come through. Delicious as X-Sanction might have been, I couldn't devour it without considering the plate on which it was served.


The Storyteller

Written by Roger Landridge, Colleen Coover, Chris Eliopoulis, Jeff Parker, Majorie Liu, Paul Tobin, Kat ie Cook, Ron Marz, and Nate Cosby

Art by Jordie Bellaire, Colleen Coover, Mike Maihack, Tom Fowler, Jennifer L. Meyer, Evan Shaner, Katie Cook, Craig Rousseau, Roman Cliquet, and Adam Street

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Archaia

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Having seen the announcement of this at WonderCon this year, I waited ever so patiently (okay, that might not be the whole truth) for this collection of short stories to reach my grubby paws. Well it's finally here now, and, by Henson, it is beautiful. Based on the Jim Henson TV program of the same name, The Storyteller is the comic medium at its finest.

Collecting the most eclectic creators probably Marvel's Strange Tales, this OGN is something crafted with heart and imagination. It's filled with artists I've waited to see get published, as well as writers I've followed for years. There's not one story that's better than the others. Everything is equally impressive and inspiring and still evokes the spirit of the show and the Henson name. For those unfamiliar with the "Storyteller" program, it's basically an older man (played by John Hurt) telling a story or fable, and the story would be brought to life with actors and Jim Henson studio puppetry. The Storyteller himself had his dog (voiced by Brian Henson) which also acted as an audience and would throw sarcastic remarks out here and there. Every tale in the book features the duo, even for a bit, but I can still hear their voices as I read along.

The creative teams cover everything from the ever popular "Puss n' Boots" (Majorie Liu and Jennifer L. Meyer) to more obscure European tales such as "An Agreement Between Friends" (Chris Eliopoulis and Mike Maihack). Now probably the coolest thing about this is that there is actually an adaptation of an unaired episode, brought to the page beautifully by Nate Cosby and Ronan Cliquet. Inbetween the stories, there are assorted pin ups from the likes of Mitch Gerads, David Peterson, Janet K. Lee, Mike Maihack, and Dennis Calero.

There's an obvious vibe that this was a labor of love and it shows in every panel and page. It spotlights fan-favorite talents and reads amazingly. Since we are currently smack dab in the holiday season, this should be on the list for that young reader in the family, or anybody young at heart.


Witchblade #150

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's a saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. For 70 issues, Ron Marz has given so much to the Witchblade mythos, as well defined Sara Pezzini for half a decade. Along his journey, he's given Sara more tribulations than anybody in her history, all the while making her come out stronger and becoming the epitome of a super heroine. Marz's run ends in this issue. It is an end, but a beginning of sorts for Sara and here she takes the first steps.

Agent Phipps of Internal Affairs has been hounding Sara and once he learned the nature of the Witchblade its ties to Sara, he pulled the trigger and made her choose: the mystical weapon, or her career as a cop. This issue deals with Sara's decision and the next chapter in her life. Marz's that he's given Sara over the years really shines here. She's angry, smart, and above all, she accepts her destiny. Long time collaborator, Stjepan Sejic joins Marz once more for one last apparent hoorah. I have to admit, I expected more action, but this issue is very quiet. Reflective. Sara sees all that she's accomplished with the Witchblade and realizes there is still work to do.

Sejic's art excels here, and handles the quiet moments better than he has before. His renderings on downtown New York are beautiful and his visual take on the Witchblade as a human construct is complicated, yet very slick. There were some parts where facial expressions came across as odd and almost seemed incomplete, but are easily overlooked in the overall production of the issue. It's going to take a minute to get used to somebody on artistic duties on Witchblade since Sejic has been such a staple for a myriad of fans.

Ron Marz is leaving behind quite the legacy with this issue. He has had plans to make it to #150 and seeds that have been planted are coming into fruition. The team in line after this has some big shoes to fill, but Sara has endured some hellish villains, I'm sure she can take a creative shake up and I'm looking forward to her next adventure.


Star Wars: Agent of the Empire- Iron Eclipse #1

Written by John Ostrander

Art by Stéphane Roux, Julien Hugonnard-Bert and Wes Dzioba

Lettering by Meichael Heisler

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

His name is Cross.

Jahan Cross.

O.k. that may be the easy opening for a review of the books that’s been described as “James Bond in the Star Wars universe” but it’s also an apt opening. Jahan Cross seves on His Emperor’s Secret Service or Imperial Intelligence as it seems to be more properly known as. John Ostrander and Stéphane Roux introduces us to Jahan as he’s wrapping up a job, rooting out an Imperial colonel who’s skimming money out of the pockets of the Empire. That’s what passes for insubordination in Lord Palpatine’s Empire- embezzlement. It’s a quick scene to show us Cross and his methods. Then it’s back to Coruscant, being yelled at by his version of M, getting new experimental and barely working spy gadgets from the Imperial version of Q then it’s off for another mission in some seedy space port where he runs into a very familiar scruffy looking nerfherder and his hairy copilot.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire- Iron Eclipse #1 is an easy book because so many elements of it feels so familiar, from the James Bond-in-space schtick to the appearance of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Ostrander appears to be having fun setting up the concept of this book, playing with espionage in the Star Wars universe. It’s kind of like Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, only with lasers and star ships. That also means that it carries the baggage from Star Wars as well, quickly getting bogged down in the political minutia that Lucas created of trade federations and political maneuverings rather than simple concepts of good versus evil. Cross’s missions aren’t about confronting other spys, stopping the rebels or dealing with threats against Vader and the Emperor but about officers siphoning funds into their own pockets and corporate power grabs. There’s not even a lightsaber in this comics and barely a blaster to be seen. Where’s the fun in that?

Stéphane Roux has a style that mixes nicely with the Star Wars universe. Having to draw a little bit of everything from droids to talking heads to the occasional Wookie or smuggler, his artwork is a strange cross between Jamie McKelvie and Adam Hughes. He’s got Hughes’ soft touch and ability to capture a likeness of a familiar character with McKelvie’s solid and defining line. Roux lands in that sweet spot for licensed comic books, having a clear style so that everything doesn’t look like it’s stiffly lifted from movie stills while being able to capture the likeness and character of known characters and settings. The book looks like a Star Wars book but it is also easy to see Roux’s style on display on every page.

If you know James Bond stories (or even just spy stories in general) and if you know Star Wars, there’s not a lot in Star Wars: Agent of the Empire- Iron Eclipse #1 that’s really going to feel new or exciting. It’s fun to see that the two great tastes that taste good together but at this early stage, fun is about all we get. Ostrander and Roux give us a story that’s easy to follow but suffers from incorporating too much of Lucas’s world building from the prequel trilogy and not enough of the simple good guys versus bad guys that made the original films so wonderful.


Blue Estate #8

Written by Viktor Kalvachev & Kosta Yanev (story) and Andrew Osborne (script)

Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Nathan Fox, Toby Cypress, Andrew Robinson & Peter Nguyen

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10

Blue Estate is exhausting in the best possible way. Nothing is wasted as Viktor Kalvachev and his exceptionally talented team push their story forward with breakneck speed and a giddy disregard for expectation. It is a paean to excess, to characters dealing with moral quandaries in the only ways they know how – it is a white-hot, sundrenched noir that never flinches from what it wants to do. The story is engrossing, the characters are both funny and gruesome, and the overall aesthetic is nearly flawless.

While Kalvachev deserves praise for spearheading and supervising the entire book, he deserves special praise for his brilliant color work. On the level of visuals alone, Blue Estate is incredible to behold, and the coloring enriches every panel, creating an immersive experience and a piece of crime-fiction that I’m glad isn’t in black and white. Kalvachev’s effortless, bold use of color schemes and certain distinct palettes lends the book a distinct visual identity (witness the marvelous darkroom scene with its varying shades of red, and the direct cut to an outdoor crime scene, with cool blues, and muted pastel tones for the background extras) – it’s abstract realism at its finest, particularly when coupled with the art by Kalvachev, Nathan Fox, Toby Cypress, Andrew Robinson & Peter Nguyen. Given the size of the art team, my imaginary hat must be tipped to all of them for creating such a seamless, individual look for the book. The panel layouts are flawlessly designed to constantly carry the eye through the story, and the staging is never less than marvelous, with an excellent use of fore- and background elements to create a constant sense of motion and life to each panel. This is a book that dictates its own tempo to the reader, and it creates a dizzying sense of exhilaration because of it.

The script continues its story of fighting mobs, Hollywood starlets and extortion, blending them all together into a hyper-charged plot. The action moves quickly, yet the tempo never seems rushed – scripter Osborne allows for character moments to shine, fleshing out and deepening figures who otherwise may have seemed simple caricatures or characters who appear fleetingly and then are forgotten. Specifically, Lupe, a dispatcher/assistant at the police station is given a fine moment to shine – which is supported by the apt, revealing visuals. Beyond the sharply honed characterizations, there are plentiful moments of wit – including a surprising glimpse into the musical taste of one of the book’s more unsavory characters. Speaking of the characters, they are all written for very smartly – the dialogue never seems to be interchangeable, even between bit players, and it’s filled with a well-blended mix of the hard-boiled and the ridiculous.  Plot complications and characters are piled atop each other like a stack of precariously perched poker chips, and the entire enterprise uses its hyper-charged sensibility to its advantage, as Osborne’s scripting – and Kalvachev and Yanev’s sure plotting work together to move things along speedily, and never quite revealing the full picture of what is happening. Like all good mysteries, the conclusion to this particular story is not entirely apparent.

One final note, and it’s a rather strange one, but it bears recognition: Blue Estate knows how to use profanity – which is not to say that it uses it sparingly, oh my, no – but it never seems unnatural or overly gratuitous as it might in other books – here, it simply adds another color to the language, filling in for almost every part-of-speech under the sun, and coming across merely as the vernacular of the cast. In another book, I may have found it off-putting and repellant, but the execution here integrates it into the very fabric of the book in a way that, without the language, would seem strangely incomplete.

I should also point out that Blue Estate is also developing an interactive, transmedia based element to its storytelling – as its website provides opportunities to investigate evidence, and even follow characters on Twitter®. It’s a fun idea that lends another layer to what’s already a book that embraces the chances it takes, never flinching from going anywhere that might elicit a reaction from the reader – whether it’s a laugh or a grimace. Smart plotting, delightful scripting, compelling characters and excellent artwork come together in a daffy, dangerous contemporary crime story that, I hope, will never slow down for breath. In a vast sea of books crying out to be noticed, Blue Estate definitely deserves more attention.


Snarked #3

Written and Illustrated by Roger Langridge

Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Deniz Cordell

‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10

In its third fit, the engine that powers Roger Langridge’s Snarked shows no sign of losing steam. There is a large panel, about halfway through the book that fully illuminates part of the book’s sizeable charm – I dassn’t give away what the panel is, for, as with most things, a great deal of the delight comes with witnessing it beforehand, but I will say that it’s a segment that not only proves the resourcefulness and daring of the Princess/Queen, but also shows Langridge is clearly enjoying himself, and extending his storytelling choices and possibilities beyond standard graphic narrative. There are segments that take on a game-like atmosphere, not only in the layout of certain elements (this confidential panel included), but in terms of its free-wheeling, ‘snark-may-care’ sort of attitude. It’s never a chore to follow these characters around, or to observe the machinations of the plot – the action is always clear, and the level of invention in each panel is engrossing.

Langridge’s artwork is fantastic, naturally, using his distinctive style of cartooning to put his effortlessly charming characters in incredible situations. He has the knack of finding just the right moments and postures to capture – a sequence involving our protagonists “hiding” on marble pedestals gets a tremendous laugh, despite the inherent simplicity of the gag. In such instances, it’s not the jokes Langridge tells, it’s how he tells them – with the ease and good nature of a finely tuned observer. Beyond such tried-and-true jokes however, Langridge’s superb scripting drums up verbal humor by the panel, particularly in a long sequence involving Wilberforce J. Walrus’ (a name I will never tire of, by the way) attempts to find a boat and captain for a journey to Snark Island. The seadog he meets is, to understate things, a little touched, and his dialogue is delightfully laced with verbal chicanery and a repeating gag which gets a very funny payoff. In a way, I still can’t help but be reminded of E.C. Segar’s Popeye stories – dealing as they do with journeys and the preparations, and a cast of characters ranging from the pure to the unsavory, but all of them shown in an objective but oddly affectionate way – Langridge clearly likes all of his characters, from the Walrus and McDunk to the villainous Gryphon to the castle guards who only appear for a panel or two. The care he gives in their visual and textual characterization is apparent and rewarding to the reader, particularly when one notices just how quickly and deftly Langridge moves things along.

Praise is also due to colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, who continues to make things pop from the page in an enjoyable way. Her use of wood and earth tones for seedier interiors gives a sense of age to the locations, and the cooler tones for the castle intrigue provides sharp contrast – not only aiding the narrative, but providing a slight edge to the proceedings.

The book continues to be filled with Carroll references, both minor and major – from the name of the establishment the Walrus and the Carpenter visit (which is slyly overt, and a rather apt choice), to the members of the sea captain’s ragged crew. The book never flaunts these connections, but instead integrates them into the story it wants to tell, avoiding that most dreaded of things – self-consciousness.

What else is there to say, really? The character designs are excellent throughout, and I spent a second reading going through the book just admiring the background players and their facial expressions and postures – the pacing of the book is marvelous, with gags and reveals naturally coming forth from varied and sharply-defined layouts, and the main characters continue to be enjoyable in demeanor and attitude. Langridge brings his own set of artistic idiosyncrasies to the table, and creates a book that is funny, smart, and really embraces the notion of being for all ages. I really love this book – and you should, too. So stop reading this review, and go and buy one for yourself – then another for your younger sibling, child, niece/nephew or cousin, since once you read it, you’ll never give away your own copy.

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