Best Shots Comic Reviews

Ready to rock, 'Rama Readers? Then let's roll, as Team Best Shots has plenty of reviews for this week!


Wolverine and the X-Men #7

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Norman Lee and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Comics are an art of collaboration — of vision and execution — and comics like Wolverine and the X-Men #7 always seem to remind me of that. With the rambunctious, superpowered students of the Jean Grey School having their sophomore outing, writer Jason Aaron is running fast and furious with the crazy high concepts and lighthearted comedy. That said, comics aren't just about ideas, but about execution, and the visuals for this comic don't quite come off as edgy or as iconoclastic as the script.

Despite the title of this book, Wolverine himself actually takes a back seat in this arc, which is pretty impressive, considering he and punk telepath Quentin Quire spend their B-story trying to rip off an interstellar casino. But the main meat of this issue is the seemingly pregnant headmistress Kitty Pryde, whose bundle of joy actually happens to be an alien infestation. With the Jean Grey School being assaulted both from within and without, Jason Aaron actually injects a surprising amount of humor into this resolution, particularly as the kind-hearted sleazoid Broo winds up trading science notes with a hulking beast that's trying to kill him. While characters like Iceman and Kitty do show some intriguing sparks in terms of both their emotions and their power sets, Broo winds up stealing the show, as Aaron returns to the nature vs. nurture debate that he brought over from Rick Remender's .

But that all said, while the script itself has all the right beats for a strong conclusion, the artwork doesn't always take us there. Nick Bradshaw, when he's at his best, has an angular, expressive style that combines the sensibilities of Art Adams and David Lafuente. Unfortunately, with the series schedule as ramped up as it has been, Bradshaw's had to take on some helpers that I think have muted his style somewhat. Walden Wong and Norman Lee have smoothed out a lot of Bradshaw's edgier lines, rounding him out to the point where he seems similar to a Tom Grummett, which actually hampers the forward-thinking ethos of the book. Yet it's not all the inkers' doing, as Bradshaw's compositions aren't always the most hard-hitting — Aaron has a very cinematic sense of cutting back and forth, but sometimes that's resulted in some action shots that don't quite hit home. But when Bradshaw does it, he absolutely nails it — there's a fist-pumping moment where Kitty confronts her attacker with a horde of interdimensional Bamfs, and you'd never think a pregnant woman and a pack of furry blue elves would ever be this badass.

Ultimately, this issue is more fight sequence than smart wrap-up, but I can't help but think that might not have been the case if the art had been different. Jason Aaron throws out ideas almost faster than we can keep up with them, and while they don't always work out, the enthusiasm and excitement is nothing less than contagious. Nick Bradshaw, meanwhile, has a ton of potential, as his first issue of this series demonstrated — that said, you can't always hit a home run. Still, the characters in this book are accessible, unpredictable, and above all else . Ambitions aside, the execution of this arc may have been a bit of a sophomore slump, but Wolverine and the X-Men remains at the top of the class.


Green Lantern #7

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Keith Champage, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Of all the new comics DC rebooted during its New 52, Green Lantern probably stayed the most consistent with its pre-reboot self. This is probably mostly due to Geoff Johns who has been the sole author on Green Lantern since Green Lantern: Rebirth. His characterization, over the course of the series, has been the strongest aspect of his writing and Green Lantern #7 was another strong outing by a talented author. It introduces a myriad of questions (which go unanswered), and it speaks to a bigger conflict that could alter the Green Lantern Universe as it is currently known.

Like most other Green Lantern comics, this was a quick read. The story never feels dense, nor does it require much of its audience. The comic doesn’t involve more than three scenes, and much like a play, the book is split into three distinct acts. This kind of simplicity helps move the story along while still developing character and mythos. Whereas Johns cluttered the pages of Justice League to the point that the pacing became a nightmare, Green Lantern is pared down to its basic elements, a small number of characters, and a seamless transition between scenes. It’s textbook storytelling, and it works.

As for characterization, Sinestro has a pretty cool moment in this comic, and I’m glad Johns threw it in because having Hal and Sinestro work together could dampen the allure of Hal’s greatest nemesis. It involves Hal’s longtime girlfriend/love interest Carol Ferris, and the lengths to which Sinestro will go to get what he wants. If any reader needed a reminder that Sinestro is a bad guy, this is it. Johns also brings back some old characters, both of whom played vital roles during Blackest Night , so I’m curious to see how their involvement will aid the storytelling. As usual, Hal is a strong lead. When he was first banished from the corps, I was curious to see how Johns would still keep readers interested in a Green Lantern comic where the main character isn’t a Green Lantern. Over the course of this arc, Hal has lost a lot of his egocentrism, but not his confidence. If anything, by making Sinestro the lead character, Johns reminds readers of why Hal is such a great Lantern.

Much of the comic is exposition rather than action, and the settings call for dark, muted colors. Whereas most other Green Lantern comics require a plethora of detail, this comic lacks the need for strong composition. Alex Sinclair does great work with the coloring of the constructs, and the aura of the different tribes, but his best stuff is right at the beginning where he uses the light of Coast City to illuminate Jordan’s face in contrast to Sinestro’s shaded features. As an additional element of tone, the colors do wonders for building mood. When Hal meets up with William Hand, all artists work together to create a heavily shadowed and eerie visual. The once expressive Black Hand looks downright apathetic after being “saved” by the Indigo Corps, and while he speaks of being changed for the better, the deadness in his eyes tells us otherwise.

Green Lantern is always on my pull list, and for a multitude of reason. The growing conflict feels more sinister than any of the other stories told since Johns took over, even more so than Blackest Night . Why do the Indigo tribe want Sinestro? What does Sinestro mean when he tells Jordan that the Green Lantern Corps is going to be replaced? What does Carol have to do with the whole story? I look forward to getting the answers and seeing what else Johns has in store for his readers once these conflicts are wrapped up.


Saga #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

An exceptional comic book leaves readers thinking not only about the story’s potential, but also the brilliance of what it has already delivered. Saga #1 is that kind of comic. From the beginning, it is obvious that writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have created something special, and what a rare joy to read a highly anticipated book that more than lives up to expectations.

The title promises a sweeping, ambitious narrative, which is exactly what Vaughan and Staples deliver: forbidden love, war, a tense manhunt, political intrigue and sex — all in an exciting sci-fi/fantasy package. But the reader needs characters to care about above all, and one cannot help but become attached to married couple Alana and Marko. Together, at the worst possible time, they are trying to flee the destruction of the fighting between their homelands. On top of that, their union is an intergalactic incident and, apparently, an abomination. Marko is described as “a monster;” Alana, who has just given birth to their child, is dubbed “a whore.” The odds against them are terrible, and yet, the warmth and tenderness between them shine through the gloom. They have some playful and even funny moments, even as they dodge capture with a newborn in tow.

Juxtaposed with this intimate story is a large-scale war, and Vaughan does an excellent job of showing the reader the forest the trees. The fighting between the planet of Landfall and its lone moon, Wreath, has been outsourced to other places, engulfing other planets far and wide. There are so many layers, which the writer puts together without needless exposition. At 40-plus pages — not a single one wasted — Saga #1 gives the reader a meaty narrative that is complex but not confusing.

Artist Fiona Staples’ impeccable draftsmanship and elegant style are a powerful combination. The players are so strongly defined, ranging from the otherworldly yet very human Alana and Marko, to fearsome beasts worthy of “Star Wars,” to robots that are a freaky combination of technology and humanity. Whether in small moments or grand, show-stopping panels, Staples’ illustrations and rich colors make this issue a highly memorable visual experience. Fonografiks’ artful lettering really enhances the book, especially during the moments of narration. All the ingredients blend so well that the reader is never left thinking, “This is such a good comic, but I wish the (insert artistic element here) were better.”

For $2.99, you’re not going to find a better single-issue read anytime soon. Rich in story and beautifully executed, Saga’s first chapter sets the bar very high for the rest of this series. I think Vaughan and Staples are up to that challenge.


Avengers Assemble #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Mark Bagley, Danny Miki and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 0 out of 10

Avengers Assemble marks the sixth Avengers title that Brian Bendis has launched since taking over the franchise in 2006. His run has been one of the most polarizing on any comic in recent memory, and few other creators have Bendis's ability to divide readership. With Avengers Assemble, almost more than any other Avengers title he has worked on, Bendis had an opportunity to reinvigorate the portion of the fanbase that have avoided his titles, and attract new, un-jaded readership to Marvel's flagship team, thanks to the book's connection to the upcoming Avengers film. In addition, Bendis is no stranger to this sort of launch; his now 12-year run on is proof that he knows how to divest a franchise of the elements that repel many outsiders from picking up comics while still maintaining a sense of what makes the characters so well-loved. With this in mind, and Bendis's longtime "Ultimate Spider-Man" collaborator Mark Bagley on board, the potential for this book was very high… and that may be why this title comes off as poorly as it does.

I'm still not clear on what connection, if any, Avengers Assemble has to Marvel continuity. Based on the characters present in some of the opening scenes, it would seem as though the book is set in current continuity, though very little of the plot has anything to do with what's going on in the Avengers titles right now. That's not a complaint, mind you; in fact, the lack of direct connection to any particular ongoing series could actually be a major strength for a title with this kind of exposure. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the book to make good that premise, and instead there's a lot of dialogue at which even Stan Lee would balk, as well as a hard-to-read, inexplicable plot involving a new Zodiac team. It's terrifically disappointing how bad some of the characterization in this book has wound up being, with Bendis's writing of the Hulk being just downright painful to read. Instead of attempting to bring these characters into the modern day, Bendis has thrust them back to an era which basically never existed, where Hulk uses broken caveman speech, but is still aware enough to carry on a high-concept conversation, while Thor's pseudo-Shakespearean script comes off less as haughty and bold, and more hasty and ill-conceived.

What results is a book that is clearly meant to appeal to audiences of all ages, as well as to those who are aware of these characters but not necessarily the comic book universe they populate. Sadly, rather than being a breakneck, popcorn film-style entry course into the world of Marvel Comics, Avengers Assemble is more a treatise on the kind of comic book stereotypes that force otherwise willing readers to shy away from superhero comics. The plot is all but incomprehensible, involving an unnamed, unidentifiable criminal organizing a new Zodiac team, a concept seemingly unrelated to previous incarnations, and which is given no explanation that might introduce an uninitiated reader to the premise of the mythology-inspired cadre of supervillains. Despite an almost breezy approach to the story, and an unladen take on the team and supporting cast, the story is still dense, unreadable, and alienating. Even for someone well-versed in the visual (and literal) language of comics, the book is disorienting and repellent rather than exciting and inviting.

I wish I could say that industry stalwart Mark Bagley's work on this title was its saving grace, but I'm left wishing that the book had been drawn by almost anyone else. I've been a fan of Bagley's high-energy, straightforward art for almost 20 years, and in that time, I've never been as disappointed with his work as I was on this title. Instead of the clear, distinct lines and expressive characters that Bagley's fans have come to expect, there's a clear lack of direction, and an almost unreadable level of storytelling. It's not the worst art I've ever seen, but the fact that it was drawn by someone who I know can do so much better makes it cringe-worthy. Perhaps the fault lies more with Danny Miki, whose scratchy, jagged inking never really gels with Bagley's cleaner pencils, or maybe there was simply nothing better to be done with the script at hand.

It's clear that with Avengers Assemble, Marvel were trying to capture the energy of something like DC's relaunch, with well-loved, high-profile creators working with some of the most iconic members of their flagship team. It's a valid concept, and one that's clearly worked for the distinguished competition, but the formula just doesn't work with this book. Perhaps it's Brian Bendis's attempt to move away from his witty, if formulaic approach to Earth's Mightiest Heroes that spoils the proceedings — after all, his past attempts to leave his comfort zone have resulted in failure as often as success — or maybe it's simply a matter of a concept being far stronger than the execution. Whatever the cause, Avengers Assemble is not only a missed opportunity, but also a simple failure.


Suicide Squad #7

Written by Adam Glass

Art by Clayton Henry, Ig Guara, Scott Hanna and Val Staples

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Although Suicide Squad #7 is destined to be referenced because of the origin details of fan favorite Harley Quinn, it will not be remembered for the other components of this issue. Writer Adam Glass seems to be missing the target on this mercenary book, and the strong artwork by Henry and Guara isn't quite enough to make this book a hit.

Obviously, the most intriguing detail of this issue is the reveal of Harley Quinn’s descent into super-villainy. There isn’t much else going on in the issue, which leaves team leader Deadshot and newer member Savant to hunt the Joker’s main squeeze. Even with the spotlight on Harley Quinn, the issue fells short on any captivating details of the character, with minimal details on her origin and mental situation. Instead of gently easing into what makes Harley tick, the profile on the character feels like the back of an action figure card instead of an interesting reveal of this popular villainess. We get the Cliff Notes version of her life as a doctor at Arkham Asylum and the friction she experiences there with her superiors but besides the detail that she has a fondness for the Joker, the story doesn’t actually provide a reason as to why a talented and brilliant doctor would fall in love with one of the most heinous and evil men in all of popular culture. A simple “crush” doesn’t seem like reasonable answer as to why she would ever follow him to the chemical company and up the precarious catwalk over open acid tubs.

It would almost be redeeming to find out that this is only a small aspect to a much larger story but it seems less and less likely that the writing on this book is going to jump out and scream “surprise!” Glass does incorporate a payoff with the impending threat of the nanobots and kills off another character. Although this adds a nice layer of startling grittiness to the issue, it isn’t enough save this issue. It seems that DC’s reboot of many of the characters have erased details that made them unique from Harley’s origin to the slimming of Amanda Waller. Whether or not these details work or don’t for an audience, they are nonetheless distracting and therefore harmful to the longevity and likability of the title.

Luckily, the book has two excellent pencilers that, while they can’t save the issue, definitely make it a much easier pill to swallow. The violence and movement of the characters feels natural and is without missteps. Although the backgrounds might be lacking, the figures are consistent and really make the book run smoothly. While some of the costumes and reimagining of the characters looks might not be as strong as their original incarnations, Guara and Henry make them work on the page lets them not distract from some other awful details. Artwork could be reason alone to pick up this book and might even add details to the narrative that make more enjoyable. However, this isn’t the case.

The book seems to be unraveling faster than the team of fictional hired guns in the story. With the constant rotation of characters, no-one-is-safe approach, fan favorites like Deadshot and Harley and the deadly cliffhanger might be enough to keep some readers coming back, the longevity of this book and the impact it has on the greater DCU is questionable.


The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #6

Written by Justin Jordan

Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Luther Strode is bloody, brutal fun.

As Justin Jordan wraps up his six issue arc, The overnight super-powered Luther Strode and his creator/enemy the Librarian spend this issue pounding each other into blood-spattered messes. There are still character moments, but the majority of the comic is a fight involving removed organs, fractured bones, eye-gouging and property destruction.

And I loved it.

Justin Jordan doesn’t just drop his readers into a war zone. He builds up the climax through some poignant character interactions. Like any hero, Luther realizes that he does more harm than good the people he loves, and so he must make a decision to protect them. His moments with Petra, his quirky love interest, are the best parts of the book (even though they only take up the first five pages) because it is in these moments that the old Luther comes through, and people can see how he is becoming a hero more than an anti-hero.

The next nineteen pages are uninterrupted violence. While I enjoyed the battle, I cringed at some of the corny villain dialogue. Jordan’s attempt at making the Librarian sound intelligent feels forced as much of his word choice is educated to the point of being mockery. Think Dr. Manhattan’s speeches in . There, his language fit his role. Here, the Librarian’s dialogue reads like a Bond villain’s final speech. For example, when talking to Luther’s mother about his Hercules Method, the Librarian tells of the ways in which he searched for a person like Luther. He says “I even put it out on the ‘Internet,’ as much as I dislike that cursed thing.” He’s also depicted using his fingers as “air quotes.” It’s the one bit of silliness that takes away from the depth of the character. Other than that, the book is a load of violent ecstasy.

The true stars of Luther Strode , however, are Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro. Moore’s expressiveness, particularly fear and sadness, are well depicted and help with character emotions. This isn’t the photo-realistic art of Greg Land. Instead, it’s cartoonish like Humberto Ramos. This makes the kind of visceral violence found in Luther Strode so entertaining, especially when Moore has to draw blood stains and entrails. Sobreiro’s colors are vibrant and engaging. They’re consistent from panel to panel, and they aid the transmission of mood. Several panels lack any background detail and instead Sobreiro uses a red or yellow to highlight action or emotion. It’s a great pairing that leads to a great visualization.

From the back cover of the comic, readers know they will get more Luther Strode , despite how the story ends. According to Justin Jordan’s epilogue, the next chapter will be out in October of 2012, but I don’t know how I’ll fill my “violent comic” void until then. I don’t think many other stories that are this violent are also this good. The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is a great mixture of well-developed characters, great visuals, and an engaging story. If you passed on this, I urge you to check it out. This comic is one more example of the strength of risk-taking by independent and fringe publishers.

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