Best Shots Reviews: WONDER WOMAN, AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, More

Happy Monday, 'Rama Readers! Team Best Shots is working for the weekend — you want a piece of our reviews? You gotta start from the start! So let's kick off with the latest issue starring a DC icon, Wonder Woman...


Wonder Woman #10

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Kano, Tony Akins, Dan Green and Matthew Wilson

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's a great, almost transcendent moment in Wonder Woman where Brian Azzarello strikes at the beating heart of Diana of Themyscira. Ripping the Lasso of Truth from her would-be captor Hades, she rides away on a hellborne steed, telling an essential truth about her character: she may love us all, but she will never be bound to anyone, be they man, woman or god.

It's a great moment. I only wish there were more of them.

The problem with Wonder Woman is that, at this point, her supporting characters are choking the life out of her. Like his stellar introduction, Azzarello's concepts are strong — Diana has been taken to the Underworld, shot with Eros' pistols of love, and then forced into a shotgun wedding with that freaky little lord of the dead himself. But because Azzarello has to give face-time to characters like Strife, Hephaestus and Lennox (the latter not actually being mentioned by name this issue), he actually robs Diana of much of her agency. There are some great traps and threats here, but it's not Diana who solves them.

The art does look great, however. Kano and Tony Akins have some very complimentary styles here, and for the most part lend a real dynamic streak to the action with their compositions. Akins steals the show with the most memorable image of the book, with a giant skinless head floating on a tidal wave of blood as it tries to swallow Diana whole. Colorist Matthew Wilson takes a very interesting approach here, using white for the book's first half as almost a method of subduing the reader before suddenly drowning us in dangerous bloody reds.

There's a lot of great setup to this issue of Wonder Woman, even if the overgrown pantheon of demigods steals more than their share of Diana's thunder. With some evocative art and a wonderful first impression, we get the sense that Azzarello knows the hidden potential of the Amazing Amazon. If only she more space to show it off.


Avengers vs. X-Men #6

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Oliver Coipel and Mark Morales

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Although the Marvel Universe may be at issue #6 of the cataclysmic throwdown in Avengers vs. X-Men, the current installment feels more like issue #1 instead of a continuation from the previous issues. With all this prosperity the X-Men have created, it’s hard to find fault with the five new Phoenix-powered X-Men and the writers are struggling to find the answer as well.

This is where the motivations of some of the characters start to fall apart in the issue. There just isn’t any real reason for the two groups to fight anything out. The writers spend a lot of page space laying out the motivations of the Avengers. It just feels a little shallow and more like a stepping stone to get to the next chapter.

Even though a few weeks isn’t much of a time jump, the tone of the entire planet, and book, has changed. The face-off format of the previous stories is all but gone now and replaced with the uphill struggle of the Avengers facing off against the all-powerful X-Men. The first couple of pages bring the reader up to speed with how much has changed in the past few days. It’s the amount of exposition in this issue that feels like, instead of being in the middle of a conflict, the story artists are gearing the audience up for the next big step forward. With a story built on the idea of seeing the two superhero teams punch it out, this really drags the pace down to a complete stop.

Although the tone of the comic suggests that the X-Men are up to no good, there is little evidence of this in the issue. Obviously, there needs to be a conflict between the two groups; it is, after all, called Avengers vs. X-Men. A reader can feel the character’s motivations being moved around to help the story, but it feels forced.

For example, Wolverine is still singing the same violent song he has been singing for what feels like a year now. You got a problem? Let Wolverine kill it. He has become a one-note member of the Avengers who, as soon as he mentions murder, someone shuts him up. There's another scene where the president (and, by proxy, Captain America) seem to be looking for a reason to hate all the progress the Phoenix Five have created — it all feels like a bit of a stretch.

That feeling of change is definitely present in the art as well. With the video game-styled matchups over, John Romita, Jr. has left the book. Visually, the new age of the X-Men is ushered in by Oliver Coipel. He does amazing work in the issue and is able to make an exposition heavy book still engaging. Sure, some panels get cramped with so much talking going on, but the overall feel isn’t suffocating. Coipel adds enough big splash pages that let the issue breath again. A reader can feel how tense it must be for the Avengers and how free it feels for the Phoenix Five through this.

That said, there are a few times where proportions are a bit off. In particular, there is one scene where Emma Frost’s hand is so huge and spindly that it looks more like the claw of an ice queen. However, these moments are few and far between and don’t derail the story all that much.

One of the highlights of his work in the issue is how he draws Hope. All too often in comics, teens are drawn like smaller versions of adults, with the awkward, lanky teen being ignored for the shorter version of comic sexpots. Not in Avengers vs. X-Men. Hope is realized on the page as skinny, little, fiery redhead. Even her clothes resemble what a teenager would wear while lounging with the other young mutants.

It’s nice to see that Coipel considers the actual different body shapes of the characters instead of giving everyone the typical hero physique. Scott actually looks like a tall, skinny guy and Captain America actually carries the more heroic build. These aren’t masks on mannequins but instead each figure is unique.

Even though Avengers vs. X-Men #6 is an enjoyable read, it suffers from feeling too much like a prologue. Yet, with so much on the page, what comes next promises to be huge. There is so much work done here setting up the next step that the story is certainly worth sticking with.  The X-Men may have started out as the underdogs in this event, but it looks like the tables have drastically turned.


Dancer #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson

Art by Nic Klein

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The premise for Dancer is pretty simple: A retired assassin is being hunted by someone who seems one step ahead of him. In the last issue, it was revealed that the main character, Alan Fisher, was being tracked by himself... but a younger version of himself. In this issue, we find out how.

Nathan Edmondson throws us a curveball with his explanation, and the story moves slightly into science fiction — not what I’d initially expect from a story grounded in the reality of an aged assassin’s life. The explanation is also cursory, given no more than a page in the entire comic.

But what makes it work is the other parts of the comic. Alan calls upon a mysterious character named The Fox (think Jon Voight from Mission Impossible) who introduces readers to Alan’s previous life, his skill as an assassin, and the program of which he was a part.

Additionally, The Fox gives readers a broader spectrum of the mystery, making the conflict a global one. It seems as if this younger version of Alan Fisher is not the only one, and the hint of Alan squaring off with several versions of himself is intriguing. The idea of facing a younger, smarter version of oneself is a great sell for the issue. And when the younger Alan encounters the innocent Quinn, the story shifts the conflict to more emotional grounds. From the final pages of the issue, readers can see that blood will be shed in the end.

Like any good espionage story, Edmondson shifts the scenery from Milan, Italy, to Berne, Switzerland. The quick shifts back and forth between Alan and Quinn help punctuate the cat and mouse game that embodies this issue. While other characters are written one-dimensionally, Quinn is really the most interesting character. All of the moments that focus on her are emotionally charged, and her naivete adds an element of urgency to Alan’s plight. Given the circumstances in which she finds herself, Quinn is right to be scared, and we’re right to fear for her.

Nic Klein’s work makes the tone of the comic palpable. His character close-ups are a mixture of clean and edgy. The innocent Quinn, for example, is smoothly drawn, her face always heavy with emotion. Alan, however, is drawn heavily shadowed and rough edged. Shading in particular is Klein’s strength as he uses light thrown from dashboard clocks or streaming through slits in doorways to convey a gamut of emotions.

Klein has a way of simplifying his characters if he wants them to appear pure while he muddles up the faces of other characters whom he wants to appear evil. The art is very similar to Zach Howard’s work on Joe Hill's The Cape, with a mixture of smooth imagery followed by edgy character work.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit thrown by the explanation for Alan’s greatest nemesis. Edmondson doesn’t continue the mystery any longer than he has to, and while I hope the real reason is different than the one Edmondson gives us, I have enough buy-in at this point to trust that Edmondson will follow through with a story that pits a great character against himself.

What I’m more interested in, however, is how Quinn fits in. The title of the comic comes directly from her profession, and Edmondson said he was inspired by ballet when writing this so she must play a vital role. And that is the true mystery of Dancer, but one which probably won’t reveal itself until the violent end.


Avengers Academy #32

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Timothy Green II, Jeff Huet and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Even a Sentinel has a heart — at least, that's the premise that drives the latest issue of Avengers Academy, a series that continues to excel because it always earns its readers' affections. Even with the fireworks that make up Avengers vs. X-Men flickering in the background, Christos Gage never forgets to put characterization first. Maybe that's why we never stop rooting for him.

It's a savvy move for this issue when Gage moves away from his expanded cast and focuses primarily on two students: Juston, who cares for a pet Sentinel, and X-23, who is struggling both with her distaste of the reformed genocidal robot and her disappointment with the Phoenix-powered X-Men. Gage smartly comes back to the series' central theme — namely, at-risk kids bucking expectations and forming their own positive futures — but also does it in a way that really leaves you impressed with how gutsy these kids are.

The art is surprising, as well. Tim Green II and Jeff Huet have a little roughness around the edges, but their expressive, cartoony style makes for a great tonal fit for Avengers Academy. This isn't meant to be the glossy blockbuster book, but the character-driven soap opera — in other words, the cast is messy and imperfect, so the art can be, too. What's important is that the storytelling and drama are quite clear in this book, even if on occasion the action sequences with Juston's Sentinel can come off as a little repetitive.

While some writers swing for the fences and try to make daring new arrangements with decades-long continuity, Christos Gage focuses on the fundamentals. Things like theme, character, organic conflict. There is a craft and a structure for a good story, and Gage is disciplined enough not to cut any corners with Avengers Academy. It's solid storytelling that is all the more surprising given its youthful protagonists. Maybe the adults could learn a little something here.


Red Hood and the Outlaws #10

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Blond

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

You look at the cover for Red Hood and the Outlaws, and chances are you'd be excited. Starfire, Princess of Tamaran, decked out in full battle armor as she commands her interstellar battleship. It's an imposing image, one that's especially heartening considering Starfire's portrayal lately as fanboy fanbait.

Unfortunately, you can't judge a book by its cover. The Xena-meets-Star Trek vibe promised on the cover only makes an appearance near the end of the issue, as Red Hood struggles with both clashing tones and a slightly deceptive page count.

I'll start with the tone, first. With these extreme characters and Kenneth Rocafort's hyperstylized art, it's hard not to expect a grounded, gritty, realistic story here. But Scott Lobdell goes against the grain, with a surprisingly jokey main story focusing on Jason Todd having his date ruined by an alien warlord.

The problem is that the jokes aren't really funny — you kind of groan when Jason's date immediately wants to shack up with him, or has a big long speech before deciding to just shriek to her heart's content. It's sort of Looney Tunes-style goofiness, but it neither plays to Rocafort's strengths or lends credence to the sudden (but appreciated) badassitude he's lending Starfire.

Rocafort, meanwhile, is still an acquired taste. His layouts are all over the place, but he commits to his highly rendered figures so well that his fans will still be cheering. For my money, I still think his establishing shots suffer in their composition, and the reliance of T&A shots for Starfire at the beginning is a little bit gratuitous.

But the bigger problem for this? It's basically a 14-page establishing story that tells readers at the end we have to wait another month to get the story promised on the cover. The rest of the issue is a seven-pager following Essence, a spooky Ghost Rider type who goes Old Testament on some thugs as she searches for the Untitled.

I did like the artwork by Ario Anindito, whose composition (along with some heavy colorwork by Blond) obscures some of the rougher edges with the character design. But like the story before it, it's over barely after it begins, not really giving readers enough bang for their buck.

I'm not sure what keeps drawing me back to Red Hood and the Outlaws, but I keep finding myself asking, "what did you expect here?" I thought that the premise of Starfire as starship commander was a powerful image, a niche that DC has yet to fill in its New 52. Unfortunately, it's looking like the stars were against Lobdell and Rocafort, because they never seem to overcome their clashing styles and truncated page lengths. If you're itching to give this book a shot, you might want to wait until next month.


The Shadow #3

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Aaron Campbell and Carlos Lopez

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

After two rapid-fire issues, Garth Ennis slows down the pace of the story to put his chess pieces into place. For a comic that is exposition and dialogue heavy, The Shadow #3 has excellent pacing and characterization. The art, however, needs some fine-tuning.

For his first arc, Garth Ennis has really spent very little time giving readers a clear understanding of the Shadow. Most people know the general origin of the character, so Ennis instead spends his time giving readers a story involving intense action and an international focus. Much like a Bond film, The Shadow utilizes exotic locations and espionage. And after reading the issue, fans will have a clear picture about the epic scope of the first arc.

This issue in particular is set-up. Bouncing between the Japanese, Americans, Russians and Germans, the story gives away its major focus: a super powered weapon that utilizes magic rocks with the capacity to destroy whole cities. Given the world that Ennis has created, this doesn’t seem far-fetched. No scene is longer than two or three pages and while this forces a lot of dialogue upon the characters, the quick shifts in focus avoid making reading the issue cumbersome. The Shadow himself has a very small role, but his moments are full of violence so the payoff is worth the wait.

The visualization of the comic is where it really suffers. Carlos Lopez’s drawings are inconsistent, going from thinly outlined and smoothly textured to thickly outlined and blocky. Some of these variations, which can be visually distracting, occur on the same page so that the imagery starts one way and ends another. Several pages are so heavily inked that they looks fuzzy and opaque, and the background characters are drawn as blocks, lacking any rich detail. During a gunfight between the Shadow and a group of German soldiers, the drawings are so mottled that it’s hard to tell what action is taking place.

Ennis is building his story so that its climactic moments will probably be spectacular. He’s taken an established character and added some new traits that make him a more menacing figure. Couple that with mysticism, science fiction and violence, and you have a comic that is well suited to appeal to many comic book readers.

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