Best Shots Rapid Reviews: AVENGERS, THUNDER AGENTS, More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews

Ready for some Rapid-Fire Reviews, 'Rama Readers? Then let's put the pedal to the metal with the Best Shots crew, as Jake Baumgart takes a look at the latest from the The Avengers


The Avengers #23 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the best parts of the current Avengers title is the artwork by Daniel Acuña. His work has always been a noticeable mix of clear and concise pencil work and an ethereal painted still, and his choice of when to use black outlines is amazing. There is a battle scene in which the damaged helicopters and tanks look perfectly rendered. However, what is even more impressive are the subtle moments when colors, not separated by black lines, touch and recreate a sort of comic book expressionist style. Having not been an Avengers fan for the majority of my life, Brian Michael Bendis has been able to supply interesting arcs, one after the other, and I can’t help but check them out. Issue #23 is no exception, with Norman Osborn returning and attempting to take over the United States government. The characterization of Captain America is really charming — when Madame Hydra is trying to use Steve Rogers as a hostage to negotiate with the President, the only thing Rogers says is, "You do not negotiate with terrorists." Its actions like this that makes Captain America the pinnacle of a hero in the Marvel Universe and Bendis is able to capture that excellently. Although I haven’t been a hardcore Avengers fan in the past, I'm definitely on board thanks to The Avengers #23.


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's not part of the New 52 continuity, and it doesn't even have characters that most people are familiar with, but T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is still one of my favorite books that DC prints today. Sharp pacing, unique voices for its characters and a rebellious, almost serrated visual style makes this an underrated gem. While the overarching plot of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents getting caught in an underground uprising might pass new readers by, writer Nick Spencer does produce some quality human moments, particularly as the speedster known as Lightning pushes beyond all limits to earn his redemption. Artist Wes Craig produces some fantastically dynamic work, particularly as Lightning cuts loose, twisting the panel (and his teammates' flailing bodies) as jetsam in his supersonic wake. (Sam Kieth, who draws the flashback sequence, is a smart pick by editor Wil Moss, as he's got this scratchy, misshapen vibe that immediately screams both evil and an unreliable narrator.) Occasionally, however, Spencer's longer narrative of double-crosses and deceit drags a little longer than you would like, leaving the central theme of the first arc — redemption — a little light. Still, execution alone makes this a book worth reading, and the brief lightning strikes of grace and humanity make T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents a must-read.


The Twelve #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brian Bannen; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): After being delayed since 2009, Marvel Comics’ The Twelve has returned, churning out two issues in the past four weeks. If the hiatus turned you away from the series, I urge you to return. With a methodical, confident gait like Watchmen, The Twelve tells the story of a group of heroes who are revived after being in cryo-stasis since WWII. J. Michael Straczynski has made the characters interesting and relevant, taking corny heroes with names like The Phantom Reporter and Fiery Mask and giving them absorbing personalities and compelling back stories that add an engaging depth to draw in readers’ interest. This entire series, much like Watchmen, hinges on a murder that involves one of the members of the group, but also like Watchmen, the characters are more important than the story. Chris Weston’s art comes in very handy in this issue in particular. The book is constructed to be as “real-world” as possible, so copious amounts of detail are added to every panel, be it rug patterns, drapes, furniture — even dials on electronic devices and books on bookshelves. This type of design helps ground a story about superheroes in our own realistic world to therefore give the it the profundity of a piece of literature rather than a soul-less action series. Chris Chunkry’s vibrant colors make the images come to life, particularly in the scenes with the crazy Dynamic Man. I was a bit disappointed by the murderer’s reveal, because the person whom you thought was committing the murders is committing the murders. But the reasoning is something I don’t think anyone could have predicted. With two issues to go, I can’t wait to see the resolution of this series.


Orc Stain #7 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): For those unfamiliar with the title, Orc Stain is an Image Comics title that is created, written, illustrated, and colored by James Stokoe — the genius responsible for the highly-acclaimed Wonton Soup. In this series Stokoe is crafting an epic fantasy tale about a one-eyed orc with special powers, who everyone wants to get their hands on. In this issue we find One-Eye on the run from the enigmatic “Beard,” aided by Bowie’s companion Zazu — a vicious and powerful creature seemingly made from hair, which physically bonds to and controls its host. James Stokoe has an incredibly vivid imagination, and has created an amazing world for this series, with rules very different from our own, filled with strange organic devices and machinery. Every page is packed with surprises, and his gripping script really keeps readers on their toes, as you honestly don’t know what’s coming next. His artwork on this series is completely breathtaking, and incredibly unique, with a bizarre visceral feel to it — everything he draws has an unsettling organic look to it, like it has a mind of its own, and could crawl off the page. There are two double-page splashes in here that actually stopped me in my tracks, and I just had to sit and look at the artwork for a couple of minutes to take in all of the abundant detail. Orc Stain #7 is like no comic you’ve ever read, you need to add this series to your pull-list, now.


Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): This comic is gorgeous, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, Ultimate Comics The Ultimates also makes no sense. With plot lines shifting in and out of Jonathan Hickman's other Ultimates series, Ultimate Comics Hawkeye, it's almost impossible for even regular readers to keep up with threats ranging from Reed Richards to twin Xorns (don't ask). Part of this is because there are few familiar touchstones for the reader to latch onto — sure, there's Nick Fury and Hawkeye, but they're basically clunky exposition at best, while Black Widow and the Falcon make little to no impression to resonate with. Instead, Hickman throws down the hard (pseudo-)science with this book, out-Morrisoning Morrison with "divergent omnipaths" and "sentient zeitgeist." Whatever happened to the Ultimates being a reflection of the post-9/11 real world? Regardless of the concepts getting away from this story, Esad Ribic comes back with a vengeance this month, drawing the entire book with a hefty, cinematic style. While there is little action until the end of this issue, Ribic's environments are particularly compelling, whether it's the zen-like mountains of the Xorn factions or the oppressive, techno-infected corridors of Reed Richards's City. Even if this issue is fairly subdued by his standards, colorist Dean White continues to work magic with some very interesting choices, particularly his uses of hot purple and mustard yellow. This is definitely a comic that draws you in which how beautiful the world is, but as for an actual story? This comic has lost its way, big-time.


Hellraiser #11 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): As a massive Clive Barker fanatic, and a huge fan of the first Hellraiser movie, I have loved every single issue of this new BOOM! Studios series. Clive Barker writes the comic, along with a revolving team of frequent Barker collaborators. This latest issue is co-written by two of Barker’s best friends - Robb Humphreys and Mark Miller. Considering that the two have no prior comic writing experience, they manage to put together a really impressive script, filled with engaging dialog and great character work. Barker promised when the series started that this series would change Hellraiser forever, and he wasn’t lying — everything is now reversed with Kirsty as the new Pinhead, and Captain Elliot Spencer reverted to human form and scouring the globe to find and destroy the remaining Lemarchand devices. It’s an enticing premise, and Barker makes it even more tantalizing by revealing that there may be more to Spencer’s plan than previously revealed. The art team on this issue is Stephen Thompson and Janusz Ordon, who trade off pages, with Thompson drawing the Earth scenes and Ordon drawing the hell scenes. The two provide some really beautiful pages, draped in abundant shadow, from some impressive inking, and their separate styles are close enough that a casual reader might not notice the difference. Hellraiser #11 is another fantastic issue that is sure to delight horror fans.


Red Ten #2 (Published by ComixTribe; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): Red Ten answers the question: what if Agatha Christie wrote Ten Little Indians using the Justice League? In the first issue, writer Tyler James's JLA analogues, The Alliance, went to a remote South Pacific island in search of a teammate's alleged killer, The Oxymoron. What the ten heroes found was a riddle wrapped in a conspiracy and only nine caped crusaders made Issue #2's starting line-up. The mystery of the who and why behind this elaborate game only deepens in this issue and I always find it fun when heroes who think they're untouchable suddenly feel the fingers of doom around their throats. What's appealing here isn't only Tyler's affection for the classic novel but also how he's diligent in putting a realistic spin on how each character reacts. It's not typical punch-a-bad-guy-and-save-the-day action, this here is a real whodunnit head-scratcher. Cesar Feliciano's artwork drives Tyler's script and it's impressive that he can work pages of seven or more panels without sacrificing detail. Cesar needs to improve consistency in rendering faces, however, and he'd be helped if colorist Guillermo Ucha's occasionally overpowering darks were toned down a notch. Still, those are minor quibbles on a unique title from a company whose name is quickly becoming synonymous with "buy on sight." 

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