Beat Shots Comic Reviews

Happy Monday, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Team and their weekly helping of reviews. So kick back and enjoy the show, as Aaron Duran boldly goes where no spider has gone before, checking out a space-age story in Amazing Spider-Man...


Amazing Spider-Man #680

Written by Dan Slott and Chris Yost

Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was flipping through his weekly comics and groaned when he came up an ad for the current Amazing Spider-Man story arc. “Ugh, why are they sending Spider-Man into space, are they that desperate to sell new figures?” Mind you, he doesn't actually read Spider-Man, but like all good comic book fans, he doesn't need to read the book to have an extremely vocal opinion on it. It's too bad really, as this guy is missing out on a very entertaining book. A book that reminds me why I take time out of my schedule and visit my local shop every Wednesday. Because while I know I can't have adventures in space, I am perfectly content with living vicariously through Spider-Man and the Human Torch.

In this issue, Dan Slott and Chris Yost again prove why they just might be two of Marvel's best (and in my opinion, underused) writers. They've managed to take a character that is pushing 50 years old and still keep him as fresh and fun to read as those early adventures with Lee and Ditko. Which is all the more impressive when you realize that Issue #680 is essentially all set-up for what is to come. Spider-Man needs some help saving the astronauts (and J. Jonah Jameson's son) at the Apogee Space Station. He can't fly. He knows the Fantastic Four. They have ships that can. Johnny Storm gets dragged along to help. From there, some cool stuff happens, but much of the story takes a backseat to Slott and Yost's characterization between Peter Parker and Johnny Storm.

This is where Slott and Yost really shine as writers. They know these two characters and how they feel about each other. This isn't some thinly painted buddy-cop shtick. Sure, they pepper the issue with playful banter, with lines from Johnny like, “Right, your special power that tells you when to be scared,” when mocking Peter's Spider-Sense. However, Slott and Yost also understand the underlying reason for this poking between friends, and as such, it reads very natural and even expected. As Spider-Man has always had a sense of scientific realism to him (inasmuch as the character can), it's fun to see Slott and Yost toss in some moments where Peter explains why a character that catches fire maybe shouldn't do so in an oxygen-limited environment.

Visually, this issue is big and bold in the most literal sense. It seemed like every couple of pages we got a massive full or even double page spread. However, penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli never made me feel cheated on the large spreads. His art works in perfect tandem with the writers and even spreads that could easily fall into filler work to maintain a sense of grandeur and excitement. With two characters, both known for fast and chaotic action, it was a fun stylistic choice to forgo traditional panels to express a scene. I like watching Spider-Man and the Human Torch swing and fly through a page, without the rule of comics (or gravity) to hold them back. That said, I'm still not fully sold on how Camuncoli draws people outside of masks. His strong edges work in his favor when penciling larger action scenes, but when creating everyday people, his style can be a bit jarring. And, aside from coloring, many of his people look very similar.

Still, the art is strong and keeps getting better with each issue. Klaus Janson on inks also helps bring some serious depth to Camuncoli's pencils. Janson seems to know when to let crisp line work perform the heavy lifting (as was the case in Johnny Storm's great little Risky Business number), and when to kick in the heavy shadows. Indeed, when we learn the fate of Jameson's son, Janson knows how to use those inks to set the mood and tone. What was once a fun romp in space got all kinds of serious. This is a good art team and I'm looking forward to watching them evolve together.

If you missed the Point One issue from a couple weeks back, Amazing Spider-Man #680 is still a great jumping-on point for new readers and a hint at what is to come for long-time fans. While this isn't the book that “changes Spider-Man forever” or “makes you question all that you know,” it is a great time with a couple of buddies. In space. With Doc Ock zombies. Come on — you gotta love that.

DC Breaks Another Digital Barrier
DC Breaks Another Digital Barrier

Batman Beyond Unlimited #1

Written by Adam Beechen, Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

Art by Norm Breyfogle, Andrew Elder, Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs and Randy Mayor

Lettering by Saida Temofonte

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed Batman Beyond Unlimited . Never really being a big fan of the television show when it was on, I went into this book just seeing if it passed the very low bar for comics based on the animated TV show. What I found was a book that was able to stand on its own as a comic title and separated itself from the show enough to feel like an addition to the franchise instead of filler on the racks.

Batman Beyond ended its three-season run over a decade ago, so there is no argument that this comic is just rack filler for a TV show a network is trying to promote. More accurately, it seems like Batman Beyond is a fan-favorite and those 10-year-olds who loved the show are now entering their twenties and entering their local comic shops. That's a good thing, too, as this comic definitely picks up where the show left off in terms of tone. With an excellently paced set of stories, Beechen, Fridolfs, and Nguyen do an excellent job in capturing the relationships between Terry McGuiness and Bruce Wayne. There is a sort of mutual respect at this point in their career together instead of the butting heads we saw at the beginning of the series. One of the highlights of the book is the second story in this giant-sized issue, which features members of the Justice League Beyond. It was interesting to see where the show’s writers were talking this future plotline and away from the standard DCU. What the writers of the comic accomplish is fleshing out the relationship of these new heroes without relying on what came before them in the comic world.

That said, the language, although true to the show, was a bit grating. It seems like a cliché science-fiction troupe to replace swear words with things that somewhat resemble their original incarnation. (For example, it's a little awkward having Batman saying “blippin’ kidding me” on the very first page.) Furthermore, I don’t know if the best way to kick off a new Batman title is to have him smiling and holding his face in embarrassment on the very first page. It sets a tone that feels really uncomfortable for a Batman, even one based on a popular Saturday morning cartoon.

What I found to be the best surprise of the entire book was the artwork. In the past, comics that are tied-in with animated series have sometimes come off as stiff and uninspired in terms of the artwork. In other words, they didn’t separate itself enough from the look of the show and ends up looking like rendered still images composed into a comic narrative. Batman Beyond Unlimited does not suffer from this. Sure, it has its moments where the characters appear to be a little stiff but this comes from their original designs being for TV and not comics. However, I was very impressed with the work of the art team (Breyfogle, Elder, Nguyen, Fridolfs, and Mayor) what they were able to bring to the book. There is a panel early on with an intense Bruce Wayne getting ready for action that really struck me. The hash marks and age lines looked great but were able to add on to what was already there from the original character design.

Although it looks as if the art team is trying to stay as close to the look of the show as they can, I don’t think it would hurt to venture off the beaten path a little more and get experimental with the tone and looks of the characters. Like the story itself, the pacing of the artwork was well-timed and executed. It kept the pace of a comic instead of a TV show and never felt heavy-handed in its introduction to elements of this unfamiliar world. Although it stands apart from the other Batbooks on the shelf because of its origins in TV, Batman Beyond Unlimited can certainly stand on its own. I can see this book really becoming a fan-favorite, and it is an excellent introduction for new readers who were Bat-fans from their childhood.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Micro Series #3

Written by Brian Lynch and Tom Waltz

Art by Valerio Schiti, Scarletgothica and Ilaria Traversi

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Both of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics coming out right now are clearly fan service and meant to drum up excitement for the forthcoming animated series from Nickelodeon. Most of the time, initiatives like this end up being disappointing because they’re some sort of watered down version of a license we already love. In this case though, it’s almost completely and utterly perfect. The folks at IDW Publishing have made sure to preserve all the things that made us love the ol’ heroes in a half-shell in the first place. The character-focused Micro Series is no exception, and Brian Lynch’s one-and-done Donatello story is excellent.

Previously known as simply the turtle who “Does Machines,” Donatello now does a lot more including browsing techie Internet forums, playing MMORPGs, attending genius conventions (incognito of course) and proving that he’s just as capable on his own as any of the other turtles. The only problem with having an of the turtles on their own is that Lynch is forced to use thought captions in practically every panel to give them a voice. Fortunately, because there is humor involved, these play a lot better than your standard, angsty “I’m Batman” captions. The plot centers around Donny’s Internet arch-nemesis who is a genius scientist being wooed by evil corporate bigwig Baxter Stockman. So we get a story that screams Donatello filled with anti-gravity gloves and other sci-fi accoutrement. Lynch has an excellent handle not only on Donatello’s voice but also the way he thinks and the way he solves problems. And the issue is full of fun Easter eggs for all kinds of fans. Donny’s screen name is “Duz_Machines_84” like the original animated show’s theme song for instance, and his archnemesis is “KirbyFan_01” and all of his inventions emit Kirby crackle! All together, it makes for a fun all-ages adventure.

Valerio Schiti is a great fit for this installment in the TMNT Micro Series. His characters are extremely expressive. Baxter Stockman is suitably sinister. Donatello, in particular, has a few of the best faces I’ve seen in this new era of Ninja Turtles. The whole book has a much lighter tone than the slightly darker main title. This is, in part, due to to Schiti’s clean linework and the coloring teams penchant for bright, completely color-filled backgrounds during fight scenes. It gives most of the motion in the book a little bit of an anime feel to it, sacrificing detail for the sake of motion and tone. While it does fit the book, it does happen a bit too often with panels where little is actually going on which is unfortunate because when Schiti does include all the background information, he does a great job.

The TMNT Micro Series is a must-read for dedicated fans of the mutant martial artists. It provides an additional layer of characterization on top of what the main series already delivers. It’s refreshing to read about the solo adventures of the turtles because we’re so used to seeing them together all the time. It’s exactly what you would expect for a TMNT story: something fun, easy to read and a combination of totally radical and tubular. Or as Donatello would say, “Perestroika?”


Venom #13.4

Written by Rick Remender, Jeff Parker and Rob Williams

Art by Lan Medina, Nelson DeCastro, Terry Pallot, Marte Gracia and Antonia Fabela

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

Lately, Venom has taken a turn for the strange with its story Circle of Four. For those who are unfamiliar, Venom, Red Hulk and X-23 were all in Vegas for different reasons when Blackheart, the Prince of Hell, used Ghost Rider to open up a portal to the underworld. With Hell leaking out, the four teamed up to try and put a stop to the madness. In the previous issue, all four of them died, but due to a technicality, were revived and sent back to Vegas to close the portal. In a very un-Venom-like tale, Rick Remender has created a unique story that pairs up some of Marvel’s newest guns, and the results are a strange, entertaining ride that I don’t think many people could have predicted.

What continuously struck me was the originality of the story. I don’t know many people who would have thought of putting Red Hulk, Venom, X-23 and Ghost Rider together, but Remender found a way that seamlessly intertwines their stories with each other. All of these characters are antiheroes seeking identity, and Remender gives each one of them an opportunity to develop some individuality. Not only does he have the four main characters, but he finds room for Dr. Strange and Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. Because of the dark nature of the story, these cameos don’t feel out of place. In fact, the entire grouping develops quite cleverly and this, I think, speaks to the strength of Remender’s writing. As an exploration of redemption, Remender tackles some pretty weighty topics, like X-23’s soul. As a clone, does she even have one? Each character has his or her own insecurity to deal with, and Remender makes sure to explore these in a way that will provide satisfactory closure for each person.

Lan Medina has his work cut out for him in this issue. Each panel is loaded with meticulous detail of either character design or setting. Since the story deals with hell coming to earth, the majority of images are filled with fire or demons. Plus, Medina makes sure to throw in a few unsettling images, for example when Dr. Strange and Daimon are attacked, tentacles that resemble earth worms snake out of the ground and ensnare them. It makes for a great visceral image. Marte Gracia and Antonio Fabela do a fantastic job of making the color scheme match the doom-and-gloom tone of the story. Every page has some red or black thrown in, and Nelson DeCastro and Terry Pallot use the fire-covered setting to create some great shadow and highlights. Because they’re dealing with demons and death, the colors used are mostly dull ones — olives and browns. By doing this, the artists give life to the setting so much that I felt as if I could hear the roar of lava and smell the odor of brimstone. This may have been a difficult comic to visually construct, but the results on the page show this to be a display of true artistic skill.

When Venom first started, Remender worked within the confines of the traditional symbiote lore. Flash put the suit on, beat up bad guys, and like Spider-Man, he became addicted to the suit, and has now come to depend on it. But since the Circle of Four story line, readers can see that Remender is trying very hard to create a new world for a character that had once been overexposed to the point of gimmickry. Since Remender took on the writing duties, however, he has shown that he is willing to be creative as well as risky with the character, taking Venom to places he’s never been before. For a while, I wasn’t sure the comic would last. Bur Remender has given new life to an overused character, and made him something much more interesting.


Spaceman #4

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: 6 out of 10

In Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Spaceman, there are no heroes. There are just celebrities, survivors and monsters. Having found and rescued a kidnapped child celetrity, Orson now needs to figure out what to do with her. Somehow in this issue, it's never mentioned that maybe he should return her to her parents. It's not so much that Orson himself is turning into a snatcher, as a group of kids call him; it's just that it never occurs to him to do it. Orson isn't a hero but he is a creature looking for a path and that's what the girl is giving him.

Orson once had a purpose in this world. Well, not exactly this world but Mars. He and four others like him were engineered to live and work on a research station on the red planet. Now, Orson trawls the seas looking for junk and other discarded trash. Maybe that's why the girl is such a lure to him. Azzarello and Risso have created a character that's both simple and complex. Orson is so much a child but he's also been to other worlds and seen landscapes that we could only imagine. He even sees this world in such a different way than everyone else does. He was essentially created to walk on other worlds but he has to spend his days now finding junk on this one.

He is such a potentially fascinating being that it feels like Azzarello and Risso don't know how to proceed with him. In this fourth issue, they are stuck with a character who is too simple for his own good. Azzarello and Risso have never created square jaw heroes and yet Orson may be the closest to that that they've come. In the past, their characters have been these morally ambiguous power brokers, even Batman can be classified that way. Orson may be the one innocent character that they've created and that innocence has frozen the character. He's simple, we get that. Orson is a man in a situation he never imagined himself to be in. It's getting to be time for Azzarello and Risso to show us how Orson is going to rise to the occasion.

Through the language and the evocative imagery, Azzarello and Risso continue to create a world that's different than our own. Words and sentences have been reduced to their barest meaning. It takes a bit to understand Azzarello's future slang but rally it must be no different than a person from 1912 listening to us speak in 2012. The words are familiar but the way that Azzarello puts them together sound foreign and incomprehensible to us. The future shouldn't be recognizable. That's why it's the future.

Risso and colorist Patricia Mulvihill conjure a world of shadows, earthy hues, monstrous men and destroyed cities. Like Azzarello's prose, Risso and Mulvihill's world doesn't feel all that dissimilar from our own but it is different. That unfamiliarity is explored a bit in this issue as Orson goes trawling through the streets of a flooded, ruined city. While we've been given glimpses of this devastated environment before, Risso throws us into the deep end of the pool quite literally as he shows us just how different this world is than our own but it is not hard to imagine that this is something we could see in our own lifetime. If the last 30 years have taught us anything, it's that our cities will never be permanent and our accomplishments will have to be more than just how tall be could build our buildings.

Spaceman is full of ideas, possibilities, dreams and nightmares. And that's all in the things that are suggested through the way that Azzarello and Risso have built their world. Around the story of the rescue of a kidnapped girl, the creators have suggested so many possibilities for their characters and their settings that the narrative hasn't been able to explore yet. After four issues, those possibilities remain far more intriguing than the story that is actually being told.


Ultimate Comics X-Men #8

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong, Juan Vlasco and Marte Garcia

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Click here for preview

As much as the mounting mysteries surrounding the mutants of the Ultimate Universe have been exciting, they’re beginning to get a bit tedious. Ultimate Comics X-Men features another big reveal in the final pages, but it should be of no surprise to anyone who has been following the series, leaving this issue a letdown from beginning to end.

A good comic book story provides a little something for every possible kind of reader; the new reader, the experienced one, the one who likes action, the one who like character work, etc. Balance is the key. Nick Spencer’s script is not balanced. It’s mostly filler. It has a singular purpose, and two scenes are stretched to their limits to fill the pages. The book opens with two recap pages after there is already a recap page, and the main action scene doesn’t have a purpose more than there needed to be some punching. I’m a big fan of punching, but punch for a reason!

Nick Fury and Val Cooper hare a scene that drags on. Their conversation is rife with exposition because if you didn’t read Ultimate Hawkeye or you don’t read The Ultimates you would have no idea what was going on. Though at the same time, readers of Ultimate X-Men since the beginning of this volume would see right through Nick Fury’s posturing and the eventual reveal. So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You could probably skip this issue and be caught up in a halfway decent recap page. The reveal ends up being of little consequence and the issue manages to create more questions than it answers. That’s not a bad way to engage readers but considering that Spencer did the very same thing in the last issue, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve been here before.

I also have a really big problem with a double page spread of a single location. We are now getting 20 pages of story for an increased price, and 10 percent of the comic is dedicated to showing us how awesome the floating city of Tian is? Give me a break. I wouldn’t even knock it if it looked particularly spectacular but it just looks like any stock ancient Japanese city.

Carlo Barberi is on art duties here. It’s clear why this guy has a job. He delivers quality storytelling and character renderings every time out. It’s good, solid cartooning and really nothing more. But he isn’t given all that much to draw. A two-page recap followed by a two-page spread of a city followed by another six pages of two characters talking in an office isn’t very exciting. Still, Barberi does a good job with the little he’s given.

I know that this is just one of those issues that I’ll come back to and say “Well, in the grand scheme of things, maybe it wasn’t that bad.” But after a really exciting first arc that saw the return of the X-Men to the Ultimate Universe and then an even bigger reveal in the last issue than there was in this one, I was really gearing up for something big. It seems that we’ll get something big eventually. For now, I’m quite averse to being swindled even if it is only for one issue.


The Walking Dead #94

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn/b>

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In our zombie-saturated market, it’s nice to find a book that still leads the way with its strong storytelling and engaging characters. Robert Kirkman is at his best in this issue, writing solely about his core character Rick Grimes. There’s a simplicity in this kind of writing, one that eschews a lot of the baggage Rick has accumulated over the course of the series. Rick’s decisions are based on things that have occurred, but the story is secondary to the characterization. The plot is straightforward: Rick is transporting their prisoner, Jesus, back to his camp with the idea that they will trade for supplies to sustain their way of life. But the issue is heavy handed in its exploration of Rick’s mindset, and the lengths he’ll go to in order to protect his son, and his friends. While some may find this issue to be more exposition leading up to the big #100, I couldn’t be more engaged by The Walking Dead.

The plot threads laid in the past year seem to be converging as we finally get a peek at the city Jesus referenced when he first appeared. Rick and several others spend the issue taking their prisoner back to his home with the mindset that they are walking into a trap. But Kirkman throws in a few great moments that make for some increasing conflict. For example, Jesus has tried to be as pacifistic as possible during his entire captivity, but he proves once again that he’s more than capable of fighting. Since Rick doesn’t trust him, Jesus rides in the back of a van with his hands tied. Yet he can still fight zombies with his feet, and all this does is show what a threat he really is.

The issue has quite a bit of action in it, and while it’s a dialogue-heavy story, I have been captivated with the "Larger World" arc. It’s really been an exploration of Rick’s paranoia, but it’s a deserved paranoia. The people that Rick has met in the course of The Walking Dead have not always been good, so the subdued Jesus scares me a lot. This speaks to Kirkman’s ability to write characters that are believable and intriguing, even when they’re out to destroy someone.

Charlie Adlard is his usual self, and the more I read Walking Dead, the greater appreciation I have for his black-and-white art style. Adlard knows when to add the right bits of grit, and his action scenes Always showcase how well he details gore. One thing I noticed about this issue in particular, and I don’t know if it was Kirkman’s idea or not, but most of the characters, when they kill zombies, have no expression on their faces. They look as dead as the people they’re killing. One panel in particular shows Andrea shooting a walker in the face, yet her eyes are half-open. She looks like she could be reading a shopping list.

Adlard also has a way of shading faces so that they take on a menacing look. While Jesus has tried hard to convince Rick and his crew that he’s not a bad guy, Adlard’s art tells us otherwise. In almost every panel he appears, Jesus has his face turned away so that part of it is shaded. Couple this with his long stringy hair, and he looks like he’s hiding a truly violent side, and his sincerity only makes him that much scarier. The last time we saw someone with this kind of outward motif was the Governor, and all us Walking Dead fans remember how that turned out.

I have a hard time believing things will get better for Rick and his crew. When Kirkman built up to Issue #50, he had us thinking things were going great. Then everything went to hell, and Rick ended up losing those closest to him. The push up to Issue #100 has the same feel. I don’t trust things will end well, and why would they? Kirkman has consistently written a bleak tale about humanity’s attempt to survive after the world has ended. And as revealed by Rick early on in the series, the humans are the Walking Dead. As much as I fear what’s going to happen, I can’t turn away from this series. With consistently good plots and art, The Walking Dead should be a book on everyone’s pull list.


The Shade #5

Written by James Robinson

Art by Javier Pulido and Hilary Sycamore

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With all the praise given to writers — and hey, with their names being plastered on shelves week after week on multiple titles, it's not surprising why that happens — it's sometimes easy to overlook the sort of Moneyball-style games the comics industry plays when it comes to the art. Talent is always going to come at a premium, and while DC has some great mainstays like Scott McDaniel or Rags Morales, it's fascinating to see how once-unknown artists like Marcos Martin, Chris Samnee or Guiseppe Camuncoli were cutting their teeth at DC and Vertigo, only to get swiped and thrust into super-stardom over at the House of Ideas.

All of which is a long way of saying that The Shade is an instance of DC playing the game right. With Javier Pulido gracing the pages of the DC Universe for the first time in years, The Shade has taken on a dramatic, cinematic quality that makes James Robinson's writing crackle in all the right places. It's a beautiful book, and it shows the kind of long-lasting, involving potential DC has to offer.

From the very first page, Pulido knows how to evoke a reaction. A woman in red, silhouetted in shadow, holding a man with puncture wounds in his neck. The fact that that then opens up to a fluid, rambunctious fight sequence is just icing on the cake, as Pulido visually establishes the speed, power and personality of the vampire vigilante La Sangre, who has a surprisingly familial history with our immortal antihero, the Shade. Pulido comes across as a bit of a hybrid between Marcos Martin and Tim Sale, with his squarish figures still evoking a wealth of expression and shadows. Pulido's layouts are another thing that deserves some praise — there's a scene of the Shade interrogating someone in a hospital bed, and this multi-panel affair is one of the most sophisticated layouts I've seen in a DC book since J.H. Williams III. It's just great.

This kind of visual control — visual pacing, really — also provides writer James Robinson a powerful storytelling platform. I love the sort of poetic diction Robinson gives La Sangre, his "heroine queen of Barcelona, protector of Catalonia." But ultimately, it's the story that suffices, and not only does Robinson give a remarkably charismatic introduction for both La Sangre and the Shade himself, but he weaves a powerful origin story between the two. Without giving too much away, it's a tremendously high concept little scene that Robinson chases down with some surprising heroism. Wait, maybe that's not the right word. Humanity. But either way you pick, the moment resonates, and even if you know nothing about the Shade other than "immortal shadow-wielding antihero," this is a great starting point for new readers.

There are some books that I read that I can't wait to review. Books that are so surprising or so overlooked that you just want to go online and sing their praises. The Shade is one of those comics, and the reason why is because of the artwork. Comics are a cutthroat business, and in an age of exclusives, shrinking budgets and long-standing alliances, nothing's tougher to secure than talent. But DC has really knocked this Moneyball out of the park with Javier Pulido, a trend I hope to see continue. There are too many excellent artists toiling in obscurity, and it's ironic that an artist like Pulido is shining his brightest with a hero that lives in shadow.


FF #15

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Click here for preview

Reading FF is a bittersweet experience, because I see exactly the moments I would have liked... if it was still part of its sister title, Fantastic Four. As more or less a parallel narrative to Fantastic Four #603, this book is far more accessible and human than Hickman's labyrinthian, sometimes self-indulgent epic, but is still lacking the sort of character cache to make the book feel worth the cover price.

That said, I wouldn't say that Hickman's characters are without their charm — in particular, Franklin Richards steals the show this issue, as he talks to an invisible friend who tells him he has an important role to play in the cosmic war unfolding all around him. Despite having Galactus and the Celestials and the Kree running around, Hickman doesn't make you care until you see Franklin hug his best friend Leech goodbye. "You cannot help who you are, Franklin... and who would any of us be if we didn't?" It's a little bit of insight hidden in all the cosmic fireworks, but it's ultimately the strongest bang for this comic's buck.

Artist Nick Dragotta is also a nice fit for this issue, focusing more on the interactions and characters than the crazy aliens and world-shaking intrigue. I love Dragotta's use of body language, particularly with Franklin's invisible friend — this is a character portrayed completely in white, with no features or expressions to give him away. Yet you sense the affection and protection in this figure's frame, down to the bemused way he holds his chin as he crouches near Franklin. Dragotta also makes some of Hickman's slower moments succeed, particularly a moment where the sort-of-villainous tween Bentley makes a less-than-wholesome comment to a member of the Power Pack, and promptly gets socked in the nose for his troubles.

Yet. Yet. While these moments are good moments, they're also just moments. And when they pass, you do see some of the other flaws inherent in this story. First off, if you're new to this series, stay back, because this is far from accessible. Additionally, the main draw of the book — the inclusion of the Power Pack — feels gratuitous, almost as an effort to plug in guest stars to keep the story moving and seem important. This betrays the big weakness of splitting FF as a second title — the advantage of this book was having a sprawling, charming, human supporting cast that happened to fight crazy space and superscience threats. But there's no Doom, no Spider-Man, barely even a Mr. Fantastic to pique our interests. The supporting characters of FF are strong, but not strong enough to hold the story on their own.

Jonathan Hickman is a writer who can tell powerful stories that bring human characters and human problems alongside superpowers so huge they might as well be divine. Unfortunately, all the various subplots and sprawling arcs have made his Fantastic Four run too complicated to navigate in a single book. And that's to this story's detriment — there are things to enjoy about FF and its sister title, but until they become one cohesive narrative, they'll always be less than the sum of their parts.

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